The Decade in Film: Crime, Crimefighters, Crime, and More Crimefighters

The Bourne Effect

The Bourne IdentityThe spy for the 21st century was not James Bond, but Jason Bourne. The grittiness, global perspective, and moral quandaries of the Bourne triology (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum) instantly rendered James Bond moot. In following with the general post-9/11 trends, the Bourne films did not present the now-outdated black and white world of evil master criminals with the unquestioning moral righteousness of the government agents, but rather a corruption-from-within trope that proved much more relevant. A refashioned reboot, starring new 007, Daniel Craig, went back to the beginning with Casino Royale, and was a direct response to the success of the Bourne films.

Post-Tarantino to the CSI Effect

Although the “Post-Tarantino” age definitely began in the late nineties, the first decade of the millennium saw the further proliferation of Quentin Tarantino’s hallmarks – multiple characters with intersecting storylines, the beauty of violence, the injection of irreverent pop-culture referencing humour – to the point where they are now a standard. Arguably Guy Ritchie’s most popular film this side of the Atlantic, Snatch, struck a particular chord, filtering a Tarantino flash through a British sensibility. The “Age of Jason Statham” left in the wake only further branched out from here: The Transporter (and its sequels), Crank, Death Race, and so on.

This decade also saw Martin Scorsese win his first Oscar for The Departed, a remake of the Japanese film Infernal Affairs, which only came out four years previous in 2002. With Scorsese a common benchmark for crime films in Hollywood, The Departed, with a few traditional trappings of a gangster film, namely in its character archetypes, remains Scorsese’s most untraditional gangster film, with its unpredictable plot and Boston setting.

CSI: Crime Scene InvestigationIn the last ten years, we saw differing approaches to the deconstruction of crime, from the study of the criminal, such as the true-story Monster, to the crime-as-satire, such as American Psycho. On television, crime was perhaps most literally deconstructed (albeit within the confines of the strict formula of the crime procedural) in the runaway success of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (following-up an acronym with the acronym spelled out has always seemed rather redundant) and its many copycats. The graphic nature of the show, its grittiness, and lack of many “private life” storylines helped set the dark, green-filtered tone of the 2000s. Although on the wane, the genre is becoming more self-reflexive, especially with shows like Dexter turning the tables on the police versus killer dynamic (as the killer is one of the cops, natch) – a further re-evaluation of the Us versus Them value judgments in the post-9/11 era.

The remakes of Ocean’s Eleven – with their fairly PG nostalgic appeal of a happy-go-lucky criminal is definitely antithetical to the otherwise gritty realism of the decade’s crime films. This anomalous feel-good heist comedy (not to mention its even more outlandish sequels) stands apart from the rest of the decade in the same way Star Trek does, implying that remakes and reboots should follow one of two approaches: a) darker, moodier and grittier, or b) fun and frolicking with a sense of irony – but way, way, way cooler than the original.

Re: The Franchise, Retread / Remake / Reboot

Harry Potter and the Order of the PhoenixWhere to start on franchises, retreads, remakes and reboots? Any attempt to fully exorcise the extent of recycled material that appeared this decade would be the metaphorical equivalent of summarizing Shakespeare’s entire canon in “the play’s the thing.” In a fit of futility, I’ll be brief. Superheroes movies existed before this decade, as did sequels and franchises – but their complete and utter cultural saturation has taken itself to the extreme, where sequels and franchise spin-offs are expected, rather than a treat for the lucky audience. Too many bad remakes or sequels, such as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or X-Men Origins: Wolverine, seem to have left a poor taste in many mouths, yet studios still think in terms of franchise opportunities before they even greenlight the first film, as is evident with the immediate announcement of an Iron Man 2, a second Star Trek, and the set-up for at least one more Sherlock Holmes.

In literary adaptations like Harry Potter to almost every superhero film, the pre- and post-9/11/Iraq War transition is most evident. Harry Potter started in 2001 as a fantasy family story of good versus evil, and quickly became a dark, seething exploration of morality and identity. It would be hard to imagine Chris Columbus turning the central theme of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone into Harry’s identification with his shadow self that we see in David Yates’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Likewise, we saw the decade’s new explosion of superhero movies go from the campy fun of Sam Raimi’s Spiderman to the dark psychosis of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight – a perfect microsm of the story arch of the Noughties as a whole.

