Friday, November 20, 2009

My 100+ Favorite Films of the Aughts: 80-71 [Fanboy Edition]

80.) MYSTERIOUS SKIN (dir. Gregg Araki)

gregg araki finally came into his own as a filmmaker with Mysterious Skin, emerging from the period in which he made boisterous but immature fare like The Doom Generation as a serious talent. a deeply unsettling story of psycho-sexual discovery and the confusion of one’s formative years, Mysterious Skin is not only armed with the implicit knowledge that experience doesn’t determine sexuality, but also uses that knowledge to explore how certain sexual encounters forever shape and color all subsequent interactions… joseph-gordon levitt assumed the mantle of edgy indie king with his portrayal of a teenager who was molested by his baseball coach as a boy… forever tormented by 5 hours he lost as a child and desperately trying to reconcile the event with his life’s current trajectory. understated and haunting (and somehow managing to coax brilliant performances out of the likes of michelle trachtenberg), Mysterious Skin is a film that, in refusing to offer pat answers, provides an indelible account as to how pervasively human sexuality drapes our lives.

The rest after the jump!

79.) CASINO ROYALE (dir. Martin Campbell)

thank fucking christ. a bold re-boot that - beyond the new bond’s hair - wasn’t really all that divorced from the fundamental tenets of the series’ golden age, the reasons behind Casino Royale’s success are agonizingly obvious. first… martin campbell. the man responsible for the only other decent bond movie of my lifetime (goldeneye) is such a better choice for this franchise than, say… Marc Forster. ick. anyhoo, you have a Bond humanized in all the right ways (a man whose armor can be stripped without jeopardizing his supernatural elan), a string of exotic locations (the film wisely avoids america save for an airport chase), FELIX!, a bevy of neat gadgets, a string of excellent Bond Girls, and a series of highly involved, tonally golden action set pieces that incorporate but are never defined by their surroundings and eccentricities. and whatever failings the film’s villain brings to the table (beyond the worst poker tell in film history) are compensated for by his relative unimportance and the grand design of the organization with which he’s involved… in Quantum, the Bond series is given new legs… i just hope those legs weren’t amputated by Marc Forster’s intermittently fun but unfocused epilogue of a follow-up. anyhoo, this film is a success chiefly because of tone… i hate to credit paul haggis, but the script here finds just the right balance between self-seriousness and precious flippancy, and that’s really half the battle. that daniel craig is a brooding yet emotionally available 21st century Bond doesn’t hurt, either… he’s like a robert pattinson with a tan and a speedo. and, um, beyond the brooding and emotional availability is in no way like robert pattinson. p.s. that chris cornell theme song is like the cry of the lambs… one day i’m going to have to work with a serial killer to solve a crime and he’s gonna totally destroy me by bringing up that stupid song. when are they gonna wise up and hire bjork?

78.) THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI (dir. Yoji Yamada)

yoji yamada is one of the aughts’ most fascinating directors. The vast majority of the 78 year-old’s career was devoted to the Tora-san saga, the longest running film series in cinema’s brief history. come the turn of the millennium, however, yamada decided to spend the twilight (ew, sorry) of his career making a trio of impeccably graceful samurai dramas that were light on action and heavy on introspection, yearning, and class warfare. all 3 are several kinds of excellent, but The Twilight Samurai is perhaps the best of the triptych… the story of a kind and recently widowed low-ranking samurai at the mercy of the era’s societal machinations, yamada’s stately, implacable compositions and deceptively quiet characters resolve themselves into a small story of huge feeling, where the sword-fights are few but each swing carries it with it the full weight of an entire lifetime.

77.) SHAUN OF THE DEAD (dir. Edgar Wright)

this is what happens when smart and talented people attempt to reinvigorate a genre that had been brutally co-opted by the lowest common denominator. the Spaced crew tear zombie films completely asunder in this tale of England’s most generic man (Simon Pegg, finally stepping into well-deserved stardom) attempting to survive Z-day with his mother, best friend, and estranged ex. Wright and co.’s intimate love for the genre provides a heaping helpful of knowingly hilarious moments that never crowd out a surprisingly tender story… serious filmmaking chops that are showy but effective and some brilliant characters make this less of a wink-fest and more of a classic. “she is so… DRUNK!” … and i die.

76.) LINDA LINDA LINDA (dir. Nobuhiro Yamashita)

okay, yeah, i guess it was kinda a big decade for East Asian cinema. but seriously, it’s endlessly reassuring to see a film take pains to infuse heart and honesty into a genre that seldom aims for more then mediocrity… but Linda Linda Linda (named after the seriously addictive J-Pop classic “Linda Linda” by The Blue Hearts) takes another story about a motley crew of high school misfits (here coming together for their school’s talent competition) and - refusing to settle in to easy archetypes - distills from it an immensely moving story of support and acceptance… bouncing from topics as disparate as correct karaoke protocol to how the age-old tension between korea and japan affects younger generations, Linda Linda Linda (featuring music by The Smashing Pumpkins’ James Iha) is among the decade’s most fun films with which to spend some time… this is the kinda movie that stubbornly refuses to leave the DVD player… and the culminating performance is pretty much the best scene in the history of moving pictures.

