DocuMondays – Young @ Heart



Young @ Heart (2007, dir.Stephen Walker)

The film opens with a jarring scene: a music video featuring a group of senior citizens performing The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated”. The first reaction is one of amusement, it is “adorable” that these “little old people” are singing a punk rock song. However, once the lyrics sink in, the simple “aw, how cute” fades away and there is a profound expression that is created when these words come from those mouths:

“Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to go….
Just put me in a wheelchair, get me on a plane
Hurry hurry hurry before I go insane
I can’t control my fingers I can’t control my brain”

There’s something very honest and appropriate about a group of aged faces yelling out these lyrics. It seems more appropriate for them, than a group of young buck musicians. This is what the 2007 documentary Young @ Heart does so well, it balances the “cute, old people” moments with a rich and meaningful exploration of aging and confronting our mortality. 
The heart behind the Young @ Heart Chorus is Bob Cilman, a truly extraordinary person. Bob had dedicated hours of work to help organize and put on performances with the elderly, and he doesn’t coddle them. When his two featured performers have trouble with James Brown’s “I Feel Good”, Bob doesn’t speak to them in hushed tones. He shouts at them, he gets angry and frustrated, and eventually decides to just work on another song. It can appear mean, but Bob has such a high level of respect and such lofty expectations for this group he can’t help but be intense about it. And those expectations pay off a hundredfold.
The performers bring a lot of love into their performances, and the film captures a very tumultuous year for them. Long-time and dedicated performer Bob Salvini takes ill and eventually dies in the middle of the group’s performance season. A profound moment occurs when, during their concert, Fred Knittle performs Coldplay’s “Fix You”, a song he was meant to share with Salvini. The lyrics reflect the feelings of the the performers and Joe’s family who watch in the audience:
“And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can’t replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you”

The documentary is deeply moving. In another scene the group performers for prisoners at a correctional facility. The way the camera shoots the faces of the chorus singing “Forever Young”, then cutting to the faces of criminals having to look down or cover their faces because of the tears welling in their eyes makes it impossible for the audience to not experience the same sense of compassion. Don’t discount this film as made for the old, or purely an attempt to exploit the elderly. This is a film made for the young to discover the depth and wisdom of their elders. This is one to be hunted down as soon as possible.

Fred Knittle performs Coldplay’s “Fix You”

The Young @ Heart Chorus performs “Forever Young”

Newbie Wednesday – Mammoth


Mammoth (2009, dir. Lukas Moodysson)

Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Michelle Williams, Marife Necesito, Sophie Nyweide, Nathhamonkarn Srinkikornchot
We are constantly alone, even when we’re with the ones we love. And when the decision comes to be away for money, we seem to choose to be away even if it makes us miserable. Swedish director Lukas Moodysson examines these ideas in a very well-acted, but ultimately cold and derivative film. The strongest influences here are the work of Alejandro Innaritu (Babel, Amore Perros) and the 2005 film Crash.
The picture begins with the happy family at play: Leo (Bernal) is a video game designer, Ellen (Williams) is an emergency room doctor specializing in pediatrics, and their daughter, Jackie (Nyweide) is a precocious child caught up in her love of astronomy. Also in their lives is Gloria (Necesito), a live in cook/maid/nanny whom Jackie seems much closer to. Leo leaves for a long business trip in Thailand and Ellen becomes caught up in the tragedy of a stab wound victim brought to her and jealousy of Gloria and her daughter. Gloria is dealing with anxiety of being separated from her own sons back in the Philippines.
Moodysson’s outlook on the world is a bit too simple and feels very predictable. Ellen’s jealousy over Gloria could be seen from the opening frames of the film, and doesn’t really develop in relevant way. The situation with Gloria’s children also comes to a close on a very unsure note, and not in a thought-provokingly ambiguous way, but rather uninspired. The film also makes some bland cross cutting: a pile of elephant dung is followed by Gloria cleaning toilets. These scenes feel more proud of how clever they are than really possessing any real cleverness.
The problem with not creating any sort of metaphors between his ideas and his characters, causes Moodysson to end up moralizing to us in the most patronizing of ways. Much like Crash, a horrific example of patronizing and pretentious cinema, Mammoth slaps us over the head with its message multiple times and then with a barrage in the final scenes. At the end of the day though, the question arises “What is the point?” Yes, I think everyone is aware of the global disparity of wealth and power. The film provides no ideas as to where we go next, which makes it makes of little value.