The Decade in Film: True Stories and Those Based on Them

The Biopic as Classic Narrative

Joe Strummer: The Future is UnwrittenThe biopic has always been a Hollywood staple, and has traditionally been treated as a sweeping epic: one whole life’s story. Over the years, what was once a glorification, or even blatant excuse for hero-worship, produced warts-and-all critiques. As the last decade began, we were still watching our most beloved icons struggles against the first act of adversity, followed by the second act of inevitable struggles, character faults, and brink of despair, followed by the third act of redemption. It always seemed amazing that every life’s true story – Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, Ray Charles in Ray, Beatrix Potter in Miss Potter, Muhammed Ali in Ali, Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, to name a few – could be tailored to a cookie-cutter formula. Only a few managed to break the mould, but they had to be almost subversive to do so, from the “po-mo” brilliance of the Bob Dylan-inspired I’m Not There (you can’t really call it a biopic), to Julien Temple’s fantastic documentary, Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten.

As the decade progressed from the cradle to the grave narratives of films such as The Aviator (Howard Hughes), the term “biopic” no longer seems relevant. It’s now memoirs rather than biographies. Films from the last few years, like The Queen, W., Becoming Jane, and Milk, or even this year’s Invictus, Bright Star and Julie and Julia, have focused on specific points in the subject’s life rather than the subject’s themselves. The attention now is on the issues related to that person, rather than the portrayal. For instance, does Joaquin Phoenix’s amazing portrayal of Johnny Cash redeem an otherwise clichéd and contrived film? It seemed to earlier this decade, but something’s changed. The surprise success of The Blind Side and the untitled Susan Boyle biopic in the works have proved that over a thousand years after its first recorded appearance, the Cinderella story still turns a pretty penny.

The Documentary as Spectacle

Iraq in FragmentsLong gone are the days of the carefully measured balanced view; here are the days of “infotainment,” and the closest thing we have to an “authority” on anything is Wikipedia. The focus is not the facts but the feeling, not learning details but getting the big picture or getting a character study, from everything Michael Moore to Supersize Me to The Corporation to Man on Wire to The Fog of War to In Inconvenient Truth. The nature of documentary filmmaking runs parallel to ethnographies: an alien invader attempting to understand and present something concrete when there may not be an objective truth in the first place. The best attempt documentary filmmaking and television can do these days is simply try to make their point in as entertaining a fashion as possible. It’s whoever can scream the loudest wins.

In television, its merits questionable or not, the rise and persistence of reality TV has been a defining characteristic of the Noughties. A strange class of documentaries themselves (albeit engineered by the almighty hand of the producers), reality television shows like Survivor and The Amazing Race, not to mention the endless stream of programmes devoted to the domestic arts, cannot be called anything but a spectacle, whether it being the exciting ‘who will win’ tension of a game show, or the perverse desire to stare at a car wreck.

As the decade has evolved, we’ve stumbled upon a slightly different approach: showcasing the subject in all its beauty; let the images speak for themselves. The documentary Iraq in Fragments avoided an explicit filmmaker’s perspective of ‘this is wrong / this is right’ but rather let us sink into the visual and visceral reality of war-torn Iraq. While the television series Planet Earth presented its subjects in all its high-definition glory. It was qualitative over quantitative. Maybe we didn’t always learn a lot but it was a spectacle.

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The Decade in Film: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Brokeback MountainArt has always lit the way for the great march forward. Hollywood, purveyor of popular art and entertainment, has always had to tread a careful line between progressive art and conservative entertainment. You need to push enough boundaries to stay relevant but be familiar enough not to alienate your audience. It is not surprising then, that the last decade has seen the careful balance between liberal and conservative. While many traditional story tropes were told in brilliantly new postmodern ways, we saw other conservative (as in traditional) storytelling devices, like the sweeping epic of Brokeback Mountain or the biopic of Milk, being used to tell very forward-thinking stories.

