Archive for the ‘2000's’ Category

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It’s come to this…a list.

December 2, 2009

Top 50 Films of the Decade*

  1. Beau travail (directed by Claire Denis, a French production, released in 2000)
  2. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, U.S., 2007)
  3. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, U.S., 2001)
  4. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Edward Yang / 楊德昌, Taiwan, 2000)
  5. In the Mood for Love / 花樣年華 (Wong Kar-wai / 王家衛, Hong Kong, 2000)
  6. Werckmeister Harmonies / Werckmeister harmóniák (Béla Tarr, Hungary, 2001)
  7. Syndromes and a Century / แสงศตวรรษ (Apichatpong Weerasethakul / อภิชาติพงศ์ วีระเศรษฐกุล, Thailand, 2006)
  8. Elephant (Gus Van Sant, U.S., 2003)
  9. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, U.S., 2001)
  10. Far from Heaven (Todd Haynes, U.S., 2002)
  11. 25th Hour (Spike Lee, U.S., 2002)
  12. Y tu mamá también (Alfonso Cuarón, Mexico, 2001)
  13. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, U.S., 2004)
  14. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, U.S., 2005)
  15. Summer Hours / L’Heure d’été (Olivier Assayas, France, 2009)
  16. Pan’s Labyrinth / El Laberinto del Fauno (Guillermo del Toro, Mexico, 2006)
  17. No Country for Old Men (Joel and Ethan Coen, U.S., 2007)
  18. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, written by Charlie Kaufman, U.S., 2004)
  19. L’Enfant (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium, 2005)
  20. Hunger (Steve McQueen, Ireland, 2008)
  21. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, U.K., 2008)
  22. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog, U.S., 2005)
  23. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days / 4 luni, 3 săptămâni şi 2 zile (Cristian Mungiu, Romania, 2007)
  24. Wall•E (Andrew Stanton, U.S., 2008)
  25. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, U.S., 2003)
  26. Memories of Murder / 살인의 추억 (Bong Joon-ho / 봉준호, South Korea, 2003)
  27. Zodiac (David Fincher, U.S., 2007)
  28. Everyone Else / Alle Anderen (Maren Ade, Germany, 2009)
  29. Letters from Iwo Jima/Flags of Our Fathers (Clint Eastwood, U.S., 2006)
  30. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, U.S., 2006)
  31. 35 Shots of Rum / 35 Rhums (Claire Denis, France, 2009)
  32. The War Tapes (Deborah Scranton, U.S., 2006)
  33. The Son / Le Fils (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium, 2002)
  34. Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, U.S., 2002)
  35. The Wind Will Carry Us (Abbas Kiarostami / عباس کیارستمی, Iran, 2000)
  36. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, produced by Stanley Kubrick, U.S., 2001)
  37. Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood, U.S., 2008)
  38. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, U.S., 2009)
  39. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, U.S., 2009)
  40. Adaptation (Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, U.S., 2002)
  41. Russian Ark / Русский ковчег (Alexander Sokurov / Алекса́ндр Никола́евич Соку́ров, Russia, 2002)
  42. The Flight of the Red Balloon / Le voyage du ballon rouge (Hou Hsiao-Hsien / 侯孝賢, France, 2008)
  43. The House of Mirth (Terence Davies, U.K., 2000)
  44. The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu / Moartea domnului Lăzărescu (Cristi Puiu, Romania, 2005)
  45. Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, U.S., 2008)
  46. The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, U.S., 2005)
  47. Up (Pete Docter and Bob Peterson, U.S., 2009)
  48. Gosford Park (Robert Altman, U.S., 2002)
  49. Caché / Hidden (Michael Haneke, France, 2005)
  50. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (Spike Lee, U.S., 2006)

*One rule: films with a general release pre-dating 2000 are not eligible.

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“Far From Heaven,” dir. Todd Haynes

October 15, 2009
Dennis Haysbert (Raymond Deagan) and Julianne Moore (Cathy Whitaker)

Dennis Haysbert (Raymond Deagan) and Julianne Moore (Cathy Whitaker)

Going in, the concept felt odd. Unlike Fassbinder (who re-worked Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows into his own masterpiece, Ali: Fear Eats The Soul), Haynes retains the look and feel of Sirk’s films right down to the smallest detail. The result is neither derivative nor an ironic statement – it’s a loving homage that’s every bit as rich as its sources. And yet even as it keeps all the artifice and heightened drama of those pictures, it’s even more affecting.

The story is a classic portrayal of 1950s suburbia: societal rules suffocates true passions, and it covers them in alluring, manufactured surfaces. Everyone knows their place, to the point that they’re accessories to their own clothes. It’s easy to peg this to a bygone era (and understandably so, considering how impeccably it’s been recreated), but as devoted as the film is to the period’s detail, it never betrays a hint of condescension. Everything is relevant today. Laws and societal conventions may have changed, but the feelings of conformity, the importance given to appearances, and the cost of living in self-denial behind such pretenses have not gone away.

And those costs are all the more tragic by how much is self-inflicted. As tormented as Frank is about his homosexuality, he becomes far more furious when Cathy’s seen around town with Raymond. Believing her innocence is not enough, it’s how they’re perceived that really matters.

Given the importance of appearances to this story, the meticulous production is not only appropriate but very impressive. It’s marvelous to look at, and one gets the sense of the director’s hand in every detail, a misguided notion that’s really a testament to the outstanding collaborative work on display.

