Saturday, 8 August 2009

10 films from the last decade

That my film preferences lie with older stuff is not a surprise to anyone reading this blog. But people get annoyed when I can’t list a recent film which isn’t animated among my favourites. Even here, I think there have been only a handful of comments or posts about more recent films. So in order to dismiss the idea that I only watch or like old films, I went through my voting history at IMDb and selected a few from the top rated ones.

I have chosen the titles from films I have rated 8 or more and had a release date of 2000 or later. I have deliberately excluded animation, as otherwise Pixar would rule with Monsters, Inc., The Incredibles and Ratatouille making the cut. This also means that there’s no “Persepolis”. It is not the list of my highest rated films – my criteria change through time, and unless I watch the film again, I won’t revise my vote. Instead, I chose films that I thought were something different or left a mark on me for positive reasons – several are European, which is a change from what would have been a similar list 10 years ago. So, are you ready? Here it goes in chronological order:

Gosford Park (Robert Altman, 2001) – I think Altman described this as a Who-cares-Whodunit. It’s a very accurate description insomuch as the mystery goes. It is far more an account of the upstairs, downstairs lives of English aristocracy in 1932. The cast is nearly a who’s who of the great living British actors (Judi Dench, Miranda Richardson and a few others come to mind as missing) and the film is worth seeing for Maggie Smith’s scene stealing Countess alone.

Le Fate Ignoranti (Ferzan Ozpetek, 2001) – I can’t remember why I went to see this. I think someone recommend it. I also can’t remember if I saw it in the Watershed or (more likely) the Arnolfini in Bristol. But I was won over and Ozpetek has since become one of my favourite directors. A potential soap-opera (a woman finding out her recently deceased husband was having an affair with a man), it turns into a study of grief, survival, family and as in all Ozpetek films – food. And as ironies go, the two leads (playing opposite ends of the “love triangle”) end up playing husband and wife in Ozpetek’s later “Saturno Contro”.

À la folie... pas du tout (Laetitia Colombani, 2002) – Despite a 2002 release data I have only watched it a few months ago. It has Audrey Tautou and a fantastic script that kept surprising me, without being implausible. It uses a fantastic, old story device – different accounts of the same story. And, as always, the versions don’t necessarily match.

Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002) – If I had to venture a favourite in this list this is probably it. When I saw it last (and I have seen it three times, I think) I had yet to see Sirk’s “All That Heaven Allows” from which it borrows massively. Maybe it will change my perception of it, maybe not. It still has a fantastic script, Julianne Moore’s best performance ever (and that's a difficult choice), Elmer Bernstein’s beautiful score which was sadly his last, and Haynes endless love for the material is paying homage to.

La Mala Educación (Pedro Almodóvar, 2004) – In the mid-1990s, before he skyrocketed in the English-speaking world, I had passed through a mini love affair with Almodóvar. Then “Kika” came along (I saw it on the first TV screening in Portugal, so I guess around 1996-1997) and the affair was broken. “La Mala Educación” was the film that reconciled me with the Spanish director’s oeuvre. It probably isn’t my favourite Almodóvar, but I couldn’t resist all the “Double Indemnity” quotes, and Gael García Bernal is certainly one of cinema's deadliest “femmes fatales”.

Sommersturm (Marco Kreuzpaintner, 2004) – This is one of those films where a good script and confident acting and direction do combine quite well to produce something that is better than the sum of the parts. It’s a coming of age, coming out tale. Two teenager best friends are part of a rowing team, until one of them starts going out with a girl in the team and the other gets jealous.

Un long dimanche de fiançailles (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2004) – Audrey Tautou again… A woman believes beyond all reason that her lover is still alive despite being given for dead in WWI. I didn’t think too much of “Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain”, although I know I am in the minority. However there was something about this next Jeunet/Tautou collaboration that touched me and makes me want to go back to it. But this time I want to see the film without the aid of English subtitles (French ones are allowed though).

Startdust (Matthew Vaughn, 2007) – This one appeals to the child, the romantic and the fan of swashbucklers in me. I watched it on the edge of my seat, something very rare, and with a smile on my face throughout. To make it perfect, I would take Rickie Gervais and Sienna Miller out of it. And then there’s Michelle Pfeiffer’s perfect, inspired casting – the scene when she admires herself in the mirror is my favourite. ‘Nouf said.

Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck, 2007) – I wasn’t expecting much, and certainly not the punch in the stomach that is this film. Discussing it with a friend a few days ago, he said the film was worth because of the ending. I think it is the most uncompromising ending I have seen in a film since “I am a fugitive from a Chain Gang” (and I mean that chronologically, so it's 1933) – but the film is more than that. It demands your attention and keeps you focus on it. Casey Affleck is great, and so is the actress who got the Best Supporting Actress nomination. Pity that life occasionally imitates art, and the film never got the attention it deserved.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tim Burton, 2007) – A cinematographic adaptation of a Broadway musical is not the easiest thing to do. An adaptation of a Sondheim musical is even less, because of his music and his themes – this is not a musical for the masses, nor are the themes of Sweeney Todd for the fainted hearted. However, Tim Burton managed to do it successfully, helped by Johnny Deep and Helena Bonham-Carter, the latter massively overlooked. My favourite moment of hers is towards the end when she closes a door behind her. Her face shows how much heart broken she is for what she has done, which she knows it’s the only thing she could have done.

No comments: