Sunday, December 8, 2013
Purple State of John
Thoughts of a wordslinger…
Filed under: 30 Days of Night, 3:10 To Yuma, Adventureland, Bright Star, Clint Eastwood, Cloverfield, David Lynch, Fast and Furious, Grindhouse, Inglourious Basterds, Inland Empire, Into The Wild, Invictus, Kathryn Bigelow, Let The Right One In, Mel Gibson, Movies, No Country For Old Men, Passion of the Christ, Public Enemies, Quarantine, Roman Polanski, The Assassination of Jesse James, The Hurt Locker, The Informant, Up, Vampires, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Woody Allen, Zodiac
Posted by: John
A few weeks ago, while browsing through a junk shop in Cambridge, Maryland, I came across a revelatory gem, a hardback copy of Screen World: John Willis’ 1973 Film Annual, the 24th edition of a yearly round-up of Hollywood movies. Willis didn’t write about the movies or even provide financial analysis. He merely compiled, arranging names and dates and movie stills into a twelve-month chronology. Flipping through its pages, I had two critical insights into my life as a crazed moviegoer.
First, in cinema terms, I came of age in 1972. That was the year when my taste, my expectations, my senses of wonder and terror, my notions about stars, special effects, plots, genre and characters were forever molded. If I love movies, and all kinds of movies, it’s because I was nine years old the year that The Cowboys, The Poseidon Adventure, Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes, Sounder, Junior Bonner, The Godfather, Deliverance, Cabaret and What’ Up, Doc? came out.
Screen World 1973 listed every major release of 1972, starting with The Hot Rock in January, a Robert Redford heist movie, and ending in late December with Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway, a Steve McQueen heist movie. The titles and faces in the book lit up my memory. In 1972, I had seen John Wayne shot to death by hippie psycho outlaw Bruce Dern in the Mark Rydell western The Cowboys and turned to ask my father with tears in my eyes whether John Wayne’s character could really be dead (he was). I stood in line to see my first blockbuster The Poseidon Adventure and watched through Leslie Nielsen’s disbelieving eyes as a mile-high wall of water bore down on a doomed cruise ship. I sided in spirit with the apes led by Roddy McDowell’s Ceasar against the turtleneck-wearing humans in Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes. I endured the awful musical 1776, which I was taken to see by myself by my third-grade art teacher Mrs. Morgan.
But it wasn’t just the movies I saw on the big screen. It was the indescribably sweet seduction of the movies I couldn’t see as depicted in newspaper ads, television commercials, music and on the televised Academy Awards, which my parents allowed me to watch, the extension of grown-up themes into my life as a child through beguiling but brief visual symbols and sounds. What was meant, for instance, by the title of the movie Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask?
On Sunday mornings, I would lie for hours and sift through the movie pages, studying the faces and poses of men and women who stared back at me from mysterious unknown quantities with names like Dirty Little Billy, The Culpepper Cattle Company, Blacula, The War Between Men And Women, The Honkers, J.W. Coop, Dracula A.D. 1972, Deliverance, The Godfather, The Mechanic, Pete n’ Tillie and The New Centurions. These were adult movies with sexually provocative and often violent ad campaigns, a vista of intensity that worked like interstellar flight on my imagination, except I wasn’t being carried to far galaxies. I was being hurtled forward into my own movie-mad future.
Within three or four years, I would see some of these films on network television, bastardized with commercial breaks on Friday and Sunday nights. I watched The Hot Rock and Silent Running in the late summer of 1974 and 1975, while waiting for the network premiere of the original Planet of The Apes. My parents let me see the network premiere of Deliverance in 1977 or 1978, which was safe enough; the most controversial scene in the movie had been cut. I saw Vampire Circus and Dracula A.D. 1972 on weekday afternoons in the late 1970’s after school, Hammer horror cut to shreds and dumped for cheap into the laps of undiscriminating teenagers.
Other gifts of that year? My first “race” movies, shown to my elementary school classes as lessons in a new reality, movies like Sounder and The Biscuit Eater, and their less well-behaved cousins, the blaxploitation flicks of Gordon Parks making their case for my sympathies in newspaper ads, and the big daddy of them all, Shaft, etched into my brain courtesy of the Isaac Hayes album of the same name, which I owned. Actually Shaft’s Big Score was the 1972 entry in the series, as John Willis informs me, but it hardly mattered to a kid who wouldn’t see the actual movies for a decade. It was the feel of things, of a world coming apart and sewing itself back together via celluloid.
Which brings me to the second insight given to me by Screen World 1973. By the end of the 1970’s, the ten-year-span in which I came to love cinema like a dark vampire mistress, had someone asked me to list my hundred greatest screen experiences, they would all have originated at the movies. I might have seen some of the films in theatres and others on television, but with the possible exception of the Dan Curtis soap opera Dark Shadows, my peak moments happened on the big screen. Where else? There was nothing to compare.
