Best of the Aughts: Film

by Slant Staff on February 7, 2010   Jump to Comments (4) or Add Your Own


Revanche

90. Revanche. A self-reliant codger intent on conserving his remaining energy contrasts with a younger foursome squandering theirs on misdirected passions and poisonous emotions in this somber ethics rumination in daylight-noir trappings. His would-be robbery career disastrously scotched on job one, Alex (Johannes Krisch) retreats to his grandfather's farm, where a woodpile becomes a conduit for grief, regret, and rage at a perceived victimizer tantalizingly nearby, while a mournful cop and his unfulfilled wife trod their own emotional minefield and a web of unacknowledged connections draws taut. Justice is a fool's preoccupation in Götz Spielmann's morally serious domain, and revanche a road to ruin. RS

Gabrielle

89. Gabrielle. "I love her as a collector does his most prized item," reflects haute bourgeois Jean Hervey of his eponymous wife, but his smug inner monologue is shattered when he discovers a letter announcing Gabrielle's departure. A failure of nerve precipitates her return and the rest of Patrice Chéreau's richly novelistic, late 19th-century-set film unfolds as a series of densely rendered dialogues which chart the inevitable displacements and epistemological gaps inherent in the power structures of upper-middle-class life. In one of his last articles, Robin Wood wrote that Gabrielle "is so much more…than a period movie about a marital breakup," and in its precise rendering of a specific social milieu, Chéreau's film extends beyond its constricted setting to expose an entire set of cultural assumptions. AS

Late Marriage

88. Late Marriage. Dover Kosashvili's first feature is a scathing critique of a culture's marriage rites and the psychological harm it inflicts. The 31-year-old Israeli son of Georgian Jewish parents, Zaza slyly eludes his parents' attempts to arrange a marriage between him and a proper suitor (rich, young, doting), meanwhile secretly dating a 34-year-old divorcée named Judith on the side. Kosashvili understands that Zaza's life lacks real tragic structure, and he mercifully avoids the solipsism of Eytan Fox's The Bubble, instead using barbs to poke fun at absurd cultural norms; near the end, Zaza pays his family heritage a backhanded compliment by kissing his father on the crotch. The director doesn't pull any punches, but the ease he shows is remarkable, especially in a sex scene between Zaza and Judith, which might be the closest cinematic approximation to what it's like to fuck somebody you love. PS

Wendy and Lucy

87. Wendy and Lucy. With its poignant belief in salvation through canine camaraderie and its unwavering attention to the dollar sum separating an embattled, Alaska-bound drifter from destitution, Wendy and Lucy provides an American neorealist movement its Umberto D., one versed in the native self-justifications that stop us extending a hand to our neighbors. Drabbed by hiker garb and boy hair, Michelle Williams vanishes behind her unlucky loner, whose self-identification as the only caregiver of her dependent—dog Lucy—is humiliatingly tested when fate maroons her in a strip-mall hinterland. With this unadorned personal crisis drama, Kelly Reichardt creates an arousal to advocacy documentarians should envy. RS

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

86. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Beyond its fanciful hook of medical technicians-for-hire that wipe out memories of a lost love ("technically, brain damage"), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind serves up some of the ugliest lovers' quarrels in the annals of romantic comedy. Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry's original, moving fable hinges on a high-maintenance couple, Jim Carrey's introverted artist and Kate Winslet's "fucked-up girl looking for (her) own peace of mind," who meet cute for the first time, twice, before and after breaking up and having each other expunged from their cerebral cortices. Romance is ultimately hard, tearful work. "What do we do?" "Enjoy it." Bill Weber

Big Fish

85. Big Fish. For the first time since Danny DeVito's Penguin shed a tear for the parents who abandoned him in a sewer at the beginning of Batman Returns, Tim Burton connects his outsize set design to an enormous depth of feeling, a magical-realist costume party that is also profoundly rooted in the fraught relationship between fathers and sons. Big Fish unspools in circles, suggesting not only that the truth is slippery, but that stories are more fun when they're harder to pin down. An aging patriarch tells his family tall tales about his travels through American history as a young man (catching the biggest catfish in the world, befriending a giant). No one is sure when he's honest and when he's fibbing, least of all his pragmatic son, but there's much more at stake in Burton's ravishing compositions, which at once recognize the debt we owe our forbearers and one man's deep, abiding love for his country. PS