The main area of “social progress” has traditionally been race relations, especially for the American audience. While race relations are no where near ideal, this decade has seen the continuation of a “colour blind” way of seeing race, rather than being respective and tolerant of diversity: progressive, but not too progressive. Is it any wonder that the subpar and clichéd Crash won the best picture, when the deserving Brokeback Mountain did not? Brokeback Mountain entered the Academy Awards race with more award wins for Best Picture and Best Director than both Schindler’s List (1993) and Titanic (1997) combined.

Many films are pushing a thin racial moralizing, like The Blind Side and Invictus, but the subject of same sex coupledom is still controversial. We are starting to see this change, but real-life contradictions like the designation of Harvey Milk Day and the passing of Proposition 8 show how far there is to come. Words and actions aren’t jiving. Same-sex marriage is the social controversy of this decade – the last institutionalized prejudice in the United States – where racial issues are not seen as controversial, even though they still exist. With that in mind, by the end of the decade, however, race issues were still a big part of films. We need to remember that before this decade, there was no black Best Actress, and Denzel Washington became the first black multiple Oscar winner. The complete and total lack of controversy that arose with Guess Who, the Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac remake of 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, seems remarkably demonstrative of where we’ve landed. The barrier has been broken, but we’re still crossing the boundary.

The Gender Divide

The Hurt LockerFor most of the decade, women in Hollywood have followed the usual story: in performance, relegated to the roles of the mother, the girlfriend, the femme fatale, the ditzy romcom protagonist, and a whole host of other tired archetypes; in creation, relegated to the roles of art direction and production. Within the last year or two, we seem to be entering a transition period. Some actresses (a small group of amazing standouts) have been garnering attention for their complex and multi-faceted characters. While there is surely a wide talent pool for actress across the globe, there still seems to be a select few – Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet – that are consistently given the chance to fully flesh out the slowly increasing number of good female roles appearing in Hollywood.

Only at the end of the decade were we really beginning to fully accept the female auteur director. While small-but-important films (such Jane Campion’s Bright Star, Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, Lone Scherfig’s An Education, Kimberly Peirce’s Stop Loss, and Gurinder Chadha’s Bend it Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice) have championed the female auteur, 2008 and 2009 were unprecedented for female directors rising to the marketable forefront of filmmaking, from Karyn Kusama of Jennifer’s Body to Catherine Hardwicke of Twilight. Say what you will about Twilight, it was still a better film than its male-directed sequel (Chris Weitz’s New Moon). However, the fact that when a director is female or a film has a good female role is still remarked upon as significant and not taken for granted is symptomatic of the fact that a gender divide still exists.

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The Decade in Film: The Epic and Science Fiction

Death of the Epic

The Lord of the RingsThe arrival of The Lord of the Rings arguably killed the epic. Virtually every traditional fantasy film – pumped out at a consistent rate in an attempt to duplicate The Lord of the Rings success – since has flopped. Think merely of other (mostly children’s) book adaptations, such as Eragon, Beowulf and The Golden Compass. The Chronicles of Narnia are still being churned out, but they lack the pervasiveness into the mainstream subconscious that something like The Lord of the Rings has. The old, familiar worlds of dragons and elves and knights were instantly rendered moot after Middle Earth. The epic formula has seemingly ceased to grab audience’s imaginations, other such epic flops include The New World, Kingdom of Heaven, Troy, and HBO’s critically applauded but quickly cancelled Rome. As popular as The Passion of the Christ was at the time, it is largely forgotten and irrelevant now. The successes have been such films as Harry Potter and Twilight, which have taken us into a postmodern pastiche of fantasy elements – witches, wizards, vampires and werewolves repackaged for the 21st century.

The Last Arias of the Space Opera

District 9This decade brought us Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Did the total suckitude of these films kill traditional science fiction, or had we already outgrown traditional science fiction by the time they rolled around? I believe that it was a combination of the two (not to mention the sour taste in our mouths left over from The Phantom Menace). The post-9/11 world was ready to deal in black and white; good vs evil, but by the time Revenge of the Sith came out, we were ambivalent and jaded.

Firefly, and its film follow-up, Serenity, followed a group of antiheroes against the Imperial-like Alliance was similar to this template, but showed the steps we started to take away from the space opera. The new Star Wars dealt in black and white when we needed shades of grey: it left a void that science fiction storytelling in the manner of Battlestar Galactica would fill. Stargate: SG-1 and its spinoff Stargate: Atlantis each had a good run (Atlantis not so much, depending on who you ask), but both have ended, leaving the new Stargate: Universe in their wake, the premise of which – a motley crew lost in space – seems to be a missing link in the paradigm shift from old to new school science fiction.

A Galaxy Close, Close By

Far from the space operas or making contact films, in the latter years of the decade science fiction explored the off-beat and quirky side of space, and the reality in the dystopian futures. Dystopian futures have gone from the distant future to the frighteningly recognisable future: from Children of Men, where Clive Owen wears a London 2012 t-shirt, to Idiocracy and Wall-E, where real issues we can identify with now are thrown out exponentially in a starkly real satire.

Films like Sunshine and Moon explored our immediate space – rather than a galaxy far, far away. And District 9 didn’t even go into space at all. Sci-fi (or SyFy, apparently) has always been a good barometer of social issues contemporaneous to the culture that created it, but with films like District 9 and shows like Battlestar Galactica, the allegory is all too clear – pointing a firm finger into the face of society.

Elements of science fiction and fantasy were seen in film and were especially pervasive in television, with the incorporation of magic realism, magic, mythology, and things like time travel into the everyday verisimilitude of shows and films like Lost, Flash Forward, Pirates of the Caribbean, Pan’s Labyrinth, and the infamous Twilight.

To Boldly Split Infinitives

But this trend was not all encompassing. The overwhelming success of the Star Trek reboot – even after a realization that the old methods of science fiction storytelling were no longer relevant – clearly argues that traditional science fiction is still alive and well. The result was a happy-go-lucky winner: something standing in stark contrast to the prevailing mood of the decade. While most franchises grew darker, and most reboots had an underlying grimy social core, Star Trek was all flash and panache: a one-off or a sign of things to come in the decade ahead?

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The Decade in Film: The War Conflict Film

The War Conflict Film

The war film as a Romantic narrative is virtually over. While this slow decline began with Vietnam, it only really grew apparent with the Iraq war. The war that was always seen as most Romantic, the most justified in our self-righteousness, was World War II. The Nazis are still the go-to bad guys of the twentieth century, and while this still applies, we’re increasingly seeing them as fallible humans rather than evil autocrats.

Band of BrothersIn ten short years we have gone from the pre-9/11 Band of Brothers, which seems the last of its kind as it very much belongs to the endless stream of WWII films of the 1990s, to whole new takes on WWII, from Quentin Tarantino’s gloriously postmodern exploration of brutality, Inglourious Basterds, to the German film, Downfall, where we get a surprisingly human portrayal of Hitler. Holocaust films have grown in their portrayals as well, to the point where, in The Reader, we have a Nazi as a main character. The self-reflexive view of history that appeared after 9/11 has made films like Passchendaele seem outdated. We have moved towards a much-more critical view of war, with a multi-vocal perspective, which is perhaps most evident in the surprise success of Clint Eastwood’s Japanese-perspective in Letters to Iwo Jima, and the parallel surprise failure of his American-perspective in Flags of our Fathers.

The Lives of OthersThe Cold War was also far more evenly handled, with the demonization of the Soviets largely a thing of the past. The Soviet villains of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull somehow no longer felt justified; we weren’t ready for out-and-out bad guys. In Goodbye Lenin!, where we saw varying opinions on the fall of the Berlin Wall, the story followed the lives of ordinary people adjusting to the change to capitalism. The Lives of Others (perhaps gaining my personal vote for top film of the decade) saw the manipulations of the socialist state condemned, but one of the coldest, most ruthless Stasi agents greatly humanized and actually becoming the protagonist.

