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November 25, 2009

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Steven Santos

The two films that I would put high up for the decade that haven't been mentioned yet: "OldBoy" and "Children of Men". If I had a list that went to 70, I'm pretty sure I would include every Park Chan-Wook film this decade except for "I'm A Cyborg".

lazarus

Glenn, the problem with A.I.'s coda isn't that it's a "happy" ending (it's happy only for David, albeit in a very twisted way), but in how Spielberg chooses to portray it. You basically have a robot sit down on his bed and blurt out a bunch of exposition, after we've already had the Blue Fairy do the same in the previous scene. If Kubrick actually had ended the film this way plot-wise, there's no way he would have done it in such a ham-fisted way that drains the mystery and energy out of the film right before it ends.

Having said that, the film is amazing anyway, and certainly deserves inclusion on your list, and I'm glad you also included Scorsese's messy, reach-for-the-sun masterpieces from this decade as well.

And of course, The Story of Marie and Julien can never get too much praise.

Dan

Of the ones I've seen, I can't agree enough with "The Fountain" and "Looney Tunes" (in fact I 90% agree with you on the ones I've seen, and I'm glad to hear "Invictus" is good), but this is the Internet, and dissent drives traffic. So let's argue about two of your selections.

"I Heart Huckabees": Not that it's a bad picture, but the message of the movie is deeply crippled by Russell's failure to develop Jude Law and Naomi Watts into anything other than strawmen. Russell wants to say something profound and instead he says something you can hear in any dorm room in America on a Saturday night, and he's annoyingly fucking smug about it while doing it. The only thing that saves it is that occasionally there are some truly inspired comedic bits.

"Zodiac": I've aired my opinion of this elsewhere, but I may as well just state that I got nothing out of this movie. It was a technically accomplished, utterly handsome A&E reenactment; I felt no insight, and most damningly no curiosity. Any feeling and emotion comes from the actors, and you can Robert Downey Jr. flipping Fincher the bird and doing his own thing (and God bless).

What would I propose for replacements? Well, far be it from me not to give anybody who disagrees with me plenty of ammo to work with:

Ang Lee's "Hulk" and "Anti-Christ", the latter if for no other reason than Lars Von Trier failed right into making the kind of dramatic horror film I've been wanting to see for years.

Zach


@ James Keepnews - A second on Y TU MAMA, and we might as well throw in CHILDREN OF MEN, as long as Cauron is getting some love.

As far as an Unforgiven debate - the ball's in your court. What's wrong with it? I've never doubted Eastwood's technical mastery - the man knows how to tell a story, but his films usually rise or fall on the strength of his collaborators, and there aren't many better living screenwriters than David Webb Peoples - and Unforgiven has to be one of the best American screenplays of the past half-century, never mind the nineties. It would be overstating the case to say that with that script and those actors (Eastwood included) a monkey could have directed it, but, well, I'd give the monkey a shot.

bill

Dan - How can you say there's no curiosity in ZODIAC? The film's practically brimming with it, to the point that curiosity becomes obsession. I'd try to make my argument stronger if I had any idea where you were coming from.

However...I'm actually with you on Lee's HULK. The only reason I didn't mention it myself is because I experienced a moment of cowardice.

James Keepnews

Ooo, Zach, many balls now tossed into my court! I haven't seen Unforgiven since I talked myself into not walking out of the theater now almost two decades ago, but my memory of the screenplay is, to put it extremely mildly, far less convinced of its half-century-towering status. About the most I can say is the mess that the will to violent vengenance wreaks in the lives of the characters is a notable break with Hollywood tradition -- and thus Clint's oeuvre -- but what of it when it's otherwise surrounded by cliches everywhere else? Overlong set-pieces, unconvincing characters/comeuppances portrayed by Jaimz Whomever and Richard Harris, and I also found the ending (spoiler alert!) intimating Munny's success post-climax to be anticlimactic at best and emerging from nothing more than your sainted Mr. Peoples' (not many better living screenwriters? Ummmm, Richard Price? Robert Towne? Rudolph Wurlitzer? Tarr/Krasnahorkai? Do you, pace The Roots, want more?) will to forced irony?

You've certainly explained your opinion where Mr. Peoples, monkeys, and some aspects of the last half-century or so are concerned -- now flip your first question around and tell me what's right with Unforgiven?