Wild Card Tuesday – Fish Tank


Fish Tank (2009, dir. Andrea Arnold)

Starring Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Kierston Wareing
Mia is angry at everyone and everything. She headbutts a girl for simply mouthing off to her. She fights constantly with her mother. She’s considered an oddball by the boys. She’s been kicked out of school. This her last chance. Andrea Arnold’s portrait of a 15 year old girl growing up in contemporary Essex, England is an incredibly immersing film. I have to admit, I sat down to watch it less than enthused but found myself completely engrossed in the picture. Arnold’s emphasis on naturalism comes shining through and every frame of the film feels honest and real.
Mia’s world is changed when her mother brings Conner home. Conner is a handsome, charming man who treats Mia and her younger sister with kindness. The four make a nice little family, going out for a drive in the country one day, and Conner and Mia catching a fish together. But there is a palpable tension between Mia and Conner. The film constantly veers from her seeing him as a replacement father but also an object of sex. And for a girl in Mia’s situation, such a confusion would be understandable. There is no single strong male or female influence in the girl’s world, so when one comes along she clings to him for dear life.
There’s a recurring action of Mia’s that is glanced in the first moments of the film and repeated throughout. A ragged emaciated horse stands chained to large boulder in the middle of gravel covered field. Mia climbs a fence and uses a stone to smash at the chain and free the horse. With each attempt she find the action more and more futile. Another action which Mia repeats again and again is when she busts into an abandoned tenement flat and practice hip hop dancing. Music becomes a link between she and Conner and also a possible mode of escape. Where Mia and her family end up is a balanced mix of sadness and hope, and Conner’s role in it all is the most shocking.
The film is all about newcomer Katie Jarvis who, in her film debut, is absolutely amazing. Katie’s personal life is not too different from her character’s. She was a mother at 16 and was discovered while screaming at her boyfriend on the street. The same anger and fire in Mia is all brought to the film by Katie herself. Director Andrea Arnold is also a powerful force, making this world feel completely honest and knowing when and what to show the audience. An amazing achievement in contemporary British cinema.

Newbie Wednesday – The Hurt Locker


The Hurt Locker (2009, dir. Kathryn Bigelow)

Starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Evangeline Lilly
“War is a drug”. That is the part of the opening quote on screen that is highlighted as the rest of the words fade away. While protagonist Sgt. William James takes pleasure in his work of diffusing bombs left behind by the Iraqi insurgents, I don’t know if I would ever equivocate this with a drug. Kathryn Bigelow, ex-wife of James Cameron and an incredibly successful action movie director and producer in her own right, brings us this unusually quiet film about living and surviving in a war zone.
The film follows Sgt. William James, a specialist in bomb diffusion during his 40 day tour with a pair of soldiers assigned to the Explosive Ordinance Diffusal (EOD). There is no villain or A to B plotline, rather a series of episodes centered around different types of incendiaries. While James exudes a smug bravado about the work he does, however Sgts. Sanborn and Eldridge think James isn’t taking the weight of his job seriously. Back home, James has an ex-wife and infant son and his relationship with both exists in a vague “other” state. An incident occurs during a routine mission to recover some stolen mortars that send James into a nervous breakdown. The rest of the film plays this breakdown out in an unexpected way and leaves us with a lot more questions about the nature of war.
I found this film to be addressing a lot of issues related to our understanding of mortality. The men who suit up and walk right up to the bombs to lay C-4 seem so comfortable with death that it creates unease in the men working under them. One character feels so threatened by James that at one point he talks to another officer about how easy it would be to set off an explosive in the sergeant’s face. Despite James being a “wild man”, as one colonel says, there are scenes that illuminate a nurturer. As Sanborn lies prone with a scoped rifle, seeking out the insurgents firing on them, James grabs a Capri Sun and holds it so Sanborn can drink. While he does this he talks encouragingly to Sanborn about his belief in his ability to take the enemy out, like a father cheering junior on at a Little League game. James also develops a relationship with a young boy selling bootleg DVDs on base. It’s his relationship with this child that creates an interesting counterpoint to his seeming coldness towards his own infant son back home.
The Hurt Locker is a Tense movie with a capital “T”. Very few films have me cringing in expectation of some thing bad happening on screen. In so many films and television series we see people working to diffuse bombs and we never feel the urgency. Bigelow manages to squeeze that from us through masterful editing. The Iraqi citizens who watch the procedures from balconies are viewed with suspicion, not knowing if one of them is holding a cell phone used to trigger the bomb being diffused. On the flip side, the film makes sure to state that this is not Blackhawk Down, every person you see is not a secret terrorist. Most people are simply average joes, working to make enough to keep on living and surviving. In the same way, this is why James devotes himself to this line work. He knows nothing else. He knows he should love his wife and son, but he just can’t. All he knows is how to deconstruct these vessels of death and in doing so he defeats his mortality till the next time.

