Slant's Best of the Decade

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Postby OscarGuy » Wed Feb 10, 2010 4:18 pm

I'm sure you're want me to say I haven't seen those films in order to make a point at my expense, but I can't lie and say I have when I haven't. But, I am not able to attest to the quality of those films, nor whether they should or should not be placed at their locations on the list.
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Postby The Original BJ » Wed Feb 10, 2010 4:14 pm

OscarGuy wrote:So, the reason I'm dismissive at all is because it just seems too unusual a choice to be so high on the list with so many better films below it.

What are your thoughts on the placements of Time Out, Late Marriage, Russian Ark, Still Life, Goodbye, Dragon Inn, The Gleaners & I, The Wind Will Carry Us, Into Great Silence, The White Diamond, Unknown Pleasures, and Three Times?

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Postby OscarGuy » Wed Feb 10, 2010 4:01 pm

Well, to be specific, I don't hate War of the Worlds. Matter of fact, I enjoyed it for what it was, a popcorn flick. I thought it was Dakota Fanning's best work and I enjoyed a lot of the atmospheric elements throughout the middle third.

Perhaps I was a bit flippant in my quick dismissal of the list and probably should have been more descriptive, but sometimes I have little time to post and do so on the fly, so I don't share great amounts of information (that and when I do, people blow a gasket because I'm windy)

But I have to wonder what the point of such a high placement for a film that's seldom called a great film is. This is supposedly a list of the decade's best films and I can't imagine too many people who rank War of the Worlds this highly.

Is it overt Spielbergian favoritism, an attempt to be radical and do something different? Or is this a film that the entire slate crew actually likes better than the 41 films below in on the list? I doubt there is a concensus there that would rank Eternal Sunshine so far down.

It sounds more to me like the people at Slant just wanted to create controversy over their list by putting questionable picks higher in their lists to get people talking. Either that or they are trying to do what Armond White does and strike out against populism and try to do things that others aren't doing just to shock the system.

So, the reason I'm dismissive at all is because it just seems too unusual a choice to be so high on the list with so many better films below it.
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Postby Sabin » Wed Feb 10, 2010 1:40 pm

Any list that could possibly rank War of the Worlds higher than anything below it on the list (even the stuff I haven't seen), I have to ignore.

I'm not saying this to start an argument but I have heard you say this again and again on this board. If somebody presents a differing view on something that you hate, then nothing else is worth listening to. You really do say this a lot. You don't think a staunchly differing view perhaps makes it all the more worth listening to?
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Postby OscarGuy » Wed Feb 10, 2010 7:10 am

Talk about a film that falls apart at the end. Any list that could possibly rank War of the Worlds higher than anything below it on the list (even the stuff I haven't seen), I have to ignore.
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Postby Sabin » Wed Feb 10, 2010 2:30 am

Continuing down...


60. The Virgin Suicides. A faithful, vibrant Sofia Coppola adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides's novel about the unfathomability of teenage girls, The Virgin Suicides captures the album-rock ambience of mid-1970s suburban adolescent purgatory with just the right quantities of fetishism and pity. Edward Lachman's sourball-candied cinematography and Air's languid musical theme were key ingredients in this smart, regretful fairy tale of the failed rescue of a quintet of Michigan Rapunzels from their repressive parents by a chorus of clueless, telescope-equipped local swains. (It did free Coppola of her Godfather III acting albatross.) Will Kirsten Dunst ever again approach the pathos she stirred waking up alone on the 50-yard-line? BW


59. War of the Worlds. No mere F/X demo reel, and certainly not your standard-issue annihilation porn, Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds takes the same property Orson Welles once used to convince an already edgy populace their world was ending and recontextualizes it as an abstraction of collective national trauma. As noted by critics wise enough to look beyond the surface thrills (which are, admittedly, as brutal and relentless as I trust Jaws must've seemed back in the day), the film's sci-fi-cum-disaster-movie tropes only barely mask the signposts of our post-9/11 experience: wanton death, floating clothes, homemade missing persons posters, ashes and dust. Between this and Munich, no one tapped into mass paranoia with tenser results. EH


58. Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters. How fitting is it that the decade's most bombastic work of cinematic terrorism was also the only one capable of shutting down an entire American city for a day? Through the anthropomorphic trio of Master Shake, Meatwad, and Frylock (the id, ego, and superego), creators Matt Maillero and Dave Willis posit south New Jersey as the unofficial center for modern-day disharmony, encoding in every subversion an aggressively defiant and transcendentally uproarious disregard for the unexamined life. Perpetually self-devouring, Aqua Teen Hunger Force's meta-madness builds to an unprecedented cultural tsunami, redefining all in its path. Prepare the way for the movie-film revolution. RH


57. La Commune (Paris, 1871). A recalcitrant firebrand of experimental activism, Peter Watkins knots documentary aesthetics with Brechtian debate to shattering effect. In this astonishing blur of history lesson, impassioned political tract, and sardonic media satire, the filmmaker huddles a nonprofessional cast on a dilapidated industrial soundstage and recreates the working-class uprising that took briefly control of 19th-century Paris as a fleeting instant of egalitarian utopia covered by the cameras of partisan news networks. Nearly six hours of unflagging ingenuity and ardor, it is a maddening, unique, shake-up epic that suggests Godard directing a mix of PBS special and reality show. FC


56. The Gleaners & I. Without being precious about it, Agnes Varda documents urban and rural "junk collectors" who search for food, household items, and materials to sell—and throughout, she uses them as a meditation on herself "catching" images with her camera. In lesser hands it might feel cute, but Varda is as earnest as she is humanitarian, seemingly disinterested in your approval. If she wants to linger on a shot of her shadow or on trucks passing, she'll do as she damn well pleases. When the camera lingers on her lands, the audience gleans an awareness of this monumental giant of the French New Wave still using the camera to catch moments in time, we hope her vitality and fascination with life rubs off on us. EH


55. The Wind Will Carry Us. Abbas Kiarostami's mid-career masterwork is a casually paced "stranger in town" tale that camouflages its central concern with intimations of mortality until the final reel. A broadcast engineer arrives in a remote Iranian village, awaiting the demise of a sick woman so he can record the local funeral ritual. After instinctively resisting the environment (he races to his car whenever his cell phone rings and drives to higher ground), he succumbs to the inhabitants' vitality, and his final gesture with a fossilized bone links The Wind Will Carry Us with the death-haunted themes of Rossellini's great Voyage to Italy. BW


54. Into Great Silence. Philip Groning's epic documentary evokes spiritual harmony through a patient excavation of the relatively unseen lives of the Carthusian monks residing in the French Alps. Greed and sins of the modern world are brushed away with ease as the seemingly invisible kino eye emphasizes symbolically loaded rituals. Groning turns observation into a hypnotic cine-essay on the nature of a human being's faith, both in themselves and a higher power, here grounded in a daily and morally-rooted commitment. Argues the film, it is only through the spiritual act of waiting that we can hope to experience transcendence. RH


53. Kings and Queen. I can't refute the charge leveled by critic Mike D'Angelo against the latest works of Arnaud Desplechin, that they're self-consciously "bursting with fruit flavor." Certainly Kings and Queen brought the overachieving French director an entirely new audience even as it caused previous devotees to lose interest. I'm damned if I can figure out why. The maxim was "a new idea every minute," right? That means K&Q has eight more ideas than graced Esther Kahn. Okay, so it's not particularly in control of itself (it's basically the cinematic manifestation of its lead character, played with manic bravura by Mathieu Almaric). The sprawl is worth wading through for those moments of shocking clarity, as when a father ruins his daughter with a few carefully chosen words. EH


52. A History of Violence. Through a series of grisly acts of violence at once exciting and shocking, David Cronenberg's beautifully, meticulously prismatic A History of Violence interrogates the way we respond to bloodshed in movies, but it's cheap to say the director is content reducing his audience to a pack of Pavlovian dogs. This moving Rorschach test's prodding isn't one-way. Indeed, Cronenberg's jabs encourage a very critical engagement between the audience and the emotional, corporeal surface of his film. In the end, more important to him than any plain critique of movie culture's history of violence is how one man's relationship to his gun reflects a very specific American legacy of lone-wolf, vigilante justice. EG


51. Happy-Go-Lucky. In which Sally Hawkins, a hitherto only marginally celebrated, auxiliary-grade Mike Leigh repertory player, receives her starring turn in the director's career-length game of protagonist musical chairs. The resulting offspring is Poppy, a kookily good-natured, irrepressibly effervescent elementary school teacher, and Leigh's most immediately rewarding dramatic collaboration since David Thewlis's whiskered Armageddon urchin Johnny stalked the dystopian wasteland of Thatcher's England. Happy-Go-Lucky isn't much more, or less, than a convoluted character study, but Hawkins's full-body immersion into punch-drunk optimism under Leigh's guidance—at every minor tragedy one can see the tiny wheels turning in her head as they convert sorrow into optimism—achieves a singularly mercurial humanity. JJL

50. The White Diamond. The attitude of The White Diamond toward Graham Dorrington, the fortysomething British engineer whose quest to fly his new airship over the Guyanese jungle it tracks, isn't immediately easy to divine—visionary or dangerous crackpot?—even if it is a documentary by Werner Herzog. Despite his giddy boy-scientist persona, Dorrington is a seeker with darker layers; he's trying to expiate his guilt over a cameraman's death in an earlier experimental flight. Beauty, whether found in flocks of birds nesting behind a giant waterfall or the placid mysticism of a local miner, is Herzog's subject, along with "levity" in human and aeronautic terms. BW


49. Unknown Pleasures. Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke's last movie set in his native Shanxi province and his first shot on digital video, Unknown Pleasures captures the desperations of dead-end rural youth better than any almost other film this decade. Caught between the promise of a nation's modernization and the lack of opportunities provided to those left behind, the film's two young protagonists pursue their pop dreams—often modeling their behaviors on Western film characters—before their own superfluousness catches up with them, epitomized by a stunningly pathetic bank robbery and a police station humiliation in which a forced a cappella vocal performance turns into a heartrending lament. AS


48. In the City of Sylvia. Pure filmic ecstasy, In the City of Sylvia begins with an apple, an orange, and a map. A man—scruffy, tormented, a romantic no doubt, suggesting a young Rimbaud or Modigliani—sits on a bed, scribbling on a notepad with the quiet desperation of someone who's blocked, trying to regain time or something lost to memory. At a coffee shop, an epic search begins. Built on sensuous interplays between the landscape of the human face and the labyrinthian streets of a small French town, reality and representation, the man behind the camera—Spanish filmmaker José Luis Guerín—creates a rapturously alfresco movie that uses an erotically voluptuous language of spatial-temporal equations to conflate one's love of people with one's love of movies. EG


47. Three Times. Hou Hsiao-Hsien finesses time like other masters tweak color, and his gorgeous, century-hopping ode to Taiwan's strive for freedom contains passages suggestive of event horizons, in which time (and by implication, progress) appears to move infinitesimally, before abrupt transitions realign our perception. A billiards-game seduction in 1966, between a soldier and a pool hall chippie, has its sensualism and forwardness amplified by a succeeding, 1911-set vignette with a silent milieu recalling a chokingly conservative past, though these are preamble to Hou's thrilling 2005, in which unprecedented cultural acceleration finds Taiwanese youth acting as self-contained mini-nations poised for a momentous break with history. RS


46. Donnie Darko. What to say to the nonbelievers? You either accept Richard Kelly's quasi-Lynchian probing and Hughes-inspired emotional transparency as a fittingly executed yin yang, or you don't. Not unlike a beating, bleeding heart laid out to see in all detail, Donnie Darko is a wrenching, intimate evocation of existential angst held into place by adolescent hopefulness of things to come. The film owes to Lynch, certainly, but it's also a modern equivalent to The Twilight Zone, eerily rendering the impossible and misunderstood with quotidian balance, a science fiction diary with equal parts personal and political insight. RH


45. Before Sunset. The years have run like rabbits, as the Auden poem quoted by Jesse (Ethan Hawke) in Before Sunrise promised. Reacquainted after a decade, the open-faced travelers who shared a night of electrifying talk and outdoor sex in Vienna resume their conversation, and find that their hyper-awareness of time—a Sunrise hallmark first expressed in Jesse's use of a "think of this as time travel" pickup line on Celine (Julie Delpy)—has spared neither its effects. As a second, more compressed afternoon commences, catch-up banter gives way to heartbreaking admissions of personal compromise and vividly confessed nightmares of warm bodies just out of reach, and two magnetically attracted souls again stir. RS


44. Trouble Every Day. Sensual and provocative, Trouble Every Day uses the iconography of classic monster movies as a means of expressing doomed love. Newlywed husband Vincent Gallo arrives in present-day Paris in an anxious, feverish state, willfully avoiding sexual contact with his wife, though there are some suggestive bruises on her body and he relishes kissing her on her open wrist, close to the veins. The sexual hunger is palpable in every image, which swoons over the texture of skin and to the yearning music of Tindersticks. Victorian trappings such as shuttered rooms and contemporary embellishments of cannibalistic delight merge into a fever dream of pure cinematic intensity. JK


43. Far from Heaven. Doused in the autumnal Technicolor palette and glacial social friction of Douglas Sirk's heyday with only the faintest whisper of kitsch sensibility, Far from Heaven jarringly juxtaposes dissonant layers of relationship superficiality and aesthetic authenticity. Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid embody the disillusioned ethos of mid-century suburban sexual bewilderment with angst that neither condescends to obsolete mores nor provides tidy, empowering paths to self-actualization, and the supporting characters—particularly Dennis Haysbert's sable, green-thumbed scion and Patricia Clarkson's retractable-taloned gossip—approach their "stock" attributes with prototypical savvy. Todd Haynes's interpretation of 1950s cinema is far more sociological than it lets on: candy-color coordinated, obsessed with deceiving surfaces, and laced with dull, aching bitterness. JJL


42. Battle in Heaven. A purposefully repellent portrait of carnal desire that merits a place next to the provocations of Oshima, Breillat, and Tsai, Carlos Reygadas's confrontational minefield treats the intersection of art and pornography not as a prurient peepshow, but as a pipeline into a culture's class tensions and political catatonia. Chronicling the deliberately unappetizing genital collisions between a princessy rich lass, a dumpy prole, and other alienated dwellers in bustling, fractured Mexico City, Reygadas crafts an audacious tragicomedy of degradation and salvation that openly challenges voyeuristic audiences' complacency about life's many battles. FC


41. No Country for Old Men. A desolate time capsule of a nation in dual moral/spiritual crisis, the Coen brothers' second major round of Oscar validation is arguably their finest hour since the ferocious Blood Simple. Posing its existential "what if?" queries with rigorous, mathematic poeticism, the film is as drunk with the notion of blind chance as Javier Bardem's nightmarishly realized devil-in-the-flesh Anton Chigurh is reliant on the outcome of a coin toss. Something's coming, you can't stop it, and No Country for Old Men dares you to seek out the light of the world as it wages a battle with overwhelming darkness. RH
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Postby FilmFan720 » Tue Feb 09, 2010 8:49 am

Glad to see Marie Antionette on the list, even if it is far too low...a masterful film which was ignored for reasons I don't get.

The Pledge is also a wonderful little film I thought everyone had forgotten about, including Jack Nicholson's best performance of the decade.
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Postby Eric » Tue Feb 09, 2010 8:43 am

The diplomatic thing for me to do, as a participant, is not say anything.

Except this: reader comments (a newly added feature to the site) would be greatly greatly appreciated: http://slantmagazine.com/film/feature/best-of-the-aughts-film/216

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Postby Damien » Tue Feb 09, 2010 3:34 am

Not even halfway through its choices, these write-ups remind me why I haven't looked at Slant in years (except for when i find a link to a review by Eric).
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Postby Sabin » Tue Feb 09, 2010 1:58 am

My biggest problem with Big Fish is that I know, know, KNOW! that Albert Finney's character fucked around on his wife. That's what this is about. He isn't there for Billy Crudup and how do you reconcile the cheater with the husband/father? That's the point of the book and it's sadly missing from the film. Burton isn't interested. Spielberg -- attached for the longest time -- would have been. Not a bad movie by any means, but weirdly lifeless. I like that it does feature a protagonist who is very active.


80 - 61.


