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:


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:


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)


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)


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)


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)


Films of the Decade – Part VII: No.5 – No.1

Posted in Features by le1gh on December 31, 2009

Part I is drinking your milkshake over here.

Part II is frying up a slice of fried gold here.

Part III is talking some jive like you’ve never heard here.

Part IV wants you to accept the mystery here.

Part V asks how can a train be lost? It’s on rails here.

And Part VI wishes it could quit you right here.

What, no Amelie? (too cutesy) No Elephant? (too obtuse) No Team America: World Police (too cowardly – Alec Baldwin a bigger global threat than Donald Rumsfeld?) There Will Be Blood sounds more like a threat than a suggestion for a missing selection. Still, as I mentioned way back at the beginning, the only way to do these lists is to choose the films that most affected you personally, not those that might affect your credentials professionally. And I hope there’s still plenty of films in here that share a special place in many other people’s hearts, and those that they might now discover as a result. Happy viewing. And see you in ten…

5)            BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005)

Dir: Ang Lee  Scr: Diana Ossana & Larry McMurtry

Stars: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams

John Wayne would presumably be spinning in his grave, which is just another good reason to celebrate what, for me, was the decade’s greatest forbidden love story. Ang Lee’s fascination with repressed, self-denying passion achieved its creative peak adapting E. Annie Proulx’s acclaimed short story about two lovelorn gay cowboys (actually sheep-herders). Too fussy and tasteful for those who presumably wanted Heath Ledger to lube up Jake Gyllenhaal with tobacco spit in looming close-up, it’s easy to forget just how subversive Brokeback Mountain’s use of Western imagery is. This isn’t sweet, opera-loving Tom Hanks suffering from AIDS in Philadelphia; these are two virile, taciturn, horse-riding cowboys (OK, sheepherders), the ultimate signifiers of American masculinity, suddenly riding, well, you get the drift.

If Brokeback were only about sexually political point scoring, it would have soon faded from view. It resonates because, though dealing with homosexuality, its tragedy is a more universal, human one: the inability to live openly and express our truest desires. It’s that rarity where all creative elements coalesce and synergise: Gyllenhaal and especially the late Ledger’s clenched, soul-baring performances, Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry’s spare, sensitive screenplay, plaintive Gustavo Santoalla theme ‘The Wings’ and of course, Lee’s expressive imagery – Ledger’s Ennis silhouetted against 4th of July fireworks; and the final shot of a dead lover’s checked shirt literally placed gently back in the closet, the unforgiving Montana wilderness visible through the adjacent grubby trailer window; a tragic reminder of the harsh reality of modern America’s cultural landscape.

Brokeback Mountain Clip: Reunion Kiss

See also:

L.I.E (2001)

Dir: Michael Cuesta  Scr: Cuesta, Gerald Cuesta & Stephen M. Ryder

Stars: Paul Dano, Brian Cox, Billy Kay

The title stands for Long Island Expressway, that snaking suburban conduit, but the other reading is equally apparent, as Paul Dano’s numbed teenager struggles with a recently killed mother, absent father and reconciling his confused sexuality by cruising and breaking and entering. After a botched robbery, he gets embroiled with an avuncular ex-Marine and pederast named Big John (Cox) – and that’s where Michael Cuesta’s provocative story, while never shying away from taboo material, veers into totally unexpected, empathic terrain. Featuring an unsettling, criminally unsung, career-best performance from Cox, this is American indie filmmaking at its most daring and surprising.

L.I.E Trailer:

4)            THE INCREDIBLES (2004)

Dir & Scr: Brad Bird

Voices: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson

This decade’s vogue for onscreen superheroes – given the dearth on offer in real-life – produced some quality entries: Spider-Man 2, X-Men 2, The Dark Knight (first sequels, shorn of all origin exposition, are usually superior). But the ‘superest’ of them all isn’t based on an existing comic-book series; it doesn’t even feature live-action or, voices aside, real people. And yet the billions of pixels that make up Brad Bird’s The Incredibles feel more alive than any superhero movie ever made. Bird is Pixar’s maverick, a volatile talent (The Iron Giant) to push the studio’s established ‘Brain Trust’, for ever-higher standards. Indeed, his two Pixar movies to date, this and Ratatouille, are all about celebrating excellence and not letting politically correct tokenism triumph. In that respect, Bird’s film more than lives up to its name.

Set in a retro-60s, Bond-esque world, it’s the story of a family of ‘supers’, once national heroes and now driven underground by public disapproval, seeking to recapture their youth, identity – and family connection. It’s how these two strands brilliantly play out in tandem (powers that reflect each person’s character – Elastigirl / Mum’s flexibility, shy teenage daughter Violet’s invisibility, etc) that gives the film its dramatic momentum, while the inventive slapstick, adrenalized action and witty humour, notably movie-hijacking fashionista Edna Mole (voiced by Bird himself), send entertainment levels rocketing. Genuinely cinematic (the clever mock-documentary opening), admirably adult and a celebration of all that can make us super humans, if not superhuman. With or without capes, dahling.

