Meeting in the Aisles

Films of the Decade – Part III: No.24 – No.21

Posted in Features by le1gh on December 11, 2009

Part I can be found here:

Part II is here:

24)            IN THIS WORLD (2002)

Dir: Michael Winterbottom  Scr: Tony Grisoni

Stars: Jamal Udin Torabi, Enayatullah

With ten films this decade, from larky Madchester chronicle 24 Hour Party People to chilly dystopian sci-fi Code 46, protean Michael Winterbottom is Britain’s busiest filmmaker. That sounds like a backhanded compliment, a la Spinal Tap being metal’s “loudest band”, but the ceaseless hive of activity Winterbottom generates, criss-crossing genres and global locations, adds to his particular brand of mercurial work, never as impactful as 2002’s In This World.

Scripted documentary? Vérité drama? Winterbottom ducks and dives along the borders of fact and fiction, he and unsung writer Tony Grisoni laying out a framework, but then grabbing two non-professional Afghan refugees, Jamal and Enayat, and basically accompanying them on a hellish attempted flight to London, via tourist meccas Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. Using a skeletal crew and opportunist digital camerawork that matches its material step-by-improvised-step (traumatic rides in cramped pick-up trucks and stifling cargo containers), it’s possibly the tensest road movie ever made. But one that still finds time to rejoice in small wonders: ice cream in Tehran; street football kickabouts, well, anywhere. Winterbottom flips the knee-jerk xenophobic views of immigration to show with sad-eyed wonder, that this world, in all its hostility and beauty, is all we all have.

In This World Clip (Italian subtitles):

See also:

THE CLASS (2008)

Dir: Laurent Cantet  Scr: Cantet, Robin Campillo, François Bégaudeau

Stars: François Bégaudeau, Boubacar Toure, Dalla Doucoure

A pet peeve of mine is the trend for casting non-professionals, assuming they’re more ‘real.’ Want a new face? How about the thousands of unknown trained actors out there? That said, authenticity is rarely so expertly achieved as in Laurent Cantet’s Palme D’Or-winner, about genuine inner city, multi-ethnic schoolkids and the teacher struggling to understand, let alone instruct them. Based on lead Bégaudeau’s own autobiographical tome, Cantet’s fine-tuned intuition showcases the unaffected, vibrant performances of his kids, the constant classroom negotiations of language and discipline, boldly remaining almost exclusively within school walls. Probably the best movie about teaching ever made.

The Class Clip: Apologise

23)            SCHOOL OF ROCK (2003)

Dir: Richard Linklater  Scr: Mike White

Stars: Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Mike White

Star performances don’t necessarily have to come from the greatest actors. Few people would credit Jack Black with a whole lotta range, but plug him in to trademark schlubby, self-obsessed man-child setting, turn the mania all the way up and watch him power an entire movie. Playing an ageing wannabe guitar hero turned fake substitute teacher and making use of his own Tenacious D rawk background, this is his fret-busting, string-shredding magnum opus; his (screenwriter Mike) White album; his stairway to movie star heaven.

What makes School of Rock more than just a Black hit single, in fact one of the best, most uplifting fish-out-of-water / inspirational-teacher / underdog comedies (talk about covering your bases) in years, is ultimately director Richard Linklater. He turns White’s deft, irreverent script into a symphonic ensemble with pinpoint junior casting – not a stage-school brat in sight, these kids are more than alright – instinctively knowing when to allow the film to breathe as a real group effort and when to let Black loose. It all seems so effortless but if mainstream Hollywood comedy were this easy, School would be the rule, not the exception. Then again, not all comedies are backed in Black.

School of Rock Clip: Guitar Lessons

See also:

THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED (2005)

Dir: Jacques Audiard  Scr: Audiard, Tonino Benacquista

Stars: Romain Duris, Niels Arestrup, Linh Dan Pham

Refreshing to see a foreign-language remake of a Hollywood film given how much America scavenges from abroad, especially one as assured as Audiard’s reinvention of James Toback’s 1978 debut Fingers. Yet for all Audiard’s delicate precision, it’s rising star Romain Duris’ simmering presence that powers the film. Both violent debt collector for his crooked father and passionate piano prodigy, Duris’ bottled-up, finger-tapping restlessness wordlessly conveys the constant internal battle between brutal, cornered reality and soulful artistic escape. His intensity and daring vulnerability wholly matches Harvey Keitel’s go-for-broke performance in the original, announcing Duris as France’s acting find of the decade.

