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N.B.: Films of the Decade, Again?

22/12/2009

So various magazines are doing their Best Films of 2009 features – Time’s Richard Corliss leads with…The Princess and the Frog. Others have more ambitious lists of the Best Films of the Decade. Paste magazine suggests City of God, while Reverse Shot lists Children of Men amongst others, and The Onion A.V. Club picks Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Of course, all this is pretty pointless, not to mention aggravating, as the thread “Stop the Lists!” on The Auteurs site notes, with one member giving their excellent “top ten reasons not to list things.”

Not that you asked, but I find my personal tastes mirrored back to me in a year-by-year recounting of the films I remember liking most – basically, a predilection for rather grim stuff: 2000 – In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai), 2001 – The Man Who Wasn’t There (Coens), 2002 – City of God (Fernando Meirelles), 2003 – Monster (Patty Jenkins), 2004 – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry), 2005 – Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog), 2006 – The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck), 2007 – There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson), 2008 – Gomorra (Matteo Garrone), 2009 – A Serious Man (Coens again). But I didn’t see everything…

It might be slightly more interesting to introduce a few extremely specific, admittedly eclectic, and personal categories. See below – JMT.

Surprising, and Not in a Good Way

Dreamcatcher (2003)
As a friend put it, “Stephen King, Lawrence Kasdan, and William Goldman – What could go wrong?” Well…everything. I will say that this film is not predictable, and that it will astonish you. Its badness – about an alien invasion stopped by a group of psychic friends – goes far beyond what can be explained by mere mortals. Spoiler: the aliens inhabiting your body come out of your…digestive system. (Hat tip to Jim Gavin for showing me Dreamcatcher.)

Rare Display of American Public Acumen

Troy (2004)
This film actually made money internationally – remarkable. In all it has grossed nearly $500 million to date, the same amount the Saudis pledged to rebuilding Lebanon, the same amount the World Bank spent on social projects in Russia. This, after flopping in a drastic way in the U.S. Opening weekend did not even cover the marketing costs, and Troy ranks in the Top 20 of the most expensive films ever made. So, take that, world – who said Americans were stupider than thou? There’s an interesting controversy regarding Gabriel Yared’s original score for the film, rejected as “dated” by a focus group. Much as I hate to flog a movie based upon a poem, or one that contains both Brian Cox and Julie Christie, the score wasn’t the problem.

Misjudged in an Epochal Manner

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Patton Oswalt has the final say on why these films don’t work. Personally, I think the paradox of Star Wars is that the early films worked a lot better precisely because the technology that produced them was so delightfully primitive – and also because the scripts contained wonderful doses of all-ages humor. Finally given the power to realize the contents of his imagination on film later in life, Lucas…did precisely that. A hat-tip most go to Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull (which Lucas helped produce). Baby Boomers, thine ice floes await.

The Passion of The Passion

The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Eddie Izzard once remarked that the very last thing Jesus would want to see if he returned to earth was the crucifix – some bad memories there. Little-known fact: Mel Gibson’s epic story of a charismatic guy rising from the dead was ripped off in a recent series of novels and movies called Twilight.

A Baffling Case of Vast Acclaim

Crash (2005)
I know lots of folks just adore this film. Lightweights like The Academy of Motion Pictures and reverse weather vane David Denby. Well, nobody’s perfect. To be well-meaning about the issue of race in America is not enough. You also have to make something good, on top of that. This Crash playlist on YouTube really made me think…

That’s Not Film

The Wire (2002-2008)
There came a moment during this decade when it became clear that cable television shows could compete with film on a purely artistic basis. The Wire was probably the high water mark of this new cultural phenomenon – 60 episodes of a five-act tragedy about the fate of the American inner city. Ridley Scott’s American Gangster (2007), a decent but poorly edited film, pales in comparison. TV did it better.

Documentaries

To name only a few highly memorable English-language titles: Jazz & Unforgivable Blackness (Burns), Encounters at the End of the World & Grizzly Man (Herzog), Of Time and The City (Davies), My Winnipeg (Maddin, a so-called “docu-fantasia” mixing fact and fiction), Man on Wire (Marsh), Fog of War & Standard Operating Procedure (Morris), Darwin’s Nightmare (Sauper), When the Levees Broke (Lee), 51 Birch Street (Block), and…

Totally Intriguing

Collapse (2009)
Michael Ruppert is an ex-L.A.P.D. cop whose newsletter From the Wilderness predicted the economic collapse of 2008 based upon theories of Peak Oil, amongst other things. In the film, Ruppert also appears at the very least slightly batty at certain key points, tending to sink his own ship. So are his other theories about the imminent demise of civilization around the bend or simply before their time? Chris Smith, who directed American Movie (1999) and helped produce The Yes Men (2003), interviews him at length in a similar style that Errol Morris brought to The Fog of War, with the camera focused almost entirely on the subject, and the filmmaker interrupting only when he’s too exasperated to allow some piece of bona fide weirdness to go unchallenged. Is the film endorsing or criticizing Ruppert’s theories? Neither – Smith simply shows his subject As Is. Ruppert emerges as a fascinating guy who combines elements of the crap artist down at the bar, your favorite college prof, and a brilliant friend in trouble.

“Late” Spike Lee

Inside Man (2006)
By “late,” I don’t mean to imply any other wish than a long productive life for Mr. Spike Lee. It’s just that I don’t think his recent mainstream work since Clockers (1995, based on Richard Price’s novel and influential on The Wire), though acclaimed, has gotten as much credit as it deserves. Consider He Got Game (1998), Summer of Sam (1999), 25th Hour (2002), Inside Man (2006), and When the Levees Broke (2006). Inside Man is just an elegant first-rate thriller.

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

A Bully Gets Bullied (1990, 2006)
The web site Panopticist posted this clip of an angry crowd freaking out on Rush Limbaugh during his ill-fated television appearance guest hosting the Pat Sajak show in 1990. They essentially, like, shut him up. (Actually, they denounce him as a murderer.) The poor guy is flustered and scared. After cutting to commercial to try to calm the waters, Limbaugh appears at the end of the program in an empty theater. The audience has been removed in order to let him have his say.

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These notes originally appeared on 3quarksdaily, click here for a post containing video.

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