I got into quite a strong flow of watching film during this time. My roommate Eddy would watch many of them with me, and because of his background an English major, we could discuss them like the nerd we truly were. I watched many documentaries during the first half of 2007, while I was still in Bellingham. Simultaneously, I was finishing up my year with AmeriCorps and starting to realize that working in schools at the elementary level was the job I was meant to do. Many of the documentaries I watched corresponded to this as they focused on the social welfare of children internationally (Born into Brothels, The Children Underground).
Throughout this period of time, I became a frequent theater hopper at the Green Hills 16. About one or two Saturdays a month, I would walk over to the mall and take advantage of the basement like setup of the 16, where a person could easily move from screen to screen and never be seen. I was able to devour so much cinema during this period, helped in part because the 16 is a Regal Arts Cinema, meaning it focused on artsy fare mixed in with the blockbuster junk. I saw such films as Secretary, Late Marriage, Spirited Away, Adaptation, and more.
One of the things I began doing at the time was cataloging the films I saw over 2005, a practice I still maintain today. I began to fight my way through the depression and film played a major part. The apartment I lived in had cable with every premium channel plus a DVR unit. I began checking the schedule a week in advance and planning out what to record and was able to see volumes and volumes of excellent film that continued my education. In 2006, I worked for a brief time at the Edmonson Pike branch library and was able to have daily access to great works of film, having 20 or more DVDs out at a time. I was able to continue keeping up with contemporary works as well as back tracking and seeing more historical films.
I have been a film geek since childhood. I was read to from a very early age and I credit that with my love of narrative. Even in given presentations as an adult in my graduate studies, I feel more comfortable presenting representative anecdotes that dry data or broad theory. I am a big believer that all of our lives are parallels to the myriad of master plots presented by Misters Jung and Campbell.
My earliest memories of film are attached to three things: The Wizard of Oz, Superman The Movie, and Ghostbusters. On contemplating my memories of Ghostbusters, I surprised myself, realizing that the film came out in 1984 and my parents rented the VHS tape before 1986 (we were still living in Illinois at the time), making me around four years old when I first encountered the picture. The Ivan Reitman directed film obviously had a profound impact on my early psyche and years later when the sequel was released I remember putting together a makeshift proton pack (backpack + yarn + cardboard paper towel tube) and ghost trap (shoebox + yarn).
For the longest time, my love of film was relegated to the mainstream cinema, and in particular films rated PG-13 or lower. My only exposure to an unedited R-rated film came when my father rented the original Die Hard without checking the box. That stands as my earliest memory of hearing the word “fuck” on film. As a teenager, I could feel my curiosity spurned on by a notion that there were movies out there that was life-altering yet I had not had access to them yet. Large tomes from the public library that outlined cinema from its inception in the late 19th century on through the late 1990s gave me production still glances of films that were like mysteries to me; forbidden but attainable eventually.
My first weekend of college (August 1999) I ended up at the theater with a cluster of people whom I would remain friends with till the end of college, some did of course fall by the wayside. The film we saw was M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. For the rest of the decade, I would see each of Mr. Shyamalan’s pictures in the theater, with wavering levels of enjoyment. Months later I would see David Fincher’s Fight Club, a film that while I still appreciate it, has lost its magic for me in the following years.
For the first third of 2000, I can recall only seeing Pitch Black in the theater. It’s a film whose craftsmanship I can still appreciate, but will probably never end up on any favorite lists of mine. The majority of film I was seeing occurred in dorm rooms and dorm lobbies. I remember watching the The Matrix with a group of friends in the lobby of a girls’ dorm and having one young lady, whom I did think was very cute, sidle up closer and lay her head on my shoulder. I distinctively remember looking across to the other couch, to my roommate whom was cracking up at my nervous naïveté. This is another recurring theme in my love of cinema, emotional moments connected to specific films.
My summer between terms in 2000, I saw X-Men in the theaters. And upon returning to college in the fall, I remember a film that stands as the moment where I began to develop a true taste in film. It was a Friday evening and, as most Friday evenings, the debate was underway in the cafeteria on what to do for entertainment. The group settled on movies but that it when the true debate began. Looking back, it seems strange that the majority of girls in our group would lobby to go see the hackneyed Urban Legend slasher flick, while the boys pushed for Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. The middle ground that was decided on was The Watcher, an epically forgettable Keanu Reeves/James Spader flick. As if by fate, the audio in the film was atrocious and the entire audience became very frustrated. Someone complained so, that after the film was over, an employee of the Regal 27 stood at the door handing out apologetic free passes. My friend Brent and I immediately turned to our cohorts and announced we would be going to see Almost Famous, right then and there. I have loved the film ever since.
