Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

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, heard a crane fall onto my friend's bar, my dog was 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?

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)

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)

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.

Directed by Jody Hill

"Naturally the critics at large are split down the middle (RT gives it a 51%) but for my money, OBSERVE AND REPORT should be praised as a black comic masterpiece, a satire of the American masculine character, the DR. STRANGELOVE to THE WRESTLER's FAIL-SAFE. The reason it wont be compared that way is because most critics let marketing, set and setting, sway them: THE WRESTLER came out with big Oscar buzz: the Micky Rourke comeback story; OBSERVE AND REPORT comes out with PAUL BLART: MALL COP still in theaters, and all the baggage of the momentarily overexposed Rogen-Apatow hit machine clogging the carousel, so people expect a grungy gross-out comedy with a heart of gold. What they get is a heart of darkness, the APOCALYPSE NOW for the war in Iraq. It's characters like Ronnie whom our big dumb war is meant for. Their raging violent streak needs an outlet, and its better to just give them guns and send them far far away. War gets them out of their parent's house... war belongs to them, was made to serve that American muttonheaded drive to chew bubble gum and kick ass, the devil take the consequences and civilian casualties." - A Travis for our Times

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 within the very substance of the clouds, 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 Quentin Tarantino

"Tarantino earns his stripes upsetting the enthroned patriarchal “liberal”– how dare some film geek expose our lack of familiarity with the origins and meanings of the medium which we profess to be experts on!?!?! The only competition Tarantino has in his use of silent movie psychology, pre-pre-code old testament vengeance and amniotic incestuousness, is Guy Maddin and Lars Von Trier, so it’s interesting the ANTICHRIST is so linked with BASTERDS as far as knee-jerk hatred in the current press zeitgeist. The old guard critics are too busy manning the canon to realize their complicity in the banality of cinema as it exists today, how they are responsible for the the way “art” films bend and kowtow to the limited range of the bourgeoisie, banning all mentions of emperors and new clothes. Knowing as they do almost nothing about early cinema (silent movies are BORING, yo!) the average critic of today seems to have forgotten that the social mores they take as a given were fobbed onto them by a raving anti-semite named Joe Breen in 1934. When Tarantino or Von Trier come at them with ideas from the old testament of cinema, those on the new testament throne get indignant. Ultimately BASTERDS is the best film about Old Testament vengeance since DOGVILLE. If you don’t like to see Jews with guns, don’t go to the movies, or Israel for that matter, where hot chicks in fatigues and machine guns aboundeth!" (Bright Lights - "What is it about this sign that disturbs you, Marnie?" (Tarantino Vs. J. Rosenbaum)

And what about Wes Anderson's underrated DARJEELING LIMITED? Sofia Coppola's LOST IN TRANSLATION and Jody Hill's OBSERVE AND REPORT? SCIENCE OF SLEEP, THE HOLY GIRL, BIRTH...

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!!


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