December 22, 2009 the finish line

I’ve watched more movies in the last ten years than I did in the previous 26. Closer to the truth is that I’ve watched more movies each of the last ten years than I did in all the previous 26. I don’t know that I’m the better for it – often, I’m certain that I’m the worst – but for what it’s worth, doing this professionally has forced me to reassess notions of enjoyment. I got into this business because I love movies, see, and this business has demonstrated to me that the majority of movies are fucking awful. There’s nothing to describe the feeling of the first five minutes of a terrible film. It’s astonishing not because those five minutes are that bad, right, but because they hold the promise of an additional 85 awful minutes. It’s very much like going to the dentist. You’re not going to have fun. The best you can hope for is that you don’t bleed much.

The first couple of years of doing this, I saw everything. The last couple, I did my best to see very little. The thing I loved has become a job that I only love sometimes.

But maybe that’s not a bad thing. Not being able to be selective in what I see has made me more grateful for the things that are great. I had a conversation just today with a friend who said to me that the majority of movies that I talk about the most are movies that she’d never heard of before. I didn’t know that. I didn’t realize how much of an immeasurable gift it was to be able to see all the stuff that you don’t get to see; see? You get the list of every little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in every place you’ll ever visit and you let McDonalds and Chilis take care of themselves.

I like the analogy. You can write reviews of Burger King until chimps fly out of your ass, but you’re never going to change anyone’s mind about anything and, more, it’s truly questionable that you’re telling them something that they don’t know already. You’re only really in deep water, right, if you call Burger King misogynistic, racist, or only for retards. Hard lessons to learn. Oh well, you were never going to be friends with Burger King, anyway, am I right?

Something else, though, that happens is that from a certain vantage, you’re afforded the opportunity to glimpse who you were a few years ago: what your values were and your tastes, and most, in the words of Ani DiFranco of all people, assess your stretch marks to see how you’ve grown. With that – here goes a reassessment of the top tens since 2000 (I’m cheating on the first year; wasn’t writing then) with new lists, ending with a top ten for the decade that, you know, I actually think should begin in 2001 and end in 2010, but there you have it.

So here's the list for 2000 - look for a list a day, a year a day, then the best of 2009 at the mutha-site then ending back here at the blog with a best of the aughties master-list of ten.

Parentheses denote former rank (if any).

10. Red Planet
9. O Brother Where Art Thou?
8. George Washington
7. Unbreakable
6. Dancer in the Dark
5. Claire Dolan
4. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
3. Waking the Dead
2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
1. Ratcatcher

I love Lynne Ramsay’s films – there’s a real and savage beauty to them that feels entirely unlike the way that men imagine youth and hardship. Compare her (and favorably) to Ken Loach. In ten years, she’s only made two films, both amazing: Ratcatcher at the head of this year, here, and then Samantha Morton in the curiously uplifting
Morvern Callar in 2002. She joins the tiny sorority of women filmmakers on these year-lists though she finds herself one slot shy of making the decade-list. I wonder if that’s more the function of my bias as a male spectator – this idea that I can’t really hear the music on an essential level if its composed by a woman. It’s a terrible blindspot. I’m not sure how to address it. We’ll talk more.

Ang Lee’s
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is fascinating stuff: an American filmmaker working in his native country with non-Mandarin speakers, engaged in telling one of the foundational books of the mainland culture. Jarmusch + Forest Whitaker = Bliss; Keith Gordon delivers his haunted masterpiece with Waking the Dead; Lodge Kerrigan scores with a suffocating character study; Lars Von Trier astounds with his surrealist ode to the Hollywood Muscial; M. Night Shyamalan accidentally makes a great movie. Then there’s David Gordon Green’s fabulous debut, the Coens’ sneaky-great adaptation of The Odyssey, and Red Planet: the most underestimated modern sci-fi film in memory, lost in the wake of one of the most overestimated: The Matrix.

As a hangover year from the great 1999: a couple of undisputed masterpieces and one of the few years this decade I find that I've let my pro-American bias slip and elected a non-Yank picture as the best of the year.

Ah, me, so full of tangled prejudice.


Jefferson Robbins said...

