Friday, December 4, 2009

Films of the 00s

Gareth Higgins of The Film Talk blog offers his top 10 films of the 00s, which stretches to considerably more than ten items. While I have no quarrel with expanding a top ten list to numbers larger than ten, I shall nonetheless focus on the disagreements, reservations, qualifiers, cavils, and complaints I have with his list because that's my kind of pointless. Higgins:

There Will Be Blood: A story about oil and greed that isn’t a metaphor for anything. It’s just a story about oil and greed.
Sweet Jeebus in blue jeans! He didn't really type that, did he? If there's anything this film is not, that would be just a story about oil and greed. It is a retelling of Moby Dick, Frankenstein, Paradise Lost, and, in turn, all the grand epics of which those are retellings. It's about capitalism's interaction with Christianity, greed's interaction with love, the life-changing and history-making power of hatred, a statement on the nature of family, a meditation on ideologies and their limits, and in other ways an exploration of the human condition as revealed through a thoroughly unlikeable exemplar. This film has something -- something terrible and yet deeply compelling -- for kids of all ages.

Moving on:
Synecdoche New York: I have a feeling this film will only become more like a friend as I watch and re-watch; nothing less than an attempt at conveying in cinema the experience of one person building a whole life.
Or -- and this is my feeling about it -- it is a case of a filmmaker, Charlie Kaufman, being too clever by half, and churning out a few tedious hours (it only seemed like more) of over-thought, charmless, obscurantist crap. There, I said it: let it be known that for all his cachet and indie-ness, Charlie Kaufman gets no critical matador's cape on this precious, precious blog. He wins some, he loses some.

But wait, there's more:
The Dark Knight: George W Bush’s retirement tribute video; the best-looking critique of the ancient scapegoat myth that ever made a billion dollars.
I wish people would stop saying that The Dark Knight defends the Bush-Cheney notion that civilization can go fuck itself if its rules come into tension with fighting lawless rogues, sociopathic fanatics, or guys with significant facial scarring.

By end of the film, Batman acknowledges that he has to be scorned by the community, indeed blamed outright for excesses, transgressions, chaos, and destruction whether or not he is actually responsible for it, e.g., he demands to be blamed for the film's last death. He accepts both the darkness and the knighthood, openly acknowledging that public scorn will be the wages of his mission. Whereas the Bushes and Cheneys of the world expect to flout and flush the rules in whatever ways seem expedient, and then to be praised, thanked, and adored for doing so -- and beyond that, they still expect to be taken seriously as truth-tellers, delineators of moral clarity, and exponents of the rule of law. This is not a trivial distinction, and it is not the only one that renders The Dark Knight something beyond "George W Bush's retirement tribute video."

Higgins again:
No Country for Old Men: The only film I can think of that climaxes with a serial killer giving up violence without being forced to do so by a gun or handcuffs.
Well, isn't that an optimistic interpretation of the film's ending! I do not share it. I see no basis for believing that anything has changed in the mind of Anton Chigur at the end of this film, nor did I get such an idea at the end of the book. That compound fracture looks painful, but we've seen him in pain before. Suffice to say pain did not instruct him then, and I see no reason to believe it will do so going forward.

The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions: I know saying this puts my reputation at stake (if I even have one by now): but these sequels were deeply misunderstood. Evidence? Can you name another big budget action film series that ends with the opposing parties being reconciled through a non-violent negotiation? Doesn’t this make The Matrix trilogy one that at least has a compelling central idea, and vast imagination compared with its reputation?
OK, these films were not entirely without redeeming qualities -- there were ideas afoot, that's undeniable -- but they were almost entirely without redeeming qualities, particularly the second and third.

As to the question of another action film that ends with a non-violent negotiation, I have to confess I cannot name one. As I could not make it all the way to the end of either of these, and have no desire to, I will defer to Higgins's judgment that these are the only examples in the entire history of film.

Moving on:
The Corporation: Smartest documentary of the decade: not merely a polemic, but a genuine intellectual exploration.
I did admire this film, not least for its soundtrack, but I have to say that it broke little new ground in its intellectual explorations. If you've read any amount of Michael Parenti, Noam Chomsky, or Z Magazine, this adds little to what they've been repeating for decades. This does not detract from the salience of the ground the film covers, and surely there's something to be said for addressing important realities in ways that can reach new audiences, e.g., audiences of people with the good sense not to have read excessive amounts of Parenti, Chomsky, or Z Magazine.

Here's another:
The Hours: An unfilmable novel became an undefinable film – a central character abandons her family and we’re not sure whether or not we’re supposed to like her; Meryl Streep gets the only decent role she’s had in years (with the exception of her having enormous fun in ‘Mamma Mia’ – a film that is only not enjoyable if you don’t know how to laugh at silly exuberance); and Philip Glass writes his best score since ‘Koyaanisqatsi’. Two characters take their own lives, and one is at least indirectly responsible for the death of another, but you emerge from watching ‘The Hours’ full of gratitude for being alive.
Blogga please. Meryl Streep is, perhaps, hailed as The Leading Actress of Her Generation to the point of monotony, but there's a reason she's constantly praised in this way. I have a hard time imagining anyone else matching her portrayal of Mother What's-Her-Pants in Doubt.

Top ten lists are much like assholes, and I know from assholes.

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