Catch up by reading PAGE ONE first, don’t be an asshole…
Now then, moving right along.
In a great recent article, Devin wrote that this was the decade of the comic book movie. Very true. And, if that’s the case, and the super-hero movie has become a new genre, then I have to say that this is the best example of that genre. It’s so good, in fact, that you forget you’re watching animation. And that’s not a knock on animation but rather a reminder that animation is just a storytelling tool like any other – as Japan has been telling us for years with serious DRAMATIC “cartoons” like Perfect Blue and Grave Of The Fireflies. This decade brought some great pieces of animation from all over the world. And Pixar tripped with Cars (You liked it? Good for you! I thought it sucked ass.) but remained a force to be reckoned with in that medium. So I pick The Incredibles as the pinnacle – maybe because it was a kind of turning point. Here was a movie that could compete with any live action example of its genre and kick its ass and call it Shirley. Wall-E and Up came later. The Incredibles set the pace.
I’m not going to beat around the bush. This is Quentin Tarantino’s best film. He will always be remembered for Pulp Fiction. And that’s fine… But I can say that this is like QT’s graduation from film school into the real big leagues, where he cements himself as one of our great yarn spinners. It also feels like the first time he made a real movie. It doesn’t exactly feel like a quilt made up of the pieces of other movies (even though, like all his work, that’s basically what it is) but more like a full-on work of art born out of his fevered imagination. Watching it, you see a love of cinema just dripping off the screen. And it’s contagious. It’s his masterpiece because he put a lot of care into making the ultimate monument to the power of an art form he dearly loves. And it’s his best film because it takes the pop playfulness of Pulp Fiction and marries it with the maturity and level-headed storytelling of Jackie Brown. The result is a wonderful combination. All movies should be this exhilarating.
LORD OF THE RINGS
Yes I count it as one film and no that isn’t cheating. And if you asked me for a best – it would be The Fellowship Of The Ring because that was the first wallop we got. It was when we sat in that dark theater for the first time, completely blown away by Peter Jackson’s vision. The guy who, just 12-odd years prior, chainsawed his way out of HR Pufnstuff’s asshole to declare he’d been born again – had now grown up and delivered what I call THE GODFATHER of fantasy epics. Tolkien’s massive impenetrable prose, which had already claimed the soul (if not the heart) or Ralph Bakshi, was brought to life as a vibrant piece of cinema. You’re all well aware that this is the towering achievement in genre entertainment. So I’m really just being redundant.
And here’s a movie you haven’t seen. But please seek out this lovely Chilean film from writer-director Andrés Wood (oh, grow up!). Do it right now, while you’re reading this… Go on Netflix and put it at the top of your queue. You can thank me later. What’s it about? The friendship between a middle class kid from the suburbs and an indigenous kid (the title character) from the slums, in Santiago during the fall of Allende. That’s all you need to know. Okay… Here’s something else you need to know: It really pisses me off that pretentious assholes like Iñárritu are royally praised for bloated, derivative shit like Amores Perros… Meanwhile, here comes Andrés Wood (stop it!) and you never heard of him because his movie doesn’t fall into the corny parameters of LATIN AMERICAN CINEMA so embraced by the Northern hemisphere. But, you know what? It does. It’s a movie every bit as powerful and resonant as something like The Official Story. You just never heard of it because Andrés Wood (I’m warning you!) is just a laid-back filmmaker from Chile. So, see his movie is what I’m saying. The three lead kids are phenomenal… Particularly Manuela Martelli as Machuca’s firecracker sister. It’s the powerful observation of friendship amidst turmoil that Y Tu Mama También was widely mistaken for… Okay, there’s no wankworthy sex or a hot Spaniard’s succulent breasts on display. But there is genuine emotion that cuts deep. Plus, the movie has period detail to rival PT Anderson. And if you don’t have a lump in your throat. or aren’t outright weeping by the end of it – Fuck you. Seriously.
I always like to say that this is like that episode of SEINFELD. Only more satisfying, because Jerry shoots George in the face. The wonderful thing about Christopher Nolan’s “official” debut is how it actually manages to transcend the gimmick that made it famous. Even though it is a gimmick film, that gimmick is put squarely at the service of telling a great story – a world class mystery with a whopper of a solution. People who complain and say things like: If it wasn’t for the gimmick, it wouldn’t work… Try playing it backwards and see how good it is… Douchebags. And they’re missing the point. The gimmick is a clever storytelling device and of course it’s essential to the film. This is a noir thriller that follows the established classic parameters. The detective hero drives the story and it is seen entirely through his point of view. In this case, that point of view is very precise and specific.