DocuMondays – Beautiful Losers


Beautiful Losers (2008, dir. Aaron Rose, Joshua Leonard)

Starring Shepherd Fairey, Harmony Korine, Mike Mills, Jo Jackson, Chris Johansen, Geoff McFetridge, Margaret Kilgallen, Thomas Campbell, Barry McGee, Ed Templeton
Artists have always precariously walked the line between commerce and staying true their vision, and culturally we consider those who are able to commoditize their work to have succeeded. The reverse of this is that elements of strictly commercial art have been adopted by artists who have no interest in marketing iconography. My personal understanding of art is probably summed up as “I like what I like”. And the art and artists featured in this film I like.
The documentary chronicles the work of artists who came up in director Aaron Rose’s Alleged Art Gallery in Manhattan during the 1990s. The vast majority of the personalities profiled here came out of the skateboard or punk scenes and ,when you look at the methodology of their art, it makes sense. Pop art has been the strongest influence in the work of these now fortysomethings, in particular retro advertisement art. Painter Jo Jackson states that she loves old advertisements for products that are now obsolete because the seductive properties of the capitalism behind it has died.
The frustration of many artists in this documentary is with how quickly their work was gobbled up by a system that looks to make everything a commodity. There were stickers and buttons being sold at Hot Topic adorned with their work and they admit it felt like having a piece of oneself taken. On the other side, graphic artist Geoff McFetridge was responsible for a Pepsi One advertising campaign and admits he was happy to do it, but also fearful of how the artistic community around him would react. Their reaction was very positive and Geoff hinges this on the fact that he never compromised what made his work his.
The male artists featured, particularly those from the skateboarding community, are constantly wavering the line between their adolescence and adulthood. A major turning point for a lot of them came during an extended stay and series of shows in Tokyo that ended when Margaret Kilgallen, painter and wife of Barry McGee, learned she was pregnant and almost simultaneously that she had cancer. Kilgallen gave birth to her daughter and about two weeks later succumbed to the cancer. The film focuses on this as the moment where a lot of the artists’ personal visions became clear and the air of “punk” lessened a bit. This became a Do It Yourself mentality that is a hallmark of contemporary youth culture today.

Robert Altman: Chorus of Voices Part Four

1993 – 2006


Short Cuts (1993)
Starring Andie McDowell, Bruce Davidson, Jack Lemmon, Julianne Moore, Matthew Modine, Fred Ward, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Chris Penn, Lili Taylor, Robert Downey Jr, Madeline Stowe, Tim Robbins, Lily Tomlin, Tom Waits, Frances McDormand, Peter Gallagher, Lyle Lovett, Huey Lewis, Buck Henry

Combining one of my favorite directors (Altman) and one of my favorite writers (Raymond Carver) has got to result in a film I love, right? Right! Short Cuts is the sort of fragmented, mish mash and series of sour notes I love Altman for. Influenced by the jazz music of his hometown Kansas City, the director takes a cleaver to Carver’s best short stories and tells them in interwoven pieces. Moments are found where a minor character in one story can be the major character in another. Altman is at home with Carver’s ambiguity and sudden endings as well. There is a little resolution here and it reminds me of some of Altman’s best naturalist films in the 1970s. Life simply just is in the end, without rhyme or reason. Our paths cross with others, some times that causes an event to occur and some times it doesn’t matter one bit that we met them. Certain moments could be played for cheap sentimentality, but the snark of Altman refuses to let that happen.


Gosford Park (2001)

Starring Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Bob Balaban, Ryan Phillippe, Stephen Fry, Clive Owen, Helen Mirren, Emily Watson, Alan Bates, Richard E. Grant
Robert Altman never met a genre he couldn’t twist into knots. Here he takes on the British murder mystery and turns it into an upstairs/downstairs look at social class, which becomes less and less about the murder and more about the divides between us. Even the two detectives who respond the country manor when a body shows up are mirroring the social gap. Thompson (Fry) is quite at home with the gentlemen of the house, while Dexter is down to the task at hand of finding clues and uncovering the murderer. One of the most impressive facts about Gosford Park is that Altman was 76 when it was filmed, and not showing the sense that his was flagging in his commitment to his craft at all.


A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

Starring Woody Harrelson, Garrison Keillor, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin
This was to be the final entry into Altman’s career. Garrison Keillor and the director collaborated in developing a film based on Keillor’s popular NPR variety show. The film features the real life performers on the weekly radio series alongside actors portraying fictional members of the troupe. On the night of the performance when the film takes place, a woman arrives claiming to be the Angel of Death. Her presence is muted for most of the film but Altman makes sure we know she is there until she plays her role at the end of the picture. This is assuredly not his best picture, but it is still a decent film from a master filmmaker. During filming, Altman would request help from P.T. Anderson as the elder man was suffering from some health problems. It is more than a little appropriate that Anderson would take part; his films Boogie Nights and Magnolia are the spiritual children of Altman’s huge ensemble pictures.
He never made a film he didn’t want to make. There were times when studios propositioned him with a concept or a script, but if he agreed it was going to be on his terms and no one else’s. Just like fellow auteur Stanley Kubrick, Altman never received an Academy Award for directing. Though he did receive a lifetime achievement award months before he passed away. He was intensely close to his family, especially his children. His son Mike was involved in writing music for MASH at the age of 14 and worked alongside his dad for decades. There is a little chance we will see another director as singularly bullheaded as Robert Altman AND able to get his pictures made on the studio’s money. And we will be the poorer for it.
Four Altman Films You Have To See!
1) 3 Women
2) The Long Goodbye
3) Secret Honor
4) Short Cuts

Film 2010 #31 – The Constant Gardener


The Constant Gardener (2005, dir. Fernando Meirelles)
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Danny Huston, Bill Nighy, Pete Postlethwaite

I am a huge fan of Meirelles’ 2002 breakthrough film City of God and am a big supporter of the devastatingly panned Blindness (2007). For some reason, I felt trepidatious about this film since it came out. I think part of my worry was the fear of a “sophomore slump”, meaning Meirelles was moving from an independent foreign flick to a Hollywood producer studio movie. A lot could go wrong. While The Constant Gardener isn’t a disaster, it is definitely a weak film compared to Meirelles’ other work.
The story follows Justin Quayle (Fiennes), a low level British diplomat stationed in Kenya. His activist journalist wife, Tessa (Weisz) has grown more and more distant from him while pursuing a story she is apprehensive to let Justin in on. Everything comes crashing down around his head when Tessa and her doctor friend are found murdered. The Kenyan government immediately spins it as bandits but Justin delves into Tessa’s research to discover a larger and sinister conspiracy at work.
The highest achievement of this film is its editing. Until I really started consuming movies I completely glossed over the importance of editing. Once I did a little reading and self-education I began to see how editing can make or break a picture. In the case of The Constant Gardener without the incredibly tight and skilled cutting, this would have been another yawnfest film vying for Oscar attention. That’s not a good thing. In the moments where editing can’t work around the film’s flaws it comes across an annoyingly didactic. While I agree with the weight of the subject matter, it is a failure because it doesn’t get that message across in a very entertaining way.
There are some very noteworthy highlights though, in particular, the way Meirelles tells us the story of Justin and Tessa’s relationship. Tessa is dead within the first five minutes of the film and, after a trip to the morgue, the film detours for a good 40 minutes with a series of fragmented moments from their lives and from the work Tessa was doing. The dark secret that Tessa uncovered is never explicitly revealed during this sequence but all the information that is important comes across. We know why someone like Justin would fall for Tessa and we question what it is she wanted out of him. On a totally different note, I was impressed that Weisz did a nude scene while full on pregnant, it felt very real and was used in way that showed Justin’s deep care and tenderness for Tessa.
This will not be remembered as a highlight of Meirelles’ career. For one of his films, it is a low point, but its light years better than most “issue” movies made by Hollywood.

