The Rest of the Decade, Part Four

A family with styleHoly crap, this is long. (Check out parts one, two and three, if you haven’t already.) And there’s still so much ground to cover that we’ll be pushing on into tomorrow. But if you’re still with me, let’s continue!

“Punch-Drunk Love” and “There Will Be Blood”: P.T. Anderson’s bravura character studies — one about the madness of love, the other about the madness of capitalism — were the very last to be cut from my ultimate list, mostly because I couldn’t figure out which one to drop and which one to keep. And leaving them up in a tie for 11th place just seemed cruel. So it goes, and so they went.

“Pulse” and “Toyko Sonata”: Kiyoshi Kurosawa started his decade with a chilling prophecy of J-horror’s future (and, in its own odd way, a harbinger of Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse”) and ended it with a lovely story of a family struggling against the current of Japan’s economic collapse that’s no less affecting or perceptive for being totally conventional in its storytelling.

“The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox”: More bookends, this time from Wes Anderson: First, an absurdist family study that feels like fine American literature, and then an actual literary adaptation — in stop-motion, with talking animals — that somehow feels less absurd than the live-action undertaking. I want a bandit hat.

“Saraband”: Ingmar Bergman’s final work, a muted coda to “Scenes from a Marriage”, finds Johann and Marianne still inextricably tangled up in one another’s lives — and as passionate in their mutual love and loathing as ever. A work of crushing intimacy, from a filmmaker who knew how to do nothing else.

“The Savages”: Abandoned by Fox Searchlight when “Juno” looked like the better Oscar contender, Tamara Jenkins’ devastating study of adult siblings who fall back into their childhood dynamic as they care for their dying father features fearless performances from Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Philip Bosco — and hits emotional notes that slice into me like razors. It’ll be a while before I can watch this again. But I will.

“Sexy Beast”: In a decade crammed with vainglorious, swaggering thugs, Jonathan Glazer’s ultra-stylized thriller — brilliantly scripted by Louis Mellis and David Scinto — is about so much more than a retired hood dragged back for one last job: It’s about intimidation and persuasion, and knowledge, and how the most terrifying monsters are the ones that know us as well as we know them.

“Sideways”: I don’t usually get much from Alexander Payne’s movies; I find pissy misanthropy awfully exhausting. But here, he tempers his loathing with genuine compassion — or maybe it’s just the vast reservoir of pain visible behind Paul Giamatti’s eyes as he staggers through his Bacchanalian purgatory, accompanied by immature buddy Thomas Haden Church. Whatever it is, it works; this little movie about middle-aged drunks chasing girls around California wine country acquires tremendous power by its final frames.

“The Squid and the Whale”: Noah Baumbach’s unblinking look at his parents’ divorce is as harrowing a film as American cinema produced in the last ten years, with Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney as monstrously self-absorbed pseudo-intellectuals who think nothing of using their children as messengers for their bile. I hope making this film helped him in some way, because it fucked me up good and proper.

“Spider”: It took me a couple of viewings to really appreciate David Cronenberg’s quietest film, which features Ralph Fiennes in a performance so intentionally mannered he’s nearly unwatchable. But once I understood its rhythms and surrendered to its claustrophobic sound design, it had me on the edge of my seat. I’m not sure I’ll ever watch it again, but it’s always there on the shelf, waiting.

“Standard Operating Procedure”: Errol Morris looks at the atrocities committed by American soliders at Abu Gharib, and reveals a particularly horrible truth about human psychology: If we can blame someone else for our actions, well, we’re capable of almost anything. In a just and decent world, this would have been hailed as a war-crimes indictment for the Bush Administration … but we don’t live in a just and decent world.

“Summer Hours”: Another look at family dynamics; this one’s from Olivier Assayas, as adult siblings Charles Berling, Juliette Binoche and Jeremie Renier try to figure out what to do with their mother’s estate. Commissioned by the Musee d’Orsay, this is anything but a museum piece; it’s a film about the meaning we assign to objects, and how that makes us behave.

… hey, look at that, the end is in sight. Come back tomorrow for the big finish.