More than one fine horror film was released this decade. But this is the one that most effectively made me shit my pants. Much has been said about how the black & white version is the best way or only way or whatever… Fine. I guess it creates an interesting air of menace, helps to hide some of the inconsistency in the generally terrific effects and draw parallels with the classic B Movies of the 50s. But I actually think there is more in common here with the socially conscious cinema of Carpenter and Romero than there is with the 1950s. So color works just as well, okay? There is an element of the obvious, I suppose, in the whole THE HUMANS ARE BECOMING MONSTERS THEMSELVES angle. But it’s an angle that works. Thanks, in no small measure, to Marcia Gay Harden as the best KING bitch since Piper Laurie. And another thing… Monster movies are usually supposed to be stupid unless they’re called The Thing. And now this. This is fucking horrifying. When Bill Sadler loses his shit in that drugstore, you’re right there with him. A screamer to rival Fay Wray.
You all know how great this movie is. You don’t need me to remind you. So, instead, allow me to recreate a moment during my first viewing of Guillermo Del Toro’s dark fairy tale… If you recall, the one sheet depicted a little girl standing in front of a giant tree. And it had that lovely fantasy font. Looked like Harry Potter or something. And, although the movie was rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America, it had a GENERAL AUDIENCES rating down here in Bolivia. (For more about Bolivia’s wonderful film rating system read this blog I wrote some time ago) So… Right behind me was a man, his wife and their daughter who was probably younger than the little girl in the film. Twenty-odd minutes into the film, Sergi Lopez (portraying arguably the best screen villain since Darth Vader) bashes a young man’s face in with a bottle of wine and then shoots the man’s grieving father point blank in the chest. I’m sure you can surmise what happened with the nice family sitting behind me… And when they were done with their crying and left the theater, I was able to enjoy the rest of Del Toro’s amazing film in peace.
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM
And here’s another movie that shattered me to the point I was shaking. A movie so heartbreaking and unbearable that I haven’t had the balls to revisit it. And yet, I still remember it vividly. Aronofsky’s meditation on the tragedy of addiction uses beautiful images to get to the heart of something hideous. After watching this devastating picture, the next time I saw some crazy lady on the F TRAIN, well – I just had to at least give her a quarter. That’s powerful filmmaking right there folks, to make me do that. It’s a film everyone should see (at least once) in their lifetime.
THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS
It’s really unfortunate that Gene Hackman’s final film will probably end up being Welcome To (fucking) Mooseport. Because this movie, released some 3 or 4 years earlier, shows him at his very best. And it’s a joy to watch him work. As for the film? The attention to detail is as impeccable as any of Wes Anderson’s films. But this is the quintessential of his movies for me because it’s the only time (arguably, I suppose) that this detail has felt so integral to the actual storytelling. Anderson’s vision of upper crust New York as a kind of mythic world, that exists in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s dreamscape, rivals the work of Kubrick. And, as Alec Baldwin reads passages from this brilliant novel you wish really existed, you are transported there. With the customarily awesome Wes Anderson soundtrack on your iPod.
TAE GUK GI: THE BROTHERHOOD OF WAR
Korea really prouced some great films this decade. Horror films and thrillers that were widely celebrated. But I’m sticking up for this war movie, directed by Je-gyu Kang, because it shattered me to the point… Ok – never mind. But what has to be said is that this is a fine piece of work. An epic blast that is as emotional and overwrought as the best work of Peckinpah – and just as potent in its violence. Oldboy‘s Min-sik Choi also stars in this film and gives yet another indelible performance as the more volatile of two brothers forced to fight on opposite sides of the Korean War. I mentioned that it is reminiscent of Peckinpah (with a little Fuller thrown into the mix), and I’ll go on to say you can stack it up against any of our classic war pictures from The Longest Day to Saving Private Ryan. It’s every bit as valid. And yet, it also makes time for martial arts excitement on board a train. Why don’t all war movies make time for martial arts excitement on a train? Tae Guk Gi, much like John Woo’s Bullet In The Head, is a movie that works splendidly as both an emotionally resonant war film AND a high-impact action picture. The final minutes push the melodrama to its ZENITH. But, by that time, this tremendous film has earned its right to go there.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD
I made the very wise decision to rank these fuckers alphabetically. But, if I hadn’t, here’s your number one right here. Praised as this movie is, it is also criminally misunderstood by many, as is often the case with landmark works such as these. There is nothing heroic about Daniel Plainview. And his final hurrah in the bowling alley is anything but triumphant. This film had two Spanish-language titles: The Latin American title was PETROLEO SANGRIENTO, which translates as Bloody Oil – an awful title. But the Spanish title was Pozos de Ambición – Wells Of Ambition. I actually like that title, as it gets to the heart of what the movie is – a chronicle of a man who can rule the world but will never conquer the depths of his own ambition. In his quest to have everything, he is left with nothing. And PT Anderson (the great American filmmaker of our time) makes sure the journey is mesmerizing with the aid of breathtaking cinematography and production design, as well as Johnny Greenwood’s haunting score so reminiscent of The Shining. And, at the center stage, a psychological duel between Daniel Day Lewis and Paul Dano, who both give performances to treasure. The film’s celebrated final words are both a hilarious punchline to a very dark joke and a heartbreaking admission. What a great film.
