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Archive for the ‘Best of the 21st Century?’ Category

by MovieMan0283

#100 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series in which I view, for the first time, some of the most critically acclaimed films of the previous decade.

Rounding out the top 100, this entry on Silent Light concludes the “Best of the 21st Century?” series begun in February, with The Hurt Locker. If the previous post, on Let the Right One In, was the climax of the series, this is the epilogue. Not a written post but images from the film’s quiet, entrancing opening, in which the camera tracks in while the sun rises. Paradoxically, a good sequence to close with. Thanks for following the series, and I hope you enjoyed it. The pictures begin after the jump.

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by Joel

Let the Right One In (2008) is #95 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series in which I view, for the first time, some of the most critically acclaimed films of the previous decade. Along with this film, I will also be discussing the recent American remake, Let Me In (2010) and the book Låt den rätte komma in (2004) by John Ajvide Lindqvist, upon which both are based. There will be spoilers.

On a silent, snowy evening, a taxi pulls up to a deserted courtyard. The cold, lonely apartment blocks loom overhead, watching implacably, either unwilling to share their secrets, or without any secrets to share. But one frosted window at least has a human face in it – a little blonde boy, bare-chested, uneasily gripping a knife in one hand, the other pressed up against the glass, leaving a faint imprint, a marker to shout out impotently, “I was here!” Out of the taxi steps an older man and a young girl; though together, they still seem fundamentally alone – even that lonely boy upstairs has a warm, well-lit room behind him. On reaching their own room, the mysterious couple begin covering up their own frosted window with advertising placards, flashy but vapid come-ons ironically placed to block out the world. Down in the snow bank below, a haggard man pisses in the snow, glancing up at his peculiar neighbors and wondering, perhaps, who they think they are, closing themselves off like that. Don’t they know the world will already take care of that for them? Why seek isolation?

Because, as it turns out, there are some things worse than being alone. Such as joining together in brief, violent, frenetic couplings in which one person leeches the life out of another; or even worse, befriending and assisting this very leech, quenching your own isolation only at the expense of another’s life and happiness. These islands of humanity, floating in the impersonal sea of Blackeburg, both fear and desire human contact; they need it, but they know – or will discover – at what price this need can be fulfilled. Each of these individuals is as human as the next, but at least one is something else besides: a creature of the night, a blood-craving immortal, a murderous eunuch, a vampire. And this vampire, seemingly the most innocent of the four characters, that little girl who climbed out of the taxi, can only infiltrate your defenses if you let her enter your home – without permission, she will bleed from every orifice, so that even passivity breeds violence. Yet you must be careful before granting permission. It’s not enough to let just anyone in…

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by Joel

#94 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series in which I view, for the first time, some of the most critically acclaimed films of the previous decade.

Let me take a moment to clear up some misunderstandings about the “Best of the 21st Century?” title. The question mark is there for a reason; this is not my canon for the decade, but rather the collective critical canon as compiled by the website They Shoot Pictures Don’t They?. A talented critic named Kevin B. Lee started an exercise years ago in which he moved through the website’s all-time canon, watching and discussing the films he had not yet seen. His imaginative approach is to create video commentaries for each film – while my own work here is nowhere near as ambitious, I’m taking a similar approach, writing about each film on the 21st Century list that I haven’t seen. Key point: that I haven’t seen, so I have no way of knowing, going into a viewing right before a review, if I’ll like the movie in question. I’ve seen a few responses in the past saying something to the effect of “Can’t wait to see your other favorites” or “Do you really think this is one of the best of the whole decade?” Hopefully this introduction clarifies my approach.

I bring this up because otherwise some of you might be confused by what follows. So far in this series, I’ve been generally positive about the films discussed even if dissenting from the acclaim in some regards (which was already too much for some). This time I have to dissent from the apparent consensus altogether; by and large, I didn’t care for In Praise of Love, so for me that response to the question mark of my series title would have to be a “No.” It’s ironic that this film would be the one to warrant that response, since Jean-Luc Godard is one of my favorite directors of all time. Yet even in his prime, I think he could be hit-and-miss, often within the same film. We take the lows of Godard because the highs are so exhilarating; unfortunately in Praise, the latter are scarce and the former all too abundant. Though some have seen it in exact opposite fashion, I find the movie gets much better as it goes along, leading finally to a rapturous conclusion, but it’s too little too late to save the movie as a whole. The meta-questions on Godard’s old work vs. his new are most creatively addressed by Bob Clark in his “the-best-way-to-criticize-a-film-is-to-make-another-film a-video-gameresponse to Film Socialisme last week. As for In Praise of Love, I come not to praise but to bury. So proceed below the fold…

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by Joel

#93 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series in which I view, for the first time, some of the most critically acclaimed films of the previous decade.

