By Hemanth Kissoon
The Noughties have only been over a couple of months, and I think it’s time to look back at the best of the decade. It is obviously too soon perhaps, to do such an analysis adequately, without at least leaving a few years for the films to digest in our psyches, but let’s not let opprobrium get in our way!
Dissecting ten years is no easy task. What is the “best” is just as hard. I’ve had a go anyway.
Any film released at the cinema, at a film Festival or on DVD for the first time between January 1st 2000 and December 31st 2009 are eligible in my book. That is a lot. About 5000 films have been released at the cinema alone.
My top 20 films divided into 13 categories. I have not ranked the 20, as that is like quick-sand, forever shifting in my mind.
Let’s get this out the way first though...
Worst of the decade
There are two.
The first... If The Hague extended war crimes and crimes against humanity to movies, this one would have the first docket number on the trial list.... Pearl Harbour. A travesty of taste, artistic merit and entertainment. I even felt ashamed enjoying the explosions.
I think Team America: World Police summarised it best in the following song,
“I miss you more than Michael Bay missed the mark, When he made Pearl Harbor [sic]. / I miss you more than that movie missed the point, And that's an awful lot, girl. / And now, now you've gone away, And all I'm trying to say, is: Pearl Harbor sucked and I miss you. / I need you like Ben Affleck needs acting school, He was terrible in that film. / I need you like Cuba Gooding needed a bigger part, He's way better than Ben Affleck. / And now, all I can think about is your smile, and that sh*tty movie, too! Pearl Harbor sucked and I miss you. / Why does Michael Bay get to keep on making movies? / I guess Pearl Harbor sucked, just a little bit more than I miss you.”
The second... The Phantom Menace and The Matrix Sequels were abominable but nothing is as crushing and lacking in any merit whatsoever as the soul-destroying, childhood-fantasy-killing debacle that is.... Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Every minute of this mess can be taken apart and questioned with the following, “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!!!!!”
And to mangle Tina Turner, now the heartache is over...
THE BEST OF THE DECADE
In my humble opinion, every film mentioned from now on is a must-see...
Far East Masterpieces
Kung Fu Hustle; Hero; and JSA: Joint Security Area.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Marrying storytelling traditions of East and West, this is a heart-breaking, exhilarating look at repressed devotion and regret in criss-crossing love stories, even more efficient and effective than The Remains of the Day or The English Patient. Only the second film I ever saw at the London Film Festival and I still remember how the audience clapped after the first action sequence. Ten years later that phenomenon has not been repeated. Mesmerising, engaging and passionate, this is a formidable achievement. Don’t take it just from me, how often does cello maestro Yo-Yo Ma bother to contribute to a soundtrack?
Along with Memento, the best film about vengeance ever made. Locked up for 15 years without being given a reason, Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi), while there, teaches himself to box by punching walls. Suddenly released, he goes on a rampage. There is one-take tracking shot that is breathtaking, as Dae-su takes on a bunch of heavies in a corridor with just a hammer. The denouement is shocking, unexpected and an insight into the dark heart of humanity.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; A Very Long Engagement; Once; Conversations with Other Women; Shortbus; Dolls; Garden State; Read My Lips; Head-On; Ae Fond Kiss...; The Science of Sleep; 5X2; and Me, You and Everyone We Know.
A rare thing. A sequel better than the original. Nine years on, the “Whatever happened to the couple from Before Sunrise?” question is answered. This could have been a horrible misfire ruining its predecessor, like so many follow-ups. Instead it is a masterclass in character and dialogue; as we watch in real-time, a re-awakening of profound attraction in Paris during the magic hour; plus an absolutely awesome ending.
The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain otherwise known as Amélie
Sugary perfection. If you’re going to be whimsical; if you’re going to be sentimental; if all you’re going to care about is matters of the heart; this is how to do it. Call me a sucker, but is Amelie the most romantic film ever? Every frame is so detailed and immaculately coloured, it is how to make a proper fairytale. One of the first films I saw twice at the cinema.
American Splendour; X-Men 2; Sin City; The Incredibles; Spider-Man 2; The Hulk and Unbreakable.