Film 2010 #22 – Terribly Happy

Terribly Happy (2008, dir. Henrik Ruben Genz)

It’s a common plot device in literature of all kinds to tell the story of the outsider in the tight-knit community. The plot of this Danish film could easily be dropped down into the middle of any Midwestern agricultural based small town. We have a disgraced police officer, Robert, punished by being moved from Copenhagen to a small outpost in South Jutland. Once there he meets Ingerlise, a young wife and mother whose husband, Jørgen beats her daily. Robert is tries to keep things professional but is slowly but surely seduced beyond his duties as an officer of the law. Things progress until Robert finds his hands stained with blood and his destiny now tightly grasped in the hands of the townspeople who dislike having outsiders interfere in village business.
Landscape is a vitally important element of the film. The small town is surrounded by dismal bogs and we’re told in the opening voice over of how cows are swallowed up in a matter of minutes. One particular town legend tells of a cow who surface in the spring and birthed a two-headed calf (one cow, one human) and the cow was hidden away after women began having stillbirths. This story is a metaphor for the politics of the town. Horrible things may happen but they townsfolk hide them away so that they don’t contaminate the rest of the populace. The bog itself both metaphorically and literally swallows up the town secrets. A half sunken truck peers ominously above the water but it is never explained, the circumstances of its arrival there hidden away decades ago.
It would be easy to cast Robert as the hero against the townspeople and for the first 45 mins of the film it appears that will be so. But as the circumstances of the officer’s placement in the wilderness are revealed it becomes obvious that Robert hides as much as the citizenry around him. As these past indiscretions are uncovered, Robert becomes assimilated more and more into the workings of the town. When he first responds to a juvenile shoplifter and is told by the store manager the old marshal would hit the boy and that would teach the lesson, Robert is appalled and says he would never hit a child. Later in the film, when the second shoplifting incident occurs, Robert doesn’t hesitate for a second to strike the child down.
This is a very complex crime film about unspoken social contracts. As quirky and eerie as the town appears and as dark as Robert’s actions become, they are fundamentally no different than a community where a father who abuses his family goes unreported or where a young woman refrains from reporting a rape out of fear of how her social standing will be effected. Director Genz tells a very universal story in a clever and dynamic way.

My Top 50 Favorite Films of the Decade – #5 – 1

This is it!


5) There Will Be Blood (2007, dir. P.T. Anderson)
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano

From my review of the film in 2008: “P.T. Anderson feels like a director who should have been working in the 1970s along his artistic soulmates. His films are so distinctly his vision, fighting against the conventions of what we’ve been taught to accept as movie entertainment. He gives us long silences that, while absent of dialogue, are rich with information about our main character. He is a director who knows exactly when to build to a moment of tension and when to give in and let it shatter on the screen. What is great is that the film refrains from becoming didactic. There is no message being telegraphed with big glaring neon signs, as in most Oscar bait films. A story is told and, while am certain Anderson has a very clear idea of what he thinks it is about, he lets us make our own decisions. I’ve found that the great eyes of modern cinema (PT Anderson, Lynch, Kubrick, Malick to name a few) are amazingly gifted at abstaining from overtly teaching lessons. Daniel Day Lewis is at his most brilliant here; he seems to be one of those actors who hits the bullseye every time out. He creates one of those characters that is immediately picked up by and mimicked by the mainstream culture. If Daniel Plainview feels grossly over the top at moments and absurd I think that’s exactly what Lewis is aiming for. The character simmers for most of the film and when it does explode it’s almost laughable. It’s simply one of the best films of the decade and another perfect ten from PT Anderson.”


4) The Dark Knight (2008, dir. Christopher Nolan)
Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine
From my review of the film: “What’s to say about this film that hasn’t been yet? Not much really. It’s the highest grossing film of the decade and deservedly so. It’s one of those times I love when a director with distinct vision is rewarded for his work by the public and critics alike. I have been a big fan of Christopher Nolan since Memento and I have to say, I don’t think he has made a bad film in his career so far. There are some I prefer over others but they are all of a high quality and artistic merit. As the comic book film is concerned I have a little worry about the effect of this film. Warner Bros. has said the next Superman film should have a darker tone in line with this film. I think that would be a huge mistake. The studio executives fail to see why The Dark Knight was so successful and that was because it matched the correct tone with its iconic character. Joel Schumacher’s Batman films failed because the tone was so drastically opposite of what a Batman film feels like it should be. So, if one were to apply this dark tone to a Superman film it would tank. Anyways, I loved Heath Ledger as the Joker but I feel Aaron Eckhart has been overshadowed. He played the consummate Harvey Dent, he had made us sympathize and like the character so that his fall is that much more tragic for us. My one disappointment about the film was that Two Face didn’t get more screen time. The character was interesting enough that I sort of wish it had been carried over into another film. That said, this is hands down the best superhero/comic book film ever made. It takes it source material seriously and shows how the superhero genre is a great platform for big ideas.”