“Too soon” doesn’t apply to such a necessary catharsis. In any case, it didn’t apply to me. I was in New York on the morning of 9/11/01. It’s almost like I was fated to be there, because I was actually living in Chicago at the time. I saw the tragedy happen live. Not on TV. Right across the river from a pier in Long Island City. Basically… I needed this film. It doesn’t matter whether the events depicted on the plane actually happened that way or not. Paul Greengrass understands the impact of the event and he understands our need to understand, while knowing we never really will. He doesn’t give us a story of heroes and villains. He gives us a story of men and women and how they deal with the immediacy of an unimaginable situation. Make no mistake, everyone on board that airplane is a victim – including the tragically misguided individuals who believe they are comitting a righteous act of God. We may never understand and it will never make sense, but Paul Greengrass reminds us that we don’t have to understand. We simply mustn’t forget.
The fourth (but not final) comic book movie on this list is arguably the most important. I’m not sure people realize its influence on the comic book cinema that followed it, subtle though that influence may be. But Shyamalan’s approach to dramatizing a superhero origin story as if it were an undeniable fact had to have an effect on the Spider-Mans and Batmans that came later. To say nothing of Smallville and Heroes. (And, yes, I realize many of you would like to say nothing about those shows. Fine.) I love how it’s not really a superhero story at all, really, but a dramatic thriller about people finding their lot in life. When the revelation comes, it floors you that you’re watching an origin story in the classic Golden Age tradition. Eduardo Serra’s cinematography gives the film the look of a 70s Marvel comic, and Shyamalan’s customary sense of pacing slowly sucks you in. The real treasure in the film, though, is Samuel L Jackson. His portrayal of the severely wounded Elijah Price is wonderful. But, more than that, it’s one of the rare times that he’s asked to give a real performance – rather than just coast on his Tarantino persona. Watching this film, you remember just what a great actor he really is.
And so… The “Comic Book” decade was capped off with the ultimate comic book movie. This is probably too fresh right now, many will say, to be considered one of the top films of the decade. They’ll say it needs time to breathe… Etc. They’ll even say it’s a disappointment and it sucks. But I agree with Devin on this one. (And no… It’s not just because I went through a great deal of trouble in order to see it opening weekend. I really do love this movie, independent of the punchline that allowed me to see it) This is a movie that has it coming. Its impact and resonance won’t really be felt for some time. I don’t want to compare it to Blade Runner. It’s not that. It’s a fine film all its own and can’t really be compared because of its uniqueness. It’s true that we needed a cinematic comic landscape already in place for audiences to be fully ready for this. And, even then, they weren’t totally ready. Be that as it may, Zack Snyder made a remarkable film with meticulous attention to detail and an obsessive faithfulness to a book that probably wouldn’t have survived any other kind of adaptation. It’s a movie that demands and rewards repeated viewings in much the same way that the book had to be read more than once. The naysayers will ultimately come around. And, if they don’t, it doesn’t matter. Watchmen is still a fantastic film and Alan Moore’s masterwork now has a fine companion piece. It’s his business whether he chooses to watch this movie or not, and I’ll leave him to decide what to do with his free time, but he’s missing out.
And so it is… To wrap it up, I want to say a few more things. First of all: I thought about it and realized that the action movie of the decade is probably Rambo. Though that might be more for sentimental reasons than anything else… But it kind of encapsulates what I hope The Expendables confirms – Stallone has come back and positioned himself as a kind of B Movie Eastwood. And I couldn’t be happier for the big lug.
The star of the decade will prove to be Robert Downey Jr, I think. Even though his big success story happened recently, it’s what it will bring this decade that is important. That’s not the same as the comeback kid of the deacde. That’s Mickey Rourke. But you already knew that.
And the director of the decade is Christopher Nolan. He came out of the gate swinging and hit 5 home runs in a row. To say he’s going places is inaccurate, because he’s already gone to those places. But, unless Inception and the third Batman turn out to be real turds (doubt it), he’s going to be with us for quite a while.
Okay people. Thanks for your attention. Now feel free to tear me a new one on the boards or down below.
Up to you.