As long as it’s understood that I’ll change my mind on half of these over the next few days, here’s my Best of the Decade list.
– 2046 – most people prefer Wong Kar Wei’s ‘In The Mood For Love’ (a wonderful film, don’t get me wrong). But I preferred this rangier, riskier, more abstracted tour-de-force. Visually stunning, unashamedly romantic, petulantly non-linear; not many films approach the depth and complexity of a good novel, but this one really hooked me. I find something new every time I watch it.
– The Best Of Youth – originally made for Italian TV, Marco Tullio Giordana’s six hour family chronicle follows two brothers from the sixties to the present. The ‘culture seen through their eyes’ idea is one of the oldest motifs in narrative cinema, but I’m having real trouble imagining when it was more compellingly done. To paraphrase Roger Ebert, don’t think of it as six hours long – think of it as six hours deep.
– Mulholland Drive – As magnetically lurid melodrama, as mind-boggling surrealism, and as a practical puzzle-to-be-solved, David Lynch’s film delivers. You’ll wanna do homework on this one, and gladly.
– Memento – another puzzle movie, told backwards. Sounds like work, but Christopher Nolan and Guy Pearce grab you by the sleeve from the first minute and propel you through one of the most original and innovative stories ever.
– 25th Hour – We all know Spike Lee can direct his ass off – like them or not, his films are unapologetically personal, professionally and efficiently presented, filmed fast and budget be damned. So what he does with David Benioff’s script is a surprise, yet no surprise. Without so much as a plane or a fireman in sight, Lee presents Who We Are circa 9/11 in this small but substantial story of a small-time crook’s last night before serving a seven-year prison sentence.
– The Hurt Locker – Kathryn Bigelow’s superb film doesn’t tell you about war, it shows you the war, through its effect on Jeremy Renner’s character, a sergeant / technician who disarms explosive devices in the Iraq war. We may actually get a Best Picture that deserves it this year.
– The Two Towers – ‘King Kong’ was almost unwatchably bad (Thank God for Naomi Watts!), and early word on ‘The Lovely Bones’ is foreboding, but Peter Jackson brought it magnificently in his ‘Lord Of The Rings’ trilogy.
– The Royal Tenenbaums – another true original – I still think ‘Rushmore’s a better film, but this is the one I think of more often. Unfailingly gracious humor and humanity in the service of some pretty dark ideas about Family in America. And I’m as over Gwyneth as you are, but the woman can act.
– Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – I could list six or seven films here – OK, I will – Hero, House Of Flying Daggers, Curse Of The Golden Flower, The Banquet, Iron Monkey, Emperor And The Assassin, Red Cliff, Ashes Of Time – that benefited from being able to enter the league that CTHD created for them. No mangled subtitles, pristine duplication, serious budgets and real international marketing and distribution. Jackie Chan and Maggie Cheung and Donnie Yen and Zhang Ziyi and Brigitte Lin and Chow Yun Fat and Tony Leung and Yuen Wo Ping weren’t just interesting and novel acquired tastes – now they were hip, and their films were the equal, or, sometimes better, than their Hollywood mainstream competition. This film is certainly on par with anything Hollywood put out over the last ten years – thrilling, funny, well-acted and, in the end, transcendently heartbreaking. Ang Lee did this. And ‘Brokeback Mountain’. And ‘Sense And Sensibility’. And ‘The Ice Storm’. The man’s a director.
– Let The Right One In – nothing here flat-out scares you or grosses you out or has you pulling the stuffing out of your theater chair with tension, but everything that evokes those reactions is here, cleverly disguised as an awkwardly elegant coming-of-age romance. There’s real Clive Barker-ish, Lovecraftian nastiness just underneath, but director Tomas Alfredson isn’t interested in hitting you over the head with it – you’ll just feel it, quietly and insistently, over the next few days after watching it.
OK, there’s ten. Honorable mentions: In The Mood For Love, No Country For Old Men, Far From Heaven, The Dark Knight, Collateral, Iron Man, The Piano Teacher, House Of Flying Daggers, History Of Violence, Eastern Promises, The Class, The Descent, Priceless (Hors de Prix), Amelie, There Will Be Blood, Sicko, Big Fish, Grindhouse, Caché, Gangs Of New York, Waking Life, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, Spider, La Vie En Rose, Hot Fuzz, Innocence, Revolutionary Road, Nine Queens, the Red Riding trilogy. And, oh, all right, Almost Famous.
Mind you, I can only pick what I’ve seen. I missed Happy Go Lucky, 4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days, Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and many other worthies.