Three decades later, my answers would be very different. My attempt to name the top one hundred screen experiences of the last ten years would consist of forty to fifty episodes of amazing television, whether from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Wire or Battlestar Galactica, a handful of YouTube glories, like Gillian Welch and the Old Crow Medicine Show singing ‘The Weight’, and a few dozen movies. (There would be no video games in my list, but that’s my hang-up).
In the first decade of the 21st century, celluloid passed away like a ghost of 1900, and the big screen ceased to be the transformational vehicle of American popular culture. It shattered, and its shards lie everywhere on the Internet, glistening with gorgeous and unexpected vistas, bent and broken and brokered for an age of cellphones, laptops and taxi cab television screens. Ten years from now, it will hardly make sense to list the hundred greatest movies of the coming decade, because only a handful of what we call movies will have the weight of Raging Bull in 1980 or Back To The Future in 1985 or even Titanic in 1997. Movies, basically, are done.
For the moment, however, and just barely, there is a kind of nostalgic sense to the exercise. Making a list is a way to acknowledge the passage of the time and appreciate the sunset of a moviegoing culture that reached its high water mark when I was about nine years old. Little did I know that while I was speculating on the possible plot lines in Dirty Little Billy and Hammersmith Is Out, cineastes in New York and Paris and Berlin were declaring movies to be the art form of the future. Little did they know how brief that future might turn out to be.
So with a backward glance at the early years of an unmatched bliss, with tender gratitude for John Willis, that forgotten compiler, I give you my best of the Noughties, the final decade of the primacy of the movies. My rankings should be taken with a huge grain of salt. I love all these movies.
100.)Goodbye Dragon Inn, a.k.a. Bu San, 2003, directed by Ming-liang Tsai. One of the most beautiful films ever made about going to the movies, an account of one night at a haunted film palace in Shanghai. A handful of patrons watch a samurai epic, a cleaning lady wanders the halls, a couple of real people speak actual lines. The final image says everything you will ever need to know about the heartbreaking power of the medium. It’s at the bottom of the list because most people will never, ever see it.
99)The Fast And The Furious, 2001, directed by Rob Cohen. Vin Diesel’s finest hour, delicious trash in an era when really good, really silly garbage wasn’t easy to find. Guys and gals steal cars and hook up. The sequels mostly sucked, but it was nice to see low tech front and center again.
98)Lantana, 2001, directed by Ray Lawrence, based on the play by Andrew Bovell. Sex and despair in marriage in Australia. A quiet and unobtrusive account of how people fall apart and come together.
97)Lumumba, 2000, directed by Raoul Peck. One of the only memorable biopics in a decade of mediocrities, the rough, brash, inspiring career of an African leader who crossed the wrong world power.
96)I Heart Huckabees, 2004, directed by David O. Russell. A brilliant director’s mostly successful attempt at career suicide, and a flawed attempt to capture post-modern anxiety on screen, but one of the more ambitious and delightful failures in recent memory. “Fuckabees!” This, and not The Departed, was Mark Wahlberg’s comeback film, and he’s great in it.
95)There Will Be Blood, 2007, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. The most overrated movie of the decade, half a masterpiece, half a godawful train wreck. Daniel Day Lewis is riveting, but he badly needs a woman to make his gyrations work. Paul Dano don’t cut it.
94)The Dark Knight, 2008, directed by Christopher Nolan. An abject lesson in the power of celebrity. A doomed Heath Ledger gives the performance of a lifetime, which is why the movie is on the list, and gives everything else around him the shine of a dubious quality.
93)The New World, 2005, directed by Terence Malick. The story of Pocahontas as told by the master of lyrical cinema. Too slow at times, and given to old-school romanticism about the natives, but nevertheless ravishing and sad.
92)Diarios Di Motocicleta, a.k.a. The Motorcycle Diaries, 2004, directed by Walter Salles. Another biopic, but more limited in scope and therefore more powerful. Gael Garcia Bernal in hugely affecting performance, music and the landscape melding into one, Fidel Castro coming alive as a young man in the first flush of idealism as he discovers the South American continent.
91)Quarantine, 2008, directed by John Erick Dowdle, an ignored masterpiece of horror, a canny, political update of the George Romero zombie flick, and the scariest movie yet made on digital. Forget Paranormal Activity. This is the real thing.
90)Se jie, a.k.a. Lust, Caution, 2007, directed by Ang Lee. A great director’s foray into hard-core eroticism, Oshima style, but Ang Lee doesn’t have Oshima’s insane courage to make an art-house work out of pornography–in his defense, no one else has either–so the movie is a halfway house, but remains one of the smarter, more dazzling period pieces of the era. Will one day get its due.
