The Rest of the Decade, Part Three

Uh-ohWelcome to 2010, everybody! I’m still looking in the rear-view mirror here, with the latest instalment in this week’s ongoing series; if you’re just joining us, you can get caught up here, here and here.

Ready? Then let’s carry on.

“The Lives of Others”: In a decade where nations confronted the scars of their totalitarian pasts, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s muted study of one man’s contribution to his country’s oppression — and his belated attempt to undo at least some of the damage — was the most accomplished.

“Millions” and “Sunshine”: Danny Boyle recovered his mojo in a big way this decade, asserting himself as one of our most muscular directors. These radically different but equally rhapsodic tales of sacrifice and salvation demonstrate his confidence and his range.

“Minority Report” / “War of the Worlds” / “Munich”: Steven Spielberg may not know when to quit — all three of these films go on just a hair too long — but damn, can he engage with his material. “Minority Report” is a great dystopian thrill ride, and “War of the Worlds” and “Munich” consitute the most resonant commentary on the American response to 9/11 — first as incomprehensible nightmare, then as the motivation for disproportionate, misguided retribution.

“Monsters, Inc.” / “Finding Nemo” / “The Incredibles” / “Ratatouille” / “WALL*E” / “Up”: Pixar, man. Fucking Pixar.

“The Motorcycle Diaries”: Steven Soderbergh’s “Che” doesn’t bother with its protagonist’s backstory, and ends up feeling all the more hollow for it. On the other hand, Walter Salles’ deliberately unshowy examination of the road trip that sparked Ernesto Guevara’s evolution from child of privilege to radical warrior is the stuff of engrossing personal drama.

“Nobody Knows”: Hirokazu Kore-eda’s suffocating drama about four children abandoned by their mother in a small Tokyo apartment isn’t exploitative in the slightest; it simply observes as the kids invent ever more inventive ways to survive. And then they run out of inspiration. If Takashi Miike had found the story first, he’d have made a movie that kills people. Instead, we get this exquisite, almost transcendent study of resilience and desperation.

“O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “A Serious Man”: No disrespect to “No Country for Old Men”, but it’s a film I admire more than enjoy. With these two wonderful comedies, the Coens bookend the decade with smart, canny studies of increasingly desperate men trying to make sense of a universe that simply isn’t interested in their personal causes. (Also, take another look at “Intolerable Cruelty”, if only for the marvelous simplicity of Wheezy Joe.)

“Ocean’s Twelve”: Steven Soderbergh turns caper cinema into the finest, fizziest Champagne, pulling the plot’s bait-and-switch on the audience and forcing the minor players to step up when the big stars are sidelined. (“Hell in a handbasket?” “We can’t train a cat that quickly.”) And the payoff when “Julia Roberts” and Bruce Willis run into each other in the museum is just brilliant.

“Old Joy” and “Wendy and Lucy”: Kelly Reichardt’s movies are the tear-shaped universes that Will Oldham discusses in one of his many reflective moments in “Old Joy”; briefly flashing into existence, containing entire worlds, and so fragile they can crush your heart. And both films capture the disintegration of Bush’s America so subtly that you might not even notice. Until you do.

“A Prairie Home Companion”: Robert Altman went out the way he came in — as an eccentric, idiosyncratic filmmaker more concerned with capturing moments of emotional truth than telling a cohesive story. That his final film just happened to be about the inevitability of death, as filtered through a jubilant celebration of life, is a flourish only he could have orchestrated.

That seems like a good place to leave it for today. More tomorrow!

2 thoughts on “The Rest of the Decade, Part Three”

  1. Given my record of accuracy quoting lines I love from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, I’m not even touching the bits of Prairie Home Companion that I probably misquote all the time.

  2. @ Chris — Don’t worry about it! I had to spin up “Ocean’s Twelve” to make sure I had the cat quote right. And I didn’t — I thought it was “We don’t have time to train the cat.”

    Happens to all of us …

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