Meeting in the Aisles

Films of the Decade – Part I: No.30 – No.28

Posted in Features by le1gh on December 3, 2009

So I was going to intro this feature with a ‘Top 10 Reasons To Make a ‘Films of the 00s List”. You know, a wry commentary on the endless rash of ‘Best Of’ polls that flare up every year-end, reaching epidemic proportions when trying to sum up a whole decade; a punt on the punning titles – ‘Noughties but Nice’, ‘Double-0 Heaven’ – that could be used; some flannel about why this is the only definitive grouping you need.

In the end, though, this list has the same aspirations, inclinations and limitations as all other qualitative lists. It’s an attempt to honour excellence; to highlight the unfairly overlooked; to order the chaos. And of course, to congratulate yourself on your exquisite judgment. We all know – or should – there’s no unarguable ‘greatest’ in any art; there’s ‘great’ and there’s the rest. And great should be good enough for anyone. The rest is merely personal taste. Or, if you disagree, lack thereof.

One note on the selections: for each of the 30 films chosen – and trust me, 50, even 100 would’ve been easier – I’ve paired it with another film that suggested a link or connection (OK, 60 films. Sue me). This addition perhaps didn’t resonate as strongly as its counterpart, but seemed also noteworthy, particularly when, as with most examples here, it was under-appreciated on arrival. And they say, if you can reach just one person… your powers of persuasion probably suck. So on that optimistic note, let the countdown commence (and gradually unveil itself over the rest of 2009)…

30)            NO END IN SIGHT (2007)

Dir & Scr: Charles Ferguson

The Noughties saw the movie documentary attain unprecedented popularity. New digital cameras, directors-as-stars (Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock, Nick Broomfield), the growing Reality TV obsession all helped – which makes No End in Sight’s achievements even more impressive. A talking head-based, archive-led investigation into the Iraq invasion quagmire, made by middle-aged scholar-turned-filmmaker Charles Ferguson, it’s no dinosaur: rather a classic example of old-school reporting showing flashy showbiz kids a thing or two.

Ferguson spotlights those major players tasked with sorting out Iraq post-Saddam, only to find the Bush administration that sent them tying their hands, then effectively lopping them off. Ignoring expert advice, allowing widescale looting, disbanding the Iraqi army, the systematic arrogance and ignorance of Donald Rumsfeld’s cabal is a terrifying textbook lesson in how not to occupy a country. Avoiding cheap laughs and easy pot shots, Ferguson also never panders to the traditional liberal view against the invasion per se, instead weighing the facts to prosecute a damning case with expert witnesses and physical evidence. In an era where instant opinion and faceless conjecture often trade as news, it’s a superlative piece of in-depth journalism, whose understated power leaves you reeling, despairing, yet roused for active engagement, not passive consumption.

No End in Sight Trailer:

See also:

GRIZZLY MAN (2005)

Dir: Werner Herzog

Of all the showboating filmmakers who pop up in their own work, none are as refreshingly welcome as wily old Werner. Equally adept at fact as fiction (though swearing there’s no difference anyway), Herzog uses the stunning ursine footage and mania of self-styled Alaskan bear savior Timothy Treadwell for another brilliant essay on nature’s “overwhelming indifference” to man. A trademark misguided, obsessive protagonist, Treadwell’s grim fate – we teasingly / shockingly see Herzog listen to the audio recording of him being eaten – results from seeing furry friends called ‘Mr. Chocolate’, where Herzog eyes only “chaos, hostility and murder.” Guess who’s right.

Grizzly Man Trailer:

29)            ZODIAC (2007)

Dir: David Fincher Scr: James Vanderbilt

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey. Jr

After two 1990s pop-culture masterpieces, Se7en and Fight Club, David Fincher had only the shallow pyrotechnics of Panic Room to show for this millennium. He, like the boogeyman of his next project, was clearly only biding his time before striking. Enter Zodiac, an epic, nightmarish jigsaw puzzle of California’s infamous, unsolved serial killer case in which Fincher largely dials down his bravura flourishes (even cinematographer Harris Savides’ High-Def digital imagery is discreetly revolutionary) for something altogether more resonant: not just a haunting, but a haunted thriller.