The next key moment in my growth was to come in November, after returning from Thanksgiving break and seeing Shyamalan’s Unbreakable and being amazed. I literally cried in the final ten minutes of the film, an act I don’t do often now attributable to “overexposure” to cinema, at the beauty of the comic book story being told in such a human and quiet way. I was hooked. During the following spring, I would begin my treks to the nearby theater on Saturdays, seeing movies on my own and theater hopping.
I had a physical thirst for something the films provided, possibly experiences so beyond on my and, most likely, a closer examination of things I felt were somehow true, yet was unable to verbalize or communicate in any tangible way. I would fall in love Amelie, wish to explore the Tenebaums’ home, weep at the pain of David the android, obsess on the mystery of the tragic Darko family, and experience a multitude of emotions. It was first love, new and fresh and exciting, yet also heart wrenching when reality sets in, and a process of learning about myself more than anyone or thing else. As my maturity in understanding love developed, so too did my maturity in understanding film.
This is it!
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.”
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While many critics will place Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy as the height of fantasy, my personal pic for the top fantasy film of the decade would be this wonderful Spanish language film. Del Toro impressed audiences greatly with Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone. His mainstream adaptation of Hellboy was entertaining and displayed an adept skill he possesses to develop worlds, but it was hindered by the typical flaws found in mainstream Hollywood fare. Pan’s Labyrinth is set against the the wake of the Spanish Civil War in the 1940s, when the country was under fascist oppression. The new wife of a cruel general is relocated, with her daughter from a previous marriage, Ofelia to a secluded house in the countryside. It’s there that Ofelia encounters Pan, a demonic being who claims that she is the princess of mystical realm and was banished the world of the mundane and struck with amnesia. Ofelia is given a series of tasks to perform to gain entry back. The general/stepfather plagues Ofelia at every turn and rebels wait in the woods for a moment to strike. Del Toro crafts a world existing between the real and supernatural so well that the seams that join them are invisible. And by placing the story in the midst of brutality, the tragic nature of the events that unfold hold an even higher level of pain.
They said Bret Easton Ellis’ novel was unfilmable. And in a way, they were right. A majority of the book’s more graphic content (think a lengthy scene involving a length of PVC pipe and a live rat)had to be cut from the script. While the full depravity could not be captured on film, Mary Harron still managed to craft an enjoyably disturbing film nonetheless. It’s 1987 and Patrick Bateman is a successful investment banker and engaged to a beautiful young woman. What people don’t know about Bateman, or choose to ignore, is that he is a sadistic serial killer who only seems to derive true pleasure when slaughtering a person. Bale delivers a career defining performance which set him up as one of the major players in film of the 2000s. Bateman is a man so concerned with appearances that the slightest one up from a colleague can drive him into a murderous rage. He’s also a man who’s viewed with little respect by his peers and, particularly in the finale, is shown to be someone of such little consequence his own friends don’t recognize him.
Once again, Nolan appears on the list, but don’t think this is the last time. This non-linear picture was Nolan’s big coming out. Based on his brother, Jonathan’s short story, Memento follows Leonard Shelby (Pearce), an insurance fraud investigator whose wife was raped and murdered. Leonard was also injured and suffers from retrograde amnesia, the inability to form new memories. This means Leonard forgets where he is and what is happening every fifteen minutes or so. This unique situation allows the film to be told in a mix of standard linear storytelling, mixed a moving backwards from the ending the of the film. The result is that the linear ending of the film is actually the story’s middle, where the two points converge and it becomes clear what is going on with Leonard and who the real villain is.
I discovered Almodovar in the latter half of the 2000s and fell in love. His films are visually amazing, rich and colorful and very different from anything American cinema offers. Almodovar also knows how to write for and direct women in a way that keeps them from becoming male analogues, retaining their femininity without objectifying them. In this film we have Marco, a journalist in love with the fierce matador Lydia. Lydia is violently gored while in the ring and ends up in a coma. Marco meets Benigno, a male nurse in the hospital who is overseeing the care of Alicia, a promising dancer who is now in a coma after an accident. The stories of these two men and the women in their lives is played out through flashbacks and flash forwards and even some fantasy sequences based on dreams. There are some events that take place that may be shocking to someone unfamiliar with a lot of Almodovar’s film, especially the way he handles aspects of sex which is in a very matter of fact way. However, this is truly the best film in a film career that is full of major accomplishments.
