Of all the movies I’ve missed off this list through my own stupidity, the one I’m most annoyed about forgetting is Jonathan Glazer’s controversial Birth, also known as That Film Where Nicole Kidman Does The Creepy Bathtub Thing With A Kid. It’s one of those movies that generated a firestorm of controversy when it came out but also didn’t seem to appeal to anyone.
It came and went with just a lot of burbling complaint, and while Nicole Kidman’s career wasn’t harmed by it, it did make Jonathan Glazer vanish from sight, electing to return to his previous job directing videos and commercials. What’s most annoying about that controversy is that that scene is far less effective than the incredible scene where Kidman’s character has to process the possibility that the man she loved and has been grieving over for ten years may have been reborn. The camera captures her confusion, pain, and hope in a long close-up: along with the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds and the lengthy conversation in the middle of Steve McQueen’s superb Hunger, it’s one of the great long takes of the last ten years.
Of course the movie doomed itself by having a fascinating central premise (what would you do if a person you loved had died and come back as someone else?) and a mystery at its core that was not really the final focus of the movie. Glazer and his co-writers Jean-Claude Carrière and Milo Addica are more interested in depicting the ways in which grief can destroy a mind and hope can make a person do crazy things, much as The Constant Gardener also does. I really like that movie, but Birth is even better. Glazer filmed it as if it were a modern-day fairy tale, but one in which the evil prince “wins” in the end, and alongside the bravura close-up he creates some other memorable scenes including a meltdown from Danny Huston at a recital, a final shot of Kidman pretty much losing her grip on reality, and a stunningly beautiful opening in Central Park, all to the sound of Alexandre Desplat’s stunning score.
It’s one of the five best soundtracks of the decade. Speaking of movies set in New York and featuring creepy children intent on wrecking a family, praise is due George Ratliff’s beautifully judged thriller Joshua. Eschewing most dreary Bad Seed shock tactics (such as those employed by the moronic Orphan from earlier this year), Joshua shows how one smart, creepy kid can destroy lives just by playing upon people’s expectations of what children are like. Hott Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga are fantastic as the tortured parents whose lives are ruined by the son that has grown to hate them, and the whole thing burrows under your skin in a pleasantly unpleasant way. If I were to do this over again, it would definitely feature lower down in the list, but Birth would be in the top forty at least. Damn, I really loved that movie.
Here is the next fifteen entries on my best of list, though as you can see it’s become rather unfinished what with all the late entries. As before, there are no movies from 2009, etc.
Matteo Garrone’s fractured narrative shows how crime affects all strata of life in Naples and Caserta, corrupting the inhabitants, robbing them of their autonomy, and even poisoning the ground they live on. As Girrone’s movie progresses, all hope of escape from the black cloud dwindles. A sobering experience, and an essential one.
59. City of God
As with Garrone’s crime epic, this shows how anarchic criminality can destroy every life it touches. While the Italian movie was paced with considered calm, Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund’s movie is a blur of energy unmatched by any other movie since Goodfellas. What could have been mere poverty-porn becomes profound, thrilling, and inspirational.
As with Mulholland Drive, this one left me behind. Shane Carruth’s time-travel movie has arguably the most labyrinthine plot in film history. On first viewing it challenges you for an hour before leaping off the deep end. Only after multiple viewings and consultations with complex flowcharts does it begin to make sense. The ultimate puzzle movie, and the equivalent of real intellectual benchpressing.
57. Inside Man
The heist movie to end all heist movies. Spike Lee creates a modern day Taking of Pelham 123, perfectly capturing the grouchy solidarity of New York with numerous entertaining asides and performances, all while leisurely touching on Lee’s trademark concerns about racial tension within that fractious melting-pot. A rare feel-good crime drama, and all the better for its genial air.
56. The Mist
Saved from obscurity by the enthusiasm of horror nerds across America, Frank Darabont’s timely horror classic works as a ghoulish B-Movie homage and disturbing time-lapse exploration of how ignorance and paranoia (embodied as the decade’s best villain, Mrs. Carmody) can tear us apart. Darabont’s previous films show how hope can set us free. Here he shows how despair can only lead to ruin.
55. A History of Violence
David Cronenberg and Josh Olsen took a weak graphic novel and turned it into a dissertation on the true nature of violence, separate from the sanitised movie version of violence, all while retaining the thrills and tension necessary to keep an audience riveted. Possibly the most intellectually satisfying suspense movie since Hitchcock’s prime.
54. Waltz With Bashir
Who would’ve thought that something as simple as Flash could be used to create something as profoundly moving as this? Ari Folman used hallucinogenic visuals to depict his distorted memory of the 1982 Lebanon War, and by proxy the entire country of Israel. The well-judged shift in format in the final five minutes is wrenching.
53. Pineapple Express
For anyone who loved the shaky action movies of the 80s and early 90s, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s pitch-perfect satire/mash note is manna from heaven, but what sends it over the top is James Franco’s performance as stoner Saul. His sincerity, heroism, and constant bewilderment are endlessly endearing.
52. Monsters Inc.
Unfairly treated as the poor cousin to Dreamworks’ Shrek at the time of release, time has proven that Pete Docter’s wildly imaginative adventure was the monster movie with brains and heart. Random remembrance of the final image triggered floods of tears even months after first viewing.
51. Casino Royale
Just when it seemed James Bond was finally ready for the skip, Martin Campbell returned to the franchise in time to save it. Tricksy plot construction, clearly edited action scenes, and excellent performances by the six lead actors add up to the best Bond movie since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and one of the most thrilling action movies of the decade.
For those of us who love Joss Whedon’s work, this sequel to his cancelled show Firefly was an event not to be missed. Fortunately, it was worth celebrating. Whedon can be proud of his SF Western, achieving the miracle of introducing a large cast to newcomers while satisfying hardcore fans with answers, character arc resolutions, and high drama. It would have been higher if Whedon wasn’t such a beloved-character-killing meanie. ::pouts::
Satoshi Kon’s dream fantasy offers the most startling visual onslaught in years, as well as one of the most endearing protagonists in modern SF. Even though countless cultural references will be wasted on the average Western viewer, it still offers an unforgettable, dizzying head-trip.
48. Hidden (Caché)
Michael Haneke’s rightly celebrated thriller deals with guilt, persecution, middle-class isolationism, racial politics, and the unthinking consequences of youthful behaviour with an icy intellectualism that nevertheless makes the heart pound. Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche are riveting, as always.
A chaotic mess trapped under a terrible expository voice-over, Mike Judge’s dystopic satire has more than enough bite and uncomfortable humour to justify the compromise necessary to get it made. Possibly the angriest satire in living memory and one that is slowly accruing cultural cachet among nervous anthropologists observing modern society. Plus, I can attest to the fact that repeated viewings unearth a wealth of funny details.
John Sayles’ meandering thriller starts off as a simple tale of frontier life, and gradually becomes darker, taking twists and turns that you could never see coming. Perhaps it’s the most aptly titled film of the decade, as Sayles expertly manipulates your expectations and offers the greatest, most exasperating and yet most profound open ending in years.
Right, another one done without the help of WordPress’ useless autosave function which got rid of a wodge of words earlier. More to come, hopefully tonight.