89)Die Stille Nach Dem Schuss, a.k.a. The Legend of Rita, 2000, directed by Volker Schloendorff, screenplay by the great Wolfgang Kohlhaase. A West German terrorist flees to East Germany to take cover in a socialist paradise and discovers it’s no Garden of Eden. Also, she’s the snake. A worthy and often more trenchant precursor to the better executed Lives of Others.
88)Zwartboek, a.k.a. The Black Book, 2006, directed by Paul Verhoeven. An under-appreciated director returns to form in the genre that made him famous, the Dutch war film. Everyone looks beautiful, everyone is corrupt, everyone dies in a World War II saga that puts the c back into cynicism.
87)Hot Fuzz, 2007, directed by Edgar Wright. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost from Shaun Of The Dead seal the deal as one of the great comedy teams of the decade. Pegg plays a Jerry Bruckheimer hero who can’t say no to a hot gun and a cool street. Frost is the fat boy who loves him.
86)Mang jing, a.k.a. Blind Shaft, 2003, directed by Yang Li. The darkest of film noirs in the vast, blasted landscape of industrial China. Unforgettable.
85.)Invictus, 2009, directed by Clint Eastwood. Yikes! Another biopic, this time helmed by the Old Gray Man of American movies, an account of how Nelson Mandela turned a rugby victory to the purposes of national unity. Morgan Freeman gives his greatest performance in a movie that isn’t dazzling exactly, but stands as a superb piece of craftsmanship. Think about the many ways this movie could have been terrible, and you get the picture.
84)Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, 2004, directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber. One of the all-time great stupid movies made by smart people. Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller go head to head in the vicious world of competitive dodgeball. Justin Long makes us all want to be high school cheerleaders—NOT!
83)Once Upon A Time in Mexico, 2003, directed by Robert Rodriguez. A neglected classic in the Mexican gangster genre, a much better film than his tedious, all-star Sin City, though it’s a shame Salma Hayek had to go so quickly. For an early glimpse of Mickey Rourke’s comeback, check it out.
82)Zamani baraye masti asbha, a.k.a. A Time For Drunken Horses, 2000, directed by Bahman Ghobadi. One of the two or three great adventure sagas of the decade, as a young boy hires smugglers to cross the Iranian border to buy medicine for a sick child. In order to get their horses to go over a dangerous pass, the smugglers feed alcohol to the animals, and the animals suddenly become brave. It’s like something John Huston would have made in his heyday. American film hasn’t been this exciting in fifty years.
81)Oh Brother Where Art Thou?, 2000, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. A musical comedy about the Great Depression that never was, and one of the last good movies made by the pair before they went into a decade of decline. One great scene after an other, and the music makes everything fly. Surprisingly popular across all political stripes and divisions, a truly Purple film.
80)Irreversible, 2002, directed by Gaspar Noe. Arguably the most offensive movie of the decade, but a work of burning philosophical intensity if you can endure the eight minutes in the middle, when the entire gorgeous world is destroyed by violence.
79)Batoro rowaiaru, a.k.a. Battle Royal, 2000, directed by Kinji Fukasaku. And here’s another contender for most offensive movie of the decade, banned in Japan. Naughty Japanese school children are shipped off to an island and forced to fight each other to the death. Crazy audacious splendor.
78)Gwoemul, a.k.a. The Host, 2006, directed by Joon-ho Bong. The strangest and most ambitious monster movie of the decade, a political saga about toxic waste mixed with a love story about a family trying to heal its wounds, plus outlandish musical cues and a cross between a catfish and a velociraptor as the creature from the depths of Seoul’s sewer system. Not your mother’s kim-chi.
77)The Pineapple Express, 2008, directed by David Gordon Green. A reinvention of the stoner comedy, which they said couldn’t be done, with an exquisite comic performance by James Franco. Made by a guy who started the decade with a small art film about poor kids in the rust-belt South.
76)George Washington, 2000, directed by David Gordon Green. This is that small art film about poor black and white kids in the rust-belt South, a tour de force of vision and sensibility that evokes the huge landscapes of Terence Malick but keeps its focus and its ferocity small. It’s about death, really. Nothing else like it has emerged since, but it does sort of prefigure the coming of Barack Obama.
75)The Passion Of The Christ, 2004, directed by Mel Gibson. Undeniably powerful account of the crucifixion. For many believers an overwhelming experience that turned movie theatres into chapels of sobbing, praying, stricken pilgrims. For non-believers and others, an excruciating snuff-film with undeniable hints of antisemitism. Yet another contender for most offensive movie of the decade, but brought millions of people back to the movies who had not paid a visit in years.