It has become a hipster flick providing inspiration for easy Halloween costumes for the uncreative collegiate. However, it was Wes Anderson’s follow up to 1998’s Rushmore and its fairytale aesthetic still delights me. Anderson is not a director for everybody and is incredibly stylistic in a way that can turn off a lot of viewers. For myself though, it’s eye candy that I devour like mad. The story follows the Tenenbaum family (loosely based on Salinger’s Glass Family stories), a clan of failed prodigies headed up by the pompous Royal (Hackman). Royal is faking cancer in an effort to get his family to love him again before he dies, but such a ruse is bound to go wrong. The standouts for me have always been Hackman and Huston, the two have perfect chemistry, particularly during their walk through the park and you can see why she would have ended up with such a charismatic guy in the first place. Once the hipster cred has worn away, I have the utmost confidence Anderson’s films will remain recognized as a wonderful piece of American cinema.
In the late 19th century, Australia was experiencing a parallel to the United States era of lawlessness in the West. The continent down under was being civilized by the British Empire and numerous clashes with the descendants of those imprisoned there earlier occurred. This particular story, scripted by acclaimed musician Nick Cave, tells the tale of Charlie Burns (Pearce), a man torn between his love for his younger brother and the loyalty to his older, sociopathic brother (Huston). The life of Charlie’s younger brother is what is at stake, when British Captain Stanley (Winstone) tells Charlie he must bring in the elder Burns brother to atone for the horrific murder/rape of a settlement family. The film has a dreamlike quality, with long patches of meditative views of the Outback. It evokes an otherworldly, mystical feel the land seems to possess. Hilcoat and Cave manage to convince that their is much fertile ground for more of the Western genre in Australia.
Talk about a strong debut film. Johnson mixes equal parts hard boiled detective story, Leone spaghetti Western, and Lynchian suburb creepiness and creates a fresh blend of all three. The log-line for this flick could simply be “Dashiel Hammett writes a high school movie”. The dialogue is lightning quick and full of anachronistic slang that intentionally confounds a bit at first. Brendan (Levitt), is a high school student in an unnamed California town. He receives a disconcerting phone call from his ex-girlfriend (de Ravin) late one night and this pushes him into the middle of a murder mystery. The characters are all archetypal from stories like The Maltese Falcon and The Long Goodbye, but re-imagined in inventive, clever ways. And while the film has a very wry sense of humor, it contains a serious thru line that delivers a punch to the gut in the finale.
This is a film that I feel certain will be lost a bit in the coming decades, but one I hope to keep some people aware of when I can. Another piece of Australian cinema, the setting here are the 1930s, during a period known as The Stolen Generations. At the time, the Australian government was literally trying to breed the Aborigine people out of existence. Three young girls are kidnapped from their home in Jigalong Village (Northern Australia) and taken to the Moore River settlement (Southwest), where they were to be retrained into basically becoming a servant class. The girls escape and begin to make the 1,500 mile journey back home. Based on the true story of author Doris Pilkington Garimara’s mother, Rabbit-Proof Fence is a beautiful story of the drive of three children to get back home no matter the brutal conditions around them and, simultaneously, a condemnation on a period of history the Australian government would like to ignore.
The screen crackles with this film. Music video director Glazer uses a camera like dynamite, present images you want to frame and put up on the wall. You can feel the broiling heat of the opening sequence like you were there. The story follows Gal (Winstone), a retired British safecracker who has relocated to Spain with his wife. Their idyllic life is interrupted by the arrival of Don Logan (Kingsley) who has a big job and needs Gal for it. Gal declines but Logan is like a yapping rat dog who doesn’t let up on Gal for a second. Kingsley defines “ferocious” in this performance. I’m sometimes confused by his choice of roles (see Thunderbirds or Bloodrayne), but pictures like this remind me how damn good he is. Everything is magnified to the level of brilliance by Glazer’s deft directorial hand. The only downside is that the genius director only managed to produce two films during the decade (Birth) and has his audience salivating for more.
