So those were my favourite films of 2009. But what about my favourite film of the 2000s? My answer is as obvious (if you have been paying attention to this blog) as it is surprising:
David Simon’s The Wire (2002-2008). That’s right, my favourite film (or should I say my favourite work of moving image art to be more accurate) of the decade was a TV show, despite the fact I went to a movie theatre some seven hundred times in the last ten years, and obviously that means a lot more films if I count the stuff I caught on video or television. Hardcore cinema critics and pseudo-buffs are no doubt readying their torches and pitchforks after reading this, because they don’t understand the following: The Wire is a sixty hour movie. Not a single part of a single episode in any of its five seasons is skippable, and the overall story arc is so flawless it must be treated as a single work of art. It’s the film equivalent of the twelve hundred page novel. A bit too much to fit in an usual two hour screening, so you get to see it in small parts on television, although I’d be more than happy to pay to attend a marathon screening. The Wire defines and makes sense of the 2000s, of how turbo-capitalism conquered all — including hearts and minds — thus stripping people of their worth. What to do then? How do we cope? The Wire’s finale shows us the way character is reincarnated, what’ve seen is one among seemingly endless loops of human condition. If we change in some way — or even die —, someone will step into our shoes. People will be the same everywhere.
The value of blogging for such a long time is that I can read the my favourite film lists for 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002 and 2001. I love going out to watch a film in a dark room, despite all the convenient gadgets that appeared during the last decade — HDTV sets, streaming set-top boxes, Internet downloads, etc. — and my love of going to the movies makes me enjoy most of the movies I watch (I think those film critics that rarely rate anything over two stars must secretly hate their jobs). So the following is a highly subjective view of film in the 2000s, and often the context played as strong a role in my appreciation as the film itself.
Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind first and foremost. I went to see it three times in a row! Who else but this frenchman to deliver a drama that blends campy sci-fi concepts and lots of film nerd trickery into coherent and naturalistic love story? And I disagree with everyone who says this is a sad movie, I’ve seen it in a period of personal distress and in fact it did help me recover.
Ghost World, The Royal Tenenbaums, Punch-Drunk Love. Terry Zwigoff, Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson’s films all had a vibrant indie quirkyness that made you feel like the coolest person in the neighbourhood for watching (P. T. Anderson later directed There Will Be Blood, which I found one of the most brilliant movies ever on an intellectual level, but that’s another story). The first half of the decade was actually a great time for American independents — the brief moment in which market forces gave these authors, grown out of the 90s great age of independent film, all the resources they needed — but still before the damaging moment ’indie’ became a marketing category (probably around the time of Little Miss Sunshine’s Oscar campaign), leading to uncritically acclaimed crap such as Juno, the Benedict XVI-approved anti-abortion pamphlet disguised in Ghost World clothing. In 2006 there was, however, one quirky American indie film that stood out:
That was Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know. There are few things hardly as great as entering a movie theatre knowing nothing about the film you’re about to watch (there are no known actors, no known director, having seen no trailers, read no reviews), and two hours later leaving the theatre knowing you’ve just seen one of the great films of the decade. Miranda July’s is not primarily a filmmaker, so I felt none of that carreer-defining urgency you often get from independent directors. It’s a quirky little American indie film, but it’s also fearless and careless. I like that.
And what happens when you get a veteran director to do an indie-style flick? Probably a bad idea, but Jonathan Demme was more than up to the task. A couple of days ago I praised Rachel Getting Married, but what I didn’t tell you then is that movie was also watched in a context. Like Jonathan Levine’s The Wackness which I had watched a few months before, it provided eerie moments of identification, and among the most amusing post-film discussions I ever had with a friend. But to delve into that would be something for my novel…
And what can I say about Benoît Delépine and Gustave de Kerverne’s Aaltra? Comedy of the Decade, perhaps, despite being surely Most Inappropriate Film of the Decade too. Aaltra blends the offbeat with the darkest humour imaginable, and you’ll often find yourself embarrassed to be laughing (and you will) at the wheelchair-bound travelers.