The Incredibles Clip: “No Capes!”

See also:


Dir & Scr: Brian DePalma

Stars: Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Antonio Banderas, Peter Coyote

If a superhero alias is often about conjuring escape from one’s mundane daily life then Brian DePalma’s gleefully lurid exploitation thriller is the super-villain wish fulfilment movie by way of Alfred Hitchcock. Starring leggy, mischievous Rebecca Romijn(-nee Stamos) in a rare lead role that proves she should be offered more, what first seems like a DePalma goof-off, a chance for him to practise slinky steadicam moves in glamorous locations (see the opening Cannes Film Festival heist), slowly uncoils itself to reveal a densely-packed mosaic on split identity, thwarted desires and, of course, moviemaking itself. Classily trashy, deceptively sophisticated, playfully profound.

Femme Fatale Trailer:


Dir: Alfonso Cuarón  Scr: Alfonso Cuarón & Carlos Cuarón

Stars: Maribel Verdú, Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna

Two horny pothead teenagers ditch their girlfriends, hit on a lonely, sexy older woman and head out on a road trip to a legendary, possibly fictional, beach. Imagine the mainstream Hollywood version: gross-out gags, surfing slapstick, misogyny and Ashton Kutcher. Now contrast that with everything Alfonso Cuarón’s stunning movie achieves. It’s a sex comedy that’s incredibly raunchy and outrageously funny. It’s a coming-of-age buddy movie that provides all the genre’s bickering pleasures of discovery but totally upends its central duo (screw “bromance” subtext, let’s get it on!). And it’s an incisive portrait of Mexico itself, cannily posited by the Cuarón brothers screenplay as an awkward teenager of a country undergoing its own growing pains, detailed in a series of omniscient, third-person narrated asides on a turbulent, class-riven, death-tinged society, to which the boys are naturally oblivious.

If the last description sounds dry and academic, it sells the film horribly short. I can’t remember a more authentic, tumultuous view of adolescence, throbbing with the dumb, hormone-fuelled bravado of youth (fabulously played by real-life best friends Luna and Bernal). Verdú’s amazing Luisa is no mere teenage fantasy, rather the duo’s necessary, wiser, sadder guide with her own troubled reasons for tagging along. Luminously lit by ace cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and with a sledgehammer of an ending that, as in all great films, in retrospect seems inevitable, Y Tu Mamás not only the crest of the New Mexican Wave that swept through turn-of-the-century world cinema, it’s simply a vibrant, vital modern classic.

Y Tu Mamá También Trailer:

See also:

4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, 2 DAYS (2007)

Dir & Scr: Cristian Mungiu

Stars: Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov

Cannes 2007’s unsung entry that swept all before it and put Romanian cinema firmly on the map, Cristian Mungiu’s 4…3…2 is one of the tensest ‘non-thrillers’ (i.e. no gunplay, chases or car crashes) ever made. Of course the act of procuring an abortion in the Ceausescu dictatorship was a kind of mission impossible in itself, and Mungiu’s unflinching camera follows two friends’ fraught attempts to do the covert deed. Extended takes inexorably increase the pressure, smartly reflecting last-gasp Iron Curtain paranoia, while Anamaria Marinca’s mesmeric presence is the pure gauge of a thousand flickering shifts in desperation, fear, even hope.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days Trailer:

2)            MULHOLLAND DR. (2001)

Dir & Scr: David Lynch

Stars: Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, Justin Theroux

More than Eraserhead, more than Blue Velvet, this is David Lynch’s enduring work of art; a summation of everything wild at heart and weird on top that ‘Jimmy Stewart from Mars’ has given to film. That it was salvaged from a failed TV pilot is even more remarkable, but then narrative coherence is of little interest to Lynch. As Dennis Hopper quoted Roy Orbison in Blue Velvet, “in dreams I walk with you” and Lynch is our guide through an oneiric phantasmagoria that comes as close as anyone ever has to conjuring up a true cinematic dreamscape. I can’t think of a film – notably the key, spine-chilling ‘Club Silencio’ scene, with Rebekah Del Rio’s Spanish-language version of Orbison’s ‘Crying’ – that’s enveloped my waking life more.

