Mustang (Directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven) From my review: Filled with humor and joy, Mustang is a timeless story. It transcends any particular religious or geographic specifics and conveys an experience that is felt by women across the globe at varying levels of intensity. Societies seem to have a preoccupation with controlling the will of their female citizens, based on a fear of loss of control. Director Erguven states firmly that this type of energy is impossible to contain, and through Lale, she tells a story that gives hope to those who may feel like they have no more freedom.
Big Hero 6 (Directed by Don Hall & Chris Williams) From my review: Every element of Big Hero 6 feels like a classic Marvel comic. The teenage hero struck by tragedy, using his own wits and intelligence to build what he needs to make things right. A powerful masked villain with personal ties to the hero. Like Brad Bird, the creators of this film understand those fundamental principles of what makes superhero media appealing to kids. One place where Marvel has been lacking was in the musical score of their movies. Big Hero 6 has a beautifully triumphant and classical superhero sound, big heroic themes to highlight Hiro & company swinging into action and sweeping notes to underscore the tragedy. There are genuinely touching moments in the story, and this is not an animated film where everything gets tied up nicely with everyone turning out safe. People die in this story, and the villain is more complicated than the audience will initially realize. Much like the comic books that inspired this movie, the creators respect the intelligence of children and know that, with a well-written script and strong creative choices, a “kids’ film” can be something powerful.
Snowpiercer (Directed by Bong Joon-ho) South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho delivers a unique take on the class struggle by putting the remainder of humanity on a train that is speeding around the globe. A climate crisis occurred resulting in an ice age but Wilford, a forward-thinking billionaire industrialist, had a train constructed that contains all the amenities needed to keep a relatively small population of humans alive. Over time, the underclass passengers in the back of the train develop a plan to break out of their ghetto and get access to the privileges of the front car passengers. What follows is a bizarre odyssey that examines a lot of contemporary social and economic issues through this filter of a visually absurd high paced action film. Captain America Chris Evans is the protagonist, but even that gets subverted by the end of the film. There’s plenty of great twists and an impressive action sequence involving masked men wielding shiny silver axes. What Snowpiercer does right is balancing the somber and relevant themes with a fast-paced plot and intriguing characters.
It’s Such a Beautiful Day (directed by Don Hertzfeldt) From my review: Hertzfeldt can take us to heart-rending moments of illumination. There’s a memory Bill has of a time when he was staring out at the sea and contemplating “all the wonderful things he will do with his life.” That moment is led into with grace and empathy and never underlined by the filmmaker. It is the audience who will make the connections with the facts and emotions of the scene: Bill’s memories feeling like he’s living in them only to encounter a moment where he had all possibilities laid out before him. He’s snapped back to the present, his situation very dire and his whole self in a state of deterioration.
Monsieur Lazhar (directed by Philippe Falardeau) From my review: The film contains messages about multiculturalism and the themes of mentors & proteges, but it does this without feeling didactic. The way Lazhar adapts to the Quebecois culture and how his students learn from him is done organically without speeches or exposition. Offscreen events occur as we move through the winter and into the spring, but we are shown enough to get a sense of growth happening in Lazhar’s classroom. The performances by Mohammed Fellig (as Lazhar) and Sophie Nélisse (as Alice) are rich and layered, without being maudlin. As I watched the film, I kept thinking about how a Hollywood version of this would get so much wrong and essentially already has in so many other teaching centered movies.
14.The Last Circus (directed by Alex de la Iglesia) From my review: If Michael Bay made films that have substance he would be Alex de la Iglesia. In this pic, a man is haunted by his father’s destruction at the hands of the fascist Franco government and attempts to honor his pop’s memory by continuing the family tradition of clowning. He ends up the “sad clown” to a masochist “happy clown,” and both vie for the affections of a beautiful acrobat. The violence gets pretty bad in this one as both men grow increasingly insane. One of the most fun, and still intellectually rich movies I’ve seen in a while. There’s also a lot of classic film references, particularly in the big finale which reminded me a lot of Tim Burton’s Batman work visually.
As I prepare to present my favorite films of our past decade, I feel the need to visit the last year of the 2000s. The best films list you make at the end of a year is never the same list a year later. New films are seen, and so these lists are living things, changing and reforming based on your tastes at the moment and altered by new cinema. I wrote up an ambitious 50 Best Films of the 2000s in 2009, and one day I’ll revise that list, but I thought to present a revised and updated 2009 list would be a great way to lead into our examination of the decade. Here are my thoughts on the fifteen films I find to be my favorites from 2009.
YouTube is arguably the most significant media phenomenon of the last decade. While the website went live thirteen years ago, it wasn’t until the 2010s that it became the powerhouse that it is today. There have dramatic changes to the interface and (much the chagrin of creators) the fair use and copyright policies. People have made fortunes as YouTube creators but will tell you success on the platform takes an incredibly nuanced hand. Here are the YouTubers that have been entertaining me for the last decade.
This absurdist comedy channel is the creation of Noah Munck, who to people a couple of years younger than I, is best known as “Gibby” from the Nickelodeon series iCarly. Inspired by the work of anti-comedy artists Tim & Eric, Munck creates skits without any real plot, mainly focused around characters who quickly devolve into spasming balls of chaos. The videos are vulgar and full of foul language, but also deeply critical of a material-obsessed American culture. His characters are loud, unappealing men who swing their privilege around to the point of becoming dehumanized.