Sunday, November 22, 2009

My 100+ Favorite Films of the Aughts: 50-41 [Fanboy Edition]

50.) THE PRESTIGE (dir. Christopher Nolan)

a sly piece of pop art that often tips its hat but never shows its hand, christopher nolan’s absurdly fun film is every bit as much of a magic trick as those it depicts. the tale of dueling magicians twists and turns in every which way, and winds down with a bang that rewards rather than mocks audience participation. the nolan brothers’ screenplay is a marvel - tight, propulsive, and riddled with meaning where their next film plugged mere pathos… it gamely announces its intentions with michael caine’s pitch-perfect opening voiceover, and then atmospherically plunges through the pledge, turn, and prestige with involving yet fair aplomb, only moving into a realm beyond that which the viewer can foresee in order to complete the film’s ultimate trick - using real magic to render its warring performers completely human. hugh jackman and christian bale chew the scenery raw, and you can’t really beat david bowie as Tesla.

The rest after the jump!

49.) Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN (dir. Alfonso Cuaron)

cuaron’s super sexy breakthrough (i know the guy was pretty established before, what with the glorious Little Princess to his name as well as a film on its way to being criterionized, but this is the film with which he became a known commodity) works with a pretty simple conceit… the uncomfortable sexual awakening of two teenage mexican boys as a foil for a frank exploration of modern mexico, all wrapped up in a road trip. the three pieces dovetail wonderfully without one ever overwhelming another, and gael garcia bernal and diego luna earned their subsequent stardom with their bold performances. a bracingly hollow voiceover and tremendous use of music (brian eno’s “by this river” used to even more stunning effect than it was in Nanni Moretti’s The Son’s Room) add a chilly feel to the action that the abrupt final scene hammers home. time cannot be stopped… what it does to relationships between people… what it does to relationships between people and their country… food for thought perhaps best meted out during an MMF 3-way?

48.) TALK TO HER (dir. Pedro Almodovar)

my favorite of almodovar’s films, and certainly the most exquisitely colorful and free-wheeling, Talk to Her touches upon a number of the spanish auteur’s fetishes without ever jeopardizing the touching exuberance of the melodrama that frames the story. the more reaching and silly a synopsis of an almodovar film sounds, the better the result… and this tale of two passionate yet comatose women and the men who watch over them is certainly not hurting for plot points. but with almodovar it’s all in the telling… and Talk to Her is mesmerizing. given my affection for it, the film not so incidentally is the Almodovar in which the narrative is most artfully folded over itself and extra-textually unhinged… the film within the film is the best of the various such devices that pop up in Almodovar’s work, here a silent doozy featuring one of the leads being shrunk down and crawling inside his sleeping lover’s vagina, which has been fancifully recreated as a massive set-piece complete with a man-sized opening in which the actor disappears. sometimes it’s better not to be subtle.

47.) NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (dir. Coen Brothers)

a ferocious film that stolidly chugs along with an ominously compelling energy, the unstoppable specter of javier bardem’s anton chigurh looming over even the scenes in which he’s merely a threat rather than a corporeal presence. No Country For Old Men is told with an inertia i’m tempted to label unprecedented… it’s pull towards the inevitable is truly unreal. adapted cormac mccarthy’s deceptively simple novel of a bag full of drug money found beside a corpse underneath a desert tree… the dialectic between action / inaction here is pure coen brothers (and COMPLETELY negates richard kelly’s THE BOX… which is totally irrelevant, but nevertheless just popped into me mind), and tommy lee jones is perfect as the peripheral sheriff for whom chigurh’s string of murders triggers a stoic struggle with the coldest fronts of time’s unthinking march forward. that a film so predicated upon its exacting nature revels in its seeming randomness confuses things in the most deviously delightful of ways, with chigurh always there to set things straight with murder at the flip of a coin. for my dwindling money, easily up there with Raising Arizona and Barton Fink as the coen bros’ very best films.

46.) THE WHITE DIAMOND (dir. Werner Herzog)

i would say that werner herzog would have to create his “documentary” subjects if they didn’t exist, but that would open the biggest can of worms i have. rather than synopsize his account of aeronautical engineer Graham Dorrington’s attempt to build an airship in which to fly over Guyana, i’d rather just describe a scene towards the end of the film. the airship - now afloat (um… not a “spoiler”) - enables herzog’s camera to peer behind a waterfall into a cave that no human has ever set eyes on before. if you think the resulting footage made its way into the film, i’ve got a thesis you should read.

