Top 10: Opening Credits

An opening credits sequence sets the tone and overall theme of the film, and sometimes a film can start off with a bang. An opening sequence that is captivating, making the film a gripping watch from the very start. Combined with the right choice of music, that right song can hit that sweet spot to completely personify the film you’re about to watch. Here are some of the great ones.

1. Skyfall (And James Bond series) 

The James Bond series prides itself on the opening titles, they are one of the most memorable parts of film history. The recent James Bond film is no different, with a trippy underwater sequence with both bright colors and play on shadows. Adele’s Oscar-winning song is the sultry soundtrack to the opening.It ends with the camera diving into Daniel Craig’s piercing blue eyes. The entire James Bond canon, especially the classics, (Goldfinger especially) is at the top of this list. The sequences are well-crafted, and the latest James Bond‘s is no different.

2. Watchmen

Zack Snyder smartly manages to hold our attention with this slow-motion and gorgeously shot montage. He miraculously concentrates a wealth of Alan Moore’s dense backstory into this compressed period. The use of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A’Changin'” is brilliant, as we follow the heroes through notable periods of history, such as The Comedian being behind JFK’s Assassination. I had not read one bit of Watchmen, and this title sequence helped me understand the backstory without the use of one word of dialogue. The opening actually ends up being the best part of the film.

3. Do the Right Thing

Rosie Perez dances to Public Enemy’s ‘Fight the Power’ under hot-red lights and it’s great. It’s a heated and powerful opening, with a song that is very important throughout the film. Do the Right Thing is a film with a lot of messages about our society, and this is a simple but great opening statement.

4. Grease

The title-based song is sung by Frankie Valli, a perfect choice for a film honoring the 50s. The animations are tongue in cheek satires of 1950s pop nostalgia. The cartoon likenesses of the actors are adorable. This is a fun and bubbly opening sequence that is just as infectious and the film it’s preceding.

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 

Fincher has a knack for starting his films off with great opening titles. There’s another on this list, and it’s worth noting Fight Club and Panic Room as well. Trent Reznor does it again with his cover of ‘The Immigrant Song.’ You don’t know quite what you’re looking at in the design, but it is captivating. Paired with the frenetic song, the titles are strange, gritty, edgy, but also very provocative. Which is, essentially, the entire feel of the Lisbeth Salander stories.

6. The Graduate

Perhaps one of the most well-known opening titles of all time, often homaged in many other films (including Tarantino’s Jackie Brown). Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence is Benjamin’s swan song, it encapsulates the apathy he is feeling and appears again and again throughout the film/. The sounds of the airport announcer droning mixes with the song. Benjamin rides a moving sidewalk, deep in thought and disillusioned with the world around him. This is a memorable opening that sets the stage for Benjamin’s plight which we follow throughout The Graduate.

7. Seven

Fincher does it again with Seven‘s opening. Gritty and just downright dirty, the opening gives us fun little clues and peeks into the killer that will be revealed later. One being the razor to the fingers. It’s uncomfortable, grimy, and completely and utterly creepy, as is the entire film.

8. Lilo and Stich

Lilo and Stitch‘s opening starts off with beautiful animation of the Hawaiian sea. It always makes me want to go swimming, you can feel the rays of sunshine and cool water. The Hawaiian song ‘He Mele No Lilo’ is lovely, and of course fits perfectly with the setting. Lilo and Stitch is a unique Disney film, as is their choice to set it in Hawaii. The sequence also serves as a great introductory not only for the setting, but also for our lead character. We see exactly who Lilo is, a curious and fun little girl.

8. Catch Me if You Can

This fun and jazzy animation paired with the score fits the time period to a tee, as well as the buoyant cat and mouse feel of the film. The cute animations highlight the different identities and other lives that Frank Abagnale will don throughout the film.

10. Adventures in Babysitting

This opening just perfectly encapsulates the joy of youth and what it is to be a teenager. The song begins before the first shot is even on screen. Elisabeth Shue lip-syncs and dances to ”Then He Kissed Me” by The Crystals, a classic 1960s bubblegum pop staple. There’s something sweetly nostalgic about a teenager of the 80s singing this 60s song. It’s something we wouldn’t really see in a modern film. It’s a fun and memorable way to open a comedy for young kids. She has carefree fun before her hopes are dashed by some jerk with a license plate that says “SO COOL”

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Mud: Get Her Out of My Heart

Mud has been called a modern re-telling of Huck Finn. And if one examines literature, especially literature involving coming-of-age stories, it becomes abundantly clear that male stories are the ones usually told. There is no Holden Caulfield for girls, or, incidentally, no Huck Finn. So, yet again we have a coming-of-age adventure story for boys.