Writer Charlie Kaufman had a very good decade. Of his scripts, he had Human Nature, Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and this feature released. A pretty amazing track record. This feels like the most psychologically personal of all his works, with Adaptation being the closest we had been to Kaufman’s psyche before. Caden Cotard (Hoffman)is in the middle of staging a new play when he learns he has cancer. Having recently received a genius grant to develop a new work, Caden feels spurred on by his sickness. He rents out a warehouse and begins building a recreation of the city around him, Schenectady. The production grows to gargantuan proportions and Caden’s real life becomes more and more neglected. The film is one large nesting doll, in which one artifice contains another which contains yet another. Kaufman stretches and dissolves the boundaries of identity and reality, with Caden even assuming the role of another person in the latter half of the film.
Closer to the top…
In my book, P.T. Anderson is the second coming of Stanley Kubrick. He handles the camera just as confidentially and prefers storytelling via the image, over dialogue. I enjoyed Hard Eight and Boogie Nights, and found Magnolia to be one of the best American films ever made so I was elated when this project was released. Punch-Drunk Love is unlike any other Adam Sandler film you will see and the actor delivers such an unusual performance. Barry Egan (Sandler) is the owner of a novelty manufacturer (their current product are glass handled toilet plungers) who comes into work one morning and mysteriously finds a punch-tacky piano abandoned on the side of the street. He becomes obsessed with it, bringing it into his office and becoming increasingly distracted by the instrument. At the same time he blackmailed by a phone sex operator while courting the shy Lena (Watson). All these myriad and strange plot converge in a dark romantic comedy that is painted in shades of old Hollywood musicals. One of the most strange and unique pictures of the decade.
Danish director Lars von Trier won critical acclaim with his take on the musical genre film. What is most surprising about this picture is how good Bjork is. Most audiences would probably roll their eyes at singers crossing over into film (see Spears in Crossroads, every Madonna film), but Bjork actually shows a deep range and proves herself a competent actor. But, as is the case with most von Trier films, the star is his wide array of film making techniques. Shot on digital video, von Trier films “real life” sequences in a hand held documentary fashion, while the fantasy musical numbers are tightly story boarded. The story is a heartbreaking one, following factory worker Selma (Bjork) who is slowly going blind while worried about her son who is showing signs of the same condition. Selma becomes involved in a murder and subsequent trial and must make a sacrifice that is bound to leave viewers emotionally destroyed.
You either love him or hate him. Tarantino is one of the most ebullient, frenetic personalities in film today. He’s student of film at a level that would boggle most people’s minds and its that aspect that makes him such a competent craftsman. His magnum opus Kill Bill is a tribute to all the genres that are near and dear to his heart. The Crazy 88 sequence references classic Japanese samurai cinema, the Southwest showdown is his take on the spaghetti Westerns of the 1970s, and he even throws in some anime. Kill Bill is a sensory overload that begins at a breakneck pace and then slows down to an almost ponderous speed for the second half. Thurman stars as The Bride, a woman shot at the altar by Bill, a jealous former lover whom help train her to be a killing machine. Years later, The Bride emerges from her coma and realizes the child in her womb at the time died as a result of Bill’s actions. Her mission in life now is to take down Bill and his entire gang of assassins in a brutally bloody fashion. Tarantino proved once again with this film why is a director whose work should be on every film fan’s must-see list.
Director Michael Gondry first came to my attention with the 2002 flick, Human Nature and it was his strange aesthetic of intentional artificiality and camera trickery that captivated me. This break-up story tells the tale of Joel (Carrey) whose ex-girlfriend, Clementine (Winslet) has visited Lacuna Inc. to have all her memories of him erased. In an act of feeling rejected, Joel has the same operation scheduled. During the night two technicians (Wood and Ruffalo) come to his home and begin the procedure. The rest of the film is made up mostly of a travel through Joel’s subconscious mind in a non-linear path as his memories of Clementine are dissolved. The film is full of rich neosurrealist imagery due most in part to Gondry’s strength as a cinematographer. Computer effects are not employed in this film, a fact that is some times hard to believe based on the incredible images we are presented with.
I was very underwhelmed by Tarsem’s 1999 debut, The Cell. Looking back, I see the script was not his and I have to believe that must be a major reason why it left such a terrible taste in my mouth. The Fall was a film written and directed by the Indian auteur that made a decent splash on the film festival circuit, and would have been all but forgotten, if not for Spike Jonze and David Fincher, who paid to give the film wider distribution. The story concerns Alexandria (Untaru), a child of Eastern European immigrants who has injured herself in the orange orchards of California and is laid up in a mission hospital. There she meets movie stuntman Roy Walker (Pace) who has suffered a possible career ending back injury. To entertain Alexandria, Roy begins to tell an elaborate story about the fictional Masked Bandit and his gang’s battle against the evil Governor Odious. Roy’s motives for telling such a story and gaining Alexandria’s trust are revealed to be much darker as things progress. Tarsem can create impossible looking images and, like Gondry, employs no CG. In actuality, he has a keen eye for shooting locations, architecture, and knows how to use a camera. Deserving of the title “a visual feast”.
