Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Best Of Decade


The New World (Both Versions) - The New World has two versions, both superior, moving works of artistic genius, about the colonisation of America. Have terrific, subtle performances, moments on otherworldly images amidst seemingly normal landscapes, and terrific use of voice-over to suggest lives living at the moment, unsure of the tragedies and joys that await the characters.

The Sun, Alexandre & Russian Ark - One is about The Japanese Emperor wandering around his garden at the end of World War, one is about an old woman wandering around a make-shift army base and the surrounding area during a war, one about Russian history. All are visually spectacular, subtly emotional masterpieces.

The Werckmeister Harmonies - A stunning Bela Tarr for this decade. Shot after lingering shot of compromised lives, all giving an accumulation of subtle character and mood. An amazing feat of film-making.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… And Spring - The life of a Buddhist man and an elderly man trying to teach him how to survive with grace, the younger man making many tragic mistakes before finding his way, seen through the seasons. A wonderful look at life.

Saraband - Ingmar Bergman’s final film, the story of a once-married couple finding one another years later, seeing the tragedies that befell the other. This is the story of people facing up to their own, and others, flaws. Beautiful.

Femme Fatale - A European fairy-tale of a film, where stories are played then replayed carefully, images have many meanings, and cinematic sequences play out simply for the joy of being a film. One of DePalma’s best films, this has spell-binding sequences, and is the best use of suspense and humour for many years.

Animal Factory - A beautiful small-scale drama set in a prison, the story of a young man trying to survive in a system set-up to destroy him. Full of wonderful seemingly slight moments and sequences, this accumulates powerfully, with characters losing and trying to regain their souls in a mundane hell.

Miami Vice - A love story set in the drug world, a depressed cop goes undercover and begins to lose his bearings, in a brutally violent world. A beautiful, under-rated noir update.

The Agronomist - Jonathon Demme’s humane tale of Radio Haiti and the tragedies that befall it and its country.

Punch-Drunk Love & There Will Be Blood - Paul Thomas Anderson really came of age this decade with these two films, one a twisted love story on the paranoia’s and fears of self-revelation to another, both kind and ugly while the other is about self-destruction and mindless greed dominating a life, leading to psychopathic need for tragedy to everyone.

No Country For Old Men - Coen Brothers best film, a tragic, underplayed story of one simple decision, to go for a quick steal, leading to a brutal manhunt that no-one can escape, all for a money prize that is almost abstract. A tragic comedy.

Mulholland Drive & Inland Empire - Two moments of David Lynch genius, the first a love story seen from various viewpoints, all obscured by self-delusion and need for the relief of fantasy, the second a tragic tale of madness and self-obsession, when there is no real self. The visuals are amazing.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou & The Fantastic Mr Fox - Two wonderful Wes Anderson films, the first a comedy about a diver slowly losing control of his own little world, the second a similar set-up but done from a child-like POV, where people can fight back. Visually inspired both, two works of a unique, kind imagination.

Solaris & Bubble - Solaris is a wonderfully depressed remake of a depressed Russian film, about the fantasy of the person you think you love, while Bubble is about longing in a dead environment, where any achievement is brief. Both have wonderful human moments amidst the quiet darkness of their environments.

Elephant & Gerry - Two Gus Van Sant films of long shots and understated characters, one about a school massacre, another of two men lost in a desert. Both are addictive and focus on the build of people within what seems mundane, both about the accumulation of a life experience, not the artificial peak.

A History Of Violence & Eastern Promises - Two Cronenberg crime stories about identity, both about men lying about his past played by Viggo Mortnernson, both about that man finding life very confusing when pressure is put on lies, where the truth of his character is very ambiguous. Both films take time to appreciate.

AI: Artificial Intelligence - Spielberg makes a Kubrick project, sometimes a bit awkwardly in dialogue, but the film has an epic quality, as a robot boy travels the world to find a reason for being, discovering it in complicated ways that he himself cannot comprehend. It’s a sad tale, reminiscent of early Spielberg like The Sugarland Express of Close Encounters. The first third is especially brilliant.