74)Zodiac, 2007, directed by David Fincher. The fruitless hunt for a serial killer turns into a metaphor for the entire low-down dirty decade of lost causes and blind trails. Fincher’s greatest achievement.
73)King Kong, 2005, directed by Peter Jackson. Way too long and packed with way too many stocking stuffers, but a magical retelling of one of the enduring American movie stories. Kong skates on the ice in Central Park, and the world goes away.
72)2046, 2004, directed by Wong Kar Wai. One of the great Hong Kong directors depicts a tragic past and hypnotic future filled with some of the most beautiful men and women on earth: Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Gong Li and Ziyi Zhang.
71)Sicko, 2007, directed by Michael Moore. Others prefer Bowling For Columbine, but that film made disgraceful errors of its own in trying to fight Moore’s enemies. Sicko is not as clever, but it’s more compassionate and profound, and it made a case for national healthcare that the Obama team might want to check out.
70)The 25th Hour, 2002, directed by Spike Lee. Lee’s finest big screen work of the decade, a hymn to New York City in the wake of the 9-11 attacks, its savagery, its regret, its goddesses and gods. Its men–Barry Pepper, Edward Norton and Philip Seymour Hoffman–are white, its female lead–Rosario Dawson–brown. Its backdrop is everything, dipped in sorrow.
69)Dancer In The Dark, 2000, directed by Lars Von Trier. The moment when Von Trier’s natural bent for dark, wild gesture became an affectation. Bjork’s performance is harrowing, the songs are beguiling, the mise en scene groundbreaking for a musical, and yet by the end the whole begins to feel like the laying down of a formula.
68)Inland Empire, 2006, directed by David Lynch. Welcome to the art of digital filmmaking. Lynch takes us on one more of his journeys into darkness, but this time the darkness writhes and dances, courtesy of a digital camera put through all of its paces. To call the movie self-indulgent is an understatement, but Lynch indulges himself to our benefit. Laura Dern literally goes down the rabbit hole.
67)Milk, 2008, directed by Gus Van Sant. A by the numbers biopic elevated by Sean Penn’s Oscar-winning performance as slain gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk. A film devoid of true insight, but powerful nonetheless.
66)I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, 2003, directed by Mike Hodges. One of the great neo-noir movies of the last decade, pitch black work from Clive Owen, who has never been this good in American movies. Mike Hodges completes the trilogy of corruption that began way back in 1971 with Get Carter, returned with Croupier in 1998 and concluded with this classic tale of revenge, doom and dirty deals.
65)Flags of Our Fathers/Letter From Iwo Jima, 2006, directed by Clint Eastwood. Taken together, Eastwood’s two Pacific war movies are an achievement. Separately, they show their weaknesses. Clint proves himself to be a much less visceral and exciting director of war than Spielberg, ironically, given his earlier career as the icon of violence par excellence, but it’s no accident. The icon of violence wants to deconstruct genre, here as elsewhere. In these two movies, he comes up with a meditation on the moral disaster of combat that feels singular in American movies. The final seconds of Flags Of Our Fathers constitute one of the great moments in all his work.
64)3:10 To Yuma, 2007, directed by James Mangold. It’s hard to make good westerns now. Younger audiences no longer relate to the material, and older audiences like their heroes of yesteryear, but James Mangold delivered one of the best in years, drawing incredible performances from Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, who seem to have stepped from the heyday of the genre. An underrated bliss-out for western fans, with an unforgettable turn by Peter Fonda.
63)A History Of Violence, 2005, directed by David Cronenberg. The deck is loaded from the start, so we never quite believe Viggo Mortenson is an apple-pie-serving good guy, but when Ed Harris shows up, it doesn’t matter. Cronenberg makes a horror movie about forgetful America and its rosy view of itself, and Harris serves up its beating heart.
62)30 Days Of Night, 2007, directed by David Slade. The second best vampire movie of the decade, a take on old westerns in which the townspeople must band together to fend off the outlaws. Danny Huston may be the scariest child of the night of all time.
61)Grindhouse, 2007, directed by Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth, Edgar Wright and Rob Zombie. A fantastic one-off, with each of the two selections in the Grindhouse double feature playing off each other to grand effect. Rodriguez’s shameless paean to gut-bucket zombie flicks offset by Tarantino’s art-house serial killer movie. The trailers are the cherries on top.
60)Lilja 4-Ever, 2002, directed by Lukas Moodysson. Hands down, the saddest movie of the decade. A young Russian girl is grabbed by a prostitution ring. Not for lovers of happy endings, but overflowing with humanity.