Even more favorite flicks…
I am a sucker for a good time travel flick. When I stumbled across the trailer of Timecrimes I was intrigued with its concept but had no idea how much fun I would have watching it. The film is one larger puzzle in which one section of time is played through three separate times by the protagonist, Hector. Settling into his new home with his wife, Hector takes a break in the backyard, birdwatching with a pair of binoculars, and spies a woman undressing. He then notices a man in a trenchcoat, with a face wrapped in pink bandages with this woman. Against better judgment, Hector travels into the forest, setting into place a series of events that will send him looping through time. With each iteration, we are able to see the larger picture of events occurring, until the final run-through which ends in tragedy. Nacho Vigalondo is another entry in Spanish filmmakers that impressed me incredibly in the 2000s and one I will watch eagerly for his work in the future.
I was extremely impressed by Shyamalan’s debut, The Sixth Sense but missed this film at first. About three weeks after being released in theaters, a friend convinced me to go see it and I never regretted the decision. I had no idea that this was a pared down superhero origin story. The film is told beautifully and in a way that made me literally weep the first time I saw it. Bruce Willis delivers a wonderfully understated performance and his scenes of discovering his abilities alongside his son are so poignant. In particular, a scene in the ending where his son has a realization about what his father truly is and the two share a glance across the breakfast table is a beautiful moment of a son’s love of his father. While Watchmen is a cynical, critical look at the superhero genre, Unbreakable is a love story of the classic comic book tale and told in such a loving way it can’t help but pull the viewer in. Sadly, Shyamalan seems to have depleted his stock with each subsequent film. Here’s hoping he regains his title as a true auteur in the coming decade.
This will be the first of three appearance by director Christopher Nolan on my list. Upon looking at the decade as a whole it became apparent to me that my Director of the Decade would be Nolan. The man has not yet released a film I would consider bad at all. There are films of his I prefer over his other work but none of them can be considered a failure. His aesthetic style is not necessarily blatant in the way a PT Anderson or Alejandro Innaritu might be but there are common elements in his films. In The Prestige he presents a massive puzzle and chronicles the rivalry between 19th century magicians Robert (Jackman) and Alfred (Bale). Robert is obsessed with out-doing Alfred and is baffled when Alfred performs “The Transported Man”, a trick so amazing Alfred’s scientific mind cannot figure out how it is done. His obsession destroys his personal life and leads him on an odyssey that ends in Colorado at the home of inventor Nikolai Tesla (Bowie). The non-linear nature of the film teases the viewer and allows him to generate educated guesses that only contain partial truths and with each twist the guess is augmented until the final horror of the truth behind the trick is revealed. A brilliant piece of fantastic cinema.
I am not a Danny Boyle fan. I don’t care for Trainspotting, Millions, Sunshine, or Slumdog Millionaire. However, this 2002 flick hit right in my wheelhouse and remains one of my favorite horror films of the 2000s. The ferocity this film contains is without peer. From the opening sequencing in which disease ravaged chimps savage a group of animal liberators to Jim’s (Murphy) mad dash from the speeding zombies through the streets of London, it is apparent that this is a speed-fueled monster movie. Even with all this brutality, Boyle manages to balance it with tender moments as Jim and company travel across England in the hopes of finding fellow humanity. The Grand Guginol of the finale is a stark work of art, with Jim assuming an inhumanity that far surpasses the zombies plaguing his makeshift family. In the end, Jim reveals the horror man is capable of, regardless of a zombie-making plague.
This film came to me at a time where I emotionally needed it, akin to what I think a lot of 1960s youth felt about The Graduate. And thankfully, it wasn’t just a sentimental film but a very well made one. I loved Coppola’s feature debut, The Virgin Suicides, and was excited to see what she did next. Telling a partially autobiographical story, we follow Charlotte (Johanssen), the wife of a jet-setting, hipster photog (read Coppola’s former marriage to Spike Jonze). Charlotte has no identity of her own and simply follows her hubby from place to place. Charlotte befriends aging movie star Bob Harris (Murray), who is in Japan making talk show appearances and shooting an ad for a Japanese whiskey. While there is a bit of flirtation between the two, the relationship doesn’t really fall into the realm of sexuality. Instead, I would call these two characters “soulmates”, they form an incredibly close kinship very quickly. While their arcs don’t bring them to new place, there is still a sense of growth and promise of change that things will better for them somehow. At the end of the day, I identified very closely with Charlotte, a twentysomething adrift and unsure of what they are supposed to do.
