Monday, January 4, 2010

Love & Squalor's 100 Most Influential of the Decade Pt. 3, 22-32

Moulin Rouge! (2001) Few directors actually maximize film as a medium to express visual art, but in Rouge!, Baz Lurhmann takes it to immeasurable levels of brilliance, each shot dense with incredible detail, as if you'd plunged directly into a Toulouse-Lautrec painting led hand in hand by the green fairy herself. Luhrmann, whose influences for his spectacular spectacular stem from an obsession with Bollywood during a trip to India, a devotion to bringing the musical back into vogue, and the story of Eurydice and Orpheus, goes beyond the visual groundbreaking, but also combines modern music, making it his own as he says, "to decode what the Moulin Rouge was to the audiences of 1899 and express that same thrill and excitement in a way to which contemporary movie-goers can relate." Well done sir. (M)

Mulholland Dr. (2001) Perhaps the epitome of all that is David Lynch, Mulholland Dr. crosses the typical boundaries between film, art, and audience. Once a television pilot with no official planned ending, it's terrifying and engaging because it doesn't tell you anything, giving a first time viewer nothing to grasp fully in terms of plot or foundation, so closely mimicking the familiar dream state we all experience that it puts you immediately on edge. And yet it's liberating. Once you realize that it's not worth trying to make sense of and give yourself over to Lynch's surreal masterpiece as you would your own ambiguous nightmares, it comes together, reaching the inner sanctum of your mind, haunting you for days. It doesn't matter if you understand the intricacies fully, just that you feel it. (M)

Ocean's 11 (2001) Steven Soderbergh's stylish, smooth as Sinatra's voice remake of the original Rat Pack classic, officially launched the career of modern day Cary Grant George Clooney, and proved that the skilled dramatic director could conquer any genre, from thriller to comedy. A sleek, master work that showcases an ensemble cast full of some of Hollywood's biggest talents, it's one of the greatest heist movies ever made. In the hands of a lesser director, the film could have drifted into the typical and the cheesy, but Soderbergh's inherent style and class keep it modern and classy. (M)

The Piano Teacher (La Pianiste) (2001) Director Michael Haneke of Funny Games and Cache is not a shrinking violet of a filmmaker, content to bring out the worst in humanity in some of the hardest ways to watch on screen. But out of all of his films, The Piano Teacher is arguably one of his darkest, but also his most human, and thus his most engaging study of masochism and evil. Piano teacher Ericka (the always stunning and forceful Isabelle Huppert) is reaching middle age, alone, living with her mother, and unsuccessful as a real musician, despite her impressive harsh resolve. But as she becomes involved with one of her students, her world begins to collapse into depravity far beyond her penchant for voyeurism and her unhealthy relationship with her mother. The film is expertly fascinating, aided by Haneke's manipulation of film as tool of voyeurism itself and Huppert's incredible performance, making it impossible not to see Ericka and everyone else in the film for that matter, as real, living breathing characters with just as much depth and endless dark appeal. (M)

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) You may have noticed a trend on this list by now. Those filmmakers that have made it create a world, a vision, and a style uniquely their own, in addition to telling a damn good story. It was this film that cemented Wes Anderson as a truly unique visionary worthy of classic status, the full realization of the potential he showed in Rushmore and Bottle Rocket. Tenenbaums is a gorgeous collaboration of sets, music, and costuming, that brings Anderson's truly unique characters and physical space into the flesh, allowing somewhat wooden or "put on" actors like Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Stiller to cease to exist as themselves in order to become someone new, a fact that proves Anderson's astonishing skill as a director who does his job and makes his actors act. Anderson is known for being difficult to work with, his obsessive tendencies working in full force to manifest his vision, but it's worth it, the opening of the film like the opening of a grandiose play, setting the retro stage for the drama and the laughs to come. Nobody can make a movie feel lived in, comfortable, and yet surreal like Anderson. (We can also thank him and this movie for creating a new sub-genre of people known as hipsters).(M)