59)Dr. T And The Women, 2000, directed by Robert Altman. Generally overlooked by even his fans, this movie about Dallas women and the gynecologist who loves them knows its subject very well and has a great time with it. One of the very few, truly joyous Altman films, and a sly argument for his daring and greatness.
58)Gangs Of New York, 2002, directed by Martin Scorsese. Not the master’s best work, but a compelling saga of old New York, and Daniel Day Lewis in a truly astonishing performance as Bill The Butcher. Cameron Diaz isn’t up to the task, but Leonardo DiCaprio starts to show what he can do.
57)Public Enemies, 2009, directed by Michael Mann. Should have been so much better, but still a blazing beauty of a movie, with a laconic Johnny Depp playing a death-haunted Dillinger.
56)Mongol, 2007, directed by Sergei Bodrov. A feast for the eyes, and a landscape film in a decade starved for the natural world. Repetitive and too long, but its repetitions are part of its power. An Eastern rather than a Western, but still a horse opera.
55)The Fantastic Mr. Fox, 2009, directed by Wes Anderson. A trifle, but Anderson is a master of trifles, so we pay more attention. One of the best movies for children in a decade of greats, as if the wallpaper in an earlier Anderson movie came alive. The director’s great problem is Rushmore, one of the few masterpieces of his generation, and a high bar.
54)Marie Antoinette, 2006, directed by Sofia Coppola. The director gets lost in baroque lace and truffle, but she made a better movie than she got credit for, and the final scene brings it all home as the queen famous for her words about cake (which she never quite uttered) bows to the torchlit masses.
53)American Splendor</a>, 2003, directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. A comic book comes alive, but the superhero is a self-righteous curmudgeon who takes on the likes of David Letterman. A true original that gets better with age, and Paul Giamatti’s finest hour. Hope Davis is superb as a hypochondriac.
51)War Of The Worlds, 2005, directed by Steven Spielberg. An alien invasion epic to put Roland Emmerich to shame. Spielberg returns to form in his spectacular mode with this Tom Cruise epic. The ending is a let-down, and Tim Robbins is over the top, but the vision of a world under hostile assault hasn’t been matched. Dakota Fanning’s disbelieving eyes are the true special effect, and Spielberg knows it.
50)Match Point, 2005, directed by Woody Allen. Allen’s comeback film after years of dreck. As dark as anything he ever made, with Johnny Rhys-Myers and Scarlett Johansson doing the dirty and getting done. Evidence that Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood are cinematic soulmates. Will someone please program a series tracking their work together through the decades?
49)Ratatouille, 2007, directed by Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava. My least favorite of the great Pixar movies of the decade, and that’s saying a lot. Consistently, from movie to movie, Pixar delivered enchantment in colors, shadows, movement and mood. This one about a rat who wants to cook beguiled in fairly modest ways, but it was transporting, too.
48)Gake no ue no Ponyo, a.k.a. Ponyo, 2008, directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Not as otherworldy as Howl’s Moving Castle, Miyazaki in down-to-earth mode, but those waves turning to whales, and the queen of the ocean in bands of radiant light!
47)The Wedding Crashers, 2005, directed by David Dobkin. In a golden age of American guy comedy, this one stood out. Unlike lots of Will Farrell vehicles, say, it had a plot, interesting women, and superb dialogue that outdid the physical comedy. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughan haven’t been as good since.
46)Ghost World, 2001, directed by Terry Zwigoff. The trackless wilderness of American suburban life rendered as baffling mystery. How to escape from a closed universe ruled by parents and Steve Buscemi’s record collector? Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson are as memorable a pair of females as Wilson and Vaughn.
45)Adaptation, 2002, directed by Spike Jonze. The first three quarters are a terrific and original American comedy, with Nicholas Cage giving one of his great performances, Chris Cooper unforgettable as an orchid thief, and Meryl Streep memorable as the straight man in the affair. The last twenty minutes feel too clever by half and betray what’s come before. Still, coming right out of the warped integrity of Charlie Kaufman, it has aged well.
44)Monsoon Wedding, 2001, directed by Mira Nair. Like a Pixar film, except real, a movie wild with color, extravagant emotion, the delight of the senses, the weight of tradition.
43)The Good Thief, 2002, directed by Neil Jordan. A remake of a French noir classic Bob Le Flambeur but as played by a crumbling Nick Nolte, in the hands of one of the masters of modern cinema, becomes one of the better meditations on mortality in recent memory. A fluid masterpiece of the heist genre.
42)Breakfast On Pluto, 2005, directed by Neil Jordan. Jordan’s other great film of the decade, with Cillian Murphy surviving the violence and politics of modern Irish history as Patrick “Kitten” Braden.