& quickly: Yay Werckmeister, Yi Yi, Éloge, Eternal Sunshine, Synecdoche ("Die"!!!!), the obscenely underappreciated Limits of Control, Tenenbaums (yay, moreover, Gene Hackman's greatest/funniest late-period performance), Che, Demonlover, Children of Men, Zodiac, doubtless many others!

Tim

Great list -- the only one missing that I really wanted to see here was MEMENTO, as devastating a depiction of the nature of memory as ETERNAL SUNSHINE. Please tell me you're not one of those people who think the backwards-moving plot is just a gimmick. I don't think I could handle that.

Matt Miller

I've always found MEMENTO to be a textbook case of the law of diminishing returns. Which, not coincidentally, I think is true of all of Nolan's movies to date.

bemo

I largely agree with your choices, GK! However, not unlike a few others, I prefer Punch-Drunk Love over There Will Be Blood and INLAND EMPIRE to Mulholland Dr.
I'd just add the strangely unloved When Strangers Appear and The Good Girl as a couple of my own faves.
Perhaps, maybe, potentially, In America.

Tom Russell

Lee's HULK was the first date me and the missus went on. I think it really would have been a good film without the stupid action sequences, which, to my mind, interrupted an actually compelling plot. And the Uber-Nolte finale is unforgivable.

I sheepishly see that a couple of the films I added that weren't on your list were on your list after all, Glenn; please chalk that up to my bad memory, as I am, after all, an old man of 27.

jwarthen

Loving Jia and Claire Denis, I am with you, cheering, that far on this list. But along with the petitions above for MASTER & COMMANDER, NEW WORLD and at least four Romanian films I can think of, I want appreciation for ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES... and Martel's THE HOLY GIRL-- can't think of a list constricted-enough for them not to be included. That's not a bad decade you got there, buddy.

Dan

@bill

" How can you say there's no curiosity in ZODIAC? "

I meant on the part of Fincher. He shows us the events but he has no interest in telling us why he bothered showing us these events, at least to my mind. Mileage, obviously, varies. Fincher is a pretty cold director to begin with, but in this movie he practically becomes Arctic. It doesn't help that his message about obsession is obvious and tiresome to me, but Fincher isn't one in the Deep Thoughts department.

@Tom Russell

"Unforgiveable?" Are you kidding me? It's an action sequence that has actual dramatic weight and meaning. It's not just a plot climax: it's a CHARACTER climax. That alone puts it in a class by itself. Part of the reason I love "Hulk" is that it's not afraid to be both an action movie and an art movie.

Although it is extremely interesting, the cult that's formed around this movie. It makes me wonder if a reappreciation of it will happen at some point. I hope so.

DUH

A great list. But am I really only the second person in this thread to question the exclusion of The New World?

Tom Russell

I'm not kidding; I think the Nolte-turns-into-electric-storm-man-thing was kinda ridiculous. Granted, I haven't seen the film since it came out, but my experience with it was-- wow, this is really interesting, oh, here comes the Hulk to punch something. Oh, it's interesting again, I want to find out what's behind that door-- oh, let's turn into the Hulk for twenty more minutes.

I greatly appreciate the film's ambition, but I don't think it quite pulls it off.

Johnny Bacardi

You almost lost me with A.I., Looney Tunes and The Fountain...but then you cite Lady and the Duke (!), The Incredibles, and the only Wes Anderson flick I've been able to sit through without fidgeting, The Darjeeling Express. Nicely done.

Tony Dayoub

Glenn,
So happy to see A CHRISTMAS TALE and WHITE RIBBON on your list. But I echo Zach's incredulity earlier, no NEW WORLD?

Bill, great movies all (especially MASTER AND COMMANDER), but you lost me on GOMORRAH. Good, yes, but great? As I stated in my own review earlier this week, I'm not even sure it's Criterion worthy.

bill

@Dan - How exactly should Fincher have portrayed his own, personal curiosity, as opposed to the curiosity of his characters, which I think he gets across beautifully? At its core, ZODIAC is a procedural, which calls for a certain cold remove on the part of the filmmaker.

@Tony - Well I thought so. It's possible I'm overstating things, but in general I'm a sucker for multi-narrative films, and GOMORRAH was an insidiously bleak and haunting crime film version of that, so I was pretty much in the bag for it before it even started.