Dave Chappelle’s Block Party - Its not entirely a documentary, nor is it a concert film, instead it follows the creation of a block party, introducing the reasons for the block party, slowly introducing the event while getting an understanding of the area it takes place in. The inter-cutting of music and neighbourhood is beautiful, with Chapelle acting as host. A beautiful little film.

The Devil’s Backbone & Pan’s Labyrinth - Two Guillimero Del Toro films, both about war-torn Spain, both with child protagonists, one set in a boy’s school and is about the sin of the war and death, the other about a little girl going to live with a fascist, with fairytale logic taking over amidst the tragic reality. Two wonderful films.

The Squid And The Whale - A lovely little drama about divorce, and how difficult people can be, both in the lead-up to, and during, a divorce situation. All the characters are complicated, can be selfish but are recognisably human, which gives the film its warmth.


The Prestige - A truly wonderful film about the mechanics of showmanship, deflection, misplaced rage, mixed with a real sense of the grandeur of magic. Easily Christopher Nolan’s best film.

Speed Racer - One of the most under-rated films of the decade, a kids movie that truly enters that visual head-space of a five to ten year old, throwing up a cartoony world with fast cars in day-glo colours, with split-screens moving from image to image with ease. The first twenty minutes is especially wonderful. Its horrible that a film this good was so totally ignored by all.

Anchorman - Will Ferrell’s finest hour, as a limited local news anchorman in the 1970’s, facing feminism amidst a series of truly oddball sequences (especially the animated sequences after Ron scores with his lady love. An amazing supporting cast, with Paul Rudd a standout as ladies man Brian Fantana. The added film Wake Up Ron Burgendy, is hilarious also, with three stand-out comedy moments cut from the original film, a bank heist gone wrong “I’m not giving you any money. You don’t deserve it. Your masks don’t make any sense.” Champ Kind’s declaration of love to Ron, and the amazingly sick “What I’d like to do to Mother Nature” monologue. Yes, its deleted scenes are funnier than most movies.

The Revenger’s Tragedy - Alex Cox didn’t get the financing to make many films this decade but this one put most directors to shame. Christopher Eccleston leads the cast, seeking revenge on a powerful family that killed his love. It plays as a revenge thriller and a parody of this genre, as well as being the most twisted and inventive take on updating a magic text imaginable, having many moments of Brechtian brilliance. Eccleston is terrific in the lead. Remember, let those who seek revenge dig their own grave first.

Dominion: Exorcist Prequel - Dumped by hits own financiers, remade terribly by Renny Harlin, then released in a limited form when the remake was deemed an abomination, this was a more difficult than most assignment even for Paul Schrader. And it’s a beautiful film. While never terrifying, it has lovely sequences of build and strangeness (best of all the Northern Lights appearing during the exorcism), focusing on a man trying to regain his soul after the tragedy of World War 2. Stellan Starsgard, always a good actor, shines in this, full of subtle reactions that build powerfully, as he tries to find away to face evil and irrationality in the world.

Looney Tunes: Back In Action - Wired but funny as hell Looney Tunes film by Joe Dante. Essentially its Daffy Duck runs amuck through Hollywood, Vegas and Paris. The painting joke sequence is still one of the funniest of the decade. Brendan Fraser’s only good film this decade.

Office Space - The ultimate how to survive in a job you hate comedy, as a man decides not to care and starts getting promoted. Full of funny, twisted office-area interactions and paranoia’s, this works as an accumulation of details, scene by scene, rather than having a few stand-out moments.

The Way Of The Gun - The best pulp heist flick of the decade, where Benecio Del Toro and Ryan Phillippe kidnap a surrogate mother for the mob, taking her Mexico way. Is full of rich, interesting characters who reveal themselves in spare, careful scenes, this also has a twisted escalation of stakes as the interactions slowly get out of control. Also has great action, especially when Phillippe accidentally jumps into a hiding spot full of glass, gutting half his arm up.

Avatar - This is still too early to say how well it ranks ultimately with me. I only having seen it once, and recently, but gets poignancy for creating a truly original world out of many influences and then having the patience to stick with this world, showing it in careful detail. It has the naïve melodrama of the original King Kong and that’s no insult.

Hulk & Superman Returns - Hulk is a brilliant, distanced yet personalised look of split personalities within the tantalisation and look of a comic book, both and example of and a strangely affectionate study of pulp, melodrama and personal film-making. Is Ang Lee’s most interesting film. Superman Returns is the most romantic superhero film of the decade, is about the mythical aspects of the genre and the characters, is about a strange god who’s confused and affectionate towards the brave flawed people. The film has a lovely retro style mixed with an interest in bigger, expansive science fiction landscapes and feelings. Its a terrific example of personalised epic film-making.


The Village & The Happening - Two deeply crazy films, the first due to plot, the second due to plot and truly odd dialogue. And yet they are appealing. They village has a great mood to its opening section, a terrific fairy tale feeling, wonderful use of colour. Its end makes sense in a fairy tale type of way but isn’t set-up properly, as there is still a realistic expectation. The Happening is truly awful whenever anyone speaks. But as soon as its silent, when everything relies on images, there are some very interesting things going on. And then someone speaks and it gets awful. Especially if its Mark Whalberg, who’s terribly miscast. (Even more miscast than he was in Planet Of The Apes remake)

Land Of The Lost - This one is a very eccentric comedy that has not gotten a lot of love. But its eccentrically funny but I covered it on the 2009 list.

The Black Dahlia - DePalma’s mega-weird Ellroy adaptation moves too fast, has some plot points that are not elaborated on properly, has some very eccentric performances. Buts its style and oddness, its dark humour, its odd themes of constant doubling, obsession over the dead, mad hysteria driving everyone nuts is very compulsive. The brakes are off on this one and its great fun.

Hannibal - Hannibal is similar to The Black Dahlia. It has many plot problems, has an unadaptable novel, some OTT acting, a crazy gothic undertone, a very romantic but twisted ending. But the central relationship is interesting and odd, the villains and revenge methods are very strange, and the whole thing is rather wonderful, if under-rated.

Southland Tales - Just crazy. Good luck working out the plot in this one. You have amnesia, porn, incompetent revolutionaries. It has an odd, unrealistic tone and problems with mood. But like many on this list section, its flaws and strange obsessions are what makes it work, and be worth a look.

Ghosts Of Mars - John Carpenter’s only film this decade has Ice Cube and Jason Statham, plus some other character actors wandering about getting killed, and the woman from Species. It is set on Mars, has monsters that are spirits who inhabit humans and turn them mad, cutting their faces up, is told out of chronological order. The downside is its not very good, doesn’t really make sense but is loads of b-movie fun. Dr Who has homage it twice, most recently in Water Of Mars (it’s the same plot, using water instead of air).

Alexander: Director’s Cut - This is a really stupid film. I hated it the first time I saw it. It has terrible, terrible writing, the worst wig ever, dull direction that misses many sane set-ups that would tell the story in half the time and with efficiency. The only person who’s any fun is Val Kilmer. And yet its become bizarrely addictive. This one is a cry for help I’m afraid.

The Truth About Charlie - This got a lot of bad press. It’s Jonathon Demme’s remake of Charade, with Mark Whalberg and Thandie Newton. And its not what you would expect. It doesn’t try to have an old-fashioned feel, instead going French New Wave meets eighties Demme style, where characters are established quick then get twisted and revealed using cheeky genre tricks. It’s a lovely, playful film. And most people hate it.


Before Sunset, The Pianist, Black Book, Tideland, Grizzly Man & Rescue Dawn, Public Enemies & Ali, American Psycho, The Terminal, Be Kind Rewind, Tallegeda Nights & Step Brothers, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, Almost Famous: Long Version, Che Part 1 & 2, Peter Pan, Let The Right One In.


Pitch Black, Blade 2, Hellboy 1 & 2, The Mist, Mission To Mars, Spiderman 2 & Drag Me To Hell, Matrix Reloaded & Matrix Revolutions, Star Wars: Attack Of the Clones & Revenge Of The Sith, Kill Bill 1 & 2, Death Proof & Inglorious Basterds, Donnie Darko, Wallace & Gromit: Curse Of the Were-Rabbit, Hero & House Of the Flying Daggers.


W., The Fountain, Pearl Harbour, Charlie’s Angels 2: Full Throttle, A Very Long Engagement, The Lady In The Water & Signs (One director, two terrible films. An achievement), The Producers, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Ghost Rider, Be Cool, Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired, The Invasion, Death Race, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, XXX2 & Die Another Day (Another two film one director achievement) - Can’t be bothered elaborating on their heinous natures. All are despicable or incompetent in one way or another.


Zodiac, The Darjeeling Limited, Hollow Man, Collateral, Burn After Reading & The Brothers Grimm - All terrific directors yet what the hell happened? Yet Mann, Gilliam, Verhoeven and Anderson followed these disappointments with what I consider some of their best achievements.

Red Dragon, Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines & Die Hard 4.0 - How not to make sequels to terrific genre series‘. Truly dispiriting in their base cynicism. At least Terminator got redemption with the TV show. The other two have withered and died.

Big Fish - Just boring, obvious, unimaginative with a terribly dull Ewan McGregor performance, hitting the cliché notebook. Burton has bounced back a little since here but it’s a bad, bad film to have on the film list. Horribly sentimental also, but without any actual point. Just father and sons don’t understand one another. Probably the worst of this bunch.



Deadwood - A great western-based drama about the painful and stunted rise of civilisation, seen through the gold rush in Deadwood. Ian McShane and Timothy Olyphant were wonderful as the leads, complicated, annoying, slowly losing their moral footing. The supporting cast and the tragedies of these characters made for engaging drama throughout, with major peaks or insanity and grace.

Battlestar Galactica - Great sci-fi, where a group of survivors of an apocalypse, are on the run through space, slowly turning on one another throughout, struggling to find some grace. It started complicated and grew even more complex as time went on, leading to an ambiguous that refused to answer many questions. A very original take of morality and religions.

The Wire - A great drama on institutions, be it drug business, the police, government, schools or the media, where compromise wins always, individuals always struggle, where tragedy awaits. A very humane look at survival in modern society.

Oz- Some of this was shown in the last decade but I never saw it until beyond 2000. And its wonderful, brutal, human and contradictory.

For the rest of the drama is a drop-off to these interesting shows.

Robbery Homicide Division - A Michael Mann produced series, which didn’t last long, it had Tom Sizemore in a rare good performance as an obsessed LA cop. Not a patch on Crime Story yet its still wonderfully compulsive, if alas short-lived.

Dr Who Series 1 - The Christopher Eccleston stories, which set the series up with great verve, which it never quite hit again. This had the most interesting, unpredictable Doctor in Eccleston, who was never entirely sane, who was keeping down a lot of darkness, as well as finding great optimism everywhere, and a terrific central relationship that went stale when Eccleston regenerated. It’s regeneration scene is still a highlight of the revival.

Chuck - The most fun show. Loads of odd situations and scenes, with intriguingly mentally deficient characters. Its exists simply to entertain, with zero pretensions towards itself or the viewer.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - Very flawed in many ways but its peaks are terrific. It had an epic, involving story that slowly paid off over time, staying serious in character while keeping its pulpy origins.

The Sopranos - Certain seasons and episodes were terrific, others dull as dish-water. The most inconsistent good show ever, that went on for years too long, repeating the same dynamic in not always interesting ways.

Guilty pleasure - 24 - Not always the greatest drama, with many painful dialogue sequences, not to mention season 6, which was a disaster, but such pulpy fun at its best that its difficult not to enjoy.


Comedy was where this decade was very strong, much more than drama in terms of invention.

Black Books - Genius silly misanthropy from Dylan Moran. Whether it be performing native jungle surgery in Canada to writing children’s fiction, via a 900 page tome on Russian misery, this is a truly wonderful show. Bill Bailey makes a great comic fall-guy.

Futurama - Witty, irrelevant, imaginative show with some terrific characters and a twisted sense of nothing being sacred. Zap Brannigan and Kiff are the funniest double-act of the decade, Bender the craziest, especially when starring in a soap opera.