The list continues…
One of my favorite comedic auteurs of the 2000s was Judd Apatow. His season long creation Freaks and Geeks still stands as one of the most enjoyable and thoughtful portraits of adolescence and the one I feel the most connection to. His feature film debut was just as thoughtful, though also a full of ribald humor. The plot concerns, Andy (Carrell), an electronics store employee whose secret that he is still a virgin in his 40s comes out during a coworker poker game. His coworkers (Rudd, Rogen, Malco) take it upon themselves to di-virginize Andy in attempts that don’t end at all how they intend. Andy eventually meets Trish, a single mom who had immediate chemistry with him. As the relationship progresses, Andy feels the pressure of sex increasing. While there are lots of f-bombs and sex humor, the film is not making Andy the butt of the joke but rather his more sexually experienced coworkers. For all their conquests they are buffoons and in the end its Andy who discovers the most honest and true version of love.
This was my first exposure to the brilliant comedy troupe known as The State. After having a successful skit series on MTV in the 1990s for three years, the group worked individually until the majority of them were reunited for this feature. The plot is loose satire of 1980s summer camp movies, but instead of being simple parody the writers and actors chose to make it full of high absurdity. The humor goes to dark, extremes that increases the shock laughs. The story follows Coop (Showalter) who has a stereotypical “geek loves hot girl” crush and is challenged by the girl’s boyfriend (Rudd). Simultaneously, camp director Beth (Garafalo) is smitten with astrophysicist, Henry. Their relationship plays out with hilarious absurdity and culminates with a 20-sided die diverting an astronomical disaster.
As time has gone on, the magic of this film has decreased slightly for me but it still holds a certain sentimentality that sticks. Richard Kelly made a very strong debut with this film that tells the tale of the mentally disturbed Donnie Darko. Set in Virgina during 1988, Donnie suffers from sleepwalking and ends up wandering from the house one night and encountering a man in a skull-faced rabbit suit. The man tells him the world has 28 days remaining. While Donnie is out of the house his room is flattened by a jet engine that has mysteriously fallen out of nowhere. Life continues and Donnie’s bizarre trances increase and he discovers an enigmatic tome that informs him about time travel. While the ending of the film provides more questions than answers, it is a very tightly written script. Kelly has a very stark aesthetic influenced by many 1980s directors, particularly Robert Zemeckis. Sadly, Kelly has yet to live up to this debut.
Director Ang Lee continually surprises me with how he can genre jump like no other. From Sense & Sensibility to The Ice Storm to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon to Hulk, I don’t believe there is another director so adept at taking on such diverse styles. With Brokeback Mountain, Lee tells a love story that is taboo to many people but does so in a quiet, respectful way. Ennis (Ledger) is a ranch hand looking for work in Wyoming in 1963. He ends up herding sheep for the summer alongside Jack (Gyllenhaal). The two men maintain a quiet relationship until one night when Jack makes a sexual pass at Ennis. Ennis responds and the two men make love, spending the summer growing closer and closer. At the end of their time working, Ennis distances himself believing that whatever they had cannot continue further. Despite moving on and marrying, the two men find opportunities to reunite and try to recapture that time on their own. Brokeback Mountain is one of the most beautiful and tragic love stories of the decade and earned Lee a very well deserved Oscar win.
American Splendor is one of the most unusual comic book adaptations of the 2000s. While this is an origin story, there are no capes or tights. Instead its vintage records and perpetual scowls. Cleveland native, Harvey Pekar began chronicling his life in underground comic books in the 1970s after befriending cult comix artist Robert Crumb. The film works as a docudrama, that features the real Pekar commenting on his life mixed with Giamatti acting out the anecdotes. Even the illustrations from the comic books are animated and spliced amongst the live action sequences. The entire form and style of this film is unlike any other I have seen and have not seen it attempted since. Giamatti does an excellent job mimicking Pekar, but if you have seen the film you can agree nothing surpasses the natural curmudgeon of the original.