41)28 Days Later, 2002, directed by Danny Boyle. Zombies are back, and London’s got them. Unlike the crawling ghouls of Romero, they sprint. Not as scary as it should be, but an effective reinvention of a familiar genre. The first ten minutes of the sequel are scarier than anything in the first movie.
40)The Wind That Shakes The Barley, 2006, directed by Ken Loach. The Troubles in Ireland depicted as a process of organization and breakdown. Chance, will and personality do a dance, and an insurrection is born. Lyrical and disciplined at the same time, everything that Steve Soderbergh’s Che was not, maybe the best political film of the decade by one of the masters of the genre.
39)Traffic, 2000, directed by Steven Soderbergh. A dressed-up crime drama with one of the best ensemble casts in modern American movies. Soderbergh gives us the Mexican-American border in all its colors, literally, but he simplifies the politics and doesn’t work his stars hard enough, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, in particular. It’s high in the ranking because its influence on American film over the next decade was large and salutary. The movie’s success opened the door to a new wave of smart action flicks. Would we have Bourne without Traffic?
38)24-Hour Party People, 2002, directed by Michael Winterbottom. A wry comedy about celebrity and compromise, an unsentimental account of the Manchester scene in the 1990’s, it hasn’t been surpassed as an account of the rise and fall of the business of music.
37)Collateral, 2004, directed by Michael Mann. The best Tom Cruise movie of the decade, and a hypnotic ride through nocturnal Los Angeles. A great city at night is illuminated, and we hardly care about the creaky plot. The white hair works.
36)Finding Nemo, 2003, directed by Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkirch. The fish glisten, the waters roll, and a dad clownfish looks for his son. The first real indication that Pixar would exceed all expectations and change the art of animation.
37)Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring, 2001, directed by Peter Jackson. I treat these movies as stand-alones, because each has its virtues and vices. The first is the least, perhaps by necessity, but mostly because the depiction of the hobbit village is insufferable, the one imaginative failure in the trilogy. Did it have to be a low-rent Scarborough Fair? Still, as the first installment in the greatest fantasy achievement in a decade of triumphs, it’s shockingly good, and a taste of things to come.
36)Iron Man, 2008, directed by Jon Favreau. Robert Downey, Jr., classes up the joint, and the special effects take a back seat to his acting. It’s a pop culture lie, this story of a superhero that can right all of our national wrongs, but it has the jazz of the best comics, and a soulful performance at its heart that suggests a conscience within the wheels of the movie-making machine.
35)The Royal Tenenbaums, 2001, directed by Wes Anderson. Gene Hackman’s last great performance, and a seriously funny and moving directorial follow-up to Anderson’s Rushmore. Gwyneth Paltrow is perfectly cast, Angelica Huston gives the story backbone, and New York, as embodied by a house in Harlem, feels the stuff of fantasy and yet completely real at the same time, which gets at the truth of the place.
34)The Bourne Identity, 2002, directed by Doug Liman. The film that reinvented the action movie. What else can you say?
33)Inglourious Basterds, 2009, directed by Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino’s return to form in a genre that he clearly loves, with a great performance by Christoph Waltz as the SS man of our nightmares.
32)Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008, directed by Woody Allen. A grown-up American movie about sex? Go figure. Allen’s finest hour of the decade, a late masterpiece about desire and regret. Something was in the water, and its name was Javier Bardem.
31)Volver, 2006, directed by Pedro Almodovar. The second coming of the woman’s picture, with Penelope Cruz sending off sensual shock waves as a woman trying to cook her way back to grace while being haunted by her mother. Not as great as another Almodovar picture of the decade, but one of the great collaborations between a director and a actress of the decade.
30)The Informant, 2009, directed by Steven Soderbergh. Matt Damon gives one of his best performances in a comedy of gleeful lies that captured the moment of the meltdown better than anything else on the screen. Who else but Soderbergh could have pulled it off?
29)Syriana, 2005, directed by Stephen Gaghan. Smart, great movie about oil, politics, terrorism and business. George Clooney is fat and lost in one of his best performances.
28)Into The Wild, 2007, directed by Sean Penn. The director comes into his own and makes one of the overwhelming emotional experiences of the decade, a movie that should end on a note of despair and yet explodes with optimism. It’s a depiction of a life well lived that ends in untimely death, and an acknowledgment of the power of the natural world to overwhelm human beings and their cameras.
27)Cache, 2005, directed by Michael Haneke. Video surveillance on the streets of Paris, as the sins of a buried history encroach on the well-to-do and beautiful of the new century.
26)The Pianist, 2002, directed by Roman Polanski. The best English language movie ever made about the Holocaust, made by a survivor who waited years to tackle the subject. Makes a lot of other movies in the genre feel redundant.
