Thursday, January 7, 2010

Love & Squalor's 100 Most Influential of the Decade pt. 6, 54-63

Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005): I would posit that for some, friends are made and lost based on the reactions that follow watching Miranda July's surprising indie Me and You and Everyone We Know. July is something of a literary New Sincerist. Her writing veers frequently towards purposely emotive distance. It's not about theorizing, it's sort of just about storytelling and speaking honestly from ones heart. The result of New Sincerism is frequently a strange disconnect between dark human truths and saccharine sentimentalism. Me and You is a perfect encapsulation of the hopeful and the disturbing. July's film winds through the challenges of love, human peculiarities, and risky depictions of the accidental maturity of children. Some will find it thoroughly disturbing, some find it holds a fragile charm. Of one group you should be wary, for they may have slept through their introduction to humanity. (WD)
The New World (2005) Until our recent capitalist expansion (and even now) America has been a land of covetous beauty and plenty that inspired the imaginations of artists for centuries. Whether it's Terrence Malick's subject matter, or his rare talent of turning the voyeuristic experience of film into something personal and organic, Malick is the quintessential American director, his exquisite visions of the early American landscape intoxicating and bewitching the way they once were, before the advent of technology and film. If you expect a typical telling of the John Smith/Pocahontas love story, you're going to be sorely disappointed and bored by this nearly silent film. This isn't a plot driven, straightforward story, but a lyrical meditation that hits you on a primitive, sensual level, lush and self indulgent, like taking a three hour bath when you should be twittering away on your Blackberry. When you pop this beauty in the DVD player, be prepared to luxuriate and experience without the pressures of a google addled attention span and have your mind blown by its raw power and beauty. (M)

Pride & Prejudice (2005) : Jane Austen devotees may balk that Joe Wright's adaptation of their beloved novel strays from the original text, but that's precisely what I love about it. We have decades worth of Masterpiece Theater, Merchant Ivory, BBC mini-series tellings of Austen's works, all of them with an emphasis on prim and proper manners, the business of being married, the austere costumed pageantry of love. I'll be frank with you: those versions? They're unspeakably dull. Not merely in terms of story, but on multiple cinematographical levels. While Austen's writing style is a dry reflection of the times, the novels she wrote have real, beating hearts. Wright is the first director to finally scrape off the surplus of pleasantries and cut to the romantic core. The film is a beautiful, stand up example of an English period piece. It feels free, and consequently Austen's story is finally rendered natural. Keira Knightley is a fierce and believable Elizabeth Bennet. She embodies her character and the buttoned down rebelliousness thus entailed while keeping level headed. We see her refusals, her trepidations, we see Darcy's too. The story is brought to life as one with real passions, not posed relationships of convenience.(WD)
Sin City (2005) : Everyone knows Sin City plays like a frame for frame realization of Frank Miller's graphic novels. Everyone knows that it's uncompromisingly violent. Some like to refer to it as hyper-noir, say that it opts for style over substance, or that it's tainted by a misogynistic undercurrent (which, in context, is also debatable). Everyone, though, who has seen it has a strong love it or hate it reaction. I'm a great lover of Sin City. As in exercise in style alone it would make it onto this list, but it's so much more than that. Robert Rodriguez gets everything right when merging three volumes of Frank Miller's series. He sticks to his guns (if you will), and constructs a sprawling, densely layered epic of corruption and vengeance that crackles with energy and beats you down with a steady stream of grisly crimes and inhumanity. This is not the underworld old Hollywood gave us, it's not the world that Chandler and Hammett wrote about, instead, it's Frank Miller's nightmarish version of those worlds. As such, it becomes more dishearteningly grounded in real crime at the same moment it drifts willingly towards a pulpy fantasy instigated by a netherworld of men in masks and capes. The cast is masterfully plucked from an odd, seemingly mismatched assortment of action stars, indie players, and ingenues who deliver their cardboard, tough guy/hard dame talk with zeal and a wink...even as they slice your head clean off. Sin City is a visually dazzling terror that gleefully marches down a path of destruction. It's remarkable to behold, and rewrote the book on graphic novel cinema.(WD)
The Squid and the Whale (2005): I oscillate wildly, depending on my mood, on whether or not Noah Baumbach's brilliant family tale is tragedy disguised as comedy or comedy disguised as tragedy. The ground it covers is either/or. Divorce, dysfunctional families, adolescence, affectation and academic pretension, the gang's all here. Yet, the fact is that no matter which direction it swings, The Squid and the Whale is a delightfully smart, remarkably literate sardonic work. Mom (Laura Linney) and Dad (Jeff Daniels) may be in a war of words (quite literally, as they're both writers), but their sons Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline) wage a confused battle of mixed intentions and desperate pleas for attention. The psychological reach of Baumbach's script is impressive. Even young Frank is granted a full, evenly rounded character with expression beyond bitterness. It's a startling film; one that runs like an even keeled short story and deserves to be coveted and kept close. Plus, as divorce tales go, it makes Kramer vs. Kramer look like a Lifetime movie. (WD)Borat (2006): If i have to explain the merits of Borat as social commentary and scathing satire to you, you probably shouldn't be reading this blog. Part documentary/part fiction, Sacha Baron Cohen goes deep under cover as a foreign other to uncover the dark heart of xenophobic America. In acting socially unacceptable, he brings out the worst in those he meets. Never mind the shock value, the taxing nudity, all the alarming, politically incorrect bits, those are placed to get to you to react. See, cause while you're laughing, Cohen is proving his point. The film works on multiple levels, it's just as smart as it is idiotic. When it's over, if you're not not left with some serious questions, you only picked up on the latter. And that, folks, makes for some brilliant comedy.(WD)
Casino Royale (2006) It's pointless to argue about which Bond was the best, because we all had actors we bonded with for whatever reason. But you can argue that Daniel Craig's Bond is the best realization of Ian Fleming's original creation. The Bond of the books is this Bond, a harsh, cold man that succeeds not through the dripping British charm of Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan (although he does use a cooler charm as a tool), but through brutish perseverance built on top of years of low class resentment and abandonment issues. Craig does an expert job of maintaining this hard-ass exterior but also showing the quiet vulnerability that forms the early Bond in his true love relationship with Vesper Lynd (the stunningly sexy Eva Green) before he falls into down right vengeful misogyny. But this franchise revamp isn't all Dark Knight darkness and angst. The film is sleek and engrossing with the right balance of realistic spy action, legendary Bond gadgetry, far away destinations, dramatic tension, romance, and comedy. The other great part? The villain Le Chiffre retains the classic melodramatic villainy of Bond movies while keeping just enough realism to stay soberly threatening. (M)