The story follows two 14-year-old boys, Neckbone and Ellis as they travel by boat up the Mississippi river to a small island. There, they find an abandoned boat in a tree, whose habitant is the drifter in hiding, called Mud (Matthew McConaughey). Ellis draws a particular fascination torwards Mud, especially when he learns that he is a fugitive in hiding for defending the girl he’s loved since childhood, Juniper. Ellis, being a 14 year old boy, has romanticized notions about women, so of course he is completely swept up in the damsel-in-distress story. Ellis wants to help Mud in any way he can, so he and Juniper can reunite in the name of love.

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Mud is Ellis’ hero, he admires the knight-in-shining armor protection, this is a man that killed for the woman he loves. But Ellis has no idea how dysfunctional Junpier and Mud’s relationship really is. The more he learns, he becomes disappointed and angry. From his parents’ impending divorce, to the advice from Neckbone’s womanizing uncle, (“So you get your heart broke? Don’t walk around with a shit look on your face. Get back in there, get your tip wet. You hear me?”) there doesn’t seem to be the kind of true love in the world that he’s seeking. But this is something Ellis has to learn, something that will take him growing up to do so.

Mud‘s story centers on the relationship between boy and man, fathers and sons. And much at the heart of the story is these male characters’ relationship with women. Every single male character has a story of a woman who wronged him. There is not one woman in the film who doesn’t betray her man, whether it be by cheating on him, using him or forcing him to change.

The opening scene features Galen, Neckbone’s caretaker and uncle, going after a girl who has just run out of the house. “You make sure you always treat your girls like princesses!” She tells Neckbone and Ellis. We soon learn that Galen tried something in bed that she wasn’t comfortable with. Galen and the boys just laugh it off.

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Ellis mother, Mary Lee, (played by American Horror Story’s Sarah Paulson) is level-headed, all she wants to do is have a conversation with her family at the dinner table about her decision to sell the houseboat. Her husband is angry at this decision, feeling that she is selfish for wanting to uproot the family by moving to town and destroy his livelihood. The father tries to turn Ellis against his mother, and women in general, telling him that they are all liars who are out to get you.

In one argument, the father says to Mary Lee and Ellis, “If you steal a man’s life out from under him in front of your son and think he won’t take a lesson from it than you’re even dumber than you look. She’s raising you like a snake herself, and you can curl up with her before I give a damn.”

Then we have May Pearl, an older girl, the object of Ellis’ affection. One day he spots her in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot with a crowd of her friends and a senior boy with his hands all over her. May Pearl pushes him off, but of course Ellis has to rush and save the day by punching the boy. (Being the knight in shining armor that he envisions Mud as) May Pearl rewards with Ellis a kiss on the cheek, and wants him to call her. One night, alone together at a party, they kiss. In Ellis’ mind, they are now boyfriend and girlfriend. But turns out May Pearl is embarrassed to be seen with a high school freshman, so she betrays him and breaks his heart in public, saying that they were never together.

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And of course, there’s Juniper. Tom, Ellis’ neighbor and Mud’s father figure (played by Sam Shepard) plainly states that “The real reason Mud’s in all the trouble he’s got is because of her. He’s been in love with that girl since he was your age.Trouble is she don’t care about nobody but herself.” We learn from Tom that Juniper would get in relationships with abusive men, “bed down with the meanest snake she could” and then when things went bad, she’d go running to Mud. So in all, Juniper is just using Mud. Tom has been betrayed by women too, his wife died in childbirth along with his son.

Mud and Juniper, through notes that Ellis and Neckbone intercept, make plans to meet and run off together. But when Ellis and Neckbone go to pick her up, they find her in a bar hitting on another man. When they relay this information to Mud, however, he does not say anything but “And that’s how it is”.

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So yes, the film does depict many of the female characters as ungrateful bitches who’ve ruined their men’s lives. But it does not necessarily end with that portrayal. There’s a pivotal scene at the end which does unhinge this.

Ellis has been dismayed by all he’s learnt. The Juniper and Mud relationship is not the star-crossed lovers story he pictured. His heart has been broken by May Pearl. Ellis’ idealized notions of love have been shattered. And, he has no role models for how to treat women. So when Ellis finds himself being betrayed by a woman, of course he wants to react with the vehemence of his elders, that’s the examples they’ve shown.

But in this pivotal scene, Mud teaches Ellis otherwise. Mud shows up in his room, he tells Ellis “I don’t traffic in the truth too often. But I did love her. I do love her. I just made mistakes. We both did. This is a hard life to keep up with. You can’t blame her for getting tired of trying”.