Cathy meets Raymond's daughter, Sarah

Cathy meets Raymond's daughter, Sarah

Sandy Powell deserves recognition for Moore’s costume designs alone. Notice how they hint at an inner kinship between Cathy and Raymond’s daughter, Sarah; how a purple dress can isolate her in her own world, then beautifully blend her in to a new one; and later how they swallow her up in public anonymity. All of this works in tandem with Haynes and Lachman’s virtuosic use of color, which do more to define these characters than the dialogue itself. In two key moments, the startling use of green breaks up the visual and behavioral status quo. In another, Cathy, too distraught to speak, is frozen in a tiny sheet of blue. And later, when she hangs on to a marriage that can only slip away, bursts of autumnal warmth scurry through a shot cast in deep, cold blue. This is possibly the best use of color since three-strip went out of fashion, and it needs to be seen in a good theater.

"Far From Heaven"

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“Le voyage du ballon rouge”/”The Flight of the Red Balloon,” dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsien

October 12, 2009

"The Flight of the Red Balloon"

Not as audacious or as rich as Hou’s best work, but rewarding all the same. As gorgeous as, say, Christopher Doyle or Roger Deakins’ work can be, the cinematography here is even more impressive, absolutely stunning in the way complex, layered compositions are captured in the most ordinary settings. The way sunlight reflects over a train window, or how reflections frame the characters inside a café…These aren’t fabrications or alterations rooted in the filmmakers’ imaginations, they’re the result of phenomenal observational skills, and it’s all done with a naturalist aesthetic, using the most basic tools. (Only the obvious tricks involving the reappearing balloon betray any post-production trickery, a fact Hou sardonically acknowledges in the film.)

And like most of Hou’s work, this is a film built around subtle moments – small, fleeting expressions that reveal so much. During one crucial scene – played out in a long, well-orchestrated take – Juliette Binoche’s character, Suzanne, is overwhelmed and nearly pushed to collapse. The payoff comes after the flood of action leading up to that moment, when we witness the gradual changes in Suzanne’s face as she slips away from breakdown and dissolves into contentment, a sea change of emotion in what’s otherwise a slow, uneventful minute. (If you’re not fluent in French, it’s even worth seeing again without the necessary distraction of subtitles.)

Juliette Binoche (Suzanne) in "The Flight of the Red Balloon"

Juliette Binoche (Suzanne) in "The Flight of the Red Balloon"

There’s no escaping the strains that continue to chip away at Suzanne – her husband has been away for years, she has tenant problems and the separation from her daughter is also taking its toll. But she always finds her way back, through her work, through what she sees in Simon (shielded in childhood from the adult pressures she faces) and most importantly through Simon’s babysitter, Song, who’s appropriately enough a Chinese film graduate, making her a virtual stand-in for Hou…

Which brings me to the balloon: unlike the original French short, the actual red balloon in this picture keeps its distance. When it pops up, it’s usually seen outside a window, like an observer. It’s a perfect metaphor for the sensibilities at work here, of one culture gliding through another, and the comfort one now brings to the other.

By the end of the film, art seems to be treasured as a way of capturing something precious and ephemeral, whether it’s those gorgeous visuals I mentioned earlier or a sense of ease that needs to be preserved.

"The Flight of the Red Balloon"

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“Happy-Go-Lucky,” dir. Mike Leigh

September 5, 2009
Sally Hawkins as Poppy in "Happy-Go-Lucky"

Sally Hawkins as Poppy in "Happy-Go-Lucky"

Unrelenting sunniness can be very irritating. At first glance, it can come off as unnatural, most likely forced, and given closer scrutiny, it can be much worse. For some who insist upon acting in a state of perpetual cheeriness, it can feel smug – an enforced disconnect with the rest of the world, self-serving in the way it fosters one’s own gratification without engaging others beyond a superficial level.

The great beauty of this film is how Poppy is none of these things. Characters like her court disaster, especially when they comprise an entire picture, but Sally Hawkins and filmmaker Mike Leigh have created someone that’s bright and engaging as she is rich and complex.

Eddie Marsan and Sally Hawkins in "Happy-Go-Lucky"

Eddie Marsan and Sally Hawkins in "Happy-Go-Lucky"

The film has certainly drawn its share of detractors, but I don’t think they’re giving Poppy enough credit. There’s nothing insular about her nature – her blissful disposition is marked by a deep curiousity towards others, one devoid of condescension. It’s especially clear in key private moments, when there’s no one else but her and someone she doesn’t easily relate to. She puts up no walls and rarely treats anyone like a peripheral figure merely passing through her life.

In what’s possibly the oddest, most memorable scene of the whole film, a rambling vagrant is neither the subject of open amusement or something to be avoided. Her curiousity towards him becomes as much about caring as anything else. It’s these people, the “difficult” ones, that she ultimately connects with, or at least tries to with absolute sincerity, and the same quality in her gives full weight to the picture’s climax, when a complete lout’s heartache is actually felt as real tragedy.

Happy-Go-Lucky may seem atypical of Mike Leigh, better-known for dark, brutal masterpieces like Naked and Secrets & Lies, but the harsh lessons in those films make this one possible. Real happiness doesn’t exist in a vacuum, nor does it get forced into being. Its realization is a road marked by pain, not just one’s own but others’ as well. For Poppy to acknowledge that and, in her kindest moments, to reach out to those lost in darkness is a remarkable display of compassion, the kind that’s always in need but rarely asked for.

Alexis Zegerman and Sally Hawkins in "Happy-Go-Lucky"