Posing as a film noir mystery, the subject – I believe – is Hollywood’s propensity to chew people, particularly women, up and spit them out, with Naomi Watts’ sunny starlet Betty mixing with Laura Elena Harring’s mysterious amnesiac; meanwhile, tyro film director Justin Theroux is being menaced by cryptic heavies and a malevolent, dumpster-dwelling bogeyman is causing people to drop dead. Studded with Lynch’s absurdist humour, it’s the second half, where the film folds in on itself and the nightmare really begins, that Lynch’s hothouse genius flourishes. The hypnotic, erotic foreboding, held together by Watts’ incandescent, shape-shifting performance, reaches its feverish crescendo – only to slip away, like the most fleeting of reveries. Thankfully, Mulholland Dr. is ours to keep, to decipher, to haunt forever. Sweet dreams.

Mulholland Dr. Trailer:

See also:


Dir & Scr: Joss Whedon

Stars: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk

Hard to imagine two more diametrically-opposed films than sinister Mulholland Dr. and Joss Whedon’s amiable space Western, other than both prove the power of an obdurate auteur who can reshape his vision when TV cancels it. Refashioned from his messed-around Firefly series, Whedon served up the decade’s most enjoyable big screen sci-fi, brilliantly orientating newcomers (I hadn’t seen Firefly yet felt instantly up-to-speed), as well as serving a wry, self-reflexive commentary on his own show’s survival (“can’t stop the signal”) and springing some fatal (for the cast) plot twists. And why isn’t dashing Nathan Fillion yet Hollywood’s new Harrison Ford?

Serenity Trailer:


Dir: Michel Gondry  Scr: Charlie Kaufman

Stars: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst

Forgive the name-dropping but recently I was fortunate enough to visit Japan to interview master animator Hayao Miyazaki. The trip also included a chat with his long-time producer Toshio Suzuki, who recounted a holiday the two had taken to the Isle of Aran. Observing a beautiful moonlit landscape, Suzuki took a photo, much to Miyazaki’s annoyance, who told him angrily: “I’m trying to remember the scene; don’t disturb me!” He then added that a sheepish Miyazaki came back to him months later when trying to recall the scene for a drawing, saying “Didn’t you take a photo? Can I see it? I forgot parts…”

Memory is like that. A subjective guide to our pasts, the point where imagination and objective recall merge or even clash. Albert Camus’ famous epithet, that we are the sum of our choices, could easily be amended to read what we believe we are is the sum of our memories – a convenient get-out clause for those incidents we casually elide, embellish or flat out reassemble in our heads. It’s why I’ve always felt that Alzheimer’s is the cruellest of aging conditions, stealing one’s most intimate, precious treasures piece by piece. And it’s why Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s magnificent Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is, to me, the most dazzling, resonant, heartbreaking and wise film I’ve seen in the past ten years.

Kaufman, with his lineage of mind-bending modernist texts like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation (see this countdown’s No.17), usually takes the lion’s share of praise for the film’s ingenious narrative switches, rare for a ‘mere’ screenwriter. And while the brilliance of his conceit – disgruntled lovers can have memories of their exes surgically removed once the relationship has foundered – is unarguable, Gondry, with his defiantly lo-fi take on Kaufman’s sci-fi high-concept, playful, handmade visual trickery and spontaneous, fleet-footed touch, beautifully dovetails with the surreal material.

The results are not only enthralling (how does Gondry keep shuffling his streets, locations, characters?), they keep his actors – a never-better Carrey, an ebullient, excellent Winslet and crack supporting cast – upfront and central: their faces, their voices, their often desperate, foolhardy actions – you know, the things you remember. And so it’s apt that film, that definitive recording (embalming?) apparatus, is the medium to capture both the memories and their casually terrifying elimination, courtesy of Kaufman’s Lacuna, Inc.

A screwball tragedy for the new millennium, Eternal Sunshine reconfigures that most devalued of modern genres, the romantic comedy, where every new offering tries to come up with increasingly outrageous premises – She’s the wedding planner! He’s her stalker! One of them’s a ghost! – entirely misses the intimacy and investment required to make relationships work; and the honesty to examine why they go wrong. This beautifully bittersweet love letter to love itself understands that not only is it better to have lost in love than never to have loved at all, the recollections of the pain and joy of the whole damn thing are what ultimately sustain, even define us. Truly unforgettable.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Trailer:

See also:


Dir & Scr: Johnathan Caouette

Stars: Johnathan Caouette, Renee Leblanc, Adolph Davis

An auto-biopic some twenty years in the making, Johnathan Caouette’s astounding chronicle Tarnation is an entire repository of filmed memories, from childhood Super 8 to the latest iMac-edited DV footage. Caouette, just 31 on the film’s release, doesn’t merely want to never forget his chequered upbringing and fragile relationship with mentally-ill mother Renee; he wants, no, needs to transform it into some kind of performance art – and by God, does he. Incessantly creative (answering machine messages, stills, Dolly Parton clips), savagely raw, it’s the vanguard and likely peak of noughties’ confessional DIY filmmaking; both Caouette’s evidence and means of survival.

Tarnation Trailer: