Saturday, January 9, 2010

Love & Squalor's 100 Most Influential of the Decade pt. 8, 74-83

Grindhouse: Planet Terror / Death Proof (2007) : Sure, they're two separate entities now, but Planet Terror & Death Proof were better under the combined title Grindhouse, and those 3+ hours were amongst the most fun I've ever spent in a theater. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez joined forces to bring the blood soaked, exploitative thrill of the B-movie to mainstream cinemas with a double feature loaded with treasures that have since been relegated to the realm of youtube (oh, those faux trailers, how lovely they were). Planet Terror was a joyous delving into zombie territory with carnage left and right and an energy that was contagious. Death Proof (which I stand by as being tremendously misunderstood) worked brilliantly as a second act that built, tore down, and then re-built to its thrilling conclusion. Both films are pitch-perfectly bold and presented with a sly wink and a set of air quotes. (WD)


Juno (2007) : Let's get one thing straight at the outset: I am no great fan of Juno. I enjoyed it well enough, sure, but continue to be baffled by its Academy Award nominations and ranking in Roger Ebert's top ten films of the decade. There are just, you know, some glaring problems in Juno. But, I'll leave all of that behind. After all, we still ranked it, so I should probably be explaining why. Simply put, Juno put the finishing touches on making indie sensibilities mainstream. It is perhaps responsible for the turn of the teen film towards hipster chic (as much as that may irritate you, you cannot deny the influence of the hipster on our times). It's a solid, though at times overly sentimental, comedy that turns the stereotypical teen pregnancy saga on its ear and shows you something unexpected. Juno (Ellen Page) doesn't fit our idea of accidental motherhood. She's a smart girl, quick witted and overly confident. She speaks with a precocious wisdom that references pop culture well before her age and experience. Though her hormones are raging, it would be a tough sell to refer to Juno as promiscuous, she's merely a free radical. The emotional range of the film is surprising, as is the originality of its comedy. Love or hate Diablo Cody, she wrote a script that's specifically her own, and inspired a bevy of imitators. (WD)


Michael Clayton (2007): Director Tony Gilroy's first attempt at directing covers most of the ground you'd expect in this thrilling George Clooney vehicle about a corporate man that gets fed up with the way things are and takes down the evil system. But Clayton takes the story elements that made Erin Brockovich a success and delves deeper, with the added bonus of a haunting score and expert cinematography. This is hands down Clooney's best performance, gritty and realistic without the goopy sentimentality that similar films are rife with. The film ends with a close-up of his face as he gets into a cab, his job well done, with no musical score, just the credits running silently across his skin. His ability to communicate his emotions in these minutes is so heartbreaking, it's shocking he didn't win the Oscar. Tilda Swinton was the Oscar winner, equally engaging and real in her role as the corporate evil ice queen who gets caught red handed. It's rare to find work like this that translates so sincerely, a nice breath of fresh life into a tired genre. (M)


No Country For Old Men (2007) : Construction wise, this film is rather impeccable. It takes Cormac McCarthy's novel and creates an almost exact living breathing replication. I'd argue, however, that the Coen Brother's film feels more urgent and builds up the tension that is almost stagnant in the text. The photography captures the desolation of the landscape as the viewer is shaken and lead relentlessly through a waking nightmare that switches within seconds between the chaser and the chased. Javier Bardem discards all humanity to become a horrifying villain whose emotional absence makes us incapable of understanding as anything but a flesh and blood terminator. The suspense level built is almost Hitchcockian, beyond Hitchcock even, as it exists with the promise that its brutality may show its face at any moment. You never know when the film will turn, or even, when it will end. (WD)


Persepolis (2007) : Most graphic novel adaptations are curiously made into live action cartoons so full of special effects and CGI that they can frequently become mind numbing. Persepolis, oddly enough, chose to go the animated route. Marjane Satrapi's illustrated memoir would have made for an easy live action remixing, rich in the sort of sociopolitcal issues Hollywood has cashed in on in recent years. Instead though, Persepolis was adapted in the most literal way. And...well, thank god. It is the book. Except now, the book moves. Of course, though, we don't award best of the decade status just for faithfully adapting literature. No, no, what we award it for is making dense, complicated social issues and warzone logic accessible across age groups. This is one of the first and only in a rash of life-in-the-Middle-East films to deliver a complete portrait that viewers can relate to on a personal level...though they have likely been lucky enough never to have experienced such things themselves. (WD)


