Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 1987

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top Ten of the Decade - 2000-2010

I had a good time this decade! Sin and sensation abounded and alternated with austere sanctimoniousness. My old boss escaped from prison in Brazil, I got divorced, had scandalous affairs, became enlightened, disillusioned, dizzy, co-starred in AA THE MUSICAL, found true love and the glory of chemical psychiatry, watched a crane fall onto my friend's bar, flaming death from the sky, a dog is born, job I worked, ocean I slept and then took a nap in between, and seen pictures.

The films here mesh beauty and ugly, truth and illusion, and generally have actors I like or love or sometimes generally can't stand! Most of these entries come with a quote from an older blog, unless I never wrote about it before, and a lot of times if I really, really dig a film, I don't write about it, as if afraid I'd dim the magic of it for myself or perhaps just realized I was or am simply not up to the task. Truly great movies make commentary seem almost superfluous, don't they, Paul Bettany?

1. DOGVILLE (2003)
Directed by Lars Von Trier

"A condemnation of the hypocrisy of the New Testament by way of Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals. One needs a certain amount of pop culture history to understand this chthonic purging, as if no cinema after D.W. Griffith exists. Lillian Gish turned out to be Jesus in disguise, and after all her frenzied prayers didn't save her virgin honor, she decided to burn the world down. It's Frances Farmer having her revenge on Seattle, as Kurt Cobain once prayed for. Nicole Kidman here represents all the vengeful icons ever idolized to the point where their unwashed fans ripped their clothes. I left the theater feeling like a century's worth of crud had been laser-surgically removed from my eyes." (Popmatters, 03)

 4. MULHOLLAND DR. (2001)
Directed by David Lynch

If it's too weird, just remember: it's all the same soul, ever-dividing and re-aligning itself. If the cowboy looks at you twice, you're done and whatever contract you take out on someone is really always on yourself, bro. Lynch actually illustrates the impossible-to-illustrate process of multiple life/death Buddhist reincarnation. We eventually become the recipient of all our kindness or cruelty, the way the Moebius strip connects two sides into one endless road, and that whatever we do, it's already happened.  Just as we can see the future, the future can see us. Somewhere far ahead on the timeline, we're watching it all happen as ghost shadows on the wall.

Directed by Lucretia Martel

In THE HEADLESS WOMAN, the (possible) amnesiac is Veronica (Maria Onetto), a dentist in a small Argentine town. Wherever she goes people know just who she is, or seem to, and someone seems to be cleaning up her past behind her as she goes. Her amnesia begins when she hits her head on the roof of her car after running over... something, either a dog or a small boy - she can't trust herself to remember, and as the film goes on, we don't know what her game is --is she playing dumb, in a fugue state, pretending she's got amnesia in case anyone's watching. What first looks like a cop digging up bodies on the side of the road turns out to be a plumber digging up a clogged pipe; the droning dissonance of pop songs on the radio seem halfway to being haunting ghost voices in her head, they almost seem to accuse her. In one of the greatest scenes she hides out in a bathroom in the hospital and neither she nor we quite realize the nurses barging in are not after her at all. The only thing we do know: director-writer Lucretia Martel is a friggin' genius. (more)

Directed by Michel Gondry
"When the shattering of the mirrors comes, at first it feels glorious and freeing. Later we come home damaged by defeat, or torn by obsessive fall-out from petty triumphs. What is this ego shattering moment for you? What is it that splinters your sense of self and time so that for the rest of your life you long to gaze into those shattered shards just one more time? Maybe it’s the moment you finally got a chance to tell the one you truly love how you feel and she wasn’t into you. Or maybe you realize that the girl you thought you were in love with years ago, you really weren’t. It was just that she was so gorgeous, and so damaged, and looked like she would fade so fast. " (Acidemic, 2006)

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

 "Men who have grown soft with unearned privilege will probably not like Lewis in THERE WILL BE BLOOD and are probably the reason Brolin's not even nominated. The return of the true king is never welcomed by the pretender to the throne. The haters thought this sort of moustached hombre long vanished. Now he's back, covered in the dirt used to bury him, but his eyes are burning through the dust with the fire of a thousand Bronsons!" (BLAD, 2/08)

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Bigelow's unflinching feminine eye for what war is shows how much damage the male psyche--man's need to prove himself against real physical danger--has suffered over the years trying to be "nice" in the long twisted, never-ending, ever-more draconian and litigious wake of early 80s PC thuggery and "bare life" fearmongering. No pain, no gain, goes the slogan --but while women are born into a cycle of menstruation and the agony of birth,  what do men get to do? No wonder they've grown anti-dirt. But our James here has passed this by; he's materialized from a breed of men that seem unfazed by the dubious comforts of peacetime (as brilliantly portrayed in a simple shot of James powerless in the face of a gigantic supermarket cereal aisle). (3/7/10 - more here)

7. AMER (2009)
Directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani

Until mon Amer there's always been a weird dissonance, a grinding disagreement, between the iconography of experimental film and narrative film, even in Europe, where art doesn't have to be framed and velvet roped the way it does here. A mirror to this twin dissonance might be found between the Jungian anima and the Mulveyan male gaze, between Jess Franco's 1967 Succubus, let's say, and Lucretia Martel's The Headless Woman. But Amer brings to this twin dissonance (experimental vs. narrative / male fantasies about what girls dream vs. female artist's impressions of girls dreaming about men) a twin serpent DNA lover's frequency that harmonizes all those dissonant tones, and the resulting unified field harmony expands wider and wider until it envelops and entrains other dissonances, widening its wave until even the most ideal sympathetic response to the film is swamped and carried off ever outward into space until the floor rises up to meet you like a hugging tree.

8. THE HOLY GIRL (2004)
Directed by Lucretia Martel

Another one I never wrote about. I know a film's good when I can't even begin to write about it. Ahead of its time and ably capturing a sense of intimacy and texture that is totally Argentine in a way America needs to learn for itself, or become Catholic in mind as well as deed. Imagine Altman-style seamless ensemble overlap and a Bressonian feel of gloriously unglorious martyrdom. Her THE HEADLESS WOMAN might even be better, but is harder to love.

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

"The pinks and blues and whites and deep black silhouettes are all the sort of stuff many directors use to hide the flimsy material within, but in PUNCH-DRUNK's case, it is the material, the style shapes and frames and focuses and blurs until we recognize that pure art is the way to shift attention from the banal blinders-on crawl of drab social reality into the liquid present, where life is a continually moving, breathing changing force expressing itself constantly through the air, the stars and the sea and every random song select or spin of the roulette wheel. So when you see PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE even stone cold sober you can follow Anderson's breadcrumb trail right into that same candy colored universe of egoless nonjudgmental acceptance of all life as it is right here right now. In short, watching this movie gets you totally "TOASTED" on art, love, and a dizzying array of overlapping dialogue by the seven sisters, who make the witches of MACBETH seem like Girls Gone Wild." (9/09)

Directed by Michel Gondry

"Mark my words, this film will one day be regarded as highly as CITIZEN KANE and LA DOLCE VITA and PERSONA as a benchmark in art cinema, that is to say, art cinema that is accessible to the layperson and trenchant regarding genuine issues of its days and it elevates one's perceptions even as it captures the way we really think, the way we see, etc., in short Gondry has re-created and perfected "instantaneous cinema" in a manner that takes the dreams of the 1960s New Wave and art house movements and fully realizes them, even if it is in the painful service of a struggling artist in Paris longing for the intellectual girl next door, not quite fathoming the extent of his own worth, and so forth. Still, one day SLEEP, along with the tremendous ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, will be regarded as one of the true masterpieces of the new century." (BLAD, 10/2007)

And what about Wes Anderson's underrated DARJEELING LIMITED? Sofia Coppola's LOST IN TRANSLATION and Jody Hill's OBSERVE AND REPORT? And of course, Quentin and of course, BIRTH, maybe even THE WRESTLER.

But my best-of decade films had to reflect not just a freedom from bourgeois morality and unconscious status quo obedience, not just a sense of love and spiritual awakening, but deep and perfect artistry and a sublime mix of style and substance. What films leave you shaking with awakened sense of love and purpose, or of healing -- without being dull or didactic, or 'family ensemble'-driven? Of having some long unresolved inner issue suddenly solved and healed over by the power of cinema? These films showed us things we needed to see, and they rock, They've made the '10s a safer place to be unsafe in.


  1. I love your shit

  2. This is a site I hadn't dared dream of. I thought I'd seen everything. I especially enjoy the Joseph Campbell ish heroes journey perspective. Thanks for the great work!!