The Beat That My Heart Skipped Trailer:

22)            CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000)

Dir: Ang Lee  Scr: Hui-Ling Wang, Kuo Jung Tsai, James Schamus

Stars: Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi

Ang Lee, of refined dramas Sense and Sensibility and The Wedding Banquet – directing a no-holds-barred martial arts movie? Actually Lee’s fastidious aesthetic suits the unrequited love and repressed emotional strand of this handsome wu xia (“martial chivalry”) epic, as do actors of Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh’s innate nobility. But as anyone ambushed by Crouching Tiger knows, it’s the astounding leaps and bounds of its gravity-defying fight scenes that sweep you off your feet.

While mainstream critics raved, Asian cinephiles griped that earlier masterpieces like The Magic Blade or A Touch of Zen had done it all before, without the patina of arthouse kudos. Perhaps. But Lee respects and understands tradition, taking a 1930s story cycle, insisting on poetic, word-perfect Mandarin from his non-native-speaking cast and co-opting legendary fight choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping (fresh off The Matrix). The resulting kinetic sequences, notably a night time rooftop pursuit and Chow and firecracker Zhang Ziyi’s mesmerising ballet atop swaying bamboo trees, are jaw-droppers in their own right. And as an emissary to bring a ghettoized genre to wider acclaim, ushering in similarly spectacular, coloured-coded martial artistry like Hero and House of Flying Daggers, it’s unparalleled. Next up, Michael Haneke tackles Transformers 3.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Rooftop Pursuit:

See also:

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000)

Dir & Scr: Wong Kar-Wai

Stars: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk

The curlicue of backlit cigarette smoke, the contours of lustrous cheongsam, the shimmer of neon-hued, rain-slicked streets, the momentary caress of fingertips… Something about Asian society’s more decorous, formal codes lend themselves to tales of forbidden love that used to be Jane Austen and co’s province. Honeycomb-lit stars Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung – brought together by their respective, unseen spouses’ illicit affair – are achingly gorgeous, but lest this all appear a mere Hong Kong fashion spread, Wong’s fragmented, dreamlike structure and facility to tease alienation and emotional echoes from dazzling surfaces makes a mood piece some altogether more resonant.

In the Mood for Love trailer:

21)            THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001)

Dir: Wes Anderson  Scr: Anderson & Owen Wilson

Stars: Gene Hackman, Ben Stiller, Anjelica Huston

“Family isn’t a word… it’s a sentence” runs the snarky tagline for Wes Anderson’s terrific Tenenbaums, inadvertently highlighting the clever-clever hipness that Anderson’s critics think he’s all about, but missing the messy, heartfelt melancholy that underpins it. Whimsical, theatrical (the cast practically get curtain calls) and flaunting influences * – Scorsese slow-mo, Welles’ wide-angles, even Charles Schulz’s Peanuts – like merit badges, Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson, as did their Rushmore protagonist Max Fischer, create a hermetic, bourgeois, storybook world (snappily narrated by Alec Baldwin) in which to strut their precocious stuff. Gritty social realism it ain’t.

Instead Anderson places these self-obsessed dreamers under an ornate magnifying glass, gently raising the dramatic heat until their protective carapaces and quirks melt away, revealing the screwed-up big kids beneath – none bigger than hustler father Royal, the great Gene Hackman’s last great role. Indeed Anderson’s entire crack repertory company – Huston, Bill Murray, the Wilsons – are at their tragic-comic peak; few screen moments choke me up more than Ben Stiller’s plaintive “I’ve had a rough year, Dad,” and Hackman’s gruff, overdue consolation. Family isn’t a sentence for Anderson, it’s a series of cinematic letters, perhaps his life’s work; Tenenbaums is a great American novel. On film.

The Royal Tenenbaums Trailer:

* see the superb video essay series on Anderson’s influences by critic and filmmaker Matt Zoller Seitz here.

See also:

TOGETHER (2001)

Dir & Scr: Lukas Moodysson

Stars: Gustaf Hammarsten, Lisa Lindgren, Michael Nyqvist

You can choose your friends, but not your family – unless you try and make your friends your family. But what if they’re not really your friends? Lukas Moodysson’s touching, hilarious comedy occupies a 70s left-wing Swedish commune, where free love has emotional costs and kids games involve playing tortured Pinochet prisoners. Moodysson gently torments his motley crew of inactive political activists and jaded romantics with a warmth (and Abba soundtrack) missing from later attempts to shock, despite being usurped as Europe’s reigning cinematic enfant terrible by Von Trier and Gaspar Noe. Maybe like his commune-ists, he just needs a hug.

Together Clip: “Franco is Dead.”

Advertisements

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] And Part III is lurking about over here. […]

  2. […] Part III is putting on its make round about here. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: