The Most Under-Rated Movie of the Last Ten Years?
The decade draws to a close, and most of us will be feeling a sense of surreality as we reflect on what we were doing on New Year’s Eve 1999 – I was with four of my dearest friends; we had a gorgeous dinner by the fire, watched the London Millennium Dome’s opening ceremony define New Labour’s hubris (until a certain war in the Gulf); at midnight we literally did stand on the street and shout hello to everyone else who opened their door. At that moment, I hadn’t seen ‘Magnolia’, soon to supplant ‘Wings of Desire’ as the film-most-likely-to-be-named-my-favourite-when-you-ask (I’d say they’re both pretty even now; the passage of time tends to iron out all your favourite movies into one long film marathon. Film I’ve seen the most often? Field of Dreams. Film I’d most like to see again right now? Hirokazu Koreeda’s After Life. Film that every time I see it becomes increasingly difficult to deny a place as ‘Greatest Ever Made’ TM? 2001. Or Touch of Evil. Or Vertigo. Or La Regle du Jeu. Or La Belle et la Bete. Or Close Encounters. Or Once Upon a Time in America. Or Fantasia. Or Solaris. Or. Or. Or)
And now we approach the end of another decade. The friends I was with on Millennium Eve don’t see each other so often anymore; only two of the five even live in the same city, but we’re still in touch, from time to time at least. Sometimes we talk about movies. There have been at least 2500 films released in the US, UK and Ireland since January 1st, 2000. I’ve probably seen a third of them. The decade’s end provides the opportunity to, as they say, discuss. So please do join me.
My method? Well, Top 100 lists are obvious, Top 50 too restrictive, our friend Glenn Kenny has gone for a happy medium, having just posted a Top 70 (and his comments section suggests it will be soon be a Top 71, as there’s always at least one film that gets left out). And so, emboldened by Glenn, I’ll be posting some thoughts about the decade 2000-2009 over the next few weeks (My thoughts on Roger Corman’s ‘The Intruder’, previously planned for today will have to wait).
So, if you’re interested in my thoughts on ten years at the movies, let’s make a start.
I’m going to do three posts on this topic – beginning with the most over-rated and under-rated films; then a ‘runners-up’ list; then a list of the best films of the decade. These lists are, of their nature, entirely subjective, rooted in my particular prejudices, wounds, joys, knowledge and desire. You may dearly love a film that isn’t here; or you may loathe one that I adore. That’s fine with me – this list doesn’t exist to validate or challenge anyone else’s preferences (although I do want to challenge some of the accepted norms of what passes for entertainment, and to shine a light on some films that might otherwise be too easily ignored).
Some initial headlines:
And so, the lists begin:
Films of the Past Decade that I’m Not Supposed to Admit to Liking But Do
Finding Forrester: for being the only film in which Sean Connery cries without winking at the audience.
Cast Away: for a truly great central performance and honest engagement with the question of loss.
Thirteen Days: for being a political film about US foreign policy that lionises dialogue over threats; and turns that dialogue into the most exciting fuel for a thriller you could imagine.
Black Hawk Down: for trusting the audience with a recognition that war is horrifying, and that Somalis are human beings.
Crazy/Beautiful: for providing Kirsten Dunst with a platform for her considerably subtle acting chops, and giving the great Bruce Davison the meatiest role he had all decade.
Changing Lanes: for being far more intriguing about addiction and racism than its reputation would permit.
Frida: Julie Taymor’s first utterly fascinating and visually astonishing film of the decade.
Across the Universe: Taymor’s second.
The Hulk: Shot like a real comic book, presenting the struggle to get out from under your parents as the most titanic battle of all; best Nick Nolte rants of the decade.
Crash: It made me think about how we relate to each other; and that anything can happen. That’s what it was trying to do. I know it’s fashionable to denounce this film as if the fact that it feels staged (like a play, or, shall we say, a movie?) makes it the cinematic equivalent of demonic spawn; another way of looking at it would be to say that ‘Crash’ seems to have been critically mauled simply because it succeeded in what it was trying to do.
De-Lovely: The vastly undervalued Kevin Kline as Cole Porter in a film that comes alive with fantasy: perhaps the best musical of the decade.
Friday Night Lights: An American sports film which isn’t afraid to let its subjects lose.
Shall We Dance: The most entertaining Richard Gere/J Lo dance flick you’re ever likely to see.
Kingdom of Heaven: A much more thoughtful representation of Christians and Muslims fighting than had ever previously been filmed.
The Lord of the Rings: They’re huge, they’re brash, they’re unsubtle, and Peter Jackson is far too quick to resort to sweeping overhead shots of battlefields and rivers. But it actually does tell a fun story – with some archetypal meaning – very well; and you can’t say fairer than that.
Inside Man: A thoroughly entertaining heist thriller with the best Christopher-Plummer-says-Dear-God scene in cinema history. And a little bit of post-9/11 Spike Lee politicking too.
The Prestige: It tricked me, and I liked it.
Bobby: Like watching ‘Airport’ or ‘Hotel’ as written by Robert Frost with a touch of Naomi Klein. When you’re in the right mood, that’s a good thing.
Apocalypto: Like being dragged behind that Raiders truck, Indy-style. Except it was fun.
The Lost City: Andy Garcia’s polemic about Castro’s Cuba; politically skewed, but gorgeous to look at, and even moreso, to hear.
Kung Fu Panda: Amazingly enough, you will believe a Panda can fly.
Keeping the Faith: Amazingly enough, you will also believe that a Ben Stiller-Ed Norton/Rabbi-Priest comedy could remind you of Billy Wilder (and I’ve always liked him ;-))
Films I’m Either Supposed to Like but Don’t; or Were Already Bad to Start With
Be Kind Rewind: The most disappointing missed opportunity ratio of trailer-to-actual-film I can think of
Watchmen: Took a brilliant piece of philosophical reflection and turned it into a blood bath that included the burning alive of an African American man by hot frying oil.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: To paraphrase Jett, I get older faster just by thinking about it.
Gladiator: Guys fight several times; there’s a tiger; some guys in togas. It’s very loud.
A Beautiful Mind: Shockingly inaccurate film about serious mental health issues.
Religulous: Shockingly disingenuous film about religion.
An American Carol: Shockingly dishonest film about politics. (Great Robert Davi performance, though.)
K-Pax: Shockingly inaccurate film about serious mental health issues (part 2).
Pearl Harbor: The Second World War as fought by robots who didn’t know it began before December 1941.
Swordfish: A pro-American terrorist film starring John Travolta and Halle Berry’s chest.
Chicago: A film in which no discovery seems apparent: everything’s in a plastic mold.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona: A film in which one of the characters is doing graduate studies in ‘Chinese’ but hasn’t learned that there’s no such thing.
City of God: A well-edited film that made the horror of childhood violence look like a music video.
Anger Management: Perhaps the reason Jack Nicholson is now apparently semi-retired.
Kill Bill: A hymn of worship to female-aping-male-violence is not pro-women.
The Life of David Gale: A film that portrays anti-capital punishment activists as willing to be executed themselves to prove the point is as nuanced in its view of mental distress as ‘A Beautiful Mind’.
Man on Fire: A film that tries to make Denzel Washington look like Jesus just after going on a murderous rampage, and portrays Mexico as hell on earth before printing an apology on the end credits. Probably the most unpleasant experience I had at the movies in the past ten years.
The Motorcycle Diaries: Like Soderbergh’s later (and pretty magnificent in some ways) film, this Che biopic refuses to engage with the dark side of Guevera. It seems so committed to playing him as an angel that telling the truth (that he killed people; lots of people; and sometimes summarily) eludes it.
V for Vendetta: One of several films that seem to think that a really cool, like, way to make people happy, like, would be to blow everything UP, man, and, like kill everyone who disagrees with us.
The Last King of Scotland: Which purports to offer some psychological insight into human evil, but turns into nothing much more than a well-crafted chase film.
And finally, a film whose awfulness speaks for itself, but whose lived experience is like sitting beside someone who changes the channels every ten seconds while hitting you in the face with a frying pan: