Thursday, 17 June 2010

My Top Ten Films of the Previous Decade (2000-2009)

So a) I don't usually do this kind of thing and, b) I've technically retired from film journalism but my good old buddy Robert Beames (read his version here) has managed to convince me to write up a top ten list for the last decade. I decided to have no rules (I didn't choose one for each year or decide I had to cover each genre etc.), except one; these films had to really connect with me on a personal level. This was a really hard task, especially since I could only choose ten films but I'm confident that it's reflective of my taste and, by extension, myself. Without further ado, the list (which is in no particular order) is as follows:

1. Control (2007, Anton Corbijn)
I'll admit it; before seeing this film I'd never given Joy Division the attention they so fully deserved and I was unfamiliar with the full extent of front man Ian Curtis' life and history. Control is far more than just a film about an indie band though; it's funny, moving, exquisitely shot and amazingly acted modern masterpiece of British cinema. It's not surprising in the least to find that Corbijn was a world famous photographer before he began directing as his black and white photography in the film is among the best I have ever seen (and adds much to the tone of the film). It had such an enormous impact upon me that upon leaving the cinema I actually couldn't speak for five whole minutes. Can't fault that soundtrack either. ;)

2. Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch)
Unfortunately I hadn't gotten into David Lynch when this was released in theatres but it's impact wasn't tainted in the least by catching up with it on home video. I'm a massive David Lynch fan in general (but was fairly disappointed with INLAND EMPIRE) and I'd be hard pressed to decide between Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man or this as my favourite of his. Mulholland Drive is, as with most Lynch, a wonderfully stylised head-fuck but it still elicits strong emotional responses from the audience (and a work-out-able narrative structure, so long as you're going along with the common consensus). Lynch's bitter sweet love letter to the movie industry is essential cinema and is up there with the likes of Sunset Blvd. and Vertigo.

3. Hunger (2008, Steve McQueen)
Hunger is another one of those films where I knew next to nothing about the factual events it depicted but one which (just as in Control) doesn't condemn or worship it's morally complex historical figures. Hunger is a harsh film but the music, cinematography and mise-en-scene all combine to create a beautifully haunting atmosphere which had me completely entranced from start to finish. Michael Fassbender, playing the central role of Bobby Sands, is also sublime, especially in the ten minute one-shot heated debate between him and a Catholic priest. As with most films focusing on the IRA or 'troubles' in Ireland it's got a lot of negative things to say about the British but if this film is any indication then I'd don't blame them.

4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Michel Gondry)
Gondry's second effort with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (choosing one Kaufman film for this list was also an especially hard task) is one of the few romantic films that I can truly, and I mean truly identify with. It's honest, unashamed and so full of heartfelt affection that it breaks (and mends) my heart each and every time I see it. The film also cleverly plays with ideas of memory and dream states both in it's style and narrative.The striking visual style and post-modern tone felt original and fresh (and still does, for that matter) and it's true brilliance is that in the hands of many other film-makers it could have easily overshadowed the emotional connection between the audience and it's characters. Who knew Jim Carrey could deliver such a devastatingly dramatic performance?

5. Requiem for a Dream (2000, Darren Aronofsky)
Yes I know it's only really saying one thing, that drugs can fuck you up, but since when has that been a bad thing? It's the way in which the film translates this message, and the different circumstances which in which it makes this point (do NOT trust your doctor if he prescribes you diet pills), which really make it stand out. Requiem is a true force of cinematic nature; it starts fairly off-kilter and builds and builds until it violently rapes the majority of your senses during it's final moments (in the best way possible). This is another film which is heavy on style (utilising sound design and editing to create a distinctive atmosphere which is at times exhilarating and others extremely terrifying) but not at the expense of dramatic heft. It also features a score so good it was used in about a million different trailers after it's release and includes a master class in acting from Ellen Burstyn (who was completely and utterly robbed of her Oscar).

6. The Squid & the Whale (2005, Noah Baumbach)
It's very rare that I watch a film and literally feel like someone has just taken my life and put it to celluloid but The Squid & the Whale (along with Nil By Mouth, which was unfortunately released in '97) is one of those films. It chronicles the breakup of husband and wife with the focus squarely on the children. Lies, emotional manipulation and continuous confusion are the order of the day and seldom have I seen these emotions so honestly put to screen. It's not an overly depressing film but neither does it sugar-coat events (don't let the tone of the trailer fool you) and there are also some hilarious moments throughout. Jeff Daniels puts in a career best and it also features Jesse Eisenberg before he got annoyingly typecast.

7. The Virgin Suicides (2000, Sofia Coppola)
Sofia Coppola's debut (although her second film, Lost in Translation, could have easily been on this list) is, put simply, serenely hypnotising. The superb soundtrack by French electro-pop duo Air, narrative pace and stunning cinematography combine to create what I can only describe as the most beautiful yet tainted dream you'll ever not have. Suicides details the suicide of four teenage girls who were living in 1970s suburbia. The film prefers to focus on the smaller details of the girls' coming of age (instead of delivering melodramatic moments at a fast pace) whilst their overprotective, overly religious and old fashioned mother tries to cocoon their innocence. The story is told from the perspective of a group of boys from the neighbourhood who become enamoured with the girls and the way the film conveys their fascination with, awe at, and lack of understanding of the girls is pitch perfect.

8. Elephant (2003, Gus Van Sant)
Again, it was hard to choose between this and Van Sant's later film, Paranoid Park, but the fact that these events (Elephant is essentially a fictional re-telling of the Columbine High School massacre) actually happened make it far more harrowing. Most of the film is spent following around several high school students in what seems to be the average day. Van Sant's depiction of this average high school day is the most realistic and engaging one I have ever seen which makes the final thirty minutes all the more shocking and emotionally affecting. It also helps that, although all unknowns (and this was most definitely a wise casting decision), the actors playing these teenagers are extremely believable in their roles. It's hard to properly describe exactly why I love this film so much but, along with what I've already stated, it just gives off an amazing atmosphere that completely and utterly sucks you in.

9. Donnie Darko (2001, Richard Kelly)
There's so much bad air surrounding Donnie Darko (the emo associations, the director's cut, the direct-to-DVD sequel and Kelly's subsequently terrible films for starters) that it's easy to forget how brilliant this film really is. Not only is Donnie Darko a really interesting sci-fi mystery (I'll be the first to admit I still don't completely understand the film) but it's also one of the best coming of age films we've seen for a long time. The 80s setting is perfect for this (as is the accompanying soundtrack) as we see Donnie struggle with inner demons, family relations, difficulties at school and lest we forget, first love. It's also a film with a lot to say about suburbia and middle class lifestyles (the fact that he opening scene is highly reminiscent of Blue Velvet's is no mistake) as Donnie encounters all manner of dark secrets hidden underneath the white picket fences which litter his neighbourhood.

10. Children of Men (2006, Alfonso Cuarón)
From the very first scene of Children of Men, you know it's going to pull no punches in it's depiction of a dystopian future in which women can no longer bear children. And and I'm a sucker for dystopian futures. The brilliance of the film is that the future portrayed is a tangible one. No one's running around in flying cars or shooting death rays out of their eyes. It's an ugly, violent, dirty and above all, real world which the audience can relate to. The way the film uses this backdrop to bring up the issues of today (immigration, over population, police corruption and brutality) is scarily on the mark in that you can see it happening. The documentary style employed by Cuarón, in particular the breathtaking long shots, also help to convey this grim sense of what could be and the action sequences are second to none.

So in conclusion it seems I have a massive hard-on for American indie coming of age films set in the suburbs and depressing Brit flicks. Here are some films (not already mentioned) that just missed the cut:

District 9, Memento, You, Me and Everyone We Know, Bloody Sunday, The Woodsman, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Half Nelson, The Royal Tenenbaums, Quiet City, Rachel Getting Married, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Pan’s Labyrinth
and Junebug.


Robert Beames said...

Great list! I especially liked the mention of Rachel Getting Married in those that "missed the cut". I forgot that one. Could easily have been in my list.

I need to try and see all the films you like that I've missed.

typejunky said...

Nice work Dennis, half-a-dozen in agreement, two hmms, and two not seen thems, made me want to watch a couple again too.