Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Destination: Blah

I'm sure other folks will find kind things to say about The Last Station, but I can't. The costumes... the occasional elegant composition... the odd line... I probably could, but I can't. For starters, Mirren's shoo-in-for-a-nomination performance is a succession of Oscar clips, and not in a good way. She gives those telecast editors so many choices! Will it be the operatic ruckus where she smashes the best part of a crockery set, place by place down the length of the Tolstoys' dining table? The scene where she attempts to eavesdrop on all the other major characters, tangles herself up in a stray curtain, and screams abuse at them on all fours? The bit where she plays teary target practice with Paul Giamatti's portrait, mainly so we can accent this part of the plot with the cut-rate-Chekhov report of a gun going off behind closed doors? How about her farcical suicide attempt rolling off a pier? One thing's for sure, it won't be the fantastically embarrassing scene wherein she and Plummer exchange animal noises ("I'm your chicken, you be my big cock!") and ruffle each other's feathers on the marriage bed. Reader, I was watching that one through my fingers. The movie is structured around this furious showboating, which might have been histrionic fun if its actual drama weren't so measly, and Mirren, at her least pliable, so determined to build an entire exoskeleton of character out of incredulous frowning, transparent calculation and fawning hypochondria.

Every awards season brings in one obligatory misfire like The Last Station, which isn't bad enough to be written off as a no-hoper, while also struggling to constitute anything other than a leaden chore. You could see it as this year's Changeling -- or worse, last year's reheated Quills, since large chunks of it are given over to the same giggly battle between priggishness and sexual freedom which made that the prestige bummer of 2000. Swap in James McAvoy for Joaquin Phoenix, and Kerry Condon for Kate Winslet, and there's your romantic subplot between an earnest young acolyte just waiting to have his clothes ripped off, his eyes opened. In fairness, McAvoy, handsome and ardent with his neat little ginger beard, was the one major performer who stood a chance of dragging me back into the movie, in the frequent moments when I was mentally checking out, usually when someone read out another telegram, poured more tea, or followed up another thoroughly drab statement with the anxious question, "Does this make me a reactionary?". I don't know what it is about Paul Giamatti in period beards and foreign accents, but he sounds dubbed and hardly there, like he's trying out line readings for The Illusionist II. I have almost nothing to say about Plummer, or the tinkly earnestness of the score, or the way the closing crane shot wobbles its way inexpertly above a steam train, or the script, which hits all the historically pertinent notes without playing them in any way you could recognise as a decent tune. It's a hard movie to loathe, you'll probably find, but I tried my best. D+

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A personal top 100 of the decade

Having confessed myself a little taken aback this week by the venom that greeted the Telegraph's defined-the-decade list I helped compile -- some people take these things much too seriously -- I thought I'd ride the controversy a little further and clarify a few things with my own list. So we're on the same page: the below is a "favourites" list, for fun, not a "defined" list or even a "best" list groping after some vague universal criteria. Expecting only a 10-15 film overlap with the Telegraph choices, I've surprised myself with (I think) 29 duplicated titles, which goes to show that I actually think there's a lot of very good stuff on that list, as well as obviously weaker films that nonetheless made a significant drop in the ocean, in whatever way.

It's not set in stone yet, and I'll probably keep tinkering with the order, but it's something like my favourite 100 films of the decade as of right this second. Tomorrow, who knows? Doubtless I've left things off which will occur to me later -- I'm fairly scatter-brained about keeping records -- and there's a small chance that something I see in the next six weeks will need inserting, but I consider it a pretty small one by this point. (Only four 2009 films have made it on so far, with a couple of others just on the cusp: I'll admit, I think I got a bit carried away with Antichrist.) I've gone by the IMDb year listings (not US or UK release dates) for all films, which means that, say, Beau Travail is ineligible (despite being released in most countries in the year 2000), whereas White Material and A Prophet, which premiered at festivals this year, make it in. If you spot any glaring errors, let me know!

Without further ado...

