The Rest of the Decade, Part One

Caption Here!When I put together my list of the decade’s best films for NOW a couple of weeks back, I alluded to having culled the top ten from a much larger list. Over the next few days, we’ll be looking at the runners-up, a few at a time. Think of these posts as further suggestions for your home viewing in 2010.

“Almost Famous”: Kate Hudson’s only great performance, the best use to date of Zooey Deschanel, master-class work from Philip Seymour Hoffman … and those are the supporting performances. The star, of course, is writer-director Cameron Crowe — and the adulation he received for this tender cinematic memoir derailed his career by making him think all of his movies should be about his record collection.

“Amelie”: Just sweet enough to go down clean; just melancholy enough to stick with you the next day. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s delightful romantic fantasy introduced us to the wide-eyed wonder of Audrey Tautou … and to the CG post-production toolbox upon which all 21st century filmmakers would come to rely.

“Belleville Rendez-vous” (“The Triplets of Belleville”): Sylvan Chomet’s wondrous animated geegaw features magificently demented images, the decade’s best cartoon dog — sorry, Dug, but Bruno’s wordlessness is even more of a triumph — and a virtuoso’s comic timing. Plus, it’s got heart by the barrelful: That final dialogue exchange shouldn’t make me cry, but it always does.

“Capturing the Friedmans”: Andrew Jarecki’s incredible documentary was the result of a happy accident; while preparing a film about children’s party clowns, he stumbled upon a subject with a story greater and sadder than anyone should ever carry. And it only gets more complicated from there.

“Chicken Run” and “Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit”: No one else can do what Nick Park does. No one should. What would be the point of it? (It’s also worth pointing out that Mel Gibson’s performance in “Chicken Run” is probably the best thing he’s ever done — though I think it’s the Plasticine chassis that sells it.)

“Cloverfield”: If you leave out the story and just look at the technical accomplishments, it’s a stunner. But factor in that story, with its impotent, unprepared young protagonists stumbling half-drunk and terrified through a disaster they can’t comprehend or survive, and you’ve got a genre exercise that attains a savage, horrible grace by the time the credits roll.

“The Constant Gardener”: Fernando Meirelles makes good on the promise of “City of God”, turning a John Le Carre thriller into a searing tale of a sleeping man shocked into consciousness by the destruction of everything he loves. The corporate stuff is just window dressing.

“Un Conte de Noel” (“A Christmas Tale”): What happens when you drop a bauble? It shatters. Arnaud Desplechin’s marvelously complicated family drama treats every one of its many characters as someone deserving of our attention, even when he or she is acting like a complete ass — and sometimes, especially then.

“Dawn of the Dead”: Clearly, Zack Snyder is at his best when he’s working with restrictions — a small story, a modest budget, minimal CGI. Under those conditions, he delivered one of the decade’s defining horror films … a ferocious zombie thriller that will leave you convinced the world is ending right now, just beyond your peripheral vision. And it’s got some damn fine acting, too: Sarah Polley’s slow shift from panic to resilience; Matt Frewer and Lindy Booth’s last goodbye, Jake Weber’s off-handed admission of loss. (And fuck you, “Zombieland”, for turning that wrenching moment into a plot point.)

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”: The first 35 minutes of Julian Schnabel’s biopic are excruciating. The next hour is only slightly less so, as we move outside the head of the paralyzed Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric, in the performance that vaulted him to international stardom) and understand exactly what locked-in syndrome does to its victims — and to the people who love them.

Wow, eleven films and we’re just in the D’s. Let’s pick this up again tomorrow, shall we?

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