Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ten Years

Decade, alphabetically

Appaloosa (2008)
Ashes of Time Redux (2008)
La moustache (2005)
Munyurangabo (2007)
The New World (2005)
No Country For Old Men (2007)
The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007)
A Scanner Darkly (2006)
A Serious Man (2009)
There Will Be Blood (2007)

If some lunatic cinephile demigod appeared to me in a vision and threatened celluloid annihilation if I did not choose ten and only ten films from the last ten years that were the only films that I'd ever be able to watch again from this decade, the above list is what I'd choose.

It might change tomorrow, but it is what I'd choose today.

I'm not arguing that these are the "best" films or the most important ones.  These are the films that I've thought about the most and currently mean the most to me.  It's a totally subjective list meant to please me and only me.

The list is a strange one, I know, not least because I don't include a single film from the first five years of this decade.  What kind of decade consists of only five years?  Well, that's how I experienced the decade.  I missed out on most of the critical darlings, foreign and arthouse, from those first five years and I just haven't caught up yet.  I probably won't ever catch up, but I do have the TSPDT 250 list as a starting guide to what I'm missing.  Then again, something like Dear Wendy was almost universally reviled by critics yet just barely missed placing a spot on my list of ten above.  Of course, ten is a stupid number, but it's the traditional number and I'm sticking with it.

The films I picked:

Appaloosa is a small masterpiece.  I'm convinced.  I could name any scene, but the one that pops into my head right now is the shootout in the street.  There's no rolling or running, dodging or ducking.  Only men standing.  Repeatedly firing lead at one another until someone falls down.  The editing is fast and tight.  We get a shot of someone firing a pistol.  We get a shot of a man falling down with a bullet inside of him.  Oh, the simple pleasures.

The Coens win by earning two spots on the list.  While others play it safe with their moralizing, the Coens run roughshod through Ecclesiastes, leaving us to feel the questions.  No Country For Old Men and A Serious Man are two towers of ancient morality not disguised as but perfectly achieved and expressed as a thriller and a domestic drama respectively.  The Coens are among those happy few who can have their cake and eat it, too.

Including Burn After Reading, the Coens are on a winning streak at the moment.  We still have the Chabon project and True Grit yet to come!

Ashes of Time Redux, The New World, and The Romance of Astrea and Celadon all probably qualify as romantic pictures.  I didn't know I was such a softie until I made this list, but I do have a mushy core.  Strike that.  These are not soft easy films.  These are hard films with sharp edges.  They will cut you.  If they don't hurt and you don't bleed, you probably have no life or love left in you.  These three films are each brilliant, each building up love as difficult but precious rather than tearing it down and cheapening it like most films do.  

In the Mood For Love and 2046 are both hovering around the boundaries of this list, but I prefer Ashes of Time.

Ashes of Time is a bit of a cheat since the film was first released in 1994.  Without having seen the original cut, I have to argue that the Redux is a different film from the original in that any new cut of a film produces an entirely new and different film.  The Redux belongs to 2008, not 1994.

A Scanner Darkly really captures the spirit of Phil Dick's work.  And Dick's spirit is one of the most important of the last century, with us still today more than ever.  I'd love to see Linklater direct a Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said adaptation.  It would be unlike anything he's done before, but I think that he's the most qualified to do it.  As an aside, now that I'm thinking about it, maybe Kaufman could stop navel-gazing and try an Ubik adaptation as his second directorial project.

La moustache haunts me.  I don't know why.  Maybe it plays perfectly to my own thoughts and fears about identity and relationships.  Maybe I'm just amazed by how it works as a thriller.  

Munyurangabo hits every right note.  The domestic scenes are the heart of the film, but it's the last twenty minutes or so that will take your breath away.  What is amazing is that the film achieves this broad shift in emphasis so organically.

There Will Be Blood.  I still haven't watched it on DVD, but I saw it three times at the cinema.  There's no question that I would immediately go three more times if it re-opened for a one week run in Binghamton.  It and The New World struggle in my mind for the top spot on this list with all of the others swimming around each other below these two titans.  I decided not to even try and rank them.  So alphabetical.

I'm glad that I don't really have to limit myself to rewatching only ten films.  I get to keep my copy of King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters and my shelf of Pixar magic.  

These exercises may be mostly meaningless, but they are fun.  And there is no denying that we each have our own sub-canons alongside and maybe against the wider critical consensus.  I know that there are still dozens, if not hundreds, of films that I would need to see for this to be a "fair" list, but if I wait until I've seen all of these films that I "should" see, then I'll have missed all of the list-making fun. Everyone seems to believe that the decade is over.  I need to review and evaluate the decade as I've experienced it because now, not later, is the time to give an account.

So, the ten above.  I'm happy with them.  I could have opened up the list to 25 or 75, but it was more fun narrowing down to what I feel are absolutely "my essentials."

Happy decade.

P.S. Brandon, you'll be happy to know that 2007 leads the pack with four titles!

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