The Dark Knight
If only all comic book movies are like this. Characters are not wedged into a simple “good” versus “evil” ho-hum plot, but alternatively given flaws, genuine dilemmas and believable motivations, in an allegorical narrative extremely relevant to the world we live in. Ostensibly about heroism and anarchy, this is really concerned with ‘The War on Terror’ and ‘The War on Drugs’. It is about the rule of law. If you travel outside of the boundaries of legality to the “dark side” (a reference perhaps to former Vice President Dick Cheney’s comments) there are consequences. Vigilantism does not exist in a bubble. Epic and intelligent filmmaking.
Team America: World Police; Best in Show; Borat; Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story; Kenny; Hamlet 2; Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me; Country Wedding; A Cock and Bull Story; and Wonder Boys.
Comedy is the hardest genre to get right, yet the least likely to win praise. Go figure. Charlie Kaufman is an ambitious and extremely gifted writer (Being John Malcovich; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and Spike Jone’s directing is dynamic (Where the Wild Things Are); and together they have fashioned a very clever film about writing a film, and the different pulls of creativity, originality, authenticity, commerciality, artistic merit, and being true to the source material.
The Beat that My Heart Skipped; The Proposition; Memories of Murder; Zodiac; No Country for Old Men; The Chaser; Narc; The Prestige; A Prophet; Casino Royale; The Man Who Wasn’t There; and Mother.
How do you tell a story? Chronologically. Chopped up narrative. Proustian. Then along comes Memento and does it backwards, while still making sense. A tattooed Guy Pearce is hunting for the perpetrators of a vicious attack on his wife and him. An enthralling example of haunting, tragic revenge cinema.
Children of Men
Surely this is on the curriculum in every film school? In my book, a virtually perfect film. It is boundary pushing technically, married to a sociologically important plot, and anchored to emotionally engaging storytelling. The problems we are facing now are compellingly exacerbated into a believably dystopian future, less than two decades away.
Shrek; Shrek 2; Finding Nemo; Spirited Away; Belleville Rendez-Vous; Dragon Hunters; Monsters Inc.; Happy Feet; Kung Fu Panda; Waltz with Bashir; and A Scanner Darkly.
Packed with ideas and themes coherently organised and overlapping, and remarkable in its execution. A near silent cartoon has been done before; a piece that makes you empathise with a machine has been done before; as has an allegory on corporatism and technology out of control, environmental catastrophe, and obesity. But! To put them all in one place, encased in a robot love-story, I doth my cap to Pixar.
The Lives of Others; Che; Il Divo; Downfall; The Motorcycle Diaries; and Syriana.
The Baader-Meinhof Complex
A rare perfect example of how to make a historical film, deftly weaving arguments, events and people into in an epic whole. Packing a decade of turbulent German history into two hours 20 minutes is no easy feat; without feeling rushed is a mindboggling achievement. The cream of modern German cinema firing on all cylinders.
A New World; An Examined Life; and The Edukators.
There Will Be Blood
Is this a real word: “mind-blowingly”? I don’t care. This is mind-blowingly ambitious. An intense look at a cataclysmic clash between the two big Cs in America: Capitalism and Christianity. Is this the future, the death of morality? Oh yeah, it has one of the best performances ever committed to celluloid. Daniel Day-Lewis take a bow. Who would have guessed a climax using just words could be so potent. “If I have a milkshake and you have a milkshake and I have a straw and my straw reaches across the room and starts to drink your milkshake. I drink your milkshake! I drink it up!”
The White Ribbon
A work of specificity, that ends up being universal. A village in North Germany, 1917, mysterious and malign happenings are befalling its inhabitants. As the story progresses it becomes more compelling and even more unsettling. The ending remains enigmatic, but not frustratingly so, like director Michael Haneké’s fetted and over-rated Caché. Prima facie an exploration of the origins of Nazism, but ends up being a dissection of community, family, and draconian authoritarianism.
The End of Poverty?
An extraordinary essay explaining why so much of the world is still so poor. If you claim to care about humanity, seek this film out.
The Human Animal
Requiem for a Dream; City of God; 21 Grams; Volver; Elephant; About Schmidt; The Squid and the Whale; Lilya-4-Ever; The 25th Hour; Little Children; Nurse Betty; Rachel Getting Married; The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; and Million Dollar Baby.
