As we wind down the first 10 years of the century, I decided, like many other blogs, to generate a list of my top films. This decade was truly my time of becoming a true film fan. I watched around a 1000 films and basically gave myself an education on film essentials. Over the next few weeks I will be posting pieces of this list, looking back on those films that I remember with fondness and why.
In the latter half of the decade, I developed a strong appreciation of Spanish language cinema. This film, produced by Guillermo del Toro (who will appear later on the list), is an excellent entry into the horror genre. The plot borrows elements from some classic haunted house stories, particularly The Turn of the Screw. Bayona, an unknown in the States, presents a finely crafted, slow burning picture. Laura moves her family into the orphanage where she was raised with plans to re-open it. Instead, her young son vanishes on the day of the open house and she begins to see a mysterious child wearing a burlap sack over their head appearing all over the estate. Bayona knows how to restrain himself and when to let loose to create maximum fright in his audience.
These days, Will Ferrell feels that he has worn out his welcome, his comedy seems to be one note and it seems to be restrained as his career continues. But back in 2004, this was a fresh, absurd style that I ate up and still do. The insanely pompous Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) anchors the Channel 4 News in San Diego and is threatened by the addition of female co-anchor, Veronica Corningstone (Applegate). Burgundy and his fellow newsmen embark on a campaign to force Corningstone out which typically ends in their utter comeuppance. The film has a very loose narrative and that is completely fine with me, as the best moments of humor come from the more improvisational work of Ferrell and his co-stars. Also, check out the straight to DVD sequel, Wake Up Ron Burgundy, cobbled together from extra footage and actually containing an entirely original plot of its own.
Paradise Now is a quiet but affecting film. It was an ambitious project to film in Palestine and the filmmakers had to deal with land mines going off a few yards from the set and an attack by Israeli helicopter gunships launching missiles at neighborhoods where filming was going on. Despite this, the film came out as one of the major cinematic achievements in foreign language film of the decade. The plot follows Said and Khaled, two young men who have volunteered to be suicide bombers in Tel Aviv. Before they embark on their mission, Said befriends and falls in love with Suha, a woman who tries to argue him out of what she sees as insanity. The picture is very quiet and contemplative, much in the same way the young men who perform these tasks must be in the moments leading up to the climax. The final shot of the film in particular is one of the most powerful I have viewed.
My expectations of this film were non-existent. I had found the majority of David Fincher’s films to lose their luster with the passage of time (Alien 3, The Game, Fight Club) and so Zodiac never even registered on my radar until six months after its release. Of his filmography, this feels like the strongest entry that will be watched decades from now. Character development is not necessarily the most important element thought. The focus seems to be on simple, quality storytelling and the best moments of the film are the meticulous recreations of the Zodiac Killer’s murders which are infused with an epic creepiness. Fincher also uses computer-generated effects in one of the best ways I have ever seen. Unlike the overblown pomposity of CG in the Star Wars prequel or comparable films, Fincher is so subtle with the technology many times you don’t realize it is being used.
This Holocaust film was completely invisible to me until my friend Chris Ewing (who was working at the Regal Green Hills 16 at the time) suggested we go see it. This true story concerns a group of Jews planning a rebellion in Auschwitz, specifically to blow up one of the gas chambers and crematoria. These Jews have also been put in charge of giving orders to their fellow people that eventually sends them into these chambers. Needless to say, they are devoured by a level of guilt unimaginable to the majority of us. The arrival of a group of Hungarian Jews brings with it a mute adolescent girl, whom one of the Jewish men develops a protectiveness over. She was meant to die in the gas chamber but survived at a the bottom of a pile of the dead. For the rest of film, the young Jewish convinces his comrades to hide the girl but the Nazis become more and more suspicious culminating in a final scene that is one of the most devastating pieces of cinema I have ever seen.