Western audiences also embraced (to some degree, at least) other cinematic explorations of 21st century conflicts around the world, especially in Africa. Almost all were based on a true story. We got a few, such a Shake Hands With the Devil and The Last King of Scotland, that gave us the “white outsider” perspective on an Africa issue, while others, such as the superb Hotel Rwanda and the recent Invictus, gave us a wonderful insight to African issues from an African perspective.

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The Decade in Film: Introduction

Throughout the great interwebs are a million articles on the best films and best television shows of the decade. As arbitrary and meaningless as it is to divide human history into ten year periods, each decade’s zeitgeist doesn’t magically change over night as December 31st becomes January 1st. Attitudes and values evolve over time, and with the speed of global communication in the 21st century, that evolution is happening faster than ever. If we need to pin down a moment our current world became the one it did, beyond a shadow of a doubt it’s 9/11.

Cloverfield (2008)

9/11 presents the one moment we can now use to define a “before” and “after”, but I believe we were already on a gradual slide into the postmodern, and only well and truly arrived there in the post-9/11 world. “Postmodern” has no truly objective weight to it – and postmodern films have been around for decades now – but the Noughties (it’ll be interesting to see if that moniker sticks) has seen elements of postmodernism creep into popular films and television in an unprecedented manner. With that, I see two general trends in this decade: Postmodernism and Post 9/11.

Rather than add my two cents to an already-overwhelming wealth of nothing more than someone’s not-so-humble opinion, I thought I’d review the decade myself. Not in a way that measure best and worst, but rather highlight trends and changes in popular film and television over the last ten years. This is in no way a list, nor is it authoritative or comprehensive, but rather the opening up of a discussion. So, please, comment. While this discussion is technically film and television, the focus is mainly film, with television applied as needed, like some kind of ointment. There are a lot of films and shows that I’m not familiar enough to confidently comment on, so what follows is simply my opinions and my observations presented in a fairly generalized way. Please accept my fallibility. As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20….

Postmodernism

BabelThere’s been an over-arching change over the decade from conservative in both form and story, as is evident in the first two Best Pictures of the decade, the formulaic epic, Gladiator, followed by the formulaic biopic, A Beautiful Mind, to an arguably postmodern wealth of popular cinema. In these recent years, we’ve seen a proliferation of the nontraditional: a recognition of the global village, seen in such a wide range of films as from Bend it Like Beckham to Babel; multi-vocal stories and the rise of the mosaic story, in such films as Traffic and Amores Perros, and nonlinear narratives, such as Memento; self-awareness, intertextuality, and irony, such as in the work of Edgar Wright (Spaced, Hot Fuzz); and a general feeling that there is nothing else new to contribute to cinema, as is evident by the multitude of remakes, reboots, reimaginings, adaptations, reworkings of genres, and more. Think then of the two most recent best pictures: No Country for Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire (both also based on books). It would have been difficult to see how either of these would even have been considered for an Oscar ten years ago.

Post-9/11

Battlestar Galactica“Post-9/11” cannot be characterized in one way; really, it should be divided into Post-9/11 and Post-Iraq War. Characterized by escapism and “black and white” moralizing, the years 2001, 2002 and 2003 brought us films like The Lord of the Rings, the first two Harry Potter films, the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, and the beginnings of the superhero trend. But as the decade went on, and we watched a futile war in Iraq unfold, the Us Vs. Them mentality faded, so much that the line between the two even faded. Filmmakers began to explore differing questions of good and evil, of self and other. We arrived at a brand-new questioning of our underlying values and structures. A villain that was simply unquestioningly evil suddenly seemed irrelevant and outdated.

The change is marked by a quick comparison to what we get away with now and what we would never get away with several years ago. The fact that Battlestar Galactica was able to include acts of terrorism perpetrated on behalf of the protagonists shows how fast we moved on from the situation as chronicled in a documentary about the Dixie Chicks, Shut Up & Sing, which seems just so ridiculous now. The political and cultural climate we live in now seems such a far cry from Operation Iraqi Freedom that it’s amazing to see how much the world has changed, not just on September 11, but in the years that followed as well.