OMAR

Niceeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Zach

@ James Keepnews: My advice is, see Unforgiven again. If you still think there's a cliched scene (that doesn't add layers of irony and revision) or character, then I don't know what else to tell you. If you don't care for Harris or "Whomever" (Woolvett) - and I'm not sure if you mean the acting or the characters or both - then you and I have very different ideas about what constitutes good acting and screenwriting. What UNFORGIVEN does right is fuse (with amazing facility) the story conventions of the Western revenge tale with the revisionist leanings of modern history. It's about the soul-eating effect of violence, yes, but it's also about the instability of narrative - the stories we tell about ourselves, whether personal or historical, and how contingent they are. Overall, it's a hell of a good yarn, and one that engages expertly with issues of morality, politics and psychology.

Whereas, say, Mystic River is a solemnified B Movie about why child abuse is bad.

As far as screenwriters go: you'll notice I didn't say Peoples was the Best, only that he is one of the best - I agree that Towne certainly is up there, along (maybe) with Price, although Price's best stuff, in my opinion, is on the Wire. As far as the other guys - well, I've seen one Bela Tarr, and it wasn't the script that stood out. Wurlitzer - I'd have to see more. If he can match "I even thought I was dead myself - but it turned out I was only in Nebraska" then maybe we can talk about him.

S. Porath

Loved the list (it's the short comments that make a list interesting, as opposed to just egotistical). I loved to chart the course of my cinephelia through it. Great, great, great variety, quality in all different shapes and sizes.

OMAR

The Fountain?! A tribute to the colossal shininess of Yul Brynner's space age head. Wow. I knew that Aronofsky was obsessed with wanting to pulverise the human body to the point of abstraction. Even 'The Wrestler' is fascinated with bodies. I do think that Soderbergh surpassed both Mann and Fincher as the best American film maker at work today.

Peter

How can you make this list when you haven't seen PRECIOUS yet?!?!? (I am only 60% joking)

partisan

Actually, I've spent much of the decade catching up on all the great films of the previous nine decades. Still was I the only person who liked "A Very Long Engagement"? (Oh wait, there's Charles Taylor.)

Long live "Russian Ark".

bill

Richard Price is a much (much much MUCH) better novelist than he is a screenwriter. He freely admits that he doesn't even really care about writing screenplays. They're a paycheck, for which he will do the best professional work he can, but he cares about his novels. And his novels are magnificent.

James Keepnews

Zach: "Whereas, say, Mystic River is a solemnified B Movie about why child abuse is bad."

Cute as punchlines go, but I'd suggest inaccurate as criticism. Since I'm leaving work now and can't expand too far in this wise, let me suggest: the look on Laura Linney's face on the parade sidelines at the end? That was coming from a solemnified B movie appreciation of child abuse? Or, as I might suggest, that there's more at work in this drama than the single readily identifiable theme in this not-exactly-B movie?

I'll re-watch Unforgiven if you'll re-view Mystic River. Regardless,
we likely have different opinions about great acting and unquestionably about great writing -- e.g., I'm reasonably confident even Joe Ezsterhas (sp?) could come up with a more trenchant line than "I even thought I was dead myself - but it turned out I was only in Nebraska". Wurlitzer, better? Repeatedly (and, candidly, not always) -- I'd recommend his rarely discussed collab with Robert Frank, Candy Mountain, as a good place to hear mo', + betta...

The Chevalier

How is the ending of A.I. ham-fisted if nobody got the ending? I'm even thinking you didn't get the ending, Lazarus...

Nictate

Nice list. Thanks for enriching my Netflix queue in the process.

jwarthen

This list could use some cheer. So, two especially joyous films that match nicely: LINDA LINDA LINDA and HAPPY FEET.

And someone needs to mention the one-of-kind TROUBLE THE WATER.

lazarus

Chavalier, it's ham-fisted because you have two characters giving monologues of exposition at the end of the film. I thought I was pretty clear. I "got" it, though I can't speak for all the morons who thought they were going to see something like E.T. At least when Kubrick does exposition-heavy scenes (like the pool table one between Pollack and Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut), he does something interesting with it.

Bruce Reid

Zach: "If he can match "I even thought I was dead myself - but it turned out I was only in Nebraska" then maybe we can talk about him."

If I'm not grounded pretty soon, I'm going into orbit.

A personal favorite.

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