30.12.09

Film of the decade: honourable mention

I want to talk some more about stuff I like. Why not? Here are some more films made this decade that were important to me and some other people.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy - Peter Jackson (co-writer/director)

Basically the Star Wars of my generation. Kids in the 80s had their minds blown by lightsabers and stormtroopers. I had my mind blown by... well, where do you begin? The visual spectacle presented by The Lord of the Rings was a quantum leap in the cinematic experience. The innovations are many: crowd AI, bigatures, a stopmotion/animated character that worked, that looked real next to real people, that wound up giving the best fucking performance in the whole of The Two Towers. Gollum's schizo scene has to go down in movie making history. Thrilling, funny, touching, profound. From a guy created by computers! No one had seen that before.

I can talk some more about the peerless design work, the fine acting from a well-picked cast, the sure-handed, punchy directing, the marvelous score*, the surprisingly (really, wow) intelligent, skillful and compassionate writing. But we all know this already. Standing back, it really does look like Peter Jackson and co. have given us the definitive Lord of the Rings adaptation. And I'm pretty confident it will stand up in 30 years time just as well (no, better!) than Star Wars does now.

*Now would be the time to confess that The Return of the King makes me tear up on five separate occasions, and Howard Shore's music is the major reason why the emotion hits me the way it does.

Garden State - Zach Braff (writer/director)

Basically the Annie Hall/Graduate of my generation. The quirky, indie, romcom that caught the moment, found the audience, and set the trend for quirky, indie romcoms for the rest of the decade. However, nothing that came afterwards had as much soul as Zach Braff's creation. He was laying himself completely open. That earnestness holds a charm and a poignancy that stays with you. I saw the film quite randomly in the cinema when I was 15, and I walked out thinking that's the film I wanted to make. It was exactly the thing I needed, at exactly the right time. Everyone will have this experience when they are growing up, and this was mine. It was for quite a few other people as well.

That said, two of my best friends hate it and give me mad shit for loving it so much. So the whole 'Garden State is the voice of a generation' angle might be a little off. Then again, maybe my two friends are just cold-hearted, soulless robots! Take your pick.

Serenity - Joss Whedon (writer/director)

Another film I go on about endlessly, and another film those same two best friends delight in disparaging. To which I say, as well as being unable to feel, they seem to be unable to enjoy themselves. Serenity is fun. in the same way that Pirates and Star Trek and Die Hard 4 are fun. But it's also clever. So much cleverer than people expect. Much cleverer than the dirge-fable Children of Men, or the flashy pyrotechnics of Sunshine, or other sci-fi contenders this decade. This is the little budget blockbuster that could. More people need to see it. More people need to love it.

The New World - Terrence Malick (writer/director)

Yes, yes it is his best film. My position on The New World is pretty much the polar opposite of my film critic guru Mark Kermode, who found it long, boring and with a hippy treehugger vibe that irritated more than it inspired. Kermode could look past those problems in The Thin Red Line because he though the film said something about nature's aloofness to humanity's presence, and particularly to war. However, he thought The New World may lead to re-evaluations of Malick's solid gold critical approval.

I had exactly the opposite experience with the two films. I came to The Thin Red Line with high expectations, and will concede that it was beautiful to look at. But I couldn't come to grips with the voiceover, which spewed nothing but meaningless, wooly, pretentious nonsense. I can't remember any of it. It was just a constant stream of words doing nothing. Most importantly, I couldn't believe that any of the soldiers would actually think any of the things being said. Soldiers are not hippies. Soldiers HATE hippies.

I didn't have this problem with The New World. Perhaps because it was set further in the past, or amongst a more alien society, I could accept the pretentious voiceover. I could believe John Smith and Pocahontas were thinking the things I was hearing. I could participate in that relationship. This meant I could ease myself into the other elements of the film -- Malick's rosy-eyed view of primitive cultures, his obsession with the bankruptcy and unnatural condition of western civilization, the overwhelming love of the natural world, in its grandness and its little details. I got it. The film became magnificent. Malick was doing something no one else could do, or had done before. As David Thompson says, that's what the movies are all about.

In Bruges - Martin McDonagh (writer/director)

Other end-of-decade lists have been extraordinarily kind to Tarantino, which I find rather baffling. His work in the 00s comes no where close to the three films he made in the 90s. But this does. It goes further than any other Quentin copy because it's not a Quentin copy. It's sensibilities are very different. The love of pulp is there, but so is a prevalent Irish Catholic background. In fact, the more I watch it, the more I think the film is narrating a kind of conversion experience. But anyway, there's no other filmmaker I'm more exited about as we step into the 10s, so that's were I'll end my list.

(Mulholland Drive, A History of Violence, There Will Be Blood and The Departed also belong here, but everyone else has written about them, and Lynch, Cronenberg, Anderson and Scorsese hardly need any more blogger love.)

2 comments:

  1. Mostly agree. Calling bullshit on the Garden State shit. Watch Funny Ha Ha, or Mutual Appreciation (both by Andrew Bujalski) or The Puffy Chair. Both Funny Ha Ha and the Puffy Chair were made before Garden State, and Mutual Appreciation soon after.
    Yeah, maybe Garden State did set the tone for films coming after it, that is every Michael Cera film and anything with Zooey Deschanel or whatever...but! Zach Braff, I am convinced, only did so by sending raging hordes of plagiarism to the gates of what ended up being called 'mumblecore'. All those films are far better made and less contrived and up their own ass than Garden State. Plus...straight up they did the whole mood in a much purer, more original way that the slickness of Garden State.
    (And, Funny Ha Ha and the Puffy Chair are certainly two of my favorite films of the decade, capturing the listlessness and general ambivalence that rolled into a tidal wave from the 90s to the 00s.)

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  2. Fair call. I haven't seen the movies you mentioned. For me Garden State was the first, and like many things, the first time remains the sweetest.

    I don't think Garden State is that slick or pretentious (contrived maybe). The more I watch it, the more missteps I find in it. And the theme is actually pretty naive and simple. It's not an especially clever movie. But it made me feel something, and it still makes me feel that something when I watch it. So it had to go in.

    I'll try and get my hands on the two films you mention, howev, and see if my perspective changes.

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