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Movies of 1997 Bracket Game: Boogie Nights vs Good Will Hunting

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And here we are in the second round of our 1997 movie bracket! The format for this round will be a little different than last round’s trailer and catch-all observations on the films and the people who made them. Over the next four days I’ll be featuring individual scenes from the competing films, discussing how they are written and shot and how they are reflective of the movies as a whole. While this will certainly say something about the films, I want to remind everyone involved that you are voting for the movie as a whole and not the featured scene.

Oh, by the way, SPOILERS!

The last spot in our second round was nabbed by Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element, proving again that I have very little idea what you guys are going to do in this bracket.

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Because of the format to this round I’m going to bring the featured scene video up in the article to encourage you to watch them prior to reading whatever nonsense I’m going to make up to say about them. So here’s a central scene from Boogie Nights. WARNING: This scene IS a SPOILER. If you haven’t seen the movie, go see it and then come back here. If you have seen the movie, then you already know what I’m going to show you.

Obviously what we’ve got here is one of those sure fire ways for a filmmaker to show-off. The long take tracking shot (see GoodfellasTouch of Evil, Weekend, and The Player). It doesn’t take a genius level film scholar to recognize when there hasn’t been a cut for a little while, and if you’re following a single character through a series of areas, it’s made just that much more obvious. But that’s not intended as any kind of criticism of the scene or movie. After all, this is a scene that should certainly grab your attention and that goes out of its way to then gradually ratchet up the tension as it unfolds. This is done masterfully by director Paul Thomas Anderson and cameraman Andy Shuttleworth through what you see and what you don’t see and how you hear what you hear.

The scene is both fantastically detailed and elegantly understated, really using nothing more than it needs. In fact, the viewer is consistently hoping to see more than is being shown. It’s one of the strengths of following Little Bill and only getting a general feel for the surrounding party and what everyone else is doing. We know what Little Bill sees in that back bedroom, but it’s still left to our imagination. When he retrieves the gun from his glove box, we’re pretty sure it’s a gun, but we don’t actually see it clear enough to fully confirm that suspicion. And then he locks the car door. And walks inside as the music gets louder and the excitement of the party builds, working the nerves to the event we know is coming, staying with the tracking shot until our belief is carried out. It’s not until that happens that Anderson finally allows the cut and releases the tension – only to deliver the shocking topper to the scene.

The scene I’ve decided to share for the Oscar-winning film Good Will Hunting is not nearly as splashy as what we saw above. Essentially, it’s a standard two-shot, but give it a gander and we’ll discuss below.

Yes, this is much simpler, but that’s also kind of the point. Hopefully you paid attention to the different cuts and what each shot actually showed you while you were watching and didn’t get too caught up in that wonderful monologue from Robin Williams. If so, we’ll wait while you go watch it again….okay, ready? Good.

Notice as the scene begins, the filmmakers do us the favor of establishing the setting with a long shot. They’re in a lush green city park and Sean is staring at the water, which recalls the previous scene in which Will deconstructs his psychology simply by looking at a painting he’d done. The painting was a water scene. This is the scene Sean wants to talk about and the presence of a body of water for reference is dropped in for the audience without lingering on it. Because we quickly move to close up shots it never becomes heavy handed. This is a public place, offering relative safety for both men, but they have enough space that they can have this conversation without bothering the guy sitting next to them on the subway.

Early in the close-ups we get coverage of Matt Damon as Will, but as Sean gets into his speech, you’ll notice that we stay on him for a while. In fact, we don’t just rest on him, the camera subtly pivots away from Will, creating negative space on the left side of the shot and giving Sean authority he lacked by the end of the previous scene. Then, again subtly, the camera makes another move, pulling Will back into the picture to show that he really is listening this time. Will stays slightly out of focus here as Sean maintains not only the authority of his position, but of actual life experience. Then we get a cut to fully focused Will just after Sean lands with “You don’t know about real loss. Because that only occurs when you love something more than you love yourself.” The filmmaker is telling you that what Sean is saying is true through this visual shorthand. Then, even as Sean continues to have most of the words, we focus on a dead still Damon, allowing the life behind his eyes to do all of the work. At the end of the scene Sean leaves and we get a repeat of the opening shot, but this time with Will alone, which serves to drive home the point of the scene. It’s pretty masterful in its own right.

Now remember, our investigation of these excellent scenes does not define the films in their entirety, but does serve to illuminate some of the work that went into them. Make your choice for the movie you want to move to our final four and then tell us why in the comments section.

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Posted on January 26, 2017, in bracket game, Movies, poll and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I appreciate the individual scenes and analysis. For the films as whole, I voted for “Boogie Nights”, but both are outstanding films and are both my style really.

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  2. No doubt in my mind, BOOGIE NIGHTS any day (or night).

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  3. As I never saw or even heard of “Boogie Nights”, “Will Hunting” gets my vote.

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  4. This one is much, much closer than I expected! I’m usually pretty good at predicting these things but if Good Will Hunting wins, this will make the second time in a row I was wrong. I really thought Boogie Nights would walk to the Final Four. I didn’t think anything would challenge it until it reached LA Confidential.

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