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the first week of a new year in a total blur

It’s been 2010 for a week now and I’m still writing “09” on everything. I don’t know if I will ever be able to accept that fact that it is a new millenium and has been for ten years now. “2010” doesn’t sound like the name of a year, it sounds like a science fiction comic book from the 1953. “1953” – now that sounds like a date in time. “2010” has become so synonymous with the impending Olympics that it has lost all meaning now, how like when you repeat a word over and over in your head it loses all meaning. (Try it with “fork,” that’s the best.)

I’m almost a week into the Film Arts program at Langara and I have mixed emotions. Clearly, I am excited and optimistic and I know this is going to be great. But, on the other hand, I’m still adjusting to my new routine, and feeling a little stressed about the lack of a life that looms over the next eight months. The first week has been the usual ego-clashing pissing contest, with everyone layering a pseudo-modesty over the sweeping epic they’ve constructed of their lives. Hopefully, but this time next week, all that will be over with. It’s a little tough to try to find your confidence in such a position, especially when your confidence is a keystone in your success and you know it.

my top ten films of the decade

There’s been a lot of these lists floating around lately, obviously due to the impending end of the so-called Noughties. (Personally, I much more interested to see if that name sticks.) For something so recent, everyone’s list is bound to be different. We don’t have the benefit of time depth to lend an objective weight to the proceedings. We don’t have the hindsight of sixty years to realize how influential something like Citizen Kane became. We can’t know what films will stand the proverbial test of time to become the eventual classics our grandchild will moan and fidget through. We can’t know what blockbusters and Oscar-winners will simply drop from remembrance all together (although my money’s on Transformers and Crash, respectively). It’s simply too soon. Thus, I’m hedging my bets.

10. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)

Eternal Sunshine is a classic story wrapped up in a brand new box. It’s boy meets girl. Boy wants desperately to forget girl. Boy starts to. Boy panics. Boy meets girl again. But it’s with a beautiful sense of whimsy that only Michel Gondry can really bring to life (it was hard to keep The Science of Sleep off this list) that we are allowed to wallow in our own sense of nostalgia and regret, no matter how hurtful and wrong we might realize that is. Pain is beauty as we realize that we tend to forget our own history and thus condemn ourselves to making the same mistakes.

9. Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)

Brokeback Mountain should have beat Crash in the Best Picture race. That’s my humble opinion. Further solidifying Ang Lee at the top spot on my personal list of directors who really understand character, Jack and Ennis’s love story is easily the most heart-wrenching of all time. To label it a ‘Romeo and Juliet” story doesn’t really do it justice. Romeo and Juliet were two teenagers, metynomic devices for the moral. As tragic as it is, it’s a happy ending because the Montagues and Capulets resolve their differences. Jack and Ennis are not Romeo and Juliet. They are real people, and that is what makes this film so tragic. There is no happy ending. There is only to pain and regret. Which, in and of itself, speaks volumes.

8. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)

Shaun of the DeadI’m ignoring here those people in the back of the room shouting “It revived the zombie movie for the 21st century!” Yes, it did. I’m not arguing with you. I’m just saying that it will be remembered for its comedy, not its horror. In one fell swoop, it immediately rendered the flat, childish humour of the “Frat Pack” moot and outdated (to me at least, even though some people still find Ben Stiller funny). It was the signal of a changing tide. Though still full of bodily fluids, it was not a gross-out flick. Shaun of the Dead ushered in the new era of postmodern comedy: intelligent, self-reflexive, intertexual, of course, bloody hilarious.
 

7. The Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson, 2001/2/3)

Peter Jackson’s epic is to the fantasy genre what coal dust was to the peppered moth. What else can be said about The Lord of the Rings? It’s something of a no-brainer isn’t it? I feel like I’ve written a lot already about how it’s more or less killed the fantasy genre… so thus, to borrow a Darwinian analogy, it simply forced it to evolve. Nothing can really compete with this tale of hobbits and elves and dwarves and orcs and men, and Middle Earth because it is at once something so fantastic and universal, but intensely personal. (Let’s just ignore the Deus Ex Army of the Dead, and the endless questions as to why the damned Eagles didn’t just save everyone to begin with, shall we?) It’s so sweeping and layered that you feel it kind of encompasses…. everything. Best Picture, indeed.

