Saturday, September 4, 2010

The 2000's: A Retrospective Pt. 2

"The absurd lengths of modern studios and it's CGI capability go to in order to save the audiences the bother of imagining anything themselves is probably having a crippling effect on the mass imagination. There seems to be an audience that demands everything to be explained to them. That everything be easy. And I don't think that's doing us any good as a culture. The ease in which we can conjure anything with CGI is directly proportional to how uninterested we are becoming in all of this. Most films that i see are having a level of criticism that one would attribute to a fireworks display. It's all ooh's and aah's. I think we are in store for a period of cultural re-evaluation. If not, then we are in for a period of cultural damnation. I think we're fairly headed to hell in a hand basket and we gotta change our priorities" -Alan Moore, author of the graphic novels Watchmen & 300

This quote never rang more true when I was sitting in the theater at the end of No Country For Old Men. By the end, I heard more boos and complaints coming out of a theater than walking out the theater for Transformers 2...a movie in which the audience clapped and cheered by the end. I have scanned several blogs, film websites and listened to podcasts decrying the decline of quality in cinema for the last decade. There are 2 reasons for this. First of which is based around Hollywood. The second of which is more along the lines of the aforementioned quote.

Hollywood has become the nightmare that Robert Altman predicted in The Player. It basically thrives on fear. In the 90's the scripts for Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump were both rejected by several studios before finding a studio that would distribute them. Now, it has become even worse. Had Tarantino not been as known as he is today, a film like Pulp Fiction would never get a theatrical release in these times. It's becoming harder and harder to push an original film through the studio system these days. Movie fans have the filmmakers like Joel & Ethan Coen, Tarantino, PT Anderson, Linklater, Soderbergh, Aronofsky & Fincher to fall back on. But where are the new filmmakers who will pave the way like the aforementioned ones did in the 90's?
We are looked upon by Hollywood as consumers and demographics.Not film savvy or smart.

Flashback to the year 1999. Entertainment Weekly declared it as the "Year That Changed Movies." You need proof? Here's an excerpt:: "The whirling cyberdelic Xanadu of The Matrix. The relentless, rapid-fire overload of Fight Club. The muddy hyperrealism of The Blair Witch Project. The freak show of Being John Malkovich. The way time itself gets fractured and tossed around in The Limey and Go and Run Lola Run. The spooky necro-poetry of American Beauty and The Sixth Sense. The bratty iconoclasm of Dogma. The San Fernando Valley sprawl of this winter's Magnolia." Not to mention we were given excellent works from veteran directors like Stanley Kubrick (Eyes Wide Shut) and Michael Mann (The Insider) as well as a satire on the workforce known as Office Space. We were even offered more than adequate work from other veterans: Spike Lee (Summer of Sam), Woody Allen (Sweet and Lowdown) and Martin Scorsese (Bringing Out the Dead).

Looking back on the decade as a whole, I found a steady decline (for me anyway) in coming out of the theatre having seen a great movie. Foreign films and independent cinema became a shelter from the fodder of remakes, sequels, and adaptations. Some original voices were heard in the midst of the storm (Charlie Kaufmann, Christopher Nolan), some good directors got caught up in it by the end of the decade (Wes Anderson, M. Night Shyamalan). CGI reached lower standards than ever before and the so called 'innovative' nature of 3D has yet to be found. It's depressing surfing the movies news sites with story after story of remakes of movies I grew up on. It's twice as bad being a horror fan.

Now the blame can't solely be put on Hollywood. After all, why did a film like Grindhouse or Zodiac tank at the box office and yet Meet the Spartans charts number 1? We as audiences are the reason that's why. And for all the money given to the next Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street remake, original screenplays are given the axe in favor of sequels to those remakes. How can you argue to make more creative and interesting films when the average audience member who is going to the movies just to kill time doesn't really care? I am of the opinion that audiences, having been raised on more movies than the previous generations, are getting smarter. A recent example of a quality film that was succesful has given me some hope. That film is Inception. These are not people that "go to the theater opening week and then watch it drop off the map the next weekend". These are people going back for repeat viewings.

The studio only looks at a price tag. Not a finished product. That has to change and when that does, alot more Fight Clubs and Pulp Fictions will filter through the system again. There needs to be more risk. As Francis Ford Coppola said "There can't be art without any risk. It's like expecting there to be children without having sex."

It's that old quote about the every other decade phase. The 70's saw the New Hollywood movement take hold, the 80's saw Hollywood wipe away the grittiness and add a new slick polish to its look, and the 90's gave birth to a new independent cinema whose many filmmakers are burgeoning today. Maybe, just maybe this decade will be what the 90's were to the 80's. One can only hope.

Out of the many movies seen, I narrowed it down to 15. The years 2002 & 2007 in particular were exceptional and a good amount of the films in my best of list ended up being from those 2 years. I find it so hard ranking films. On any given day, these rankings could change because all of these films are so different. And that is what I love about them. These are films that I kept finding myself going back to and each subsequent viewing has left a greater impression than the last. For now, this is how they stand.


15. About Schmidt (2002, Alexander Payne)
Regret. What have I done with my life that is so important? This is something we've all felt at one point. The story of Warren Schmidt excels in giving us those themes through Jack Nicholson's honest and heartwarming portrayal. The voice of this film is soft and comforting but it's only after you've heard what it has to say, that it's all the more profound.

14. The Wrestler (2008, Darren Aronofsky)
Aronofsky bounces back from the overblown dissapointment of the Fountain to create a film that is more along the lines of a John Cassavetes character piece. It should also be noted that Mickey Rourke gets the comeback performance of the decade award here.

13. Adaptation (2002, Spike Jonze)
Having recently caught up on this one, I'm sure it will jump higher in the rankings. The manic energy of this story is a delight and will always have me coming back to it.

12. Inglourious Basterds (2009, Quentin Tarantino)
I've always loved the men on a mission movie and when I heard Tarantino was doing one, the anticipation was high. What I ended up getting was way more than I expected. Yes, the men on a mission story was there. But also apart of the package was the tragic story of Shoshanna, a brilliant performance by Christoph Waltz and some of the most gripping dialogue scenes in Tarantino's catalog. And that my friends, is a bingo.

11. There Will Be Blood (2007, Paul Thomas Anderson)
Greed, religion and capitalism propel this intense portrait of an oilman. Very slow and methodical. Watching this in the theatre, a bunch of people behind me kept laughing at the performance of Daniel Day Lewis toward the end. Before I could tell them to shut the hell up, the movie did it for me.

10. 25th Hour (2002, Spike Lee)
"Champagne for me real friends and real pain for my sham friends."
Kudos to Spike Lee for being one of the first directors to set a film against the backdrop of post-9/11 New York. There's no action or bad guys here. Just Monty Broman, a character who has hit rock bottom and is coming to terms with the realities of what he's done. Edward Norton gives the performance of his career and is backed by other sublime performances by the always excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman, the delightful Rosario Dawson and Barry Pepper.

9. Zodiac (2007, David Fincher)
The amount of information on the Zodiac case and how Fincher was able to assemble and present it within a 2 1/2 hour film makes for an engrossing viewing experience. This is not a 3 layer cake. This is a 3000 layer cake.
My full review can be found here: http://reflectionsonwire.blogspot.com/2010/07/zodiac-2007.html

8. Children of Men (2006, Alfonso Cuaron)
Underneath the simplicity of the storyline of a man trying to get from point A to Z are alot of layers and ideas that make it more than just an average story. There are a few scenes here that are completely jaw dropping. A perfect marriage of style, tone and story.

7. Almost Famous (2000, Cameron Crowe)*
As a huge fan of 70's classic rock, I absolutely fell in love with this film the first time I saw it. Its many things, a memory piece, a tribute to some of the greatest music ever made, a great coming of age story. But its also one of the saddest examinations of art there is. A deconstruction of the myth that it can be enough, that it can shield you from the pain of life completely, that when you get lonely “all you have to do is go to the shelf and visit a few of your old friends.” It takes apart the easy lie that art can ever, or should ever, be enough.
*Note: This applies to the director's cut Untitled. It incorporates even more depth into its already rich characters.

6. Memento (2000, Christopher Nolan)
When I first saw this film I was simply amazed at the director's ability to tell a story in such a unique manner and with such finesse. Nolan has since gone onto direct bigger budget fare, but Memento is still his masterpiece. Although The Dark Knight comes very close.

5. Synecdoche, New York (2008, Charlie Kaufmann)
Kaufmann's scripts have always been unique and completely original, but here he outdoes himself. This is another one that demands the viewer to see it multiple times. It reveals more and more layers as you peel back the onion.
My full review can be found here: http://reflectionsonwire.blogspot.com/2009/03/film-review-synecdoche-new-york.html

4. OldBoy (2003, Park-Chan Wok)
Revenge films have existed for so long in cinema. Here is a rare revenge film that deals with the consequences of it all.

3. City of God (2002, Fernando Meirelles)
Hailed as the Brazilian GoodFellas, it's similarities are there. But the difference in the world of this film is that people on the slums of Rio de Janiero are not given any choice in regards to following a life of crime. Even more tragic is how children get caught in the crosshairs of this ugly world. This is the only film on here where I find myself having a hard time grabbing off the shelf because of it's raw and devastating power.

2. No Country For Old Men (2007, Joel & Ethan Coen)
"Is this guy suppose to be the ultimate badass"
To answer Llewlyn's question: Not only is Anton THE badass, but No Country is the ultimate Coen Brothers film. Gripping, edge-of-your-seat thriller that delivered more suspense than most horror films of the last ten years. The Coens plumb Cormac McCarthy's novel and create a meditation on mortality, freewill and living in a world whose values are in decay. A film that opens and closes on a quiet note that is as haunting as anything this decade.

My full review can be found here: http://reflectionsonwire.blogspot.com/2010/06/no-country-for-old-men-2007.html

1. Mulholland Dr. (2001, David Lynch)
Another Lynch film. Another world to get lost in. Mulholland Dr. functions as a career summation for everything Lynch has done to date, incorporating the 50s style and na├»ve heroines of the Blue Velvet era and blending it with the experiments in narrative subjectivity from Lost Highway. The ingenious narrative structure has been widely dissected, but it’s notable that even as he plunges through layers of subjective reality, he keeps a coherent emotional throughline so that you can have no idea what happened, but you can understand exactly how it felt. The best thing Lynch has done since Eraserhead and the best thing to come out of the 00's. You will see me one more time if you agree. You will see me two more times if you don't.


HONORABLE MENTIONS
Inland Empire, Waking Life, Wall-E, Up, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Unbreakable, In the Bedroom, Minority Report, Battle Royale, The Dark Knight, A Serious Man, Requiem For A Dream, 21 Grams, Traffic, The Devil's Rejects, Donnie Darko, The Royal Tenenbaums, Punch-Drunk Love, Before Sunset, Monster, The New World, Kill Bill Vol. 2, I'm Not There, 28 Days Later, The Departed, Bubble, Memories of Murder, Collateral, Shaun of the Dead, A History of Violence, Munich, Once, District 9

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