While he is an infant, Atanarjuat’s family goes hungry. The boy’s father, an outcast and laughing-stock, can’t hunt to save his life – literally; the other men tease him, asking if his wife will hunt while he stays behind, sewing and cooking. That’s humiliation in this community of hardy hunters; still, the hunger must be worse than humiliation. Atanarjuat is too young to comprehend the situation, but his elder brother Amaqjuaq soaks it all in grimly – particularly the mother’s advice: “You must never forget to take care of Atanarjuat.” Somberly, the little boy reaches up to his baby brother, holding out a scrap of walrus heart (which a friend of the family, pitying their destitution, smuggled in to the starving brood). Tellingly, the half-asleep infant does not respond – it’s as if even at this early age he is confident in his own ability to survive, and perhaps complacent in the sense that his family will take care of him.

When we meet Atanarjuat and Amaqjuaq as adults (played by Natar Ungalaaq and Pakak Innuksuk), the big brother is still looking out for the little one. Atanarjuat is a skilled runner and hunter, weak and dreamy in other respects, but holding onto his lifelong faith in survival and confidence in family security. In the course of this striking and stirring epic, that second feeling will diminish drastically, as Atanarjuat is forced to look out for himself. But that first feeling – the confidence in survival – will only grow, and be based on a firmer foundation, because indeed Atanarjuat (the “fast runner” of the English title) will endure what kills other men, and the experience will only make him stronger.

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by Joel

#90 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series in which I view, for the first time, some of the most critically acclaimed films of the previous decade.

There are the mysteries that wrap us up in the procedural onscreen, giving us a pleasing diversion and a riddle to solve, and then there are the mysteries which serve as red herrings, MacGuffins for something else. L’Avventura and Blow-Up belong to that latter category, and in The Headless Woman Lucrecia Martel follows suit. But if Michelangelo Antonioni was examining the psychology and spiritual ennui in his 60s classics, Martel’s underlying investigation is primarily social. Vero (Maria Oneta) is driving down a dirt road by herself, returning from a get-together with her friends, mostly middle-class, middle-aged women like herself. Her cell phone rings and she leans over to take the call – the car slams into something, shudders and Vero freezes. We don’t see what she sees – we’re not even sure if she does see anything. She trembles, puts her sunglasses on, takes a few moments and then drives on, massaging her head which she hit in the accident. Looking back out of the car we can see what appears to be a crushed bicycle in the road – but this is not necessarily to say she hit its rider; in the first scene, a few children were chasing one another around and one of them easily could have left his bike in the road. Or so we hope – as does Vero. A torrential downpour has just begun, and as she drives into the rain she does not look back.

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by Joel

#89 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series in which I view, for the first time, some of the most critically acclaimed films of the previous decade.

As Gosford Park opens, with its funereal tones, its period decor, its stately music and mise en scene (evoking the world of Merchant-Ivory), it hardly seems the most modern of Robert Altman’s pictures – let alone the most postmodern. Yet, as the story of Gosford Park itself never tires of reminding us, appearances can be deceiving. Gosford Park is a delicious subversion of itself, and its narrative arc subtly mirrors a society’s decline and eclipse – an age-old aristocracy faced with a rumbling underclass and a vulgar modernity (represented by an American visiting the estate; he is, of course, in the motion-picture business). A subtle society drama becomes a murder mystery becomes a farce becomes a happy ending; the movie opens with a rainstorm and closes in sunshine, and if there’s something a bit ironic in its ultimate optimism, it’s nonetheless cheerful and sincere after a fashion. The movie does not quite wear its twistiness on its sleeve, but by the end of the film the characters have broken all the rules of the game and come out smelling like roses – or dirt anyway, which is equally earthy.

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by Joel

#88 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series in which I view, for the first time, some of the most critically acclaimed films of the previous decade.

My Winnipeg filters municipal history through personal experience (or perhaps vice-versa) so forgive me if I do something similar for a moment. Besides, my initial draft of this review was swept away – demolished like the old ice rink shown above – and in starting afresh, I feel compelled to make a meta-blogging and perhaps self-promotional detour. Lately I’ve been blogging rather furiously, trying to meet the demands of a new schedule I forced upon myself; as a result I am often composing my posts at the last minute (as opposed to this past summer where a leisurely pace allowed ample time to develop entries at my own tempo). Due to the way I’ve scheduled things, I end up writing a post in my Wind in the Willows series and the latest entry in “Best of the 21st Century?” every Monday night, and this week I noticed some similarities. To wit: in “Wayfarers, All,” a late and seemingly digressive chapter in Kenneth Grahame’s classic book, the Water Rat meets a Sea Rat who regales him with tales of the Mediterranean; transfixed, the hypnotized creature – who’s never left the riverside before – prepares to follow his newfound friend on a grand adventure. He is stopped, at the last minute, but his faithful but perhaps somewhat oppressive pal, Mole, who physically restrains him and then talks him down from the dizzying height of his wanderlust. Thus “cured” of his restlessness, a depressed Rat sits at his desk and scribbles out some poetry about willow wrens.
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