6. Le scaphandre et le papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) (Julian Schnabel, 2007)

It would seem strange to refer to this film with something as trite as “uplifting,” but alas, it kind of is… yet also, sincerely depressing. Very few works of art can tread that careful line, but Schnabel’s phenomenal achievement succeeds admirably.  Mathieu Almaric’s lead performance as Jean-Do, left completely paralyzed save for one eye which he used to blink his memoirs, is so extraordinary one might think it were the stuff of miracles. With ONE EYE he manages to convey the complexity of emotions one feels in reliving a life cut short.

5. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 2006)

Of all the dystopic futures that ever appeared in celluloid, from Metropolis onwards, Children of Men is one of the most hauntingly real. From Theo’s battered London 2012 t-shirt to the endless stream of shrapnel scarred buildings, the violence and chaos that masks the underlying prevalence of the absolute fear that motivates this society. From set pieces such as the cruelly empty primary school to Cuaron’s intense unending shot, we are dragged along for a ride that was oh-so-sadly overlooked during the 2006 awards season.

4. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

There Will Be BloodAnchored by brilliant performaces by Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano, There Will Be Blood stands apart from its time and place. It’s easy to see Daniel Plainview as the postmodern Charles Foster Kane; as both Anderson and Welles show us a man achieving all the highest material values of his society, while succumbing to the lowest human weaknesses. It is simultaneously the story of one man’s ascent and descent through entrepreneurial success and emotional failure, the story of the multi-faceted goods and evils of the American Dream, and especially the more intricate allegory for the western world’s ruthless exploitation of others in the name of oil. Adapted from portions of Upton Sinclair’s excellent novel Oil!, the new title says it all: “there will be blood…” not only in the course in this story, but for as long as the story of oil is told.

3. Wall-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)

Wall-E is easily the most explicit but sweet movie Pixar (and subsequently Disney) have ever produced. On one hand, it’s as if Al Gore met a magical wizard in a bar who gave him the power of a decent parable. On the other, it is the familiar, heart-breaking Pixar formula blown-up to a macro-scale. By Pixar Formula, I mean, of course, their uncanny ability to make us suddenly sit up screaming, crying for our lost childhoods.  With Wall-E, it’s that same formula, compounded with an intelligent trope of social commentary, as we weep for the childhood of Mother Earth, as well as a time when the projected future was something that would improve humanity, not allow it to become a blobby cesspool of laziness and isolation. It wouldn’t be ‘best of the noughties’ without an entry from Pixar.

 
2. Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (Amelie) (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)

I’ve told this to many people as I’ve violently trust this DVD into their hands: if you don’t love this film, you have no soul. Twee? Yes. Quirky? Check. Take from that what you will, but there is an intricate beauty in this story of a lonely woman (stunningly gorgeous pixie that she is) as she lives out her quest to make the world a better place. Jeunet’s masterpiece grabs your heart, and twists in the most simplest of places. As lovely as it is to look it, it is the loveliness of the characters, especially the man of glass and the grocer’s assistant, and the tiny details with which they are rendered that holds on to you. Think of them with me, the details: the cracking of a spoon on creme brulee, dipping your hands in to a bag of grain, skipping stones in the canal….

 
1. Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)

The first time I watched The Lives of Others, I was alone and popped in the DVD, not sure what to expect, even though I’d heard good things. When it ended, I immediately thought, ‘That may just be the best film I have ever seen. Ever.’ This is a redemption song just as much as it is a political thriller just as much as it is a commentary on a time and place just as much as it is a portrait of a relationship. I knew that this film would top this list, but sitting here, trying to write about it, I’m at a loss. It’s kind of like trying to write a logline for the Bible: “One man’s journey to salvation…” Hm, true perhaps, but doesn’t quite fit. Haunting, fascinating, gorgeous, thought-provoking… all true, all just small fragments of what could possibly be said about this masterpiece.