80. Mission to Mars. An argumentative line in the sand for what cinema means, Mission to Mars might be the greatest '50s sci-fi film ever, even if came half a century late. 2001 by way of irony-deprived B-movie euphoria, this wide-eyed space odyssey subverts big budget expectations with bigger feelings, actively and eagerly engaging one with expressionist emotion. Like Kubrick's masterpiece, Mars takes comfort in the probability of life elsewhere but more profoundly does it appreciate what human life means to itself. The film ponders and posits, elevating those thoughts to religious wonder. Where did we come from? We may never know, but we can always dance the night away. RH


79. A Serious Man. Perhaps the most substantive American movie about Judaism since Enemies: A Love Story, the Coen brothers' A Serious Man approximates the arc of the Book of Job (sans God's climactic intervention) in burdening a mid-1960s Minneapolis physics professor with all manner of marital, professional, and familial tsuris, to which he and his equally cursed genius brother can only plead, "I haven't done anything." Some critics have mistaken the Coens' blackly comic take on existential mysteries as a byproduct of anti-Semitism or their past dalliances with misanthropy; heeding the guileless junior rabbi, they need to "just look at that parking lot!" BW


78. The Hurt Locker. In retrospect, only a filmmaker with balls as big as Kathryn Bigelow's was really equipped to tackle the Iraq War, to translate both the tremendous psychological fallout and the bang-'em-up chaos of IEDs exploding around every corner. If the reason soldiers so often watch war movies is not as some huh-rah jingoistic pep rally, but rather because they feel like they can connect with what's happening on screen, then The Hurt Locker is certainly a soldier's war movie—one that takes pains to recreate the experience of having been there. But by combining documentary-like veracity with Hollywood suspense, Bigelow also presents the audience with a moral dilemma: How can war be this harrowing and this compulsively watchable? PS


77. L'Intrus. More than virtually any other modern filmmaker, Claire Denis is bent on distilling cinema to tactile sensation and instinctual imagery. Her search for the ultimate fugue reaches a zenith in this ravishingly discordant cine-riddle, a sustained moment of mysterious exaltation between palpable flesh and unknowable psyche. Eschewing narrative strictures, Denis and her great cinematographer Agnes Godard unleash a procession of ripped-from-the-unconscious moments—ranging from the hypnotic sway of the South Seas to the magnificent vision of a fur-swathed Béatrice Dalle roaring at the camera—that suggest sensuous, scary new ways of seeing. The effect is not unlike that of a fever, but one from which intrepid cinephiles might hope not to recover. DH


76. Children of Men. Extrapolating homeland-security paranoia and the Terror Decade excesses of the Bush-Blair coalition into a worst-case dystopia, Children of Men freely spins P.D. James's much stodgier literary fable into a digitally tricked-out thriller of an infertile Earth in 2027. Playing a disillusioned burnout in the Bogart mold, Clive Owen finds himself tasked with guiding the first pregnant woman in 20 years, a young "fugee," through the obstacle course of an authoritarian Britain, presumably the last Western power left standing. Alfonso Cuarón directed with the facility for jolting high-tech action and pointed references to Abu Ghraib and 9/11 that were underlaid with anguish. BW


75. Still Life. How to give cinematic life to the utter surreality of China's Three Gorges Dam initiative, a project that resulted in the displacement of a million and a half people from their homes? If you're Jia Zhangke, you supplement your trademark location-immersive aesthetic with left-field touches (a building launching off into space, a tightrope walker plying his trade amid the rubble) that transform the setting into something resembling a sci-fi landscape. As the film follows a demolition worker and a woman searching for her lost husband, Jia mines the complex interplay of the personal and the political, crafting one of his richest examinations of his country's willful obliteration of its own past. AS


74. Zodiac. Working from San Francisco's famously unresolved Zodiac serial murders, David Fincher's '70s-set epic pays lip service to genre suspense while focusing its true, rigorous gaze on the self-destructiveness of obsession-run-wild, the multifaceted influence of media (and cinema) on society, and the problematic search for irrefutable knowledge. Weaving a sprawling tapestry of facts and figures that lead only to further questions and gnawing uncertainties, Fincher's film views the dawning information age with skepticism, even as its striking digital cinematography and deft computerized flourishes embrace the very modernity that typified his story's deadly, press-exploiting killer. NS


73. The Pledge. Somewhere in the barren, dirt-blown hills of Nevada, Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson) is still guarding a vacant lot and a landscape of tundratic memories with perversely rigid somnambulism, just as he was at the denouement of Sean Penn's The Pledge. It's hard to say, as the years listlessly drift past, what precisely snapped him: Was it the masculinity-combusting shame of having very nearly made the same mistake twice, even with his law enforcement instincts? Was it the blinding grief of having sacrificed a warm, willing hearth of a body for a slim chance? Was it Chris Menges's burnt-toned deserts that seem to be squeezing the sweat out of the milieu and its inhabitants? Or was it the teasingly cold, hard evidence of a handful of miniature porcupines with a payoff only visible to God? JJL


72. The House of Mirth. Adapting Edith Wharton's novel for the screen, Terence Davies creates a period drama that's every bit as rhapsodic and devastating as his queer autobiographical remembrances. Indeed, as the heroine (a splendid Gilliam Anderson) moves through visually exquisite yet spiritually suffocating tableaux, the genteel high-society 1905 New York is gradually revealed to be just as brutal as the working-class British tenements of the filmmaker's childhood. Davies depicts a woman's downfall and society's games with the unsentimental precision and spectral grace of one of Max Ophüls's carousels; passion throbs under the film's corseted surfaces. FC


