Hyperlink cinema is an interesting subgenre that has entered the lexicon for films. It’s a term that was coined by journalist and poet Alissa Quart and popularized by Pulitzer prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert in his review of the complex geopolitical drama Syriana.
They are films that contain a wide variety of characters and stories, from different backgrounds and different occupations, who are somehow thrust into one another’s lives, interlocking and complicating storylines for both the players and the audiences. Frequently, these films will also play with time, using non-linear storytelling to create plot-twists and tension. A good portion of these films are interested in the bigger picture at work, the desultory nature of life, how each person and their principles are often compromised due to random and sinuous circumstances, of which they have little or no control over. It’s a thrilling genre and one that is too frequently overlooked. So let’s dive right in!
Short Cuts (1993)
21 Grams (2003)
After Hours (1985)
Nine Lives (2005)
#10: Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (2002)
Inspired by director Jill Sprecher, who was victim to a series of arbitrary muggings in New York City, her valiant sophomore effort takes a slightly sardonic and melancholy tone with several disparate characters in the Big Apple. An arrogant attorney, an insurance claims supervisor and a college physics professor are just a few ingredients of this colorful cast that culminate into their own individual perspectives of a question I hear too often these days: is the glass half full or half empty? The attorney (Matthew McConaughey), hot to trot off his newly successful case, vaunts about himself in the bar with another, miserly worker bee (Alan Arkin), who is drowning his sorrows weakly, forced to fire an employee very soon. Their decisions are what prove to be their downfalls; their lives thereafter are the results.
#9: Dunkirk (2017)
I wouldn’t have been surprised if Terence Malick had been the director of this movie; it’s certainly torn from the same cloth. A war film with fervor and might, it displays a multitude of perspectives from both soldiers and civilians on their individual missions to evacuate the shores of Dunkirk during World War II. Not one actor is singled out in this film which works like a human organism; everyone working their cog in a very big machine. And whether you are a pilot in the air, a commander on land, or a sailor at sea, you are a somebody, and in this film, with its triumphant score by Hans Zimmer and beautiful cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema, this film raises the bar.
#8: Amores Perros (2000)
This director likes car accidents. And why not? They are the seeds for many fruitful stories in cinema because they are indiscriminate, aimless and they change people’s lives forever; some for the better, most for the worse. Three vignettes are interwoven by a car crash, in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s breakthrough, where a teenager living in shambles, an enigmatic contract killer and model gets thrust into a throng of crime, culture and dogs. And in this dog-eat-dog world, the canines are the moral compass.
#7: Syriana (2005)
Probably the densest and perplexing film on this list, Syriana is a film burns with cynicism. The directorial debut of Stephen Gaghan, who made his bones with masterpiece Traffic, the film displays multiple storylines in relation to the politics that reign over the oil industry. A mourning energy analyst (Matt Damon), a corporate attorney/fixer (Jeffrey Wright), an ignorant CEO (Chris Cooper), a reluctant prince (Alexander Siddig), and a susceptible Pakistani worker (Mazhar Munir) round out this ensemble cast in a film that’s sole purpose is to confuse the viewer, where jobs and alliances divided. The film’s only hero is C.I.A. field operative Bob Barnes, played by an overweight George Clooney, whose befuddlement with the puzzling sprawl of narrative mimics our own vexation. He won the Oscar for his peculiarly nuanced performance and for those tan Member’s Only jackets.
#6: Crash (2005)
A proclaimed ‘passion piece’ by writer/director Paul Haggis, this film was also based on his experience with being mugged, having been carjacked in Los Angeles back in the early 1990s. The film interweaves the stories of people from many backgrounds, all drifting into one another’s lives based on their own racial stereotypes and prejudices. A cop, a detective, a politician, a locksmith, a housewife, a convenience store owner, and robbers come into each other’s lives with such blind animosity towards one another, but eventually learn the fallacy of their fragile belief systems. It’s a film that deconstructs and reconstructs, and, although it may at times reveal itself to be preachy, one cannot help but tear up at that car wreck scene. It’s like someone being reborn.