25)Shaun Of The Dead, 2004, directed by Edgar Wright. Can a zombie movie achieve greatness? Definitely, and this one does, because it’s also a snapshot of Cool Britannia in the era of breakdown, post-Iraq, the bloom off the Blair rose. Nick Frost and Simon Pegg make one of the great comedy teams in love and war against the cannibalistic undead.
24)Children Of Men, 2006, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. The world ends, and one woman can save it, but she needs Clive Owens help. Cuaron specializes in visions glimpsed at the edge of the frame, explosions, police raids, car wrecks, ruined people, and he packs this straight-forward tale with snatches of hell.
23)Le temps du loup, a.k.a. Time Of The Wolf, 2003, directed by Michael Haneke. The end of the world in France, and not tres belle. We expect Haneke to rob us of comfort, but we don’t see the hope coming, and it’s almost as shocking.
22)Adventureland, 2009, directed by Greg Mottola. Life stalls at an amusement park, and a group of lost souls tries to get it back in gear. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, as confused lovers, make vampires and werewolves look like priests and nuns. Mottola makes an entire world out of a forgotten summer.
21)Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King, 2003, directed by Peter Jackson. Unmatched spectacle, almost undone by a pillow fight at the end. Remade heroic fantasy for our time.
20)Before Sunset, 2004, directed by Richard Linklater. Two lovers, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, talk in the streets of Paris, trying to decide what went wrong, what went right, and what will happen next. Linklater’s best conversation of the decade. Before it’s said and done, surely, we’ll get Before Night.
19)Rois et reine, a.k.a. Kings And Queen, 2004, directed by Arnaud Desplechin. A saga about a difficult woman and the impossible men in her life, the movie takes on momentum as it goes until it’s overwhelming in its sadness. We don’t see the whole until we’re done, and it’s a life entire, with all its compromises and joys.
18)The Bourne Ultimatum, 2007, directed by Paul Greengrass. A near perfect action film, beautiful, brilliant, cruel and relentless. Matt Damon bears it away.
17)Mulholland Drive, 2001, directed by David Lynch. A masterpiece of light and shadow, once decoded, it gets even more mysterious. Naomi Watts descends to hell and returns as a ghost.
16)Gran Torino, 2008, directed by Clint Eastwood. Clint distilled to his essence. If he never appears in another movie, this will be a great final statement of his art as an actor.
15)No Country For Old Men, 2007, directed by Joel and Ethan Cohen. The wild West returns in an iconic imagery right out of Ford westerns, but reimagined for a new age. Javier Bardem is implacable as the angel of death, Tommy Lee Jones runs down like an old car. A classic.
14)The Hurt Locker, 2008, directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Our greatest living director of action movies delivers the finest war movie of the era, a multi-layered depiction of men of action in a field where movement is death. Stillness is life.
13)Cloverfield, 2008, directed by Matt Reeves. A widely dismissed but groundbreaking revolution in special effects, as the monsters come as close to us as our most cherished home movies. It’s Godzilla done as a YouTube video and just as much fun than the original. Will be much more influential than far more highly regarded movies.
12)United 93, 2006, directed by Paul Greengrass. So good that it silenced all objections, a summation of a moment that no one wants much to think about, allowing for the heroism of both victim and killer, an explanation for why the Bourne movies are so good. Directed by the same man, these films coldly and clinically give us violence as a medium of exchange.
11)De fem benspaend, a.k.a. The Five Obstructions, directed by Jorgen Leth and Lars Von Trier. Von Trier, the ultimate sadist of modern world cinema, asks his hero to remake a “perfect” film five times, each time throwing up new obstacles. Leth submits, and the movie becomes a test of wills, as Von Trier’s perfectionism becomes a torture instrument and a mostly forgotten director comes back from the dead. One of the great movies about the art of film, and Von Trier’s best of the decade.
10)The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, 2002, directed by Peter Jackson. The trilogy’s finest hour. The magic of the moment when Gandalf and the Riders of Rohan charge down the hill against the orc horde can’t be overstated. It’s like a memory of a deep mythic past come to life. Here we have the heart of why the whole thing works so well.
9)Tillsammans, a.k.a. Together, 2000, directed by Lukas Moodysson. If it weren’t for one Judd Apatow film, the funniest movie of the decade, as a commune tries to hold true to its impossible beliefs. Desire intervenes.
Gegen Die Wand, a.k.a. Head On, 2004, directed by Fatih Akin. A love affair in all its desire and violence as a depiction of immigrant life in Germany. The myths are stripped away, and bloodied people emerge. Nothing so honest has ever been made about immigrants in this country.