71. Tarnation. Next to Rachel Getting Married, perhaps no other film more tellingly exposed the cynicism—the wariness of earnestness and emotional boisterousness—that hijacked film criticism in the aughts. Like a person who divulges too much information on the first date, Jonathan Caouette may be self-pitying, but his uncomfortable frankness bravely attests to the pleasures and pains of both his life and that of his mother, who was subjected to electroshock treatment when she was younger. Using photographs, old home movies, short films, and pop-cultural artifacts from the '80s and '90s, Caouette spliced together the images of his life using split-screen and recoloring effects, creating a kaleidoscopic found-art project that creepily conveys how the human mind, in our multimedia age, processes thought and conveys feeling. EG

70. Audition. For a while, this nasty little offering from Japanese shockmeister Takashi Miike resembles a slightly misogynistic, deadpan comedy, as a film producer mourning the loss of his wife holds auditions for a fake movie in order to find a girlfriend. The new girl is a former ice skater, now a seemingly docile wounded bird and quiet object of his affection. The nightmare scenario creeps up on us when we see that obsessive love is never pretty, safe, or easy, and the traditional role of the woman gets flipped when pins and needles, piano wire, and an evening of bloodletting, take the battle of the sexes into the subterranean territory of extreme body horror. JK


69. Last Days. The culminating final chapter in Gus Van Sant's Trilogy of Death is a haunting dirge whose timbre remains sublimely attuned to the anguished romanticism of its source of inspiration, the late Kurt Cobain. Envisioned as an aching fallen angel who appears to be disintegrating before our eyes, the grunge martyr wanders through an impressionistic landscape that's both primeval garden and paradise lost, seeking the consummation of the death-as-liberation impulse that seemed to permeate his art. Closer to Sokurov's Mother and Son than to the average biopic, it's a work of thematic obsession and aesthetic purity. FC


68. The Headless Woman. Just as her earlier masterpiece The Holy Girl mimicked the dampened cadences of an arid love story while depicting acts of statutory frotteurism, Lucrecia Martel's The Headless Woman is a socially resonant, Roman Polanski-style psychological thriller sans actual thrills. In the title role, María Onetto streaks across the movie's moral-economic landscapes with ferociously elitist, gratuitously over-imaginative guilt—her vehicular carelessness is both a distant allegory of class nervousness and the most gut-torking plot device of the last cinematic year. Under Martel's steady, shrewdly observatory gaze, we're both in the thick of, and innocent bystanders to, a fetid downward spiral. JJL


67. Goodbye, Dragon Inn. That's all, folks. Game over. Last one out, please hit the lights, lock the doors, and toss the buckets of rainwater. Tsai Ming-Liang's characteristically damp movie-house ghost story is a loving memento mori to cinema itself. A single-screen movie house in Taipei rolls off its presumably final screening ever to a spare and largely preoccupied handful of viewers. The King Hu wuxia enthralls only those old enough to have starred in it, or those young enough to find the whole concept quaint and otherworldly. Everyone else stumbles into the darkness, missing connections, shelling phantasmagorical peanuts, seeking ass, indifferent to the passing of an era. EH


66. Julia Built around a stunningly forceful performance by Tilda Swinton as the eponymous booze-and-sex queen, Julia is a heady dose of inspired wonkiness, following our downwardly spiraling heroine as she perpetrates a harebrained kidnapping scheme, effects a border crossing with the feds in hot pursuit, and becomes involved in a second kidnapping, this time perpetrated by Mexican gangsters. The result is an odd and oddly satisfying mix, a sharply observed character study—with Swinton embodying the recognizable tics of a very credible, if possibly insane, individual—crossed with a wonderfully loony thriller narrative that quickly dispenses with plausibility in favor of a round of giddy thrills. AS


65. Dancer in the Dark. The film that won Lars Von Trier his precious Palme d'Or but lost him the respect of many highbrow critics and certainly his leading lady. Dancer in the Dark may be a dog-eared provocation, lacking both the psychosexual rawness of Breaking the Waves and the seamless rage of Dogville. And the conceit of shooting each musical sequence with more than 100 fixed digital video cameras and editing from the resulting footage resulted in, at best, ungainly asymmetry. But there but by the grace of Von goes Björk, who, between sessions spent gnawing away at her costumes, delivered not just one of the most violently unhappy performances in movie history, but also the finest song score of our era. EH


64. Marie Antoinette. A sly critique of today's frazzled, easily distracted youth, Sofia Coppola's third film appropriates the biography of a doomed French royal for its story of a teen queen's dawning, imperiled maturity. Stylistically modern in all but its period accoutrements, Marie Antoinette interprets its powdered bee-hived heroine's "problem of leisure" (so phrased by Gang of Four over hot-pink titles) as one of lifestyle addiction, preventing her from meaningful self-assertions that could lead to utilization of her inert political power and maybe save her neck. With shots held past their natural cut and space carved for Petit Trianon's clarifying serenity, Coppola solidifies a case for preserving intellectual breathing room. RS


63. Memories of Murder. As with David Fincher's Zodiac, South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho's first feature is a taut policier wrought with anguish and hopelessness over the difficulty, if not impossibility, of attaining truth. Colored by its 1986 Chun-dictatorship timeframe, which proves the root source of both police and criminal misconduct, Bong's debut is packaged as a serial-killer genre exercise but also operates as an investigation into the relationship between country and citizen, and the ultimate inability to fully attain what one seeks. Futility has rarely been rendered as thrillingly, and despairingly. NS