#5: Magnolia (1999)
Whether it was a response to the death of his own father to cancer or pre-millennial angst, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson chose to make a film that found urgency in a bunch of semi-failures in the San Fernando Valley. These characters are wild with desperation, all connected in their own eventual, idiosyncratic ways, but they don’t see that; they are withdrawn and lonely, unable to express feelings due to some past half-measure that they just can’t shake.
There’s a perfect scene where a broke down Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), a child prodigy running on the empty fumes of his successes of yesteryear, drunkenly professes his love for the bartender, vomiting the words out with no elegance and tears streaming like a geyser. There are parts of this film that are very sad and very poignant; Tom Cruise plays a television evangelist who purports his male chauvinist philosophies to other hopelessly hapless men, all the while harboring a deep-seated antipathy for a robbed childhood. It’s a long film, running just over three hours, but no other film made a flood of raining frogs make more sense.
#4: City of God (2002)
A film that plunges the audience headfirst into a life of crime, poverty, and teenage mayhem, City of God is told with brutal honesty and truculence. It follows a group of sordid characters in the slums of Rio de Janeiro from the 60s to the 80s, showing the accretion of organized crime as it begins to circumvent the city and its outskirts. Heavy is the king that wears the crown in these tales of contempt, as the throne is traded off as often as someone eats their next meal. It’s an aggressive outlook at an undeveloped city, but more importantly, how their system of election and overthrow is just as immediate and sinister as our own. Told with an uncompromising eye by the subtle hero, a young, aspiring photographer named Rocket, the movie never wavers from the harsh travails of growing up with no one to count on.
#3: Traffic (2000)
An expose on the banality that is the drug war, here is a movie that blends art house filmmaking with commercial familiarity to make one of the most engrossing experiences of the era. A newly appointed drug czar (Michael Douglas) attempting to halt substance abuse in America, while simultaneously dealing with his daughter’s (Erika Christensen) drug addiction. A naïve housewife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) of a drug cartel (Steven Bauer) who proves to be more than meets the eye. A DEA agent (Don Cheadle) who wants to bring the cartel to justice. And a Mexican cop (Benicio del Toro) with a good heart is imposed on a mission that compromises his moral fortitude.
All of these brilliantly distinct characters are put to the test as they question their sworn institutions, asking: we’ll we ever be able to win this war? The inevitable answer is no, and though no dent is felt in their futile efforts, there are moments where the baseball stadium lights shine bright amongst darkness surrounding.
#2: Pulp Fiction (1994)
A film that probably needs no precedence, this showstopper linked together some of the most pop-culture savvy residents of 1990s Los Angeles. A boxer, two hitmen, a mob boss and his wife, two robbers, a fixer, and many other venal, yet vibrant characters are pulled together in a crime saga that spins from noir to screwball comedy to horror all in one showboat. It’s a film that doesn’t stop the party, as foretold through a soundtrack that never ceases, always moving and always dancing. It rewinds and flashes forward, bending time and tailoring it to its every want and need.
I think I too often take for granted what this film has accomplished for so many other movies that came after it. Because amongst its actors, who give themselves in full to the characters that have followed their careers forever, are the words that make it a true masterpiece. So, grab yourself a Big Kahuna Burger and some Sprite to wash it down with, and enjoy.
#1: Nashville (1975)
Am I going to get some flak for making this number one? Who cares! It’s the best, a blasphemous American epic, singing amongst a kaleidoscope of fireworks that celebrate the nation. Nashville is a populist film that takes place over five days and follows the adventures, escapades and mistakes of twenty-four characters. The plot revolves around a political rally for a politician that never finds his way on the screen. The characters have their own idiosyncrasies and peccadilloes, traveling from far and wide to get to this minor epicenter of America, but they all culminate with a similar goal, which is to find happiness in the midst of the burgeoning country music scene.
Robert Altman was a director fascinated by the randomness of life, how people can get on a bus, move to a city they don’t know, and become friends with other transients who are there trying to find the same. Country music isn’t even a personal favorite genre of mine, but this film makes every song (about an hour of music, total) blossom with each strum, chord, beat, grunt and melody. And, although not every cast member can necessarily sing or play an instrument, you still feel like they are in the band, a part of the biology of it, influencing it just as much as the music influences them to dance. And when you watch the film, and it forms its mosaic down to the last detail, you feel like you, too, could fit right in.
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