7)The 40-Year-Old Virgin, 2005, directed by Judd Apatow. What’s to say? The funniest movie of the decade.
6) Lat den ratte komma in, a.k.a. Let The Right One in, 2008, directed by Tomas Alfredson. Speaking of immigrants, the vampire as a stranger in a strange land, trying to survive by drinking and befriending humans. The best vampire movie, bar none, of a gore-soaked decade, and an all-time masterpiece of the horror genre for the way it shows both the horrifying and beloved face of the monster.
5)Amores Perros, 2000, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Compared to a Tarantino film when it appeared, it’s more deeply rooted in place and time and human emotion than his movies, and the animals look at us from the screen in mute witness to what we’ve done. A blast with a moral shotgun, and the most viscerally exciting movie of the decade.
4)Bright Star, 2009, directed by Jane Campion. A love story about the survival of language after death, with one of the two or three great performances by an actress in this decade. Seldom has the movement of language within poetry been captured so cinematically. Who knew it could even be done?
3)Das Leben Der Anderen, a.k.a. The Lives Of Other, 2006, directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. A decade and a half after the end of the Cold War, a German film reminds us of our forgotten recent history, suggesting damages and triumphs obscured by the extravagant pageantry and horror of World War II cinema. More than that, it brought audiences face to face with the moral hazard to all governments of torture, surveillance and conpiracy, one of the few truly moral dramas of the decade, a thriller in the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock, as good or better at human complication as anything on HBO’s The Wire, which is high praise.
2)The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, 2007, directed by Andrew Dominik. A somber, lyrical, heartbreaking look at the outlaw history of the United States, with Brad Pitt giving the performance of a lifetime. Poorly distributed when it appeared, ignored by most critics, who saw just one more revisionist western, the movie feels like a dream of the national past in all its violence, lust for fame, pervasive fear, and outlandish beauty laid to waste. A true masterpiece.
1)Y Tu Mama Tambien, 2001, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. In a decade when fear and fantasy framed so much of our popular culture, whether in the state-of-the-art action thrillers, the Tolkien epics, the torture porn movies or even in the comedies, Cuaron’s story about two young men and an older women trying to locate paradise for a few days was the antidote. As with his Children Of Men, Cuaron fills the edge of the frame with action, so we see the Mexico of drug wars, corrupt politics and insurrection, it’s always there, and yet the road carries us past the danger and into sunlit memory. With this movie and Amores Perros, another Mexico, and another world, became visible.
So it’s not a knighthood. So what the hell?
It’s still a list of ”10 of the best” vampire novels, compiled by Kevin Jackson, the author of a new handbook of vampire mythology called Bite, and published last week by the Guardian, my favorite British newspaper. Jackson says that he prefers vampire movies to fiction these days, but singled out a few “wonderful” exceptions to the rule. My most recent novel Fangland is one of them—number five, though they’re in no particular order.
Also singled out? Salems Lot by Stephen King, I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist and Dracula by Bram Stoker. I call that good company.
I don’t know exactly why, but the British critics loved the book as much as the New York critics hated it, maybe because the New York media types felt themselves indicted, which they were, and reacted with violence. Or maybe it’s because I love the British, and they sense it and merely want to love me back.
Whatever the case, God save the Queen!
When Michael Douglas became a sexaholic, his marriage dissolved. He sought help. Then he got to marry Catherine Zeta-Jones.
This could be a model for our national addiction.
It’s one thing to care when a crime has been committed or when a poitician who pushed “family values” on the citizenry turns out to be a failure at “family values” himself. Roman Polanski raped a child. Governor Mark Sanford is a conservative Christian who opposes gay marriage; Senator John Ensign, too. Eliot Spitzer used the engines of government to conduct his affair. Whether or not these should be the deepest concerns of a public fighting two wars overseas and now in the midst of its worst economic crisis in eighty years is an open question that I have already posed, but the reasons for caring extend beyond sexual prurience. They plausibly matter.
But the David Letterman affair? He’s not an elected official. His lover was a consenting adult. Yes, he was more powerful than his staffer, and there’s always a power equation in these matters, but didn’t feminists give up the right to care much about that when they gave Bill Clinton a free pass on Monica Lewinsky and haven’t religious conservatives long ago demonstrated their own propensity and even eagerness to break these sorts of rules?
Who then really cares? Sexaholic America! Or Sexaholica, as I like to think of it. In Sexaholica, where preachers watch Internet porn, moms are cougars and our kids love horny vampires, the Letterman affair is just one more amuse bouche between Boom Boom Pows.
It’s cultural Viagra, and now it’s been consumed, and we require another dose. Conan O’Brien’s female staffers, your country needs you.
Or we could pick up a phone, call a loved one and make that proverbial cry for help.
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