Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Love & Squalor's 100 Most Influential of the Decade pt. 4, 33-42

Talk to Her (2002): In many ways, Almodovar specializes in bending the soapily melodramatic towards farce and high art. Talk to Her showed us a deeper, darker side of Pedro Almodovar. Here he touched on those same pulp soap elements; passions and comas, the plot devices that are familiar to us as dramatic triggers. Yet, with Talk to Her he used them to mine human behavior in a way that seems staunchly mature against his other features. The emotional impact of the film is one that resonates. It's powerful stuff, provoking sympathy even as it holds the capacity to disturb. (WD)
Dogville (2003): This is Lars Von Trier's second entry on our list. It should be included with a caveat that reads "warning: this film is absurdly pretentious, watch at own risk". We own up to its pretension. We even admit that it's not the most enjoyable film, not one we particularly like. It is, however, a striking exercise in cinematic artistry. Dogville uses a minimalistic black box theater set, the actors travel less between actual objects and rooms than down chalk outlined paths. When they speak, they're stagy and monotone. The effect is eerie. What the viewer is given is a film that lays bare its own construction to the point that it should no longer function. Yet, it does. Instead of remaining unbearably flat, it winds around preconception and dips into an uncomfortable consciousness somewhere between fact and fiction. Are these actors? Are they characters? Eh, maybe you don't care. Either way, it's a risky film that remains unquestionably, and at all times a film, not a work of photographed performance art. For that, we award cookies. (WD)
Kill Bill (2003/2004): For the last time, it's one movie split into two parts! I mean, really! You can't like one and not the other, they equal a whole. The first half kicks ass, the second half slows down and remembers to take names. Together, as one brilliant, winding, epic saga, they're a virtual intro to film course that encapsulates Tarantino's exuberance. Kill Bill, to me, is perhaps the finest manifestation of Quentin Tarantino's passion for film. I'm not saying it's his best film (though that's up for debate as well), what I'm saying is that this is the one where his love of filmmaking is palpable. Kill Bill is a phenomenal, bright, high energy movie that works as a celluloid starter drug. If you get a taste you either leave wanting more or with the need to make your own. (WD)
Lost in Translation (2003): If Virgin Suicides promised great things from Sofia Coppola, then Lost in Translation paid in full. On the surface, the film has a fairly simple premise: a May-December fling of sorts between a lonely American actor (Bill Murray) and a lonely young American wife (Scarlett Johansson) who are trapped in Tokyo. Other directors may have taken the inherent loneliness of the situation and run it towards sigh & eye roll inducing. Coppola, however, is artist enough to see the beauty and humor in everything. The film is exquisite when shot from her vantage point. Scored with shoegaze rock and painted in neons and diffused light, Lost in Translation shows you something you can understand and makes it exotic, throwing it just outside of your reach and into bright, poppy colors. Murray and Johansson (then just 18) are on top of their game. They seem to feel their characters and in turn make us feel them, why they do what they do, who we should be connected to, what it's like stuck in that hotel room. Magic. (WD)
Oldboy (2003): We considered all of Park Chan-wook's "vengeance trilogy", and while it's hard to argue with what may be one of the finest revenge scenes of all time (in Lady Vengeance), Oldboy won out as the chapter that left the largest mark on cinema in the aughts. The most well-recognized work of Korean ultraviolence this side of the Pacific, Oldboy is as impossibly slick as it is brutally violent. It kicks, shoots, and chops its way through the most startling of human dramas, building up the harrowing tale of one man into something that is quite nearly Shakespearean in the scope and depth of its tragedies and punishments (and when i say Shakespearean i mean 'like Titus Andronicus'). (WD)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003): Yes. You're reading that correctly. We put a Disney film based on a theme park ride on a best of list. True, it's a popcorn flick and a cash cow with origins that are perhaps not as prestigious as you might like. Were you not entertained? Yeah, you were. Pirates was a phenomenon. It was a swashbuckling fantasy that made the world want to revert into seven year old kids playing pirates in their backyards. More importantly, however, it's the movie that finally brought Johnny Depp the acclaim he deserves and gave us Captain Jack Sparrow, a character who is a household name now and will likely remain one for years to come. The lesson we take from Pirates is one that should have been learned in the age of Star Wars: movies were designed as entertainment, if a movie succeeds primarily in being especially entertaining, it's gold. Pirates does just that. (WD)

Triplets of Belleville (2003): The Triplets of Belleville is incredibly bizarre, extremely French, almost entirely silent, and one of the greatest inventive works of art in the last century. When her grandson is kidnapped during the Tour de France by a mobster, a grandmother and her dog set out for America to find him, eventually joining up with the frog eating, now shriveled up former French singing sensation the Triples of Belleville. Every inch of this movie is jam packed with clever, strange twists, whether the dog is dreaming about riders on a train barking at him as they go by, or the grandmother giving the rider a massage with kitchen utensils, reminiscent of old Rocky and Bullwinkle, the Pink Panther, and even Bugs Bunny, but with a vintage, French tint. Too bad director Sylvain Chomet did not transfer any of this into his later bore of a film, The Illusionist. (M)

The Aviator (2004): I'm going to go against my better judgment and reveal to you that in the days to come you will not find The Departed on this list. Before you gape, know that it was a point of much debate. In the end, however, we decided that in the grand scheme of Martin Scorsese motion pictures, a remake (for those who don't know, The Departed is an American remake of Infernal Affairs), even a very well done remake, qualifies as a lesser work for a director who has already pioneered and contributed so much in past decades. Scorsese is a master of the modern crime film, he wrote a good 50% of the book on the subject, if you consider that he's perfectly capable of building solid stories on his own, the cops vs. criminals cat and mouse structure of The Departed is no great feat for him. Thus, as a representation of Scorsese in this past decade we chose one of the finest biopics of the aughts: The Aviator. With Cate Blanchett doing a dead-on job parroting Katharine Hepburn and Leonardo DiCaprio finally convincing us (as Howard Hughes) he is a real, honest to god actor's actor, we also got to see a side of the real Scorsese that's rare in his actual films: his nostalgic reverence for a bygone Hollywood. The Aviator is a radiant piece of work that stands out in a period of intense interest in memoir and biography (oh, how many flat life stories have we been given each year?) as a film the embodies a cinematic soul alongside basic mimicry. (WD)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): Ah yes, Eternal Sunshine, the movie that seems to be the one certainty across all best of lists. I almost feel like I shouldn't say anything about it at all. There isn't anything that hasn't already been said. It's a well-acted, gorgeously shot, brilliantly edited, conceptually rich, solidly written, emotionally powerful film. Through and through. Is it science fiction disguised as a set of tragic love stories? Or, is it a sweeping romance dressed up as science fiction? Did you fall in love with one of the characters or all of the characters? How many did you see yourself in? Did you run out and google all of Spike Jonze's music videos? Were you happy? Were you sad? Do you believe in the persistence of memory? (WD)
Garden State (2004): In the summer of 2004, every indie-type college kid in America saw Garden State and felt like they were looking into a mirror. Zach Braff deftly managed a generational zeitgeist of apathy, ennui, and a desperate need for connection that was perfectly scored and emotionally en pointe. Garden State does for 20-somethings of the 2000's what The Graduate accomplished for that age group in the 60's: effectively capturing the weird, mammoth emotions involved in growing up and cramming them into one little gem of a film. (WD)

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