Antony Hoffman's Red Planet, and not Brian DePalma's Mission to Mars? Hmm. Interesting. I've seen the latter, not the former, and each seemed to nullify the other in the public mind. The only thing holding Mission back from greatness is the (studio-mandated?) voiceover of the characters explaining to us what they've discovered in the Martian catacombs. It's a misunderstood SF gem, like A.I.

I revisited CT,HD the other night and it still works. I don't care that it's all been done before; I still love it, this new patch on a very old way of telling action stories.

Ghost Dog really is a lovely thing, and Cliff Gorman's Public Enemy-spouting wiseguy is a phenomenal side character. I pulled out the soundtrack by the RZA & co. the other day -- essentially a Wu-Tang joint, with a lot of outside help -- and I was shocked at how sloppy it was. It's no "36 Chambers," that's for sure.

A very fine list.

Dennis said...

Red Planet? Over Edward Yang's Yi Yi? Songs From the Second Floor? You Can Count On Me. Looking over its general critical reception, I see you at least have Ebert as a defender, so there's that.

Seriously though, maybe I'll revisit it, all I remember is Carrie-Anne Moss out-floating an explosion in space and the scientists bouncing down cliffs in a giant rubber ball.

Walter_Chaw said...

I dunno - I like You Can Count on Me all right but I don't feel any kind of suture with it, then or ten years on. Yi Yi is good, so is Songs from the Second Floor, but, again, I don't know that I feel the same kind of affection for them as I do the films on the list. Red Planet kicks ass, though, giant rubber ball and all. Nice feminist flick, too, that deals with issues of women in power in a about-it-but-not-about-it way.

Patrick said...

I'll be watching this closely. One thing I noticed when I did my own top 10 of the last 10 (and I hear you about 2010) was how many critically acclaimed films I have never seen (Death of Mr Laracescu), and I'm sure I also forgot some. For example, I overlooked Ghost Dog for 2000. Asian cinema is still very much a blind spot for me, and European films, too.

My top movie from 2000 ist Unbreakable. I just love it. My runner-ups (excluding Ghost Dog) are Memento and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

I must say what I noticed was that the first five or so years were not that great when it came to film, it was a dearth of great movies – but the second half of the decade? Wow. I could have made a decade top ten easily from 2007 alone. So I'll be looking out for that.

DJR said...

Nah, it's cool to let your freak flag fly when it comes to lists, which should be imbued with a personal sensibility instead of the herd mentality that renders so many top 10 lists a snore.

I can't talk, since I'm probably one of a couple dozen people who liked Tsui Hark's subversive, exuberant Knock Off, one of maybe half a dozen people who prefer it to Hark's exhausting Time and Tide, and perhaps the only person in existence who would consider tacking it onto the 10 spot of their 1998 list.

O'JohnLandis said...

I can't talk, since I'm probably one of a couple dozen people who liked Tsui Hark's subversive, exuberant Knock Off, one of maybe half a dozen people who prefer it to Hark's exhausting Time and Tide, and perhaps the only person in existence who would consider tacking it onto the 10 spot of their 1998 list.

Madness, I say; madness! Last place in a Top 10 list from over a decade ago? Who could ever conceive of such an audacious, personal choice?

Um, DJR, Alex put Plan 9 in something like third place of all time. Amateur...

Nah, it's cool to let your freak flag fly when it comes to lists, which should be imbued with a personal sensibility instead of the herd mentality that renders so many top 10 lists a snore.

I resent the idea that pretty much anyone's list isn't imbued with a personal sensibility. I mean, how else can a person's Top 10 list come into being? Popular vote? Do you really think people edit their lists to appear less unique? Anyone at all?

Perhaps you mean people need to see more films before they feel qualified to make such a list. Fair point. Perhaps what you're trying to say is that a person's list ought to have uncommon choices. And if the person in question truly believes in those uncommon choices, that's fine too. It's counterfeit uncommon choices that worry me, as they actually tell me less about a listmaker than common choices.

Now, Walter's lists are better than most (even when he cheats and includes too many films), but if his (or anyone's) process is to include a few common choices that he really loves, only to drop other common choices he'd otherwise prefer to uncommon films he'd like to see mentioned in list form, it'd be fair to criticize that. In other words, if Walter thinks Red Planet is better than Memento, that tells us something interesting about Walter. But if he thinks they're pretty close, actually prefers Memento, but just wants to find a place for Red Planet, that tells us nothing. Because the list no longer says, "These are my Top 10." It says, "Boy, wouldn't it be great if posterity could think these are my Top 10." Wanna be a rebel? Tell the truth.