Jam & Nathan Barley - Chris Morris is a genius and these two shows prove why. Jam is like a twisted comedy version of a J.G Ballard novel, all about disconnection amidst absurd situations. But with dark jokes. Nathan Barley then goes on to prove that people are idiots and there is no way out, that the morons have charm and have taken over the ability of semi-knowledgeable adults to make any headway in life. It was a very frustrated show.

30 Rock - Have already written on this but its really funny. One of its strengths is the smaller characters, who slowly go crazy like Scott Asdit’s Pete, who is resorting to shoplifting to feel anything, or Dennis the Beeper king, a man with no brain, played by Oz’s Dean Winters, who objects to Hurricane Katrina because of what the people did to the stadium. Great throw-away gags like “Empathy is as useless as the Winter Olympics.” are also priceless.

The Thick Of It - The entire series shows the fall of labour, from a fairly functional but slightly incompetent organisation, to a party in crisis trying to find a new leader, to a party left with only the people nobody wants. Painfully funny.

The League Of Gentlemen - A complete, original comic-fantasy world, with dark humour that slowly builds and never stops being a bit disturbing yet funny. Too many hilarious characters and situations to list, its darker, sad under-current a dominant feature.

Arrested Development - Very funny comedy about an extremely dysfunctional and delusional family, this works as it builds a farce around characters who are only slight cartoons, taking recognisable emotions then building them into extreme situations which then build and build into gradual insanity. A great cast with the stand-out of David Cross and Dr Tobias Funke, a closeted gay man who can’t face the truth, going to absurd lengths to avoid basic self-knowledge.

Garth Mareghi’s Dark Places - A brilliant parody of ego gone mad, of bad 70’s TV, as a horror writer creates a show starring himself, and lets loose with every idea he has, few of them good in a conventional sense but wonderful as gags. Even though it has a rich set of characters, Matt Berry stands out as womanising drunk actor Todd Rivers, who plays Dr Lucien Sanchez, best bud of the main character. This guy is always funny, even standing in the background doing nothing. His descriptions of acting technique, from beats to soap opera actors and how they prepare, on the DVD extras is stunning and one of the best comedy moments of the decade.

Snuffbox - Matt Berry then went on to make this show, a six-episode one season show that never got any real press, co-written by and co-starring Berry and American comic Rich Fulchner. It’s a wonderfully inventive, silly sketch show that’s difficult to describe, combining music, silliness then very dark sketches, centred by two disreputable characters who work as hangmen. It has a unique mood that’s not mainstream but is wonderful if you get on its wavelength.

Curb Your Enthusiasm - A terrific show that’s easy to under-rate as its so famous. While it has its own defined formula, as defined as a Looney Tunes cartoon, the like that Larry David manages to do a lot with what he has, bouncing off various strange characters as he tries to get through his day amidst disaster and conversations that will get him in trouble,. Odd conversations range regularly from his manager to wife, to people playing twisted versions of themselves, such as Ted Danson or Jerry Seinfeld, to name two whop have really gone for it in weirdness. High-light episodes are the crazy-eyed killer, the one with the dolls hair and the one where Larry insults a religious group by making comments about the Virgin Mary on Christmas Day. And the beloved death notice and incest survivors group. I could keep listing. Its very inventive.

Dr Terrible & Saxondale - Two terrific less than famous Steve Coogan creations, Dr terrible a wonderfully accurate and subtly funny send-up of Hammer and 60’s/70’s British horror (standout: The Killer Lizard story with the line “Ken this and ken this well!”). Saxondale looks at the failure and anger of a man who’s peak has passed him by and he can’t quite understand how life has gotten so dull, as he deals badly with aging and appropriate rebellion. A very funny creation.

The Venture Brothers - Funny twisted sci-fi parody, which would the be funniest sci-fi show ever if it weren’t for Futurama. The level of invention episode to episode is off the scale. Brock Samson is one seriously twisted character and he‘s the straight-man.


The Simpsons (recent) & Red Dwarf: Back To Earth - Embarrassing to what were two great shows.

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