Spirited Away (2001) Hayao Miyazaki is one of Japan's greatest imports to the U.S., and like Pixar, one of the only claims to quality that Disney (who dubbed the film for U.S. audiences and somehow attached itself) has left. Miyazaki is not only the master of softly water-colored animation, but also the master of creating worlds teeming with fascinating beasties and creatures, at their most inventive and lush in this film. Although he'd been making films for decades (My Neighbor Totoro was on repeat at my house growing up) Spirited Away marked mainstream America's first big crush on Miyazaki and turned him into a household name. One of the coolest things about him? The evil in his stories is never quite the black and white of Little Mermaid's Sea Witch, but is just misunderstood, making them even more interesting and complex, especially here. (M)

Chicago (2002) Rob Marshall's musical and film debut was a solid one that with the help of Moulin Rouge!, brought American audiences back to musicals. Although not particularly innovative at first glance, the film is the perfect straight adaption of the classic Fosse musical, the slight edge that cinema has over stage in fantastical polish giving it just the right amount of sparkle.What does stand out about Marshall's retelling is his inspired casting. I don't think anyone really believed that he could pull it off with the likes of Renee Zellwegger, Richard Gere, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, but it proved an excellent surprise. As much as I hate to admit it (after working during its run at movie theater that played it for months I can't handle any more razzle dazzle!) but in the very least, Chicago is just plain, solid fun. (Too bad he couldn't pull it off again with Nine.) (M)

City of God (2002) Director Fernando Meirelles' intimate look at Rio's favelas is both beautiful and hard to watch. Instead of working off of subconscious judgments and presumptions, Meirelles allows his characters to flow through the story and the slums, never flat or caricatured. Each has darkness and desperation but also humanity and heart, giving the complex stories of each full depth and range without feeling too heavy or preachy. The setting itself (filmed on location in Rio) is shown through a similar lens, at times beautiful and even idyllic, at others, brutal and horrifying. Combined with the rich cinematography and quick editing, it gives the film a life of its own, entirely raw, compelling, and visceral in a way not matched by many. (M)

Far From Heaven (2002) 50's melodrama is a strange mix of artifice and bare emotion, something that Todd Hayne's Douglas Sirk homage does better than his idol. Frozen in time and technicolor, Far From Heaven is so stunningly beautiful its hard to tear your eyes away, and almost so distracting that you may miss the depths below the surface on the first viewing. But even without the imagery, the film packs impressive performances from Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid (big surprise for me, a DQ hater), and Dennis Haysbert, who are so skilled, raw, and subtle, it's nearly impossible to see them acting, even when they leave their comfort zones. It's so perfectly done, and so perfect a study of a specific time period you forget you're watching a movie, and simply live with the people on screen. (M)

Russian Ark (2002) Unfortunately,  it's hard to find many people that remember this groundbreaking Russian film that wowed critics and accomplished something filmmakers had been trying for decades. Floating through the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg with ghostly grace, the entire 90 minute film was shot without a cut or edit, an astonishing feat considering that the film has over 2,000 actors and moves through 33 rooms. The innovative editing, or lack there of, is the perfect foil for the dreamlike story, which traces important events in Russian history through the eyes of the narrator, a "ghost" and his companion "The European" who are sometimes acknowledged, and sometimes ignored by the inhabitants of the room. With a stunning, surprising ending, the film is an experience that uses innovations in technology to tell an innovative story. (M)

Secretary (2002) It's nearly impossible to develop a "romcom" that's fresh and actually contains raw chemistry and emotion, but Stephen Shainberg's hopeful black romantic comedy does just that, surprising you, before it grips your heart and holds on tight. You won't find another movie in which you murmur "Aww!" during a scene of sexual domination. The story, which traverses the sadomasochistic office romance between cutter Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal finally in a role she can do something with) and her new boss, lawyer Mr. Grey (James Spader), is handled with grace and real emotion, when it easily could have become the perverse or the exploitative film you expect it to be. Holloway and Grey are always equals, despite their sexual proclivities, each feeding off the other in acts of true love that by the end, feel sweet and endearing. Spader and Gyllenhaal who sizzle with chemistry, are a big part of bringing a realistic, hopeful interpretation to screen, while strange set pieces and costumes give them an intimate world to inhabit, and creates a timeless air and a free-form, subtly strange feel. (M)

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