62. Friday Night. The euphoria of unexpected amour infiltrates every sumptuous nook and cranny of Claire Denis's gem, in which a woman stuck in gridlock opens her door, and for a time her heart, to a wayward traveler. Drollness, fear, and passion naturally commingle throughout this languorous romantic reverie. Shot with a dancer's grace and a lover's warmth by cinematographer par excellence Agnes Godard, Denis's snapshot of two strangers' surprising one-night stand is a thing of tactile sensuality, with intimate close-ups of hands, necks, and faces generating swoon-worthy sensory immediacy. NS


61. Wolf Creek. Greg McLean's debut is a raw, nasty piece of old-school terror cinema, eliciting fear not only via its deranged Outback crazy, but also from a sense of oppressive dislocation. Foreboding vistas of imposing sky and empty wastelands situate the Aussie countryside as the outer edge of reality, fitting for a locale that's home to a psychopath preying upon three vacationing twentysomethings foolish enough to view the world as a playground rather than a hostile battlefield. Primeval ugliness abounds, eventually overrunning protagonists whose relatable, sympathetic humanity further amplifies the suspense wrought by McLean's horror show. NS
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

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Postby The Original BJ » Tue Feb 09, 2010 1:53 am

Zahveed wrote:Big Fish just being on a list is a pleasant surprise for me, considering I don't think anyone else on this board likes it.

I love it.

I believe Sonic also likes it a lot too.

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Zahveed
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Postby Zahveed » Mon Feb 08, 2010 11:25 pm

Eternal Sunshine is a good 80-85 points below where it should be, but you can't win them all, I suppose. Big Fish just being on a list is a pleasant surprise for me, considering I don't think anyone else on this board likes it.
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Postby Sabin » Mon Feb 08, 2010 4:09 am

Well, Eternal Sunshine... is far too low on the list.


Best of the Aughts: Film
BY SLANT STAFF ON FEBRUARY 7, 2010 JUMP TO COMMENTS (0) OR ADD YOUR OWN

To tidily summarize a decade in world cinema is to attempt the impossible, yet if there's one overriding theme of Slant's Top 100 of the aughts, it's that despite a mainstream movie culture dedicated to increasingly expensive, techno-enabled infantilism, auteurist artistry and genre craftsmanship remain vital filmmaking avenues. Between the proliferation of cheap digital tools and the rise of non-theatrical distribution channels, small-scale idiosyncratic works have grown in number even as they've been crowded out of the general consciousness by Happy Meal-tie-in tentpole series that have now become the major studios' primary means of revenue generation. Which is to say, James Cameron and Michael Bay are still the real kings of the filmic world, proffering easily digestible large-scale popcorn to a youth-driven mass audience that craves spectacle over all else.

Nonetheless, if box-office coffers begin ringing with the announcement of every subsequent Transformers, our Netflixed society now has options to such big-budgeted cacophony, allowing the most remotely located cinephile access to the legion of groundbreaking filmmakers whose works rarely make a theatrical dent even in New York or L.A. For those interested in seeking out more than the latest CG-ified sound and thunder, directors as diverse as Terrence Malick, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Michael Mann, Wong Kar Wai, Béla Tarr, David Cronenberg, and Gus Van Sant (to name only a scant few) took cinema to unique and exciting unexplored realms, experimenting with the form's marriage of image and sound in ways that push the boundaries of both aesthetics and narrative. Despite the dominant '00s story of franchises-run-amok, it was audacious, inventive artists like these that truly made it a decade worth remembering. Nick Schager



100. Requiem for a Dream. A triumph of balls-out B-movie aesthetics, Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream was among the decade's most influential pictures. It was also one of its most divisive—and understandably so. As in the world of Hubert Selby Jr., it wants for our sense of identification before titillatingly, risibly even, inviting our revulsion. With the film, it seemed as if Aronofsky was announcing himself as a kind of kitchen-sink Sirk, and only a person who's never fallen under the spell of substance abuse can fail to relate to the powerful sense of anguish summoned by its high-wire performances (and music)—or fail to see how Aronofsky's cannily and freakishly operatic conflation of the grotesque and beatific constitutes a supreme act of compassion. Ed Gonzalez


99. Time Out. Even in the early part of the aughts, the economic state of the world was taking a shift toward the miserable, with unemployment sweeping through the white-collar community like a plague. Existential terror sets in when one realizes how much you define yourself by your job. In Laurent Cantet's Time Out, middle-class office manager Vincent (Aurelien Recoing) has been laid off, and lies to his family about the downsizing while making a daily adventure of hauntingly sterile office buildings, maintaining his impeccable image as a man in a business suit, dutifully reporting to the workplace. His desperate clinging to hollow values builds to a final scene where Vincent, sitting in an office, proclaims, "But I am not afraid." It's chilling: a man trying to believe the corporate lie. Jeremiah Kipp


98. Café Lumiere . For his first film outside his native Taiwan, Hou Hsiao-Hsien commemorates Yasujiro Ozu's 100th birthday by channeling the Japanese master for this Tokyo-set tale of a young reporter coping with impending pregnancy. Once again charting the essential bond shared by the past and the present, Hou uses his trademark long takes and doorway-framed compositions to delicately convey the tug-of-war constantly waged between the then and now, as well as of time's inexorable forward march, here encapsulated by pensive Ozu-indebted imagery of passing trains. NS