3) Waltz With Bashir (2008, dir. Ari Folman)

For my views on this film, check out my in-depth review: http://shadowsitcave.blogspot.com/2009/11/film-2009-20-waltz-with-bashir.html


2) City of God (2002, dir. Fernando Meirelles)

Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Paulo Lins, City of God transcends the Rio de Janeiro ghetto where it takes places and works as an examination of all societies where the poor are marginalized and pushed out of sight. The story follows Rocket, a youth becoming interested in photography and Lil Ze, a boy who finds his calling in running the gangs of the City of God. The City is a real life slum in Rio,Brazil, planned in 1960 to systematically remove favelas (slums) from the city center. This plan focused on making Rio look like a city made up of the standard metropolitan and suburban areas, while effectively ignoring the poor. The film shows the path most young men commonly choose, joining up with gangs and Rocket’s desperate struggle to get out of the City of God and find a way to report the horror there to others. Instead of presenting a purely issue driven film, Meirelles adds stylistics to the narrative, beginning with a moment from the finale of the film and then tracing backwards to the main characters’ childhoods. The story is also told out of linear sequence, jumping around as new characters are introduced to give us important backstory about them. Meirelles never shies away from the violence that takes place in this world. All of these elements together are what City of God a film impossible to forget.


1) Children of Men (2006, dir. Alfonso Cuaron)
Starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine

There are many films that have hopeful endings, and there are plenty of bleak movies, but rarely are they blended in ways that retain the weight of each tone. Children of Men is one of those films that doesn’t hesitate to show a dark vision of the future, yet also holds up the idea that there is hope even the most desolate of situations. Set in the U.K. of 2027, we’re presented with humanity given a death sentence after two decades of global infertility. The sense of hopelessness has pervaded the citizenry and martial law has been declared in a futile attempt to control the chaos about to explode. It’s on the eve of this explosion that Theo Faron (Owen), a former activist is pulled back into the cause by his estranged wife, Julian (Moore). Julian reveals to Theo that a young African woman has been brought into her rebel group and has been found to be pregnant. It’s of utmost importance that the young girl get to The Human Project, a group that many suspect is an urban legend, where she can get the medical attention she needs and birth the first child in twenty years. What follows is a mesmerizing odyssey, documented in cinematic brilliance by one of the finest filmmakers working today. Cuaron has shown his deft skill at tackling small scale character work (Y Tu Mama Tambien) and big budget fantasy franchise (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and this is his most stunning work to date. The film never delves into the maudlin or melodramatic, and fights its damnedest to stay grounded in the gritty nature of its universe. In this single film, I saw the reactions and emotions of myself and those around me post-9/11 reflected. And in turn, I saw the great hope we all desire, that no matter how bleak things become, the infinitesimal chance that we can be a part of the change for the better, whether we live to see it or not, is possible

My Top 50 Favorite Films of the Decade – #10 – 6


10) Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006, dir. Tom Twyker)
Starring Ben Whishaw, Dustin Hoffman, Alan Rickman, Rachel Hurd-Wood, John Hurt

This picture will probably be overlooked on most best of the decade lists, and has probably never registered in the minds of most film audiences, but for myself it was one of the most enjoyable cinematic experiences I had in the 2000s. From the trailer, I had the assumption this would be a run of the mill historical drama but I underestimated the skill of director Tom Twyker. Twyker brought us the cutting edge film Run, Lola, Run and has since failed to be given the acclaim such a master filmmaker deserves. In Perfume, we’re taken to 18th century France and introduced to Jean Baptiste Grenouille, a young man possessing a sense of smell beyond that of any other man. His entire world is defined by scent and Twyker uses some beautiful camerawork to show us how an olfactory universe would feel. Along with his enhanced nostrils, Grenouille has a lack of understanding social norms. Raised in an orphanage where he fights for his life and then sold to a tannery as an adolescent, Grenouille is subject to the most brutal circumstances. A chance discovery of perfume during a delivery to an upscale area of Paris leads him into the perfume business. However, he become disturbingly obsessed with creating a perfect scent…and is willing to kill for it. A heart-breakingly beautiful and tragic tale and one deserving of much more acknowledgment that it has received to date.


