Meeting in the Aisles

Films of the Decade – Part VI: No.10 – No.6

Posted in Features by le1gh on December 31, 2009

Part I is standing up next to a mountain here.

Part II is chopping it down with the edge of its hand here.

Part III is picking up the pieces to make an island here.

Part IV might even raise a little sand here.

And Part V didn’t mean to take up all of your sweet time here.

Just to clarify some potential confusion: each entry, from 30 down to Number 1, has two films listed. Only the first is on The List; the second (‘See Also’) is another fine, usually underrated film that, for me, somehow evokes the first and is worthy of at least a mention, if not an “official” placing. Plus the chance to big up the likes of Memories of MurderKeane, Anvil! and A Prairie Home Companion is just too good to pass up…

10)            THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY (2001-3)

Dir: Peter Jackson  Scr: Jackson, Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens

Stars: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen


Inevitable, really. Laugh if you will, at a story that’s effectively about a bunch of country bumpkin midgets trying to chuck a piece of jewellery into a fire, but the epic grandeur with which Jackson and co honour Tolkien’s beloved books is contagious. The sheer logistics in putting Middle Earth onscreen makes Frodo and Sam’s trek to Mordor seem like a stroll around the Shire. And yet almost every painstaking drop of dedication pays off: expert streamlining of the novel’s sometimes turgid prose; cutting-edge visual FX (the genius (e)motion-capture of Andy Serkis’s scene-stealing Gollum); unerring casting (McKellen and Mortensen can’t be bettered), all combine for results that improve on the original material. Not a claim those behind The Golden Compass film can make.

The series’ emergence in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and its uncomplicated slant on fighting evil was coincidental but beneficial. But rather than ham-fisted political opportunism (hello, Avatar), Jackson stresses more fundamental human qualities – perseverance, loyalty, sacrifice – underpinning the awesome spectacle with an engaging modesty. Each chapter has its highlights – Boromir’s death in Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers’ Gollum intro, Return of the King’s Shelob showdown – and champions (for me, Fellowship’s innocence just pips Two Towers’ Helm’s Deep last stand) but taken as one beautifully crafted, emotionally enthralling complete work, it’s still the yardstick for smart popular entertainment, the fantasy blockbuster to rule them all.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Clip: The Mines of Moria

See also:

MOULIN ROUGE! (2001)

Dir: Baz Luhrmann  Scr: Luhrmann & Craig Pearce

Stars: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Jim Broadbent


Another Antipodean unafraid to risk ridicule for his ambitions, Baz Luhrmann had already practised his grandstanding pop culture-blender theatrics with 1996’s Romeo + Juliet; Moulin Rouge! hoiks the red curtain even higher, earning its exclamation mark for daring Kidman, McGregor et al to look like dilettante lounge acts peddling pop jukebox numbers and Bollywood-style burlesque – yet, crazily, pulling it off. Anticipating Reality TV’s karaoke conveyor belt and the endless cycle of Mamma Mia!-greatest hits musicals, but with an élan they wholly lack, Luhrmann’s  relentless artifice somehow twists into a genuinely poignant love story. None of which excuses Australia, though, mate.

Moulin Rouge! ‘Your Song’:

9)            THE DARJEELING LIMITED (2007)

Dir: Wes Anderson  Scr: Anderson, Roman Coppola & Jason Schwartzman

Stars: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman


Considered by some to be Wes Anderson’s train wreck, in fact this Indian odyssey may be his finest, most personally affecting moment yet. The trio of brothers embarking on a journey to reconciliation at the behest of eldest sibling, control freak Francis (Wilson) seem at first, as surely as a locomotive follows its tracks, to be plodding after the predestined stops along a typical redemption narrative, even leaving their “baggage” behind them at the end. Which leaves ‘only’ Anderson’s dollhouse (on wheels) aesthetic, deadpan dialogue, magpie music score (from Satyajit Ray to The Kinks) and quirky sibling rivalry to entertain. Substantial pleasures, true, but certainly nothing new.

