Meeting in the Aisles

Films of the Decade – The Aftermath

Posted in Features by le1gh on January 5, 2010

The full countdown is here.

A quick recap, then some further notes and observations:

FILMS OF THE DECADE

THE LIST                                                                                       SEE ALSO (Honourable Mentions)

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)          Tarnation (2004)

2. Mulholland Dr. (2001)                                                        Serenity (2005)

3. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)                                             4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days (2007)

4. The Incredibles (2004)                                                       Femme Fatale (2002)

5. Brokeback Mountain (2005)                                            L.I.E (2001)

6. Innocence (2005)                                                                 Let the Right One In (2009)

7. I For India (2006)                                                                Capturing the Friedmans (2004)

8. A.I – Artificial Intelligence (2001)                                Southland Tales (2006)

9. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)                                        Since Otar Left (2003)

10. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-3)                      Moulin Rouge (2001)

11. City of God (2002)                                                               Black Book (2006)

12. Shaun of the Dead (2004)                                               High Fidelity (2000)

13. Talk to Her (2002)                                                             Offside (2006)

14. Memento (2001)                                                                 The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

15. Gosford Park (2001)                                                         A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

16. A Ma Soeur! (2001)                                                           My Summer of Love (2004)

17. A Serious Man (2009)                                                      Adaptation (2002)

18. The Lives of Others (2007)                                             The Dreamers (2004)

19. Up (2009)                                                                              Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008)

20. Code Unknown (2000)                                                    The Edge of Heaven (2007)

21. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)                                     Together (2001)

22. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)                 In the Mood for Love (2000)

23. School of Rock (2003)                                                      The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005)

24. In This World (2002)                                                        The Class (2008)

25. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)                                                    The Orphanage (2008)

26. Requiem for a Dream (2000)                                        Keane (2004)

27. Dogville (2003)                                                                    Russian Ark (2002)

28. This is England (2006)                                                     Almost Famous (2000)

29. Zodiac (2007)                                                                      Memories of Murder (2004)

30. No End in Sight (2007)                                                    Grizzly Man (2005)

The Ones That Got Away:

Inevitably some films slip through the cracks and here are just a handful of those I wish I’d seen and can easily imagine might have found their way on to my list of favourites if I wasn’t such a 350-film-a-year slacker:

A One and a Two (2000)

George Washington (2000)

Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001)

The Best of Youth (2003)

Head-On (2004)

2046 (2004)

Man Push Cart (2005)

Still Walking (2008)

Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

Missing in Action:


You’d have thought that 30 places x 2 was enough to list all the films I really wanted to honour. Fat chance. Here are a handful of titles that I’m slightly ashamed to have ultimately left out:

Breakfast on Pluto (2005) – Neil Jordan’s lyrical tale of a transvestite starring an eerily convincing Cillian Murphy.

Finding Nemo (2003) – Pixar at their most kid-friendly and charmingly inventive.

Fish Tank (2009) – poetic social realism from Britain’s Andrea Arnold.

Jindabyne (2005) – Fine Australian feature based on a Raymond Carver short story previously used in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. Great performances by Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006) – Accessible US indie par excellence; the climactic dance number was a joyous jaw-dropper.

Casino Royale (2006) – the Best Bond (Daniel Craig) and Best Bond Movie either since Goldfinger or since, well, ever.

Old Boy (2003) – put New Korean cinema on the map with visceral, stylish intensity.

The Dark Knight (2008) – the best live-action superhero movie ever. Ledger’s Joker is a revelation.

Comme Une Image (2004) – In France Agnes Jaoui makes effortlessly witty ensemble comedy-dramas the way Woody Allen used to.

The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) – The Coens’ oddest, most melancholy and slyest comedy – until A Serious Man came along.

The Dark Knight – The Joker:

However the one exclusion above all that counts as a personal screw up (that’s what you get for trying to balance and parallel 30 pairs of films) is Alfonso Cuaron’s brilliant, gritty dystopia, Children of Men. Probably my favourite film of 2006, thematically rich – what would happen if babies stopped being born? – technically groundbreaking (the two key, one-take sequences, particularly the first inside the ambushed speeding car) and even boasting one of hit-and-miss Clive Owen’s very best performances, it’s another classy, emotionally gripping effort from one of the greatest directors working today.

My love of Y Tu Mama Tambien is already well documented, but Cuaron also made by far the decade’s best directed Harry Potter film (Prisoner of Azkaban), which took the series from kiddie flick to edgy, hormone-fuelled adolescent adventure (don’t believe me? What other Potter film opens with its teenage hero under the bedclothes playing with his “wand”?). Children of Men has visual effects as special as demolition derbies like 2012 or Armageddon, but grounds them with an integrity and a humanity that those films never even knew existed, let alone might be lost with the end of civilization.