Genre film, then. I’ll deal primarily with the only genre I have a degree of affinity with — science fiction. The 2000s was not a great decade for that, as everyone was busying themselves with Lord of the Rings-type fantasy and superhero adaptations. Some true science-fiction tentpoles were shockingly bad (I, Robot or Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, which I won’t even bother linking), and the only good recent one - Avatar - is itself a marriage between fantasy and science-fiction, more of the former in fact than the latter. But there were a few bright spots in the bleak landscape of sci-fi nowadays (a statement I would also extend to books): Steven Spielberg did score a hit before that spectacular miss with Minority Report. Danny Boyle’s Sunshine missed the chance at becoming a great classic of the genre with that horror/slasher ending, but did deliver some of the greatest sci-fi images of the decade. Moon, directed by David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones looks and feels like a science fiction film of the 1970s — in a great way. And then, the only timeless classic the decade brought us — a Soylent Green for the 21st century:
Alfonso Cuarón Children of Men. Not only it updates, at long last, our collective vision of futuristic nightmare, it does so in a frighteningly realistic way: of course we do not expect the implausible event of worldwide sterilty being the catalyst for doom as it is in this film, but we can too well imagine things such as raging climate change or energy crisis leading to a year 2027 pretty similar to Cuarón’s depiction. Perhaps this one too is one of the great films of the decade. All of the films I listed here so far — like the quirky indie one — are deliriously and deliciously avoidant (and I like them), but Children of Men, like The Wire, defines the noughts in a way others don’t. The Wire might be a very long essay on turbo-capitalism. Children of Men is by contrast a small cautionary tale about the Bush/Blair doctine of international relations.
This was also an interesting decade for Portuguese film. As always, the institutions are reacting very slowly to technological innovation and to a generation change, so the great Portuguese films I enjoyed watching are probably not those seen with great interest at the Film Institute or by our film critics who generally have such a narrow-minded view of authorship and le cinema they become cannibalistic fetishists, hating (not a strong enough word) far more movies than the few put out by the authors they love. And yet, these films I’m talking about have a merely incidental commercial appeal (ostensible efforts at commercially successful films in Portugal always have ended up in total artistic disaster). Therefore they somehow slipped through the cracks of the system.
João Canijo’s Noite Escura, perhaps the most academically acceptable of the lot, set a Greek tragedy in a roadside brothel. But more insteresting is the fact this was one of the first portuguese films I had ever seen that was perfectly acceptable from a technical standpoint. No more faded film stock, no more unperceptible dialogues — shit that needlessly drives people away. All of a sudden low-budgeted Portuguese films looked and sounded… okay (here’s a sigh of relief). That was 2004. The following year, Marco Martins’ Alice became an unexpected hit, and all of a sudden it seemed as if we portuguese could crank out decent, watchable films if we just learn to ignore the old cranks and their apostles, and dismiss the sleazes in for a quick buck in the film production business. Even Miguel Gomes, out of the film criticism heart of darkness that lead to pretty bad short films, cranked out a surprisingly good movie in 2008 called Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto. And I’d also highlight Tiago Guedes and Frederico Serra’s Entre os Dedos, or this year’s 4 Copas by Manuel Mozos. We even had a science fiction film in this decade, and a good one! Solveig Nordlund’s Aparelho Voador a Baixa Altitude, an adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s Low Flying Aircraft.
What about moments in movies? There were perhaps too many to be interesting, but I would definitely highlight Bill Murray singing More than This in Lost in Translation, which placed Roxy Music’s song in top of my personal list of Top Songs that Are So Depressing It’s Funny. There was also another very funny moment, halfway David Lynch’s Inland Empire. Jeremy Irons’ character, a film director, is seen in a seemingly endless monologue trying to instruct his gaffer to place a light just right. I burst out laughing like a maniac during that scene, the only person laughing in a packed room full of bored people. I had spent the previous days working in Corações Plásticos. My job? Getting the gaffer to place the lights just right.