However, view the film as the failure of these consumer tourists to learn much of anything on their travels and a far richer, more conflicted voyage comes into focus. Anderson and co-writers Roman Coppola and co-star Schwartzman imagine their fractured family unit with compassion but don’t give them a free pass. It’s the futility of trying impose order, from laminated timetables, to self-justifying autobiographical novels, to pinning down an AWOL mother, onto a chaotic world, with which they have to come to terms and their endearing struggles (Wilson’s head injuries call to mind his then-alleged suicide) are hugely touching. Shooting on location opens out Anderson’s cloistered universe to a real (Third) world-at-large – particularly in the failed river rescue’s aftermath – and reaches outside his comfort zone maybe for the first time. His film’s magical, fragile lyricism proves the two can wonderfully co-exist.

The Darjeeling Limited Trailer:

See also:

SINCE OTAR LEFT (2003)

Dir: Julie Bertucelli  Scr: Bertucelli & Bernard Renucci

Stars: Esther Gorintin, Nino Khomasuridze, Dinara Drukarova

Since Otar left Georgia for a lucrative life in Paris, he’s the pride of his struggling Tbilisi-based family, particularly his octogenarian mother Eka. So when news comes through of his sudden death, Eka’s daughter Marina and her teenage daughter Ada try to hide the truth – until Eka plans a trip to France… Family deception and shifting loyalties are fertile dramatic territory for French director Julie Bertucelli. Powered by her flawless three lead actresses, notably 90-something ‘newcomer’ Gorintin, she subtly switches a tense family drama into an unexpectedly road trip, with one of the most perfectly bittersweet endings I’ve ever seen.

Since Otar Left Trailer:

8)            A.I – ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (2001)

Dir & Scr: Steven Spielberg

Stars: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor

While the other esteemed 70s ‘Movie Brats’ faded (Scorsese), retreated into digital merchandise (Lucas) or all but disappeared (Coppola), Steven Spielberg got more confident, more ambitious, more complex: better. Even ostensible popcorn flicks like Minority Report and War of the Worlds tackled dark, adult themes, while his ‘serious’ films, Munich and, above all, this dystopian elegy pushed him even further. ‘His love is real but he is not’ ran A.I’s tagline as a project originated by Stanley Kubrick, based on a Brian Aldiss short story – robot boy David’s quest to become real and regain the love of his human mother – took Spielberg’s fascination with childhood and the nuclear family into profoundly disquieting territory.

Whatever the fusion with Kubrick (Spielbrick? Kuberg?), it’s precisely the nexus between Spielberg’s wonder-filled warmth and Kubrick’s dispassionate chill that gives A.I its creepy ambivalence. Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski set up a series of glowing halos over David but the relentlessly grim narrative, with ‘mechas’ torn asunder by the mob at ‘Flesh Fairs’ and a (stunningly designed) flooded planet beyond salvation, brooks no genuine redemption for our futuristic Pinocchio. Distrust of Spielberg’s predilection for happy endings encouraged misreadings of the coda’s imagined reunion between David and his mummy Monica, when in fact it’s the bleakest possible fiction. A genuinely provocative examination of technological accountability and what makes us ‘real’, with an astonishing performance from Haley Joel Osment (in a role Kubrick didn’t believe a child actor could play), it’s Spielberg’s most beautifully desolate, achingly human film.

A.I – Artificial Intelligence Trailer:

See also:

SOUTHLAND TALES (2006)

Dir & Scr: Richard Kelly

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Seann William Scott

Cinematic doomsday visions are two-a-penny nowadays but was there ever an apocalypse as wildly sprawling, discomfitingly baffling and joyously bonkers as Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales? Laughed out of its Cannes premiere, Kelly’s kitchen sink (as in ‘everything including’, not social realism) extravaganza’s modified vision is still borderline incoherent self-indulgence, but the whack-job casting, boundless ambition and snatches of sheer chutzpah – a beaten-up, beer-swilling Justin Timberlake miming The Killers’ ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ backed by a nurse chorus line – evokes the modern insanity its creator is targeting / supplying. Not for everyone, sure, but what self-respecting cult film is?

Southland Tales Clip: “I’ve Got Soul But I’m Not a Soldier”

7)            INNOCENCE (2004)

Dir & Scr: Lucile Hadzihalilovic

Stars: Zoé Auclair, Hélène de Fougerolles, Marion Cotillard

At an isolated boarding school deep in a forest, new pupils arrive in coffins via a thrumming subterranean passage. In pigtails, virginal white uniforms and coloured ribbons to denote age and hierarchy, the little girls are sequestered away in their bucolic prison / paradise, groomed by two devoted, sad-eyed teachers in etiquette, play and ballet, eventually to perform for unseen audiences and then graduate to the world outside to… Well, let’s say we’re not in Hogwarts any more.

The single most striking feature debut I saw this decade, Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s existential faerie tale, based on a novella by Frank Spring Awakening Wedekind is a true one-off. Capable of flitting from pastoral idyll to Gothic horror, sometimes within the same scene, Innocence stakes out a ripe allegorical world for the prepubescent passage into maturity, yet suggests the universal perils for young girls growing up in a sexuality commodified and exploited world (not least by other women: “Obedience is the only path to happiness,” sighs Marion Cotillard’s opaque schoolmistress). Cynics will see the best paedophile recruitment programme since Mini Pops, but keener viewers will feel the discomfort over these young bodies in Hadzihalilovic’s unapologetically fecund mood piece as the entire point. Three successively older girls and their dealings with this oppressive, enclosed world form what narrative there is, the sense of dread at their eventual fate palpable (Hadzihalilovic’s partner is Irreversible shock merchant Gaspar Noe) – which makes the unexpected climax so appropriate, while still maintaining the film’s wondrous, bewitching enigma.

Innocence Trailer (French):

See also:

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2009)

Dir: Tomas Alfredson  Scr: John Ajvide Lindqvist

Stars: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Pal Ragnar

For those who’d rather not sink their teeth into Twilight, True Blood or the legion of glam vampire tales clotting up screens everywhere, surely the antidote is this offbeat Swedish chiller about a bullied young boy who befriends a little girl-sized bloodsucker and the chaos unleashed by their unconventional friendship. Adapted by John Ajvide Lindqvist from his own Morrissey indebted-titled novel, director Tomas Alfredson’s brooding fantasy is a potent growing-pains parable, with some imaginatively shocking set pieces (notably the underwater pool finale) and an ambience of mournful Nordic decay, part-George Romero, part-Aki Kaurismaki. The most original horror film in years.

Let the Right One In Trailer:

6)            I FOR INDIA (2007)

Dir: Sandhya Suri

Stars: Yash Pal Suri, Sheel Suri, Vanita Suri


In a world that seems to exist only if captured on mobile phone, webcam or CCTV, let alone video, it’s hard to remember the original novelty of home movies – literally, the Super 8 film that early cine-enthusiasts used to record their lives.  Among the many things this little-known, superb documentary by British-Asian filmmaker Sandhya Suri does so adroitly is remind us of how fast and far we’ve come technologically, while emotional ties to home and family are the same longings felt since time immemorial. Suri’s doctor father Yash Pal emigrated from India to northern England with wife Sheel in the 1960s. Swapping Super 8 dispatches with his family back in Meerut, he proceeded to document his new life and children, the stream of audio-visual ‘letters’ a cord to his roots he never could sever.

Alongside this fascinatingly candid archive material, Suri cleverly uses patronizing TV of the time (‘The Dark Million’) to build an evolving Anglo-Indian portrait over forty-plus years. But above all, this is the story of one family’s journey from “exile” to – what? Integration? Yash’s footage says Yes – delight at snow, hospital antics – and No – casual racism, the emotional pull to return “home”. And as his children grow and seek their own places in the world, the cycle of leave-taking repeats itself with emotionally devastating results. The Suri triumph – father and daughter – is to confide without exploiting, to self-examine without self-pity and craft an intimate yet infinitely resonant, intensely moving chamber piece. And make you thank God for Skype.

I For India Trailer:

See also:

CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS (2004)

Dir: Andrew Jarecki

Stars: Arnold Friedman, Elaine Friedman, David Friedman


Some people just don’t know when to turn the camera off. Meet the Friedmans, a well-to-do Long Island Jewish clan, whose lives are torn apart when father Arnold and youngest son Jesse are accused of multiple counts of child molestation – and who have hours of footage of the entire under-siege family meltdown, courtesy of elder brother David (ironically New York’s premier children’s clown). Skilfully interwoven with interviews and investigation by first-time director Andrew Jarecki, this is one of the great inside jobs of journalism; neither damning prosecution, nor staunch defence, but a surrogate bearing witness of a family coming apart.

Capturing the Friedmans Trailer:

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2 Responses

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  1. […] And Part VI wishes it could quit you right here. […]

  2. livejasmin said, on January 13, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    nice share you have here, keep up the good work !


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