97. The Fountain. A grand concept album about human mortality with a persistent backbeat of hopefulness, Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain fulminates, Zeus-like, against the gross inequity of inevitable bodily failure through Hugh Jackman's emo mad scientist, questing to save a beatific Rachel Weisz from her brain cloud. His fist-shaking fury and point-blank denial of reality point the way to religious obscurantism, a path to which this resplendent, secular hymn presents two deceptively grounded alternatives: a narrative in which eternal life is achieved through surviving memory and fiction, and one for those comforted by the body's ultimate transmutation into (and resurrection as) vegetation, then nebulae. Ryan Stewart


96. Birth. Do we fear the 10-year-old boy who claims to be Anna's reincarnated husband with such definitive intensity because of Cameron Bright's spooky chubbiness, the script's refusal to play straight with us, or (the most likely answer) Nicole Kidman's painfully convicting, glassy-eyed and terrified belief? As darkly intimidating as director Jonathan Glazer makes the idea of pithily sentient resurrection, thinking back on the film's horror is mostly a precisely emotive slideshow of Kidman's strenuously controlled, yet invitingly organic, reactions—the way her body trembles and her pupils dilate when the boy tells her things he shouldn't know and then dissolves into the cool, deep shadows of her grimly vintage apartment. Joseph Jon Lanthier


95. Little Otik. Recalling Terry Gilliam's fairy-tale phantasmagoria by way of It's Alive, Jan Svankmajer evokes a culture's icky sexual subconscious through the eyes of a precocious girl, Alzbetka, who asks inappropriate questions during dinner and snoops on the neighbors, an infertile couple who out of desperation carve a wooden baby and treat it as their own offspring. Alzbeta's vivid imagination seemingly portends every impending disaster that befalls the couple, but Svankmajer suggests that she, unlike her repressed parents, is keenly aware of and even fascinated by all the sick shit that goes on around her. When Otik comes to life and starts eating the building's tenants, she takes matters into her own hands, and Svankmajer makes delirious use of bloodletting—a gruesome satire of society's mores bursting at the seems. Paul Schrodt


94. Grizzly Man. By now, Werner Herzog's doom-laden pronouncements intoned in his heavy Germanic drawl have become something of a stale trademark, but before the filmmaker's persona started to harden into shtick, it had its fullest flowering in 2005's Grizzly Man. Juxtaposing his own view of a malevolent nature with the far more optimistic philosophy of the film's bear-loving subject, Herzog draws on the video footage left behind by the late Timothy Treadwell during his sojourn in the grizzly habitats of remote Alaska to reflect on not only the moral orientation of the universe, but the art of the filmmaker as well. Andrew Schenker


93. House of Flying Daggers. Hyper-hypnotic with intoxication to spare, House of Flying Daggers is a ravishing martial arts melodrama with a mythic/political slant. It's also seriously fucking cool. The almost overwhelming visual heft suggests a silent film (though music, like the sounds relied upon by a sword-savvy blind girl, is key), with each inspired set piece a spellbinding evocation of allegiances in combat (for self, for love, for country), while emotionally color-coded templates are used to simple yet profound effect. From the poetic swooshes of blood to the way CG snowflakes tickle the frame, every detail is a wonder. Rob Humanick


92. Forty Shades of Blue. Set against the backdrop of the Nashville music scene, this slow burn of a movie centers on a Russian trophy wife named Laura (Dina Korzun), who remains emotionally dormant as she struggles with her raucous good-old-boy producer husband (Rip Torn). Korzun's glacial performance reveals surprising depth; a character we might initially write off as unknowable slowly draws us in. For all the joyous country music, filmmaker Ira Sachs created a film like the surface of an icy lake, with chilling depths underneath. The final shot of Laura walking away from a glaring pair of headlights is either an act of empowerment or a refusal to accept a life of hell. Either way, it haunts and resonates. JK


91. Intimacy. The unnerving eroticism and visual precision of Patrice Chéreau's pictures pegged the filmmaker early on as a kindred spirit of the great Bernardo Bertolucci. Indeed, not since Last Tango in Paris has a film so fiercely elaborated on the fine and fiery line between desire and obsession. A grubbily grandiose tapestry of discordant gazes, furious clawings, and other furtive appeals for affection, Intimacy's genius derives not only from its alternately tantalizing and gloomy sexual primalism, but also from its unspokenness: Every gesture Claire (Kerry Fox) and Jay (Mark Rylance, in one of the decade's great performances) exchange in the film becomes a profound indication of their most desperate and pained desires. To these actors, like Chéreau, sex becomes like theater: lived-in, improvisatory performance art. EG

90. Revanche. A self-reliant codger intent on conserving his remaining energy contrasts with a younger foursome squandering theirs on misdirected passions and poisonous emotions in this somber ethics rumination in daylight-noir trappings. His would-be robbery career disastrously scotched on job one, Alex (Johannes Krisch) retreats to his grandfather's farm, where a woodpile becomes a conduit for grief, regret, and rage at a perceived victimizer tantalizingly nearby, while a mournful cop and his unfulfilled wife trod their own emotional minefield and a web of unacknowledged connections draws taut. Justice is a fool's preoccupation in Götz Spielmann's morally serious domain, and revanche a road to ruin. RS


89. Gabrielle. "I love her as a collector does his most prized item," reflects haute bourgeois Jean Hervey of his eponymous wife, but his smug inner monologue is shattered when he discovers a letter announcing Gabrielle's departure. A failure of nerve precipitates her return and the rest of Patrice Chéreau's richly novelistic, late 19th-century-set film unfolds as a series of densely rendered dialogues which chart the inevitable displacements and epistemological gaps inherent in the power structures of upper-middle-class life. In one of his last articles, Robin Wood wrote that Gabrielle "is so much more…than a period movie about a marital breakup," and in its precise rendering of a specific social milieu, Chéreau's film extends beyond its constricted setting to expose an entire set of cultural assumptions. AS