I’m Not There
There are some magnificent biographical works out there – Lawrence of Arabia, Raging Bull, The Last Emperor, Kundun, etc. However, they are rare. Most eschew innovation and espouse formula – the rise, hubris, fall and redemption story arc. I’m Not There is the opposite. If I was Bob Dylan, I’d be extremely proud of this interpretation of my life. Different actors (including a remarkable Cate Blanchett) providing metaphorical performances of a man. How can two hours or so summarise a life? This is as close as cinema has got possibly.
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
A day in the life of a woman attempting to help her friend get an abortion; at the time of Ceausescu’s regime in Romania, where it was illegal. One of the most powerful things I have sat through.
Red Road; Dead Man’s Shoes; Sexy Beast; The House of Mirth; I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead; Gosford Park; and Fish Tank.
Dirty Pretty Things
An immigrant thriller fairytale love story concerning a Nigerian man (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and a Turkish lady (Audrey Tautou); with wider things to say about a hard-working element of our economy, whom are often demonised and not given a face, and caught between the government and exploiters. British cinema at its most gripping, and unburdened by fanfare.
Do the Monster Mash
Cloverfield; Pan’s Labyrinth; Paranormal Activity; [Rec.]; and The Mist.
Two of the three most exciting directors in the world at the moment are Korean. One is Chan-wook Park (Oldboy; JSA: Joint Security Area; Thirst). A Frenchman is the second, Jacques Audiard (Read My Lips; The Beat That My Heart Skipped; A Prophet). The final is Joon-ho Bong. All have not put a foot wrong in their careers. It is hard to choose from Bong’s cannon. It is a close call with Memories of Murder and his latest, Mother; but The Host has many of his ideas in place fermenting in harmony – the complexity of the family unit, government corruption and incompetence, and here imperialism. Plus it is one bad-ass monster movie.
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room; Bowling for Columbine; Grizzly Man; Burma VJ; and The Fog of War.
Capturing the Friedmans
A masterpiece of cinema exploring the nature of perception, justice and truth.
Taxi to the Dark Side
Did you ever write an essay you were really proud of? This is like one of those, only better. A devastating look at what can be done in the name of democracy. One of the best documentaries ever made.
Gladiator; Lord of War; King Kong; Ocean’s 12; Battle Royale; Moulin Rouge; Pitch Black; Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut; Star Trek; Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl; 8 Women; District 9; and The Good, the Bad and the Weird.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
If you want elating entertainment, up there with Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars, then look no further. A monumental achievement in adapting a novel so big that it could be used as a weapon in the wrong hands. Not flawless, and of the trilogy the most satisfying, it is hard to imagine a more confident interpretation of Tolkein’s work.
At a Quick Glance my Top 20...
...here they are in alphabetical order:
- Before Sunset
- Capturing the Friedmans
- Children of Men
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
- Dirty Pretty Things
- 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
- I’m Not There
- Taxi to the Dark Side
- The Baader-Meinhof Complex
- The Dark Knight
- The End of Poverty?
- The Host
- The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
- The White Ribbon
- There Will Be Blood
Two sets of films that are great on their own, but are really part of a jaw-dropping whole that work properly when seen together:
- Infernal Affaires
- Death Note
A special award has to go to five people:
- Director Joon-Ho Bong who has only directed four films so far, three of which are mentioned above: The Host, Memories of Murder and Mother.
- Writer Charlie Kaufman has two films mentioned above: Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
- Director Jacques Audiard has three films mentioned: The Beat that My Heart Skipped, A Prophet and Read My Lips.
- Director Chan-Park Wook has two mentioned: Oldboy and JSA: Joint Security Area.
- Director Christopher Nolan has three films listed: The Dark Knight, Memento and The Prestige.
My favourite performances of the decade:
- Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York)
- Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises)
My Favourite Films of the Decade
10. The Good, the Bad and the Weird
9. Ocean’s 12
7. X-Men 2
6. The Incredibles
5. Children of Men
4. The Dark Knight
2. Wonder Boys
1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
See everything I’ve mentioned, you won’t regret it.