Superbad (2007) : Mean Girls made it onto our list as a game changing teen film, so, you can bet that Superbad ranked as well. Superbad is, just maybe, like the Godfather of teen sex comedies. Here is a movie that takes the same old formula (boys looking to rid themselves of their virgin status at the twilight of their high school careers) and instead of harping on the same old gross out moments, the same glimpses of boobs and odd titillation, it fills in the gaps and focuses on the construction of fully dimensional characters and a real, believable friendship between its male protagonists (without skimping on the dick jokes). Michael Cera and Jonah Hill are not the guys that we just laugh at, they're the guys we know, and the kids other guys can relate to. Even as the film winds its way through an unbelievable night of freak accidents and strange experiences, we can believe it. We know that even if the story isn't true, the sentiment is. That, my friends, is a huge shift in a genre that makes its money selling kids sugarplum visions of popularity and prom night. (WD)


Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) : There aren't enough good musicals that really shoot for the dark and uncomfortable (sorry Repo!). This was a decade filled with musical attempts, and Sweeney Todd is easily amongst the best of them. It fills the void we feel for singing, dancing carnage with the ground up bodies of its victims and gives the viewer a sparsely haunting revenge tale that makes you sympathize with its killers even as you know you shouldn't. The film is a Tim Burton experience if ever there was one, caught up in its own hyper-stylization and gothic as they get. It promises romance and gives you blood without worrying about the repercusions of its own amorality. Its sweet Sondheim songs rise quickly to a shrill fever pitch. It is dark, reprehensible even, yet Burton finds the beauty in the story and allows it to flourish in a way that does not color our perceptions of the characters. (WD)


There Will Be Blood (2007) : I've been very vocal over the past few years about how thoroughly impressed I was with Paul Thomas Anderson's epic There Will Be Blood. I am still impressed. My first viewing of the film left me enthralled. It was relentless, absolutely hypnotic in both story and photography. In the first several minutes, Anderson establishes his antihero Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis, giving a performance I'd dare to call unparalleled) as driven. He has him, wounded, crawling across a wasteland of a landscape presumably to civilization miles away. From there, Plainview's drive and greed escalates in the most unsettling of ways. He becomes a shell of a man who takes and consumes without giving, never content. The film is truly remarkable. Punctuated with an ominous score by Johnny Greenwood, There Will Be Blood is gripping. As a technical example of filmmaking, it's just about perfect. As an overall film, it gets about as close as anything released in the last 10 years. (WD)


The Dark Knight (2008) : If Superbad is the Godfather of teen films, then The Dark Knight is the Citizen Kane of comic book movies. With Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan set up a good point of origin, but with The Dark Knight he nearly obliterated our preconceptions of the Caped Crusader as well as the superhero genre. While it is still a fantastic action film (and certainly one that requires a gigantic tub of popcorn), it moves away from the simplicity of previous standouts like Spider-Man 2 and steers the genre towards a new, deeper direction. Nolan understands that these masked vigilantes have always mined the darker sides of human nature and compulsion, and that at the end of the day Batman is a character who is defined by the tragedies and crimes that have touched him. There's a depth to Nolan's take on Batman that goes right down to the spectacularly imagined villains (we couldn't get by without mentioning how good Heath Ledger's Joker is). (WD)


Let the Right One In (2008) : Vampires are huge these days. What they say about our collective consciousness, I'm not sure, but such is life. As someone with a lifelong fascination with the blood suckers, I've learned not to expect much when it comes to on screen representation. Most like to lean towards high passion and camp goth instead of showing the vamps as the monsters they are. Let the Right One In, does not. It takes its killers seriously, but makes certain allowances in having 12-year olds as its protagonists. Hailing from Sweden, this film is the arty, true life adolescence equivalent of Twilight. That is, if Twilight was a decent film with any sort of bloodloss at all. A bullied human boy becomes friends with the vampire next door, and they form a bond based in loneliness that cannot be broken, no matter how bad things get. As a 'horror' film it's not big on the scares, but as a vampire film, it ranks with Nosferatu. (WD)

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