Here we have Mud not blaming everything on Juniper, but admitting he has made mistakes and is equally flawed as well. This admission is so unlike the other men in the film, who are so willing to blame everything on their wives or girlfriends. When Mud found out Juniper was flirting with another man instead of running off with him, he didn’t respond by spouting off with hatred and anger.

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Ellis goes on by saying “My dad says you can’t count on women loving you. He said you can’t trust them.” And Mud, quite unabashedly and plainly responds “That’s not true.”

This is coming from Mud’s hero, who has just completely shut down everything Ellis has been learning from the “role models” around him.

Could the film have benefited from more well-rounded depictions of the female characters? Yes. But here we have who Ellis looks up to smashing everything he has ever learnt by those around him. The audience, like Ellis, is surrounded by these negative and cliched point of views of women. But Mud offers the one point of view that is not completely one dimensional, not so eager to blame everything on women. At the end of the film Ellis is seen waving to a girl who lives near his new apartment building. Perhaps he is able to start over with a new perspective on girls and women, and of love through his coming-of-age experiences with Mud.

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The film ends with The Beach Boys “Help Me Rhonda” who’s lyrics perfectly sum up the majority of the male characters’ inner dialogue.

She was gonna be my wife
And I was gonna be her man
But she let another guy come between us
And it ruined our plan

Well, Rhonda you caught my eye (caught my eye)
And I can give you lotsa reasons why
You gotta help me Rhonda
Help me get her out of my heart

I think, ultimately, since the film is mostly from Ellis’ point of view, that is the reason for the limited portrayals of women. Women are mysteries to Ellis, and so they’re mysteries to the audience, too. He can’t help but view the women as the other male figures in his life view them, up until he meets Mud. (Not saying that Mud has an entirely perfect point of view, though)

But in all wouldn’t it be refreshing if we could get some more female narratives? Perhaps one day young girls will get their own Huck Finn story, whether through film or literature.

What’s Up With That Ending?: Gone Baby Gone

Gone Baby Gone is one of those rare movies that truly makes you debate about it’s ending. For most people, it even makes them rage. On the iMDb message boards, there’s over one hundred comments in reply to the simple question “Was he right or wrong?”

Gone Baby Gone features a compelling protagonist, Casey Afleck who plays Patrick, a street-wise private detective. He is hired by the family of a missing girl, Amanda, to help find her. Amanda’s mother, Helene, is a belligerent drug addict and drunk, who doesn’t take very good care of her little girl.

The twist of the film is that Amanda’s uncle conspired with the Captain of the missing children’s unit to take Amanda away from her mother forever. When the uncle’s wife (unknowledgeable of the plan) hired Patrick to investigate the supposed missing girl, they had to stage Amanda’s death. Eventually Patrick discovers Amanda alive and well living with Captain Doyle, played by Morgan Freeman. And that question of the right or wrong decision is put to the test.

Throughout the film, Patrick struggles with what is considered right and wrong mostly because of his Catholic beliefs. He experiences Catholic guilt for murdering a pedophile. His conversation with Detective Bressant illustrates the overall themes of the film, and ultimately the ending.

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Patrick: My priest says shame is god telling you what you did was wrong.

Detective: Fuck him.

Patrick: Murder’s a sin.

Detective: Depends on who you do it to. Would you do it again? Clip Corwin Earle?

Patrick: No.

Detective: Does that make you right?

Patrick: I don’t know.

Detective: It doesn’t make it wrong, though, does it?

After all, this man was raping and killing children. Didn’t he deserve to be killed? This conversation also voices the concerns of the audience, not just about the situation of murder, but whether Patrick should let Amanda stay with the Captain or go back to her mother.

The root of the decision Patrick must make is what makes a good or bad mother. Motherhood, and parenting in general, is complicated. So many parents or mothers are judgmental of how others are raising their children. There’s battles of breast feeding vs. not breast feeding, iPads for kids or completely ban them, or the ultimate, working mom vs. stay at home mom. All these battles come with reasons why if you choose one side that makes you a bad parent.

Mothers, not fathers, are ultimately the ones with whom society judges. Motherhood is supposed to be instinctual, the one thing that women are made for. Therefore we are all supposed to live up to these highly unrealistic expectations of what makes a ‘good mother’. These expectations are often quite unfounded and highly unreachable.

But these type of mommy wars certainly don’t apply to Helene. At least those mothers are doing something that’s debated upon. Amy Ryan plays Helene Oscar-nominated performance, and what we see of her shows that Helene does not even care demonstrate any type of parenting skills to even debate about.