45.) ELEPHANT (dir. Gus Van Sant)

the gus van sant film that best employs the director’s recent pared down approach, Elephant is a curious little movie. the day of a high school shooting as seen from the perspectives of various students (including the eventual killers), this maze of tracking shots stands in stark contrast with the likes of Russian Ark or even No Country for Old Men, as the rigid camera never anticipates the trajectory of its subjects. these kids walk the hallways of their high school with a purpose unique to young lives in motion… always going, doing, planning. in fact, almost EVERY conversation in the entire film makes reference to future plans, all of course forever denied or altered by the tragedy that befalls their makers. van sant wisely avoids any attempts to resolve the tension behind why america is too often visited by this brand of violence, instead parodying the stultifying gut-shot reactions that dominate the discourse - everything from videogames to homosexuality is gratuitously included, the only parental figure (a ragingly alcoholic father) reduced to a quickly forgotten cameo in the opening scene. populated by non-actors (and i hope they stay that way… seeing the lead pop up as shia lebeouf’s BFF in Transformers was seriously awkward) and as morbidly inexplicable as its title (“the elephant in the room” is only the beginning), Elephant is a tough film, and one of supreme value.

44.) ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW (dir. Miranda July)

miranda july’s only feature film is awesome in every which way. ostensibly an amalgamation of every nauseating indie trope… the talent and vision behind this thing makes it a thoroughly unique beast. dozens of tiny narratives concerning a wide array of denizens either precocious or resigned rub up against one another (her self-contained art projects, the fish on the car) which cohere into a sweet and fun examination of human interaction in the internet age. if it all that sounds pretentious or high falutin… it certainly doesn’t seem that way when channeled through a 5 year-old boy involved in cinema’s greatest moment of cyber-sex, because of which i fell into involuntary spasms of loud laughter throughout the remainder of the film. July has a wry and reserved touch, and is happy to unearth any human connection in a time where social mechanisms and technology (or both) are building walls between people - no matter how depraved it may appear.

43.) MY WINNIPEG (dir. Guy Maddin)

guy maddin’s super brilliant docu-fantasia about his beloved city cheats a little bit, because at a certain point it suddenly becomes really focused on hockey. i mean… i’m only human - Mystery, Alaska almost earned a spot on my 1990s list because it was about hockey, and that movie is fucking unwatchable. but My Winnipeg is already something of an absurdist masterpiece by the time it becomes angrily obsessed with the Winnipeg Jets, so i think it rightfully earned this spot. maddin’s train-ride through the history of his home town (to which he ostensibly returns, hiring his “real” mother and a bunch of actors to recreate childhood memories in his former living room) - told in his now-traditional 16mm style complete with erratic, exclamatory inter-titles - bends, breaks, and mocks historical truth to better capture the essence of the place that informed so much of his persona. this, um, “ecstatic truth” is made entirely maddin’s own, however, as a result of the devilish joy he takes in revisionist history, both that of his city and that of his own. it sometimes feels like a bit of an elegy, but even at its most tragic My Winnipeg it’s hard not to be overjoyed by the way in which Maddin recasts collective memory into celluloid as the stuff of legend.

42.) TOKYO SONATA (dir. Kurosawa Kiyoshi)

kurosawa kiyoshi (no relation) completes his transition from supernatural (Cure, Pulse, etc…) to domestic horror with one of the finest japanese films of the decade. anchored by the incredible Kagawa Teruyuki as the patriarch of a quietly fractured modern Tokyo family, Tokyo Sonata is the logical yet sublime follow-up for Kurosawa in the wake of 2003’s Bright Future. an Asian take on Laurent Cantet’s Time Out, the film follows salaryman Kagawa as he’s fired from his job but cannot bear to share the news with his family, each member of which is trying to escape from their lives in one way or another. Kurosawa presents the events in a stately and composed manner, until the legendary Koji Yakusho appears from the ether and makes madness of finely tuned deceptions. the mellifluous force with which the wordless final scene sneaks up is extraordinary, and makes for the finest moment of this year’s cinema.

41.) MEMENTO / SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE (dir. Christopher Nolan / Park Chan-Wook)

someone please buy and frame for me this “Lady Vendetta” poster k thx. also, you can read my take on that bit o’ business over here.

as for grouping these two films together… methinks the most cerebral of park chan-wook’s vengeance films (in which guilt and bloodthirst are afforded a morbidly social component) has much in common with Christopher Nolan’s best film, which is nothing if not a riveting, cinematically inventive portrait of how such dark human drives can orbit outwards to ensnare bystanders if made self-serving enough. for what it’s worth, i also believe that memento eventually resolves itself into a precise, definitive, and damning whole where no questions are left unanswered… and unlike somewhat surrealist fare like David Lynch’s masterful Mulholland Drive, Memento is a film best served with finality.

okey dokey, so i lied about the mennonites. but fear not - they’re coming. methinks we’re getting close to the really good stuff.