Zodiac stands proudly opposed to this decade’s penchant for neat, solvable CSI or Da Vinci Code mysteries. In fact, its precedent isn’t howdunits at all, but rather more cerebral procedural All The President’s Men (with which it, presumably consciously, shares a composer, David Shire). Acutely aware of the price paid by paranoia and obsession, it’s a film that plumbs the darkness of not knowing, utter anathema in the modern Google age. A brave, uncompromising and, yes, at times, utterly chilling film, not least for turning Donovan’s happy-clappy 60s hippie anthem ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ into the most sinister use of a pop singalong since Reservoir Dogs hijacked ‘Stuck in the Middle With You.’

Zodiac Trailer:

See also:

MEMORIES OF MURDER (2003)

Dir: Bong Joon-ho Scr: Bong Joon-ho, Kim Kwang-rim

Stars: Kang Song-ho, Kim Sang-kyung, Kim Roe-ha

Oldboy’s Park Chan-wook usually lionizes plaudits for Korean cinema’s remarkable 21st century emergence, but I prefer – uh-oh – hits from the Bong (see also 2006’s excellent monster movie The Host). Memories is, in a way, his own Zodiac, based on unsolved 80s Korean killings and Bong also uses genre to convey a wider social malaise in insecure times, infusing it with contemporary Korean technical excellence – including a thrilling moonlit pursuit – and often disconcerting mix of ultra-violence with sudden gallows comedy. There’s also a charismatic turn from one of the decade’s great acting finds, Mr Vengeance himself Kang Song-ho.

Memories of Murder Trailer:

28)            THIS IS ENGLAND (2006)

Dir & Scr: Shane Meadows

Stars: Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Joseph Gilgun

As a child of the 80s, I’ve never seen so accurate a depiction of growing up in Thatcher’s Britain as Shane Meadows’ coming-of-age gem. It’s quasi-autobiographical – for Shane read newcomer Thomas Turgoose’s ‘Shaun’ – and from its dead-on opening montage (the Falklands War, Arthur Scargill, Roland Rat) through its first hour, it’s pretty much flawless: hilarious (“you dress like Keith Chegwin’s son”), cheeky, poignant and bopping to the reggae-inflected rhythms that young Shaun’s benevolent, adopted skinhead tribe bask in.

Trouble in paradise starts with the return from prison of bullyboy Combo and his bilious, racist rhetoric. As in other Meadows films, the surrogate father figure (Shaun’s own killed in the Falklands) looms large and if the rites of passage turns down a familiar path, Stephen Graham’s ferocious yet vulnerable performance as Combo and a brilliant knit of on-camera unknowns and non-professionals work wonders. The now-seasoned pro Turgoose is a revelation, as are Meadows’ maturing compositional skills, ending up with nothing less than a ska-scored 400 Blows. This is British – strike that, English – filmmaking at its best.

This is England – Shaun Meets Woody’s Gang:

See also:

ALMOST FAMOUS (2000)

Dir & Scr: Cameron Crowe

Stars: Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Cameron Crowe’s visual mix tape to his own adolescent adventures naturally plays cuter than This is England. And getting shafted by Rolling Stone magazine can’t match crossing the National Front. But accept the hazy nostalgia and ‘Tiny Dancer’ tour bus singsongs on their own terms and this is a disarmingly winning fable by – when on song – one of America’s smartest mainstream filmmakers. Inveterate scene-stealers Frances McDormand and Philip Seymour Hoffman add bite and shaggy fictional band Stillwater ring eerily true and if we can’t all be teenage rock journalists but Crowe’s rose-tinted shades at least help us look the part.

Almost Famous ‘Tiny Dancer’ Scene:

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  1. […] Films of the Decade – Part II Posted in Uncategorized by le1gh on December 6, 2009 Part I can be found here: […]

  2. […] Films of the Decade – Part III Posted in Features by le1gh on December 11, 2009 Part I can be found here: […]

  3. […] Films of the Decade – Part IV Posted in Features by le1gh on December 15, 2009 Part I can be found here. […]

  4. […] Part I is playing the music over here. […]


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