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Everything Is Connected: 5 Movies That Paved The Way For 'Cloud Atlas'

by The Playlist Staff
October 25, 2012 2:02 PM
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"The Nines" (2007)
A latecomer to the post-"Matrix"/"Donnie Darko" is-the-world-real sub-genre that sprung up around the turn of millennium, "The Nines" is about as ambitious a directorial debut as you could ask for without busting a budget. But in the hands of veteran screenwriter John August ("Go," "Big Fish"), stepping behind the camera for the first time, it's a film that, while rough around the edges and sometimes infuriating, is a pretty nifty little mindbender, and one that anticipates "Cloud Atlas" in its use of multiple roles and parallel worlds. As with "The Fountain," three storylines are followed, sharing a cast. In the first ("The Prisoner"), a burnout actor (Ryan Reynolds) under house arrest finds himself endlessly coming across the number 9. In the next ("Reality Television"), Reynolds plays a TV writer trying to cast his friend (Melissa McCarthy, as herself) in his new show, who may or may not be in a reality TV programme. And in the third ("Knowing"), Reynolds is a video game designer told by a mysterious woman (Hope Davis) that he's a god-like being with the power to undo the universe. Told sequentially rather than intercut, it nevertheless enables the cast (which also includes Octavia Spencer and Elle Fanning; August certainly has a keen eye for casting) to stretch themselves. And though the storytelling can lean towards frustratingly vague rather than intriguingly cryptic in places, it certainly brings a fresh take to material that had seemingly been done to death thanks to a loose, playful approach and the non-alienating and authentic inside baseball elements. It's like a version of "Southland Tales" that isn't a trainwreck.

“Mr. Nobody” (2009)
A warning: “Mr. Nobodyis not a good movie. At all. But in terms of films ambitiously swinging for centuries spanning connectivity, Jaco Van Dormael’s effort is certainly one of the few at least taking a shot. Jared Leto stars at the titular Mr. Nobody, aka Nemo, a 120-year-old man who wakes up in 2092 to find out he’s the last mortal person on Earth, where death no longer occurs. A nosy reporter breaks into his hospital room where he is being confined, and thus the film begins as Nemo -- whose memory is fading -- tries his best to recount his life. What emerges are three different timelines as “Mr. Nobody” takes us through the different lives he might have lived, depending on which female classmate he would have taken up with as a child. Mixing string theory (the film features a staggering four monologues about this), some cornball stuff about angels and a concept that Dormael never gets a handle on, the result is a bit of a muddled mess of ideas. It certainly doesn’t help that the women in the film are one-dimensional and each seemingly saddled with some particular baggage that either makes them unlikeable or unengaging. Also, if you can’t stand Jared Leto, this pretentious film won’t help. But for those taken with the butterfly effect musings of “Cloud Atlas,” “Mr. Nobody” might make an interesting follow-up at home, as some of similar thematic terrain is definitely broached. But don’t say we didn’t warn you.

"Wings of Desire" (1987)
The idea of interconnected lives across time and space, as we said, seems to be a more modern one; you don't really find anything from the first half-century of cinema dealing with similar subject matter. Wim Wenders' magic-realist masterpiece "Wings of Desire" isn't quite in the same wheelhouse as "Cloud Atlas" or its other forebearers, but you can certainly see the 1987 film as an early seed from which others grew. Set in a Fritz Lang-ish contemporary West Berlin (just before, unbeknownst to anyone, it was all about to come crumbling down), it follows a pair of angels who've been in the city before it was a city, one of whom, Damiel (Bruno Ganz), falls in love with a trapeze artist (Solveig Dommartin), the other, Cassiel (Otto Sander), tries to save a young man from suicide. Meanwhile, Peter Falk, as himself (Der Filmstar as it is in the credits), is in Berlin too, and as it turns out, used to be an angel himself. A love letter to its setting, its history and its people, shot gloriously by the great Henri Alekan (behind Cocteau's "La Belle et la bete"), it's a sprawling tone poem dedicated to Tarkovsky, Ozu and Truffaut, and the least narratively inclined of these five films, but one whose ambitions aren't dissimilar to what The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer were going for. If "Cloud Atlas" leaves you thirsty for something as bold and cinematic, this could well be a good place to start.

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  • F | May 19, 2013 11:07 AMReply

    Maybe you say that films like Mr. Nobody or Cloud Atlas are horrible only because they make you feel in a way that you have never feel.

  • Unixtreme | November 23, 2012 11:41 AMReply

    How you dare to say that Mr Nobody isn't a good movie? You might not like it, since it's plot is so-so and most aspects of it are flawed, but it succeeds at evoking certain feelings on the viewer, and on Jin scenes you feel sympathy for her, on every different timeline you feel differently, and Anna scenes are so sweet. It's a beautiful movie from a visual point of view.

  • Franka | October 30, 2012 8:53 PMReply

    I guess I need to see these Kieslowski movies now.

  • Dean Caldicott | October 30, 2012 10:01 AMReply

    Lindsay Andersons O Lucky Man might be worth a mention when it comes to sprawling intertwining plots and actors playing multiple roles within the same film. Well its a much better example than back to the future 2 anyway?

  • Jon | October 27, 2012 10:23 PMReply

    You are crazy. Mr. Nobody = Gold.

  • Common | October 27, 2012 9:50 AMReply

    Nice piece.

  • Paul | October 26, 2012 3:19 PMReply

    That Mr. Nobody review is still shite.

  • Jon | October 27, 2012 10:24 PM

    Agreed. Mr. Nobody is beautiful.

  • gert | October 26, 2012 7:27 AMReply

    how is mr nobody terrible ? wtf. the nines is obviously the shittiest film of this bunch

  • Shala | October 25, 2012 5:31 PMReply

    Love that "The Nines" was mentioned as I own that one. I stumbled across it years ago when I was trying to find a good film for the indie film club I had going among friends. It's really trippy but really interesting.

  • hg | October 25, 2012 5:18 PMReply

    mr. nobody is a great movie

    fountain is awful

  • jimmiescoffee | October 25, 2012 3:18 PMReply

    'the fountain' is a near perfect movie. 'mr nobody, yes indeed, horrible.

  • Nik Grape | October 25, 2012 2:31 PMReply

    No love for "Sliding Doors"? HA. No, this is a great list actually, the two that popped up in my mind as soon as I saw the title of the article are "Magnolia" and "The Fountain", both of which are mentioned. But I'd add "2001" only cause I think every ambitious film that wets its feet in sci-fi has a debt of gratitude to pay.

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