Thursday, December 30, 2010
For All of the Nought
Contrary to popular belief, it is no easier doing a Best of the Decade list than it is doing a Best of the Year list. Many think it's just a matter of plucking all your number ones and then ranking those, right? Wrong. For example, some movies I saw missed deadline for their calendar years thanks to evil release strategies (a notorious crime around the holidays), and it's too unwieldly to, say, tell everyone "Okay, you know what I said was number one? It ain't anymore - you have to shove everything down and put this new thing on top." I did that once, and after all the confusion it caused, I decided ya know, I gotta stand by the list I made that year, because that's where my head was, because THAT'S WHAT THE MAN SAID YOU HEARD WHAT HE SAID HE SAID THAT... That mindset has orphaned some great films, to be sure, and had I the same privileges Oscar voters get for early viewing I could have written a better list for that year, but I can't rewrite history. I wrote and presented those lists, right or wrong. Thus, a decade list is a chance to right the wrongs done to some modern classics. Also, not every #1 of each year constitutes the decade's best. Some calendar years yield more than one stupendous creation that just overshadow what the best of another year was. Frankly, you could almost sum up the decade's best with films just from 2007, but I'm not that lazy, although I did take two for mine. And some movies that ranked lower for a certain year rank higher when viewed in the prism of history, either by their influence on later works or repeat viewing, or even the gauntlet they throw down for the future, in the case of one of my choices. As I assembled this list, it occurred to me that many of these choices affected me in their undertones about the strength of art. Whether they are exploring the way it can provide escape from oppression, or a means to beat depression, or heal real-world suffering, or even triumph over evil, when movies are able to cleverly dramatize all the baggage which came with us to the theatre, they're doing something extremely special, and that's to be rewarded. So now, it can finally be told: THE BEST MOVIES OF THE DECADE
12. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
11. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
10. MULHOLLAND DRIVE
7. GHOST WORLD
6. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
5. CHILDREN OF MEN
4. CITY OF GOD
2. THE FALL
It's a Difficult Responsibility. But as W.C. Fields said, there comes a time in everyone's life when they must take the bull by the tail and face the situation. I've made my choice, I'm sticking to it. 1. ONCE
Over a century ago, when the the earliest pioneers of the new art of moving pictures were beginning to make and exhibit their work, they knew the capacity to dream large, be it the Lumiere brothers with A TRIP TO THE MOON or Edison's adaptation of FRANKENSTEIN. But these burgeoning artists also knew that the ordinary travails of real life would be just as compelling to audiences, be it capturing a sneeze, two men dancing, or the life of an American fireman. Decades later, after the advent of color, sound, widescreen photography, visual effects, and all the other tricks of the trade, benchmark films from Ozu, Cassavetes, Rohmer, and others proved this ultimate simplicity was still in effect: Cahiers du Cinema critic and future arthouse enfant terrible Jean-Luc Godard recognized in his legendary maxim, "All you need for a movie is a girl and a gun." More decades later, an unassuming director of Irish television was able to prove that statement true on a large scale, albeit modifying the elements to a girl and a guitar.
ONCE is the bridge between the spare maxims of the past, and the technological democratization of the present. It tells a story that could not be more simplistic: boy meets girl, they make something, then they split up. In fact, it doesn't even have what would appear to be conflict - there is no antagonist, no dark forces to overcome - everyone we encounter in the short span is helpful and encouraging. Thus it hardly seems a novel concept amidst the large and complex possibilities of all the films released in the Noughties. Moreover, shot with consumer grade equipment in 17 days with untrained talent and friends, financed by the Irish Film Board and the director himself instead of the backing of a studio, it would sound like more self-indulgent home movie than anything else. But that is exactly the point. John Carney strips away such artifice as glossy photography, complicated subplots, mannered acting, and sticks to the core of two strangers' short intersection and the creation that emerges, confident that it will be compelling enough. And as Francis Coppola opined years ago about the mythical fat girl in Ohio with her dad's camcorder, he demonstrates that without the trappings, you can get to the real art, and the people will react to it. Which of course, they did: from Steven Spielberg's advance quote about the film restoring his inspiration, to Jon Stewart's yielding his Academy Awards podium to allow co-star Marketa Irglová to finish a prematurely truncated acceptance speech for Best Original Song, and the millions worldwide who embraced the film over multiple viewings, it was the Little Movie That Could.
In short, if the past indicates that that there will always be an audience for a story of love and the human condition, and the future is all about people taking the means of production into their own hands and beating the bloated Hollywood money machine at their own game, ONCE is the gold standard uniting these disciplines, demonstrating that the more things change, the more they stay the same. If we are moved and entertained, it doesn't matter if the artists had 200 crayons or one nubby pencil to decorate that canvas. Thus, for me, it is the right film to represent all that was good about film for the last ten years.
Happy New Year, everyone.