9) Amelie (2001, dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
Starring Audrey Tatou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Dominique Pinon

The perfect blend of classic French cinema and contemporary stylistics. With its roots firmly planted in the work of Truffaut and Godard, Jeunet composes this love letter to Paris. Young Amelie Poulain appears on the surface to be the typical introverted wallflower. Made fearful of risk by her widower father, Amelie quietly works in a cafe populated by eccentric characters. Fatefully, the equally quiet and quirky Nino, a young man whom Amelie fancies, appears in her life one day. It’s not necessarily the story that is the captivating part, but the way in which it is told. Jeunet is able to use computer-generated effects in a way that does not distract, but enhances. While Amelie can be viewed as the prototypical pixie girl, she is in reality a very craft, clever, and vicious young women. Her revenge on the grocer stands out in particular as an example of how snarky she could be. The perfect compromise between a date movie and an art film.


8) Dogville (2003, dir. Lars von Trier)
Starring Nicole Kidman, Lauren Bacall, Chloe Sevigny, Paul Bettany, Stellan Skarsgard, Udo Kier, James Caan, Ben Gazzara

Dogville is a minimalist masterpiece, shot on a sound stage with only chalk outlines to represent walls and a variety of objects in the world. The story follows Grace, a young woman on the run, who ends up in the small town of Dogville, located somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. The citizens of the town are suspicious, yet welcoming to Grace, in particular the young philosopher, Tom (Bettany). Grace’s presence becomes a risk to the townsfolk and slowly they begin to reveal their darker nature when threatened. The film is the first in a trilogy by director von Trier and is part of his examination of true human nature, which is a very bleak one or positive, depending on how you look at it (I mean the townspeople do find something to unite them). Traditionally, kind townspeople would be the heroes against some sort of more powerful oppressive force, but in von Trier’s hands he blows that concept up and shows that *anyone* pushed into a threatening situation can become viciously sadistic and cruel, even the children. Grace is put through horrendous torture which sets up a very inevitable and very chilling finale.


7) Let the Right One In (2008, dir. Tomas Alfredsson)

European cinema time and time again seems to take concepts that have been run into the ground in American film and inject them with an entirely new angle. This Swedish film coincidentally was released at a similar time as the first Twilight film and could arguably be said to be the European version of that flick. Twelve year old Oskar lives with his mother in Stockholm, and is chronically bullied by classmates. He plays outside at night, knowing it is one of the few times of day he can go out safely. One evening, he meets his new neighbor, Eli, a girl who has the same strange nocturnal habits. The two become friends, and their burgeoning adolescent romance is inter cut with the lengths Eli’s father goes to to satisfy his daughter’s macabre hunger. Let the Right One In is such an original picture, presenting angles and twists on the vampire genre not presented on film before. And it’s all done in a quiet, patient way, even down to an almost non-existent musical score. A horror film that knows leaving the audience with questions is the best way to be remembered.


6) No Country For Old Men (2007, dir. The Coen Brothers)
Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Woody Harrleson

The Coen Brothers were born to make movies. And all the movies they make owe a debt of gratitude to the films of they were inspired by in their youth. Whether it be gangster pics in Miller’s Crossing or Hepburn/Tracy comedies in Intolerable Cruelty or L.A. detective tales in The Big Lebowski. With No Country For Old Men, they took the acclaimed novel by Cormac McCarthy and made a film reminiscent of the 70s Westerns of Sam Peckinpah, as well as the operatic and tragic Westerns of Anthony Mann. Llewellyn Moss (Brolin) comes across the scene of a shoot out over drug money on the Texas/Mexico border. Moss foolishly takes the money, and quickly realizes whom ever it actually belongs to will be coming for it. Moss goes on the run while pursued by the insane and sadistic hit man Anton Chigurh (Bardem) and the noble sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Jones), who wants to save Moss before Chirugh gets to him. The Coens know exactly how to build tension in quiet, still moments and managed to create a both exciting and deeply contemplative film.