Children of Men (2006) : Hands down one of the finest works of science-fiction in this new millennium. Filmed by Alfonso Cuaron in his trademark shades of green and grey, Children of Men creates a dystopic world the likes of which is as visceral and foreseeable as it is chilling. With spectacular single-shot action sequences and keen intelligence, Cuaron constructs a very real vision of a not-too-distant future that also functions as one of the most gripping political thrillers in recent memory. A staggering parable, and one not easily forgotten.(WD)
The Fountain (2006) : Grandiose and emotionally sweeping, almost to a fault, The Fountain divides viewers and critics like that was its sole purpose. As it's the source for much contention, you might be wondering why we decided to place it on this list instead of including something that was quite obviously (and simply) well-constructed (Crash, Hotel Rwanda, Munich, or Brokeback Mountain, for example). We have our reasons. One of the reasons, for example, is that this is a list not of the most impeccable films of the last decade, but of the most influential. Nary a visionary filmmaker is born from watching journalistic exercises in construction like Hotel Rwanda (i have no idea why i'm picking on that film in particular), they are instead sprung from the big ideas, the escapism and ambition, the fantastic flights and experiences that watching something unlike all else can trigger in a viewer of the right temperament. The Fountain is one of those films. It's a passion project for Aronofsky. Even when it falters and confounds, it overflows with a supreme, boundless energy. This is a bold movie. Bold movies beget the auteurs of tomorrow.(WD)
Inland Empire (2006): David Lynch surpasses David Lynch to become David Lynchier in this three hour film riff that evokes a mystery even as it asserts there is no mystery to be uncovered. No answers, confetti plot, characters who may not be characters. But, you know, a lot of atmosphere. The joy of the film, and perhaps of most Lynch films, can be found in trying to crack through its dream state to something of substance, and in doing so slowly finding that everything can be transformed into the substance that you seek. If this makes no logical sense to you, than i'm doing a fair job. Inland Empire is one of my favorite Lynch films and one that truly works with his paradoxical nature as a director without direction. It is a gorgeous film that is exhilarating in that it works its way under your skin and sits there, comfortably, while you scramble to try and find a way to work it out. (WD)

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