Children of Men – Ambush:

Annus Mirabilis:

Common wisdom has 2007 as the decade’s “annus mirabilis,” particularly in American cinema, with heavyweight, unapologetically auteur fare like There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford and Zodiac. But, for me, the real standout year was 2004. Aside from my own favourite Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, plus others on the List like The Incredibles, Tarnation, Capturing the Friedmans, Shaun of the Dead, The Bourne Supremacy, My Summer of Love, The Dreamers, Keane and Memories of Murder, try and whittle those plus this lot down to a Top 10 (or two):

Spider-Man 2, Sideways, Comme Une Image, House of Flying Daggers, Bad Education, Before Sunset, CollateralHowl’s Moving Castle, Downfall, Kinsey, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Motorcycle Diaries.

As one of the defining movie characters of the year might put it, “How about that for a slice of fried gold?”

2001 wasn’t too shabby either – four of my Top 10 – Mulholland Dr., Y Tu Mama Tambien, A.I Artificial Intelligence and the first of the Lord of the Rings trilogy – were all released that year. Plus L.I.E, Memento, Gosford Park, A Ma Soeur!, The Royal Tenenbaums, Together and Moulin Rouge! In fact, 2001 has 11 on the List compared to 2004’s 10, so while its quality is ostensibly superior, I’m pretty sure the quantity on a wider, non-List level doesn’t quite match up.

The worst year? By least number of List entries, 3, that would be either 2003 or the last two years. Which could mean either that the decade tailed off early, I got far more picky, or I just didn’t catch the best stuff since 2007.

Same Folks, Different Strokes:

Perusing other Best of the Decade lists, many repeat choices don’t make my list, although other films from the same directors do: Michael Haneke’s Code Unknown instead of Hidden; The Coens’ A Serious Man over No Country for Old Men; preferring Richard Linklater’s School of Rock to Before Sunset; or even The Incredibles over Wall-E. All those more cited alternatives are good, maybe even great films, with knockout scenes (see below) but ultimately didn’t move or provoke me as much as those I went with.

No Country for Old Men – “Call it.”

There Won’t Be Blood…:

I’ve tried a couple of times, but I just can’t get excited by P.T Anderson’s period epic in the way that its devotees do. Many things about it are extraordinary: Anderson’s handling of the near-wordless introduction and stunning oil blaze sequences; Jonny Greenwood’s hypnotically atonal score; Robert Elswit’s luminous cinematography that somehow feels both full-colour and sepia; and of course, Daniel Day-Lewis’ gargantuan performance, Godzilla to the film’s – and screen acting in general – Tokyo. His baptism scene is one of the all-time great pieces of screen acting:

And yet… I think many critics have projected readings into the film that simply don’t hold up. If it’s really about America’s twin faiths of religion and capitalism, then why is the Church, and Paul Dano’s slippery preacher, so little match for Daniel (Day-Lewis / Plainview)? The fast-forwarded coda, though ripe for milkshake-spouting quotes and YouTube mash-ups, feels like an awkward adjunct that skims through and short changes Plainview’s relationship with his son. By making him such an unredeemable sociopathic monster, it strips away several layers of complexity that Anderson himself and Day-Lewis had carefully applied. And it didn’t tell me (or predict) one thing about our oil obsession that wasn’t abundantly clear from watching the news for the last, oh, twenty years.

…or Steven. Or Quentin:

Steven Soderbergh continues to be the most intriguing filmmaker of our times: a restless, workaholic technophile, unpredictably flitting between styles (from pastiches like The Good German and The Informant! to opaque biopics like the Che films) and scale (Ocean’s Umpteen Hollywood razzle-dazzle to zero budget digital experiments like Bubble or The Girlfriend Experience) like Beyonce changes outfits mid-show. I’m glad he’s out there, doing his own thing – and yet, I can’t think of a single film this decade as essential as his best work in the 80s and 90s – sex, lies and videotape, The Limey and his masterpiece Out of Sight. Traffic comes the closest and that was almost a decade ago itself.

Quentin Tarantino – Is Tarantino the most ill disciplined, indulged talent since Michael Cimino and Heaven’s Gate? Three hours and two films to tell Kill Bill’s simplistic revenge drama? The standalone Deathproof was tiresomely over-extended compared to its original Grindhouse double-bill running time. And Inglourious Basterds grinds to a halt almost every time the immaculate Christoph Waltz leaves the fray. Tarantino’s proved he can handle action scenes, car chases and cracking duologues set pieces – now he needs someone to keep him on a leash and make another tight, vice-like trap like Reservoir Dogs to get back his real bite.