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Amanda’s uncle, who conceived this plan to take Amanda away, tells a story of how she left her three-year old locked in a hot car for hours, leaving her literally roasting. We see in flashbacks that Helene would rather leave her kid alone in the house while she goes on drug runs. And in one of the first scenes after her daughter has been kidnapped we see her not as a typical grieving and worried mom, but just sitting on the couch watching Jerry Springer. So, yes, Helene seems to be what most would consider unequivocally a bad mother. She seems not to miss her child when she’s gone, and cares little for her child when she’s there.

For the twist, when Patrick discovers Amanda with the Captain, the film departs from the book. In the book, Patrick had called the police beforehand and after seeing Amanda was happy, he could do nothing about it. The film changes it by having Patrick make the decision himself right then and there, we see him grapple with it and the audience does as well. His girlfriend believes he should keep mum and let her stay, but Patrick believes that would be the wrong thing. He finds himself at a crossroads. Patrick and Captain Doyle also discuss their sides of the issue, leaving the audience to continue to wrestle with the decision.

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Patrick: I’m calling state police in five minutes. They’ll be here in ten.

Captain: Thought you would’ve done that by now. You know why you haven’t? Because you think this might be an irreparable mistake. Because deep inside you, you know it doesn’t matter what the rules say. When the lights go out, and you ask yourself “is she better off here or better off there”, you know the answer. And you always will. You… you could do a right thing here. A good thing. Men live their whole lives without getting this chance. You walk away from it, you may not regret it when you get home. You may not regret it for a year, but when you get to where I am, I promise you, you will. I’ll be dead, you’ll be old. But she… she’ll be dragging around a couple of tattered, damaged children of her own, and you’ll be the one who has to tell them you’re sorry.

Patrick: You know what? Maybe that’ll happen. And if it does, I’ll tell them I’m sorry and I’ll live with it. But what’s never gonna happen and what I’m not gonna do is have to apologize to a grown woman who comes to me and says: “I was kidnapped when I was a little girl, and my aunt hired you to find me. And you did, you found me with some strange family. But you broke your promise and you left me there. Why? Why didn’t you bring me home? Because all the snacks and the outfits and the family trips don’t matter. They stole me. It wasn’t my family and you knew about it and you knew better and you did nothing”. And maybe that grown woman will forgive me, but I’ll never forgive myself.

Captain: I did what I did for the sake of the child. All right. For me, too. But now, I’m asking you for the sake of the child. I’m begging you. You think about it.

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This is no easy decision. It’s something that would effect the outcome of Amanda’s life forever. Like the murder of the pedophile, does the taking away of Amanda matter if you look at who they’re doing it to? Doesn’t Helene deserve it?

Patrick mentions money, saying that all the material objects and comfort they provided is not what makes a good parent. This is true, there are probably many rich parents who spend superfluous amounts on their children but aren’t really there for them. But Patrick fails to see, or chooses to overlook the fact that the Captain and his wife would love her. They would provide beautiful memories and happiness for her, rich or poor didn’t matter.

What could Helene offer? She’s neglectful, cares more about men and drugs then her daughter. Leaves her all alone in the house, or in hot cars.

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And motherhood is not what is the only issue here, it is also the law. Religion requires you to abide by rules, clearly defining what is good vs. what is bad. The laws of our country acts that, too. The laws and rules tell us what is right and wrong, it is set there and we should not question it.

But Patrick knows, just as the rules of Catholicism tells him murder is bad, that the law distinguishes that this what the Captain has done is kidnapping. The laws and rules know what is right and what is wrong. We should not follow our hearts.

Gone Baby Gone asks the question: What do we do when morality opposes the law? Patrick believes it was wrong for Captain Doyle to kidnap the child, whether or not her mother was unfit. The Captain believes believed it would be wrong to leave the child in the care of a poor mother, regardless of how the justice system would see it.

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Patrick calls the police, and Amanda is returned to her mother. Captain Doyle and the Uncle are sent to jail. In a gut-punching of an ending scene we are left to see the remnants of Patrick’s decision.

Patrick stops by Helene’s house, where she is getting ready for a date. The guy saw Helene on some TV appearances, so she is clearly benefitting from her daughter’s abduction. Amanda is sitting on the couch, watching T.V. Patrick offers to babysit and sits on the couch by her. He notices her doll, which had been on display on news channels as the last thing she was carrying. He asks “Is that Mirabelle” Amanda replies, “Annabelle” leading us to believe that Helene didn’t pay attention enough to even know the name of her daughter’s favorite doll.

Gone Baby Gone tells us that what rules and laws consider the ‘right’ thing to do is not always what you should do. When laws and morality mix, there is not always one clearly defined right or wrong.

The film asks the audience, what would you have done? (Personally, if I were in Patrick’s shoes I would’ve let the Captain keep her.) Do you think he was right or wrong? Was there no such thing as right and wrong in this situation?