75.) THIS IS ENGLAND (dir. Shane Meadows)

and back to England we go. shane meadows’ best film, this quasi-autobiographical portrait of a pack of skinheads in 1983 Nottingham, their charismatic leader, and their newest recruit (13 year-old Thomas Turgoose, in a raw performance that must be seen to be believed), is a blistering bundle of angered energy. turgoose’s character is looking for love in all the wrong places, and his mercurial new family isn’t exactly built to last. it’s a blean and brutal film that meadows’ floating camera captures with unnerving intimacy, but it’s a film that i also find to be reassuring in its own way… the ending’s epiphanies are especially earned and believable… the exhausting vitriol required to maintain such ideology snaps because it cannot bend, a message that the breathlessly edited final moments make mercifully clear… calculatingly formed, This is England is quick to become subsumed by its documentary reality, and relies on its traditional narrative structure to throw the failings of its characters into sharp dramatic relief. it works exactly how it intends to.

74.) LUST, CAUTION (dir. Ang Lee)

i recognize that this film plays right into the center of my sweet spots… WWII espionage in a warm coat of melodrama, explicit sex, and feverish mahjong action… but i still feel it deserved better. intricately plotted and coyly sexy (until it abandons being coy in favor of the two leads furiously mauling each other), this twisty and quietly epic thriller has a lot of fun anticipating the Cultural Revolution and humanizing the most enormous of wars… without ever straining, it often feels as if the film’s central romance (anchored by another perfect performance by Tony Leung) is the epicenter of the global conflict’s entire eastern front. also, there are few movies where the sight of unadulterated (yet circumspectly composed) fucking is more integral to character development… every new position reveals a huge amount about each of the lovers. love this movie.

73.) THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU (dir. Cristi Puiu)

mr. lazarescu - an older romanian man - makes himself dinner in the unkempt apartment he shares with his cats. suddenly he isn’t feeling so hot. a neighbor eventually calls for an ambulance, but he’s rejected from the first hospital to which he’s taken. and then the second. and then the third. and then he’s dead. over the course of 153 unblinking minutes, cristi puiu relentlessly chronicles the rather unspectacular final hours of a forgotten man… a cinematic death march if ever there was one, and made genuinely (if morbidly) entertaining by a strong pinch of gallows humor, by forcing us to never leave lazarescu’s side does puiu reinforces just how alone this man really is… the details are uniquely romanian, but the film’s damning critique of the country’s healthcare system is nothing if not… wait for it… universal. also, any film that can make so much from so little - spinning a tale that spans the journey from life to death with a remarkably simple conceit - is worthy of great praise.

72.) THE DEPARTED (dir. Martin Scorcese)

a stellar remake in a decade almost ruined by them, The Departed not only improves upon the convoluted original, but raises it to the realm of opera. the grandly hollow kind of stuff that the Oscars usually eat up, The Departed is of another, better kind not only because it’s told with the confidence and purity of a master, but also cause it’s perfectly plotted and ridiculously fun… the film is as slick and filled with big personalities as the classics of old hollywood (evocative in vibrancy if not tone of something like Key Largo… but with a wee bit more violence), and is one of the few stories to use boston as something more than just a hideously american backdrop.

71.) WALTZ WITH BASHIR (dir. Ari Folman)

finally, a rotoscoped film that doesn’t get entirely lost up its own asshole… seriously, keep this stuff away from richard linklater. anyhoo, this is one of the most formally brilliant films on this list… and one that uses its aesthetic for much more than aesthetics. ari folman’s meditation on the plasticity of memory is ostensibly a memoir of his time in the israeli army and, more specifically, the role he can’t remember playing in a notorious 1982 massacre. except for more than half of the subjects interviewed are either composites or completely fictitious, and the entire conceit is obviously predicated on a lie, as the filmmaker clearly remembers the details of his actions and their horrific consequences. the flowing, amorphous feel of the rotoscoped imagery (and the obvious distortions it’s capable of weaving into folman’s remembrances) matches the elusiveness of his memories… every moment of his past feels tentative and wrapped in a haze - historical figures and their accompanying imagery becomes subservient to this one soldier’s psyche. Waltz With Bashir certainly allows itself to be read apolitically, but it’s certainly loaded for those who wish to engage the film on that level… the coda’s jarring switch to live-action footage succinctly reconciles both takes, providing perhaps the only possible conclusion to this meticulously constructed film.


Simon said...

This is Britain makes doing nothing interesting, yeah, and the performances are fantastic. Excellent list.