100. Dogville (Lars von Trier, 2003)
99. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, 2001)
98. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)
97. Monster (Patty Jenkins, 2003)
96. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Tommy Lee Jones, 2005)
95. Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner (Zacharias Kunuk, 2001)
94. Last Resort (Pawel Pawlikowski, 2000)
93. Sugar (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, 2008)
92. In this World (Michael Winterbottom, 2002)
91. The Last Victory (John Appel, 2004)
90. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (Sidney Lumet, 2007)
89. Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2004)
88. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar Wai, 2000)
87. A Time for Drunken Horses (Bahman Ghobadi, 2000)
86. Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (Park Chan-wook, 2002)
85. The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky, 2006)
84. Gerry (Gus Van Sant, 2002)
83. White Material (Claire Denis, 2009)
82. Adaptation. (Spike Jonze, 2002)
81. Frozen Land (Aku Louhimies, 2005)
80. The King of Kong (Seth Gordon, 2007)
79. Johnny Mad Dog (Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire, 2008)
78. Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki, 2004)
77. Les petites vacances (Olivier Peyon, 2006)
76. Abouna (Mahamat Saleh-Haroun, 2002)
75. We Own the Night (James Gray, 2007)
74. School of Rock (Richard Linklater, 2003)
73. The Night of the Sunflowers (Jorge Sánchez-Cabezudo, 2006)
72. Yella (Christian Petzold, 2007)
71. Red Road (Andrea Arnold, 2006)
70. Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004)
69. Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2008)
68. Deep Water (Louise Osmond and Jerry Rothwell, 2006)
67. Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong, 2007)
66. 13 Lakes (James Benning, 2004)
65. Requiem (Hans-Christian Schmid, 2006)
64. Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009)
63. Uzak (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2002)
62. Capote (Bennett Miller, 2005)
61. Julia (Erick Zonca, 2008)
60. Modern Life (Raymond Depardon, 2008)
59. Nationale 7 (Jean-Pierre Sinapi, 2000)
58. The Corporation (Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, 2003)
57. King Kong (Peter Jackson, 2005)
56. When the Levees Broke (Spike Lee, 2006)
55. I ♥ Huckabees (David O Russell, 2004)
54. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2009)
53. The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008)
52. Lady Chatterley (Pascale Ferran, 2006)
51. The Fall (Tarsem, 2006)
50. Bus 174 (José Padilha, 2004)
49. The Circle (Jafar Panahi, 2000)
48. Adam & Paul (Lenny Abrahamson, 2004)
47. Y tu mamá también (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001)
46. Kings and Queen (Arnaud Desplechin, 2004)
45. Couscous (Abdel Kechiche, 2007)
44. The Company (Robert Altman, 2003)
43. Punch-Drunk Love (PT Anderson, 2002)
42. Erin Brockovich (Steven Soderbergh, 2000)
41. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson, 2001)
40. The Son (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2002)
39. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring (Kim Ki-duk, 2003)
38. The Holy Girl (Lucrecia Martel, 2004)
37. Solaris (Steven Soderbergh, 2002)
36. The Bourne Supremacy (Paul Greengrass, 2004)
35. Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
34. Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Andersen, 2003)
33. The Sun (Aleksandr Sokurov, 2005)
32. Birth (Jonathan Glazer, 2004)
31. Songs from the Second Floor (Roy Andersson, 2000)
30. Amores perros (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2000)
29. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002)
28. Code Unknown (Michael Haneke, 2000)
27. Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)
26. The Incredibles (Brad Bird, 2004)
25. Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay, 2002)
24. What Time is it There? (Tsai Ming-liang, 2001)
Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar, 2002)
22. The House of Mirth (Terence Davies, 2000)
21. Eureka (Shinji Aoyama, 2000)
20. I’m Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007)
19. Our Daily Bread (Nikolaus Geyrhalter, 2005)
18. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
17. Spider (David Cronenberg, 2002)
16. Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008)
15. A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, 2009)
14. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)
L’emploi du temps (Laurent Cantet, 2001)
12. Black Sun (Gary Tarn, 2005)
The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, 2001)

Synecdoche, NY (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
9. Junebug (Phil Morrison, 2005)
INLAND EMPIRE (David Lynch, 2006)
7. Yi Yi (Edward Yang, 2000)
6. demonlover (Olivier Assayas, 2002)
5. The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005)
4. There Will Be Blood (PT Anderson, 2007)
3. The Death of Mr Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, 2005)
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Peter Weir, 2003)
Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)