David Fincher’s new film, Gone Girl, an adaptation of the bestseller by Gillian Flynn, who also wrote the script for the movie, is out this week.
In a few years, it will be interesting to see where Gone Girl sits in Fincher’s body of work. Because in his case, it takes a few years and plenty of sittings to digest his films.
Some of them – most notably Fight Club – have been famously written off on release, only for critics to change their minds further down the watching road.
Film critics, eh? They haven’t a bloody clue.
Bloody clues are what Fincher’s movies are all about, and Gone Girl is no different. But what is the director’s best work to date? Begin the countdown.
9. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
David Fincher has not made a terrible film, so it seems a bit ridiculous to call one of them his worst, but what the hey: this is his worst film. Not a bad film to call your worst though, as Benjamin Button is a sweeping epic concerned with the intricacies of time and chance.
Brad Pitt gets progressively younger (hang on, that’s a film plot, not reality?) and keeps catching up with Cate Blanchett. It’s all very overwhelming in a good way and pleased the Academy no end – it’s just not very Fincher, and as a result, not Fincher at his finest.
The Best Bit: The car accident
8. Alien 3 (1992)
Fincher’s feelings on his first feature and the studio interference that came with it are well known, so it’s a minor miracle then that the final film turns out to be pretty decent. Not Alien or Aliens decent, but then it’s hard to top the best space horror and best space action ever made.
Fincher tried to do something a bit different with Alien 3, and while it’s muddled in parts, it does have the guy from the Tetley Tea adverts getting munched by an Xenomorph.
The Best Bit: ‘Let’s fight it!’
7. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)
It was always going to be a bit difficult for Fincher to put his own stamp on such a well-known and well-read tale, but he takes a pretty good stab with his girl and her tattoo. His girl is Rooney Mara, who is fantastic, to the point where Daniel Craig’s sturdy straight man doesn’t make the same kind of impact as Michael Nyqvist in the original Swedish version of Stieg Larsson’s thriller novel.
The remake didn’t span any sequels despite making more than $200 million at the worldwide box office. Not sure how they could top that Enya scene anyway.
The Best Bit: The remarkable opening credits
6. Panic Room (2002)
Jodie Foster does tough matriarch in her sleep, but there is a lot more going on in Panic Room than meets the eye. Fincher points his camera through household appliances and covers every inch of the New York home that is his setting. It’s his Rear Window, and it’s pretty good, featuring an excellent performance from a pre-Twilighting Kristen Stewart.
The Best Bit: The North by Northwest riffing title sequence
5. The Game (1997)
If this was any other director’s movie, it would be Number One in their list – it’s a mark of Fincher’s quality that it features in the midway point of his canon. Michael Douglas specialises in playing dislikeable characters, so it’s a real treat to see his rich businessman put through the mill by his little brother Sean Penn. They make perfect feuding siblings and this is a perfect little mind-bending movie.
The Best Bit: The dinner with Conrad
4. Fight Club (1999)
Fight Club is one of those films that made you feel different about the world you lived in after you walked out of the cinema. Derided on release then later hailed as a masterpiece, the truth is somewhere near the second station.
Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter are perfectly cast as a love triangle with a difference in this bracing adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel. Fincher continually manages to take great literature and make it even better on the big screen.
The Best Bit: Meeting Tyler Durden
3. The Social Network (2010)
When this film was generating serious Oscar buzz after its release, all the talk was about Aaron Sorkin’s punchy script. Sorkin went on to win his Oscar, but Fincher lost out. He was in good company – Darren Aronofsky also failed to bag Best Director for Black Swan as The King’s Speech took the major gongs.
Sorkin deserved his win, but perhaps not all of the credit – writing the words on the page is one thing, cajoling your actors into saying them properly is another. And Fincher, a man fond of multiple takes, is one of the great cajolers.
The Social Network is almost an action film, so slick are its various sequences – the opening break-up in the bar… the night-time walk across campus… hacking the college computer system… it’s a breathless opening half hour or so in the fictional life of Facebook maker Mark Zuckerberg.
The words are Sorkin’s, but it’s Fincher’s film. And it’s a great one. A modern classic.
The Best Bit: Adding up the numbers
2. Se7en (1995)
The best of the Fincher/Pitt collaborations, a film that demonstrated Fincher was a serious moviemaking talent after cutting his teeth making videos for the likes of Madonna and The Rolling Stones.
Se7en doesn’t so much chew up the serial killer thriller blueprint and spit it out as staple it to a wall and torture it for 18 hours a day across the span of one year. It is relentless filmmaking that has yet to be equalled in its genre.
The Best Bit: One word. Not ‘box’. But ‘sloth’.
1. Zodiac (2007)
And so we get to the best David Fincher movie there’s been so far. And, of course, it’s the one that nobody wanted to see. It’s the only Fincher movie that didn’t make it to $100 million at the worldwide box office. But why is that?
The fact that it’s more than two-and-a-half hours long doesn’t help. The fact that there is no clear resolution at the end of that length was another bone of contention. The fact that it meanders and goes into alleyways with deads ends is another factor.
And yet… and yet… all those perceived negatives are what makes Zodiac Fincher’s best film. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr (and Brian Cox in one of the seven movies he happened to be making that week), it’s about a decades-long search for a killer that ultimately proves fruitless – the film should be long and meandering.
It is also Fincher’s love letter to San Francisco and the Bay Area he grew up in. As well as this, it’s a tribute to All The President’s Men, perhaps the greatest movie about journalism. Well, it and Fletch.
The Best Bit: The Transamerica Pyramid building gets built