88. Late Marriage. Dover Kosashvili's first feature is a scathing critique of a culture's marriage rites and the psychological harm it inflicts. The 31-year-old Israeli son of Georgian Jewish parents, Zaza slyly eludes his parents' attempts to arrange a marriage between him and a proper suitor (rich, young, doting), meanwhile secretly dating a 34-year-old divorcée named Judith on the side. Kosashvili understands that Zaza's life lacks real tragic structure, and he mercifully avoids the solipsism of Eytan Fox's The Bubble, instead using barbs to poke fun at absurd cultural norms; near the end, Zaza pays his family heritage a backhanded compliment by kissing his father on the crotch. The director doesn't pull any punches, but the ease he shows is remarkable, especially in a sex scene between Zaza and Judith, which might be the closest cinematic approximation to what it's like to fuck somebody you love. PS


87. Wendy and Lucy. With its poignant belief in salvation through canine camaraderie and its unwavering attention to the dollar sum separating an embattled, Alaska-bound drifter from destitution, Wendy and Lucy provides an American neorealist movement its Umberto D., one versed in the native self-justifications that stop us extending a hand to our neighbors. Drabbed by hiker garb and boy hair, Michelle Williams vanishes behind her unlucky loner, whose self-identification as the only caregiver of her dependent—dog Lucy—is humiliatingly tested when fate maroons her in a strip-mall hinterland. With this unadorned personal crisis drama, Kelly Reichardt creates an arousal to advocacy documentarians should envy. RS


86. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Beyond its fanciful hook of medical technicians-for-hire that wipe out memories of a lost love ("technically, brain damage"), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind serves up some of the ugliest lovers' quarrels in the annals of romantic comedy. Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry's original, moving fable hinges on a high-maintenance couple, Jim Carrey's introverted artist and Kate Winslet's "fucked-up girl looking for (her) own peace of mind," who meet cute for the first time, twice, before and after breaking up and having each other expunged from their cerebral cortices. Romance is ultimately hard, tearful work. "What do we do?" "Enjoy it." Bill Weber


85. Big Fish. For the first time since Danny DeVito's Penguin shed a tear for the parents who abandoned him in a sewer at the beginning of Batman Returns, Tim Burton connects his outsize set design to an enormous depth of feeling, a magical-realist costume party that is also profoundly rooted in the fraught relationship between fathers and sons. Big Fish unspools in circles, suggesting not only that the truth is slippery, but that stories are more fun when they're harder to pin down. An aging patriarch tells his family tall tales about his travels through American history as a young man (catching the biggest catfish in the world, befriending a giant). No one is sure when he's honest and when he's fibbing, least of all his pragmatic son, but there's much more at stake in Burton's ravishing compositions, which at once recognize the debt we owe our forbearers and one man's deep, abiding love for his country. PS


84. Russian Ark. Is it merely enough to expand the parameters of cinematic language, and not just the form? In other words, would it have merely been enough for director Aleksandr Sokurov and cinematographer Tilman Büttner to simply hit the "record" button before taking a stroll through a dog park in St. Petersburg? Maybe, and I'm sure I'd still watch, but duration and ambition are in this case conduits, not vessels. (Want an example of the flip? Suffer Mike Figgis's Time Code.) Sokurov's synchronous, one-shot tour through the Hermitage Museum and Russian history argues on behalf of retaining your cultural connection with exactingly choreographed history. Eric Henderson


83. Boarding Gate. Olivier Assayas's pet themes on everything post-Y2K, from globalization to digital lust, are a difficult pill to swallow, but few other directors commit themselves to their projects so fully or deliver such a visceral punch. Assayas finds a kinky soul mate in Asia Argento, who so single-mindedly embodies her role as a slutty drug-runner caught in a web of deception, you feel compelled to watch just to make sure she doesn't implode. Assayas’s typically booby-trapped plot jumps from Paris to Hong Kong as frantically and hypnotically as his camera passes through hallways, making it almost impossible to know what's going on at any given moment. But the details are less important than the game Assayas is playing—a sinuous sexual power play in which characters are treated like stocks bought and sold on the market. Argento is only too happy to oblige. PS


82. Gosford Park. "You can't be on both teams at once," a chambermaid tells an American interloper in Robert Altman's exhilarating Gosford Park, set at a 1932 English country house where the history of upstairs-downstairs relations undermines a weekend pheasant shoot and prompts the host's murder. Confused with "light" entertainment because of its rich humor, this satire of the aristocratic instinct to toss the emotions (and offspring) of menials on the scrap heap doesn't stint on laughs, sublime set pieces—as when the servants surreptitiously listen to a famous guest croon at the piano—or reminders of its transatlantic cast's wit and versatility. BW


81. WALL-E. From Monsters, Inc. through Up, Pixar's formula throughout the decade remained nailed down, on point, and irresistible to children, parents and critics alike. (Even their biggest misfire, Cars, was still embraced as a reasonably entertaining Tex Avery knockoff.) But none of their movies hit the sweet spot quite as majestically as 2008's galactic ecology fable, a secular Left Behind in which a button-cute robot janitor enamored by Jerry Herman showtunes and a hair-triggered lady iPod learns to value others' prime directives. And, unlike the soda-irrigating retards of Idiocracy, learns how to keep a sprig alive. Call it Children of Men, for Children. EH
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver


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