Russian Ark

84. Russian Ark. Is it merely enough to expand the parameters of cinematic language, and not just the form? In other words, would it have merely been enough for director Aleksandr Sokurov and cinematographer Tilman Büttner to simply hit the "record" button before taking a stroll through a dog park in St. Petersburg? Maybe, and I'm sure I'd still watch, but duration and ambition are in this case conduits, not vessels. (Want an example of the flip? Suffer Mike Figgis's Time Code.) Sokurov's synchronous, one-shot tour through the Hermitage Museum and Russian history argues on behalf of retaining your cultural connection with exactingly choreographed history. Eric Henderson

Boarding Gate

83. Boarding Gate. Olivier Assayas's pet themes on everything post-Y2K, from globalization to digital lust, are a difficult pill to swallow, but few other directors commit themselves to their projects so fully or deliver such a visceral punch. Assayas finds a kinky soul mate in Asia Argento, who so single-mindedly embodies her role as a slutty drug-runner caught in a web of deception, you feel compelled to watch just to make sure she doesn't implode. Assayas’s typically booby-trapped plot jumps from Paris to Hong Kong as frantically and hypnotically as his camera passes through hallways, making it almost impossible to know what's going on at any given moment. But the details are less important than the game Assayas is playing—a sinuous sexual power play in which characters are treated like stocks bought and sold on the market. Argento is only too happy to oblige. PS

Gosford Park

82. Gosford Park. "You can't be on both teams at once," a chambermaid tells an American interloper in Robert Altman's exhilarating Gosford Park, set at a 1932 English country house where the history of upstairs-downstairs relations undermines a weekend pheasant shoot and prompts the host's murder. Confused with "light" entertainment because of its rich humor, this satire of the aristocratic instinct to toss the emotions (and offspring) of menials on the scrap heap doesn't stint on laughs, sublime set pieces—as when the servants surreptitiously listen to a famous guest croon at the piano—or reminders of its transatlantic cast's wit and versatility. BW

WALL-E

81. WALL-E. From Monsters, Inc. through Up, Pixar's formula throughout the decade remained nailed down, on point, and irresistible to children, parents and critics alike. (Even their biggest misfire, Cars, was still embraced as a reasonably entertaining Tex Avery knockoff.) But none of their movies hit the sweet spot quite as majestically as 2008's galactic ecology fable, a secular Left Behind in which a button-cute robot janitor enamored by Jerry Herman showtunes and a hair-triggered lady iPod learns to value others' prime directives. And, unlike the soda-irrigating retards of Idiocracy, learns how to keep a sprig alive. Call it Children of Men, for Children. EH

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Comments

dbe2101 on February 8, 2010, 10:11 PM

Two quick corrections:

1. Memories of Murder—although a tremendous film—is Bong Joon-ho's SECOND feature-length work (the first would be Barking Dogs Never Bite). Come on.

2. Mission to Mars is neither a good film nor a watchable one.

Anyhoo, neat list thus far. Hope to see some Tarr, Maddin, Dardenne, and Hirokazu Kore-eda over the next few days. Carry on.

Rob Humanick on February 10, 2010, 01:15 AM

Well, dbe2101, gonna have to disagree with you on both counts in numero dos, as it's obvious that enough of us did to get it here. I for one am glad to be in the purported minority—not loving Mission to Mars seems like not loving life. But obviously, it's not that simple.

I suspect you'll like the rest of the list, even if you find some more eyebrow-raising titles.

adamant_cocoon on February 10, 2010, 04:43 AM

Wow...brilliant and a more "essential" set of choices for #s 60-41. Keep it up, guys!

defiant one on February 10, 2010, 06:08 PM

I am loving the look of this list, pure awesome. Looking forward to the final 40 choices.

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