Sunday, January 3, 2010

Love & Squalor's 100 Most Influential of the Decade Pt. 1, 1-10

Welcome to 2010! Wilde.Dash and I have spent what feels like the entire last decade, discussing and battling over what films deserve to make our list of the 100 greatest works of the aughts. If you're a regular here at Love & Squalor, you know that we're not your average film critics; we give it to you straight and aren't afraid to admit if we love (or hate) something. We're pretentious enough to adorn ourselves with Fellini pictures and talk about Lars Von Trier, but willing to admit we think Josie and the Pussycats and Terminator Salvation were underrated (Wilde.Dash doesn't agree with the latter of those two). As a result, our list (jointly posted in chronological order with the author's initials afterward, because come on, you didn't expect us to try to pick a number one did you?) is a mix of the influential, the groundbreaking, and stuff we just plain loved.

Almost Famous (2000): With enough distance and few replays, it becomes easy to write off Cameron Crowe's idealistic coming of age film as the sort of movie that just feels right because it's plain nice. Don't. A really solid, universal coming of age story ain't easy, but with a believable fantasy time warp twisting its way through our cultural, fetishized musical memory, Crowe delivers a story that is as rewarding as it is nostalgic. Worthy of repeat viewings, Almost Famous is a film that inspires and connects with its viewers, teen and adult alike through winning melodramatic performances and storytelling that's as sweet as it is honest. (WD)

American Psycho (2000) There was a time when Christian Bale was only vaguely recognizable, his voice without the gravely rumble of Bruce Wayne or John Connor. He was just that kid from Newsies until Mary Herron's retelling of Bret Easton Ellis' novel skyrocketed him into the spotlight as the master of dark projects like The Machinist or The Dark Knight. American Psycho is a cult and mainstream classic on every level, its dialog as sharp as Bateman's axe, the performances strong and subtle, particularly Bale's as he slowly unhinges. It also qualifies as one of the best book to film transformations, simultaneously preserving the heart of the novel while parring down some of its weaker parts. Instantly memorable, it gains a new following with each subsequent generation to discover it. (M)

Amores Perros (2000) The first part of the decade featured a sudden interest in Mexican/Spanish made films, spurred on by one of the greatest of the group and decade from Babel and 21 Grams director Alejandro González Iñárritu. Iñárritu's film is a heartbreaking and complex meditation on love and violence and the places they intersect, flawlessly weaving together three different dark, disturbing stories, a precursor to his future work with multi-layered narratives that meet in the middle. Iñárritu doesn't sugarcoat or take his violence to unrealistic, un-affecting levels, but acknowledges the horrors of the world with humanity and awareness with stunning results. This film also proved the breakout role for Gael García Bernal, who shines as a man spurned by love and lost deep in the world of dog fighting. (M)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) Prior to the disastrous Hulk, Ang Lee was one of the most artistic and impressive filmmakers on the map with classics like The Ice Storm and Sense and Sensibility. But it was the Taiwanese director's return to his roots that cemented him in cinematic history. Although the flying action scenes were old hat to Asian movie goers, Lee's film marked the first time a film of this genre gained mainstream attention in the West, drawing an entirely new crowd to Asian cinema. The draw was not surprising. Lee's film is absolutely beautiful, with subtle coloring, cinematography, and story that melds to create a stunning action-packed romantic epic reminiscent of grand scale old Hollywood, but with more heart and substance. (M)

Dancer in the Dark (2000) The magic of Lars Von Trier is his unique ability to manipulate film's original purpose. Watching his films is not voyeuristic or fun, but gut wrenching and terrifying, as if your brain was plugged directly into his, able to view life's horrors through his depressive, paranoid, dark irises, unable to disconnect yourself from the pain of the world. Von Trier once said, "that life on earth, nature or man could not be a creation of a merciful God," a theme that runs throughout his films as he "tortures" his seemingly good characters. Dancer in the Dark, which stars the equally enigmatic and otherworldly Bjork (with incredible, unique original music by her as well) is one of the best representations of this uniquely Von Trier quality, in which he transforms the concept of film musical fantasy into outright, unrelenting disparity and cruelty against an innocent woman bent only on keeping her son from going blind. It's so personal, so heartbreaking, it will stay with you for days in a way that most other films could not achieve. (M)

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (2000): Jim Jarmusch, one of indie-cinema's reigning kings, hit the nail on the muthafuckin' head when he cast the impeccable Forest Whitaker in what may arguably be his most wryly entertaining film. Ghost Dog is sort of the actual filmic representation of the heart that beats beneath hip hop. It's clever, deconstructing gangster and samurai films and taking them to the streets of America. Culture clashes, racial deconstruction, the constant battle between philosophical intuitiveness and violence, Jarmusch pulls from a variety of influences and puts together something as surprising as it is stunning. (WD)

Gladiator (2000) Ridley Scott's film not only made Russel Crowe a leading man, but also resurrected the once ubiquitous Hollywood staple of the historical epic. Scott kept all the great aspects of epic cinema with a sprawling, grand story (more the stuff of archetypal heroes than indie intricacies) and larger than life performances by Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Oliver Reed, and Djimon Hounsou. But instead of falling back on the stale stateliness of old, Scott's vision was paradoxically both visceral and surreal, the simple shot of Maximus' hand running through flowering grain in his homeland or the beauty of falling snow, evoking more emotion than any of the rousing speeches before a battle. (M)

High Fidelity (2000) Comedies, especially those with a romantic bent, are almost always lacking in heart, even if they claim to be focused on matters involving it. But Stephen Frears lovely reworking of Nick Hornby's cult contemporary novel about record store snobs is one that's able to make you laugh, cry, and relate without a barrage of gross out jokes. Rob (the wonderful John Cusack) and his cohorts (Jack Black in his star making and greatest role) are guys deep in the midst of soul searching but also ones you'd want to hang out with, greatly opposed to the immature rabble of Judd Apatow's filmography which has been dominating our comedy scene of late. I'm not a hater, in fact you will find Apatow on this list, but sometimes it's nice to see a character that isn't reluctantly forced to grow-up and loses himself in the process. Instead, Rob is witty, sharp, and fully realized in the end. It's a sweet film that will leave you with a big smile on your face, and a sudden need to re-categorize your dvd and music collection. (M)

In the Mood for Love (2000) The films of Kar Wai Wong inhabit a special emotional and physical space that makes them feel both alien and comfortingly familiar. This unique perspective, combined with the lush warmth that emanates from each carefully composed shot and the luxurious pacing of the film, slowly intoxicate the viewer, creating a mirror emotion of the seduction and chemistry between Chow Mo-wan (the understated Tony Leung in perhaps his best role) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung). Proving himself the master of moods, Wong's masterpiece is an example of flawless movie making in which every piece from lighting to music to performance weaves into perfection and magic. (M)

Memento (2000) In the wake of Dark Knight, everyone seems to have forgotten that Christopher Nolan wrote and directed this masterful suspense thriller, marking his mainstream debut and paving the way for future success (and large Batman worthy budgets). Although the narrative momentum rests on the shocking revelation at the end, the unostentatious performances, editing, and solid construction prevent this unique story from drifting into cheesy gimmicks ala M. Night Shaymalan. Excellent filmmaking aside, the story itself is one of the most haunting tales ever told, the combo of surprise and Leonard's odd behavior and marked body unforgettable, a truly shocking moment on screen. (M)

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