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Posts Tagged ‘Top Films of the 2000s’

This review first appeared on Quarantine the Past on November 16, 2009.

“All of life’s questions and answers are in [the film],” Paul Thomas Anderson, director of There Will Be Bloodsaid in 2007. “It’s about greed and ambition and paranoia and looking at the worst parts of yourself.”

Taken out of context, as I’ve done so here, that sounds like a self-flattering synopsis for his own movie, doesn’t it? Those words — greed, paranoia, ambition — trigger distinct images in my head, namely ones of Daniel Day-Lewis browbeating a gangling zealot in a bowling alley. But Anderson isn’t talking about his movie; he’s talking about his favorite movie, The Treasure of Sierra Madre.

I mention this because, as with Quentin Tarantino, Anderson is a filmmaker guided by his cinematic obsessions. He hails from the “video store” or “VCR” school of American indie cinema. That is, he learned his craft through osmosis, by exposing himself to tape after tape, DVD after DVD, of the classics. Films like The Treasure of Sierra Madre comprise the foundation of his filmmaking powers. (more…)

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This review first appeared on Quarantine the Past on November 22, 2009.

Few artists trigger my tear ducts like Nuri Bilge CeylanClimates, his sublime fourth film, elicits pure awe — the stuff of Stendahl syndrome. This movie hit me like a panic attack. Watching it, I felt my chest balloon, as though Ceylan himself had stuck a bike pump in my heart and pushed down with all his weight.

Confession: When it comes to Nuri Bilge Ceylan, I have a problem with hyperbole.

In Climates, Ceylan trains his photographer’s eye on expressive facial close-ups and ominous Turkish landscapes. Note the image above, as well as this one:

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This review first appeared on Quarantine the Past on November 27, 2009.

We witnessed a quiet mini-movement in American independent cinema this decade. Films set all across the country — from the Pacific Northwest to New York City and the Mississippi Delta — offered unglamorous glimpses into the lives of working-class and impoverished outsiders. Think Slumdog Millionaire, stripped of the frenetic style and gratifying closure. Shot with a poetic minimalism, films like Ballast and Chop Shop typify what A.O. Scott dubs “neo-neo realism.”

Wendy and Lucy flaunts the American minimalist M.O. at its finest. The movie addresses unspoken political concerns through a single tragic story, much like the post-WWII films of Italian neorealism. It preys on our emotional pressure points — the fear of unemployment, the helplessness of losing a pet — to convey the relentless horrors of poverty in America.

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This review first appeared on Quarantine the Past on December 3, 2009.

The men of Distant lead lives of quiet desperation. One drifts through life, guided by apathy, married only to his meaningless daily routines. The other, a villager displaced in Istanbul, floats around town, ogling women and hunting for work. His neuroses (and illiteracy) render him unemployable and unattractive.

Like the other Nuri Bilge Ceylan film on this list, Distant shows the stuff of everyday life. It’s a film of small moments, detailing how two introverted men long for external joy yet remain shackled by inertia. The film captures that unfortunate truth: Human beings will always fear change, no matter how mundane their circumstances. Things could always get worse. Rejection and failure lie one misstep ahead. The day-to-day institutionalizes us, until we act not out of desire, but out of sheer habit. (more…)

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This review first appeared on Quarantine the Past on December 10, 2009.

Image #1: Close up. A hand clenches a loaded revolver. Its index finger begins to squeeze the trigger.

Image #2: A flock of birds rise in unison, leaping into flight.

What happened here? Well, we know loud sounds startle birds, and we know guns make loud sounds. Therefore, we deduce that someone fired a gun. Yet we never see the trigger pulled, the gun fired, or the bullet reach its target. And, because these shots stem from The Docks of New York, a 1928 silent film, viewers don’t even hear the gun go off. But the images make perfect, intuitive sense as a pair. The first shot informs the second to create a concrete idea in our heads: Someone fired a gun. The filmmaker conveys this information cinematically, not literally. As art critic Rudolf Arnheim wrote in 1933, “What is particularly noteworthy in such a scene is not merely how easily and cleverly the director makes visible something that is not visual, but by doing so, actually strengthens its effect.”

Joel and Ethan Coen continue this tradition like no other directors working today. I call it the Cinema of Smoke. If a house burns to the ground, most directors show you the fire; the Coen brothers show you the smoke. We see the consequence (smoke) and deduce the action (fire). The duo makes the most of the medium; they use images, sounds, and the clashes between them to tell stories in inventive, uniquely cinematic ways. (more…)

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This review originally appeared on Quarantine the Past on December 14, 2009.

“If I reach high points with Inglourious Basterds, it is partly because Paul [Thomas Anderson] came out with There Will Be Blood a couple years ago, and I realized I had to bring my game up.” (full clip)

Quentin Tarantino, like the films he makes, is nothing if not self-aware. He must have known something was off in 2007. Paul Thomas Anderson, his dear friend and competitor, unleashed There Will Be Blood as he drooled out Death Proof, a masturbatory and insular B-movie homage. One was an instant classic; the other a Tarantino-dialogue vehicle, this time with chicks. To some, the movie marked his “creative death.” By 2009, Tarantino didn’t just need to bring his game up. He needed a veritable game-changer. (more…)

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This review originally appeared on Quarantine the Past on December 22, 2009.

Few films capture the funny/sad cycles of romantic relationships like. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Like the two remaining films on this list, Eternal Sunshine tells a love story both moving and cerebral. It toys with cinematic norms to showcase the rhythmic ways humans love and hurt one another — over and over again. The film wrings emotional trauma for laughs, forcing us to smile at the neurotic ticks that make relationships crumble. It, in short, ranks alongside Annie Hall as the most insightful romantic comedy ever made.

The comparison to Woody Allen’s film comes easy. Both Annie Hall and Eternal Sunshine present an epic romance in jumbled chronology. Both feature flighty, borderline-manic female leads. Both depict relationships as an inescapable folly, as something “totally irrational and crazy and absurd,” despite their magnetic appeal. A direct lineage links Woody and Eternal Sunshine; the film’s screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, “aspired to be like [Woody]” as a young man entering show business. (more…)

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