By the way, Walter, I was just using you as an example. I actually liked Red Planet--not as much as Memento, sure, but well enough--and Memento is the only exclusion that seems like a massive oversight. (Maybe The Widow of Saint-Pierre too, but you get the idea.)

Anonymous said...

was almereyda's hamlet anywhere near? i recall you fawning over it at some point.

DJR said...

Sometimes I suspect many critics don't have the courage of their convictions to really go out on a limb very often, or their taste in film/approach to criticism isn't interesting enough to hold my attention.

As for Memento, I suspect he's counting it as a 2001 release, as they did with their original 2001 top ten. If anything I hope Memento moves up from its original spot (#4) and In the Bedroom falls a few notches from its surprising top spot.

O'JohnLandis said...

If a movie's released in 2000, it appears on a 2000 Top 10--especially if that list is created in 2009. It was wrong for Memento to be included on the 2001 list, and if that list was made today, I suspect it wouldn't have been. At least, with the introduction of "I Wish I'd Seen in Time," I thought it wouldn't have been. In any event, if there's a time to fix the mistakes of the past, it'd be in a "Best of Decade" format, looking back. I do confess not to have checked the early Film Freak Top 10s in some time, though.

I saw Bridge on the River Kwai for the first time in 1994, but that doesn't mean it should appear on a 1994 Top 10. Think that's an unfair example? Why?

Kyle Puetz said...

Memento was a 2001 release in the USA. If we go by your criteria, ojohnlandis, Walter's already made a mistake:

All of which just increases the arbitrariness of the list-making process. Not to say that it still isn't capable of generating items of interest...

Arlvy said...

I've been trying to plan a best of the decade list for a few months now and I keep getting distracted and at times dismayed with just how few films I've seen over the past 3 years (work and family commitments) but just thought I'd say that 2002 might have been the best year for cinema in 20 years. '99 was obviously a strong year but still, I think '02 edges it out:

24 Hour Party People
25th Hour
About Schmidt
The Bourne Identity
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Dog Soldiers
Far From Heaven
Femme Fatale
In This World
Infernal Affairs
Lost in La Mancha
Morvern Callar
Punch-Drunk Love
The Ring
Rodger Dodger
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

The first and last of that alphabetical list are also my top 2 films of the decade.

Walter_Chaw said...

I'm afraid these lists are always spotty in some way. I don't mean that as an excuse, just explanation that I'm not very vigorous in these matters. Something to which a weary Bill will attest. In my memory, Memento was released in the U.S. in spring of 2001 but even that isn't something that I'd stand too firmly on if pushed up against it. In truth, I saw Memento on the 2001 list and didn't question it there.

It gets more complicated, too. A lot of the selections on these upcoming revised lists have never gotten a U.S. theatrical release meaning, in a sense, that according to the standards set by EOY lists, they have no home at all.

What I've tried to sort of adhere to is this theory that films created in a certain temporal proximity to one another demonstrate similar traits and are useful, in that way, in gathering a gestalt view of a period. The way, for instance, we mark Red Scare flicks of the 50s or paranoia flicks from the 70s. So even though I saw Frankenheimer's ALL FALL DOWN for the first time in the last year, the film makes more sense to me in a conversation about the films of Frankenheimer's most fulsome period than the films of 2009.

Even that's not ironclad, though, in that how do I change my perspective (being exactly who I am, when I am) to presume what's best in a previous year?

I wouldn't try really were these lists meant to document films much older than 2000... Of course that time frame, too, is somewhat arbitrary.

What I'm saying is - it's a good conversation.

Wait'll you see what I do to Kill Bill.

Tony said...

Glad to see Red Planet get a little love. I'm not sure if I like it now as much as I did when it came out, but its a pretty fun movie with an amazing score by Graeme Revell.

O Brother Where Art Thou? is a film that I have no idea why I haven't gotten around to buying. I love it as a film, but also because it's a very relaxing when I want it to be; something about it its ambiance, music and color palette is very soothing. The perfect movie for an after-school afternoon where you don't have anything to do and would rather rest.