Posted on Saturday, December 5th, 2009 at 6:39 pm
Author: Mark Farnsworth
The 00s were a decade fraught with fear. They began with the millennium bug and ended with the growing debacle in Afghanistan. Like a downbeat Hollywood franchise played out over countless movies, the war on terror set the narrative for ten long years.
The story of the decade had it all: the ultimate terrorist atrocity, a super-villain on the run and a gung-ho president seriously out of his depth. It had numerous sub-plots: greed, corruption, oil, religious turmoil and natural disasters of biblical proportions. Pandemics stalked the land, pirates ruled the seas and sharks swam down the streets of New Orleans. The Russian bear snarled and China held the world’s economy to ransom.
The golden hero to emerge from the smouldering ashes of the White House has had a year in power. Did he bite off more than he could chew, or is he playing the long game — a cliffhanger to be concluded in the decade to come? Will he emerge triumphant or be defeated by his own country?
One thing’s for sure, we have been watching it all unfold in droves, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We’ve youtubed it, googled it, blogged about it, downloaded it and sold DVD’s of it. You could watch beheadings, kidnappings, friendly fire and collateral damage. We looked into the eyes of suicide bombers or watch soldiers via their mobile phones.
With real violence just a click away, Hollywood still bombarded us with horror movies. Not the post-modern smugness of “Scream” in the 90s but real dirty bloodfests that seemingly tried to compete with reality itself. Torture porn was the ugly side of the horror boon, but the zombie genre reanimated to take the place of the Western as the barometer of American society.
Being scared to death both in reality and in the cinema led to the rise of the frat pack, that incestuous bunch of actors that dominated the comedy scene. Ferrell, Stiller, the Wilson brothers and their crew celebrated the stupid but gave us what we both wanted and needed: a bloody good laugh.
We also went CGI crazy as superheroes and fantasy characters dominated the box office. With the “Governator” back in power, a wave of nostalgia resurrected the old 80s action stars. At least Bruce Willis got to kill Bin Laden off screen in “Planet Terror”: “I put two in his heart and one in his computer.”
What of the next ten years? I suppose you can watch “Avatar” and decide for yourself. For better or worse, here are the films that blew me away during the last ten. They are in no particular rank other than my number one.
10. The Descent
“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” in Neil Marshall’s bone-snapping horror. A cathartic experience, it will leave you gasping for air and prising your fingernails from your bloody palms. Claustrophobic, atmospheric and genuinely terrifying, “The Descent” gave no quarter and asked for none as it dissected the “last girl standing” concept.
9. Red Road
To call “Red Road” a thriller would be correct, but it is far more than that. It constantly challenges the spectator’s assumptions, prejudices, and affinities towards its group of complex and well-drawn characters. These characters act as indicators for our own tabloid view on modern Britain. Andrea Arnold has such a confident hold over her material that she can effortlessly wrestle our sympathy away from one character and attach it to another in a blink of an eye. That is until we realise that nothing here is straightforward and our views on reality are actually full of contradictions.
Bruno Ganz’s definitive turn as Hitler may be famous for the rants that generated genius subtitle comedy on YouTube, but it is his more introspective moments that really make this a phenomenal performance. Hirschbiegel directs the last days of the Fuherer’s inner circle as a horrific Mad Hatter’s tea party where everyone is oblivious to the carnage being visited upon the German people by a vengeful Red Army.
7. Pan’s Labyrinth
This is a savage, serene, and ultimately sincere film. Guillermo del Toro’s queasy Franco era fairytale is a curious mix of Clive Barker and Angela Carter. The visuals are undeniably spectacular, but Sergi Lopez’s sadistic Captain Vidal is easily the most hideous monster on display. A modern masterpiece.
Slate Michael Bay all you like, but “Transformers” has moments that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end; just watch the sequence when the AC130 is called in. It’s action-packed, funny, and smart, and in Shia Lebouf and Megan Fox has two of the hippest young stars in the business that more than hold their own against the jaw dropping Auotobots and Decepticons. It’s too bad about the sequel.
The incomparable “Beat” Takeshi Kitano puts his unique but bloody spin on the classic blind swordsman. As usual, he is a master when cutting from his beautifully composed frames to kinetic action set pieces, slap stick comedy or intricate dance routines. At his best he really has no peer.
4. The Bourne Supremacy
“Supremacy” is dark. The opening section totally destroys any previous ideas the audience might have had about how the franchise might progress. An aggressive editing style throughout the film helps the kinetic energy surge from the screen. No one is safe. You can feel every bone snap. The sound design only helps to crank up the danger as these characters get hurt. The car chase through Moscow is astonishing in its execution. Even more spectacular are the quiet moments of Bourne’s introspection as he discovers more clues about his past. The emotional turmoil Damon brings to Bourne makes “Supremacy” the “Empire Strikes Back” of the three movies.
3. Dead Man’s Shoes
Shane Meadows may have won the plaudits for his excellent “This Is England,” but his real achievement is this wickedly moving tale of revenge in small-town England. His long-term collaborator and friend Paddy Considine emerged as the premier actor of his generation from his role as the deadly ex-paratrooper Richard. Meadows spins his movie’s tone from comedy to horror to tragedy with an effortless poise that marks him as one of Britain’s greatest directors.
2. The Beat That My Heat Skipped
Jacques Audiard’s “A Prophet” already looks nailed on to be one of the best films of 2010, but its roots were firmly laid in his remake of James Toback’s “Fingers.” Romain Duryis is simply mesmerizing as Thomas Seyr, a hood who dreams of becoming a concert pianist. The tension Audiard builds up before Thomas’ audition is excruciating and more exiting than any shoot out.
1. There Will Be Blood
From the “2001” opening to the “Barry Lyndon”-esque ending, Paul Thomas Anderson’s film is a Kubrickian masterpiece. At its heart is a peerless tour de force by Daniel Day-Lewis who must now own the title as the greatest living actor on Earth. His Daniel Plainview is a monster consumed by greed and soaked in his desire to see others fail. We hang on his every word and worship his every expression as he drains the black lifeblood from the pits of hell. Anderson has created a work of art that is beyond comparison, save perhaps “Citizen Kane.” We may not see anything like this again for another ten years, or for another fifty.
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