Best of the Decade, part III

So here you go, the last five of the official twenty-five picks for Best of the Decade.  It's been fun trying to compile this list, and I hope you've had fun reading it and thinking about it.  Please leave comments and discuss if you'd like; I'm always interested in another person's views, and I hope that you'll indulge me by attempting to breach that authorial wall with me that for whatever reason I have set up with the actual readers of the blog.  This should be slightly more communal.  In any case, here they are...let the hate/discussion/love begin:

I can't really think of a movie in the last decade that I found so quietly moving and disturbing at the same time, that affected me personally on a level as deep and terrifying, as THERE WILL BE BLOOD.  Director Paul Thomas Anderson's epic character study is a film that works its way slowly into your mind, beginning with a masterful 15 minutes, which treks Daniel in the very beginning of his career, through the discovery of his son, that contains no dialogue, and is, for all intents and purposes, a silent film in and of itself.  And really, if the rest of the film's 2 hours and 45 minutes had no dialogue, it wouldn't make that much of a difference, either.  Sure, we'd lose out on the "I drink your milkshake!" fun that everyone had after the movie came out, but the film would still contain beautiful images and fierce performances by Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano, and that wonderful score by Johnny Greenwood would still be there, too.  But, thankfully there is dialogue, and we are treated to Daniel's diatribes against "people," his discussions with restaurant patrons who are staring at his table, his amazing "I'm an Oil Man" speech, and all of Paul Dano's spot-on evangelical theatrics, and that last line, declaring the end of it all - literally everything, film included - would not carry such significance.  This is a towering achievement for American cinema.  It's a film that deserves to be seen again and again, and I'm happy to oblige.

In a decade that saw Quentin Tarantino's directorial output more than double, it's no surprise that I should choose two of his films for my list, not only because he's one of my favorite directors, but also because he is consistently entertaining, thought-provoking and batshit insane.  In the same vein of KILL BILL and the highly underrated DEATH PROOF, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS is a quintessential Tarantino hodgepodge of ideas, images half-remembered from grindhouse flicks, hilarious dialogue, and memorable characters placed within a pure-cinema milieu to create a wholly fascinating, singular piece of work.  Christoph Waltz as Nazi villain Hans Landa, "The Jew Hunter," is a revelation, and Brad Pitt is hilarious and über-macho as Lt. Aldo Raine, leader of the Basterds, an all-Jewish squad sent behind enemy lines to terrorize and wipe out the Nazi threat.  Only in a Tarantino re-telling of World War II would cinema play such a triumphant and vital role, with the main characters aside from Raine, being involved in one way or another with film making or exhibition.  Indeed, the final showdown, a ballsy rewriting of historical fact, takes place inside a theatre, and engages the audience on both sides of the screen by implicating them in the action, removing, with the giant head of vengeance (the Jewish owner of the theatre) laughing as the place burns down around them.

David Mamet's thriller about the missing daughter of a high-level government official (it's the President; don't tell anybody) is an amazing piece of work that still gives me an adrenaline rush every time I watch it.  Largely overlooked upon its release in 2004, SPARTAN is slowly growing in reputation, either by simple recommendation, or because those who kinda, sorta liked it back then are giving it another go as the years pass by.  Regardless of all of that critical reception crap, though, the movie is engaging, cryptic, and trusting of an audience that all too often gets talked down to by the Hollywood system, as if we can only understand things that are spelled out for us to the tiniest detail.  While that may be true to a certain extent, and with certain audiences, Mamet's gift with SPARTAN is that the film easily appeals to a wide variety of demographics, with its high-caliber performances by Val Kilmer and William H. Macy, its staccato Mamet dialogue repeating phrases and exclamations that create a sort of poetry within the film, and its wonderful camerawork.  It's a spy thriller unlike any I've ever seen, its characters grounded in reality unlike the many action flicks that get passed off in theatrical release every year.  It's no James Bond at all, and maybe it's an anti-spy thriller.  It's brilliant, whatever it is.

The past decade was surprisingly good for horror fans, offering several noteworthy and absolutely horrific excursions into the genre, including the exploitation revisionism of THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, and the return to horror-comedy in Sam Raimi's DRAG ME TO HELL.  None, however, were so brilliantly concocted, plotted, and genuinely blood-curdling as Neil Marshall's British film THE DESCENT.  The film is a claustrophobic nightmare, as it follows a group of female friends on a cave exploration trip in the Appalachian mountains a year after one of them loses her family in a horrible tragedy.  They end up squeezing through small passages in order to reach larger chambers, eventually becoming trapped deep within the cave system.  It's terrifying, uneasy, and chilling, and then the monsters show up.  I think what I found so appealing about the film is its sure hand at what it was doing, setting up its characters as people who the audience can actually care about, putting them into an already horrific situation, and then upping the ante once the darkness starts to set in as they try to find their way out.  All horror films at their heart are steeped in this sort of Freudian return to the womb scenario, but none tap into it quite so literally and unabashadly, or so well.  THE DESCENT's biggest surprise is that it plays on a lot of different fears, and when its lead character is 'reborn', whether in the American ending or the original ending, it is a genuine release, both for character and audience.

For five seasons, David Simon's drama chronicling the investigations of the Baltimore Police Department and the many, many, many characters on either side of the cases is one of the best television shows ever, and that's not coming from me lightly, especially since the past decade has seen a revitalization of the medium, most of the fiction shows on cable stations (WEEDS, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, MAD MEN, DEXTER, DEADWOOD) are outstanding examples of how to write and execute fully fleshed-out characters, plotlines with nuance and finesse.  What makes THE WIRE special, though, is that it really culminates around the end of its third season to make a point of every single person, no matter what they have done or how they have done it, is neither completely good or bad, while asking serious questions about the way our society functions in order to praise some, and condemn others.  Is the entire world corrupt at some tiny, minute level, or are we all redeemable because we are inherently good but sometimes get caught up in machinations of the society's circumstances at large?  On top of that, each character is important, gets thoroughly examined, and receives a proper denouement in a final episode that not only brings everything to a close, but further postulates on the possible outcomes of the things that culminated by that time.  It's a stunning achievement, worth every single minute it was on screen, and rewards multiple viewings with its endlessly fantastic character work, utilizing actors, non-actors, real gang members from Baltimore, real cops, and virtually no familiar faces - though Richard Belzer's Detective Munch showing up in the end was sublime and completely appropriate, even with its being a stunt.  THE WIRE is one of those perfect shows, where everything that happens means something, and everything matters to the viewer.  It's just...perfect.

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