Most Overrated / Worst of the ‘Best’:

Nobody expected anything less than garbage from Paris Hilton’s The Hottie and the Nottie or anything from Martin Lawrence, but here are offenders either mistakenly lauded, popular or that, on paper, promised much but delivered next-to-nothing.

Bad Boys 2 (2005) – standing in for the entire oeuvre of Michael Bay’s boombastic porn aesthetic, even by his shocking cynical standards, this soulless, sadistic, jingoistic, racist trash is appalling.

Changeling (2008) – Clint Eastwood at his most turgid and reactionary, Angelina Jolie at her Oscar-baiting hammiest. By the way, did you know: it’s not her son?

Crash (2005) – not as bad as some of its detractors now make out, but stunningly didactic and manipulative in places; and beating Brokeback Mountain to the Best Picture Oscar makes it about as overrated as an average-to-poor movie can be.

Elephant (2003) – Gus Van Sant tackles Columbine-esque high school massacres in his ethereal style, drifts aimlessly down corridors, makes a couple of reactionary assumptions, then floats away. Thanks for that, Gus. Please get Milk, asap.

For Your Consideration (2007) – Christopher Guest and crack improv troupe tackling awards season hyperbole should’ve been a slamdunk. Instead it’s shockingly sloppy and crass. The fine line between stupid and clever just got erased.

Irreversible (2002) – Ugly, mendacious, pseudo-profound, reversed exploitation flick. Apparently we need to see Monica Bellucci raped in graphic detail for nine minutes to understand the horrors of abuse. Tihsllub.

Monster’s Ball (2001) – desperate attempt to get gritty with the awards crowd and push capital punishment, suicide and racial buttons. Halle Berry’s historic Oscar-winning performance is almost as embarrassing as her bawling award acceptance.

Righteous Kill (2008) – Pacino. DeNiro. No Michael Mann. A dog’s dinner of a thriller with a thunderously obvious twist from two old hounds who should know far better.

Team America: World Police (2004) – moments of anarchic brilliance (Kim Jong-Il’s ‘I’m Ronely’) but overall a juvenile, knee-jerk, cowardly response to world policing that, inadvertently or not, endorsed much of the Bush administration’s worst tenets.

And finally, to end on a more positive note – the actors that have made the work of writers, directors, cinematographers, technicians and other actors come to vivid, unforgettable life in the last ten years. RIP, Mr. Ledger…

Performances of the Decade:

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

10. Tilda Swinton – Michael Clayton (2007)

09. Amy Ryan – Gone Baby Gone (2007)

08. Kierston Wareing – Fish Tank (2009)

07. Amy Adams – Junebug (2005)

06. Helen Mirren – Gosford Park (2001)

05. Maria Bello – A History of Violence (2005)

04. Cate Blanchett – Notes on a Scandal (2006)

03. Rachel Weisz – The Constant Gardener (2005)

02. Marisa Tomei – The Wrestler (2008)

01. Meryl Streep – Adaptation (2002)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

10. Robert Downey Jr – Tropic Thunder (2008)

09. Christoph Waltz – Inglorious Basterds (2009)

08. Mark Ruffalo – You Can Count On Me (2000)

07. Benicio Del Toro – Traffic (2000)

06. Brian Cox – L.I.E (2001)

05. Ben Kingsley – Sexy Beast (2001)

04. Jack Black – High Fidelity (2000)

03. Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight (2008)

02. Javier Bardem – No Country for Old Men (2007)

01. Casey Affleck – The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)

BEST ACTRESS

10. Carice Van Houten – Black Book (2006)

09. Natalie Press / Emily Blunt – My Summer of Love (2004)

08. Sally Hawkins – Happy Go Lucky (2008)

07. Charlize Theron – Monster (2003)

06. Juliette Binoche – The Flight of the Red Balloon (2007)

05. Anamaria Marinca – 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (2007)

04. Nicole Kidman – Dogville (2003)

03. Kate Winslet – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

02. Maribel Verdú – Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)

01. Naomi Watts – Mulholland Dr. (2001)

BEST ACTOR

10. Campbell Scott – Roger Dodger (2002)

09. Romain Duris – The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005)

08. Sean Penn – Milk (2008)

07. Damian Lewis – Keane (2004)

06. Viggo Mortensen – A History of Violence (2005)

05. Gene Hackman – The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

04. Haley Joel Osment – A.I – Artificial Intelligence (2001)

03. Ulrich Mühe – The Lives of Others (2006)

02. Daniel Day-Lewis – There Will Be Blood (2007)

01= Johnny Depp – Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)

01= Heath Ledger – Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Film Review(s): Before Sunset

Posted in Film Reviews by le1gh on December 11, 2009

I found a couple of my reviews on the same film, Richard Linklater’s lovely Before Sunset. One is an 80-word capsule, the other a more involved discussion. Interesting to see which one feels more effective five years on.

And for the record, although I never outright say it and contrary to popular opinion, Before Sunrise, its predecessor, is my favourite. Must be a preference for naive youthful optimism over rueful thirty-something experience…

Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy in Before Sunset

Before Sunset (2004)

Dir: Richard Linklater  Scr: Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy.

Capsule Review:

The morning after the night before.
Hopelessly romantic film fan WLTM cute US guy and hot French girl, early 30s, to rekindle decade-old one-night love affair. Remember Vienna ’95? How about Paris ’04? Likes: walking, talking, politics, Nina Simone. Dislikes: guns, Bush, silence, regrets… Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and director Richard Linklater have somehow recaptured the fragile magic of Before Sunrise in this real-time, beautifully bittersweet follow-up. Sure, it preaches to the converted, but indulge those passions and for once you’ll feel better in the morning.

Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and Richard Linklater writing Before Sunset

Longer Review:

At the end of 1995’s Before Sunrise it wasn’t just the two nominal leads who felt the joy and pain of a fleeting romance. Since its low-key release, Richard Linklater’s twilight love story between an American backpacker and a Parisian traveler over a magical night in Vienna has become a genuine and growing cult item. Its heartfelt look at two young people tentatively feeling – and incessantly talking – their way through the confusions of life and love was worlds away from traditional Hollywood romantic comedies, with their tedious meet-cute, crack-wise and pair-up routine. The sense of something real and unpredictable lingered at the film’s climax, despite Ethan Hawke’s Jesse and Julie Delpy’s Celine promise to reunite six months later (neglecting to swap contact details didn’t exactly fill you with confidence). Nevertheless, and all box-office evidence to the contrary, this was one story where a new chapter was genuinely desired, even if a sequel seemed to go against everything that Before Sunrise stood for.

Yet here we all are. The adroitly titled Before Sunset picks up with Jesse and Celine nine years down the road. Jesse is in Paris to promote a new novel, based on that night in Vienna, when Celine turns up at the bookshop press conference. Reintroductions are a little awkward, conversation a little stilted and defensive, but gradually, as they wander through a Paris mercifully devoid of iconic tourist sights, Jesse and Celine seem to reconnect. We learn about what happened to the planned Viennese reunion and why; what life has held for each of them in the meantime (Jesse is unhappily married with a young son, Celine is an environmental activist drifting in and out of passionate but short-lived relationships); eventually we even light on the burning question – what will happen now they’ve finally found each other again?

Unfolding in real time before Jesse flies back to the US, Linklater’s deceptively simple shooting style focuses attention on Jesse and Celine even more exclusively than in the first film. Interesting too, how Before Sunrise’s luminous optimism – flashbacks cruelly show how Hawke’s boyish, fleshy features have been stretched taut by the passing years – has inevitably shifted into a more shadowy recognition of the darkness on the edge of every relationship, every uncertain choice made.

Written this time by the leads in collaboration with Linklater, the personal investment in character and storyline almost feels like therapy for the Hawke, Delpy and Linklater. Without doubt a degree of autobiography is invited; Hawke is indeed a published author and his well-documented split with Uma Thurman hardly resists reading between the lines that he wrote himself for his character trapped in a loveless marriage. Likewise Delpy has become known in France as a songwriter as much as an actress and her sweet, self-penned ballads bookend the film.

The enchanting thing about these films is that this voyeuristic element, while admittedly part of the appeal, never overwhelms the narrative. It’s the fictional equivalent to those ‘7Up’ documentaries that revisit the same set of people every seven years and you wonder why more filmmakers don’t explore this idea on film. Francois Truffaut and actor Jean-Pierre Leaud’s four ‘Antoine Doinel’ films (plus a short) from The 400 Blows to Love on the Run were a huge success, though Coppola and Pacino almost spoiled their Godfather legacy with a late, substandard third part. The ambiguous conclusion here leaves further adventures for Jesse and Celine very much open.

Is the film preaching to the converted? Although the flashbacks try to give a quick summing up of the story so far, without a doubt this is a film primarily for longtime fans. That’s not to say no one else is invited but it’s strange to think newcomers will enjoy the same sense of resonance and poignancy as those who’ve been dreaming about Vienna for nearly a decade.

‘What if you had a second chance with the one that got away?’ asks the tagline. Those not already smitten may be bemused by Linklater, Hawke and Delpy’s defiantly unconventional ongoing romance; but anyone who fell for them the first time will find Before Sunset impossible to resist.

Before Sunset Clip: