All films listed: 40-41, 17 points each
Black Hawk Down, Ridley Scott, 2001
That Black Hawk Down is the most exhilarating film of the recently departed decade is certain; what's less obvious is that this aspect causes many to simply read into the action and miss its insight. I rewatched Black Hawk Down twice in the past months and was awed by the depth of what was onscreen; there's commentary about nation building, urban warfare, the political cost of military action, and a host of other subjects (the effect of gunfire on the human ear!). But the film's most profound statement comes from the terrible violence inflicted by the conflict on American soldier and Somali populace alike.
When the Battle of Mogadishu begins, the film sticks with it every moment until the end; the breathers of comparable films such as Saving Private Ryan and We Were Soldiers are almost entirely absent, making it an all the more impressive technical achievement that Scott's carnage never becomes overwhelming nor loses its dramatic momentum. By sticking with the men, Scott manages to duplicate the battle to jarring effect, not subjugating the events to a traditional story arc. The Mogadishu here is a filthy spot of hell which Scott navigates flawlessly, weaving through the experience of dozens of soldiers as their complicated assignment devolves into a morbid debacle through no fault of their own.
The brilliance of the action sold tickets, but Scott never exchanges the men's humanity for an thrill. The heroism of the soldiers, who risk (and often suffer) grievous injury in the course of their mission, ensures that they constitute the decade's finest collective protagonist, with each drop of blood spilled a mournful occurrence. Many war films pay lip service to the thought that soldiers really do it for each other, but Black Hawk Down is the first (and only I've seen) whose total immersion in the blistering heat of combat makes one feel that sentiment to be true. The film's final somber note, which emphasizes that the sacrifices were all in vain, leaves us with a unshakable message about the tragedy that accompanies a soldier in the line of duty. - James Frazier
No Country for Old Men, Ethan and Joel Coen, 2007
Speaking of sound-editing, the sound of gravel in this film! Silence punctuated by subtle sounds—and then gunshots! The violence of this film, like the film above, is sudden and perverse. Like Shopgirl, this is a moral tale, but there’s no moral. Bardem’s character, like Lewis’s, is doing a job—and he does it well. Everyone else is trying to scrape together an existence from scraps, with no semblance of a mission, save the immediate task at hand. Tommy Lee Jones’s character, who gives voice the novel’s narrator, tries to live a zen-like existence of quiet honor, but tranquility is like thin glass in the wake of violence. Greed appears to have the upper-hand in this film. Is that greed in any way challenged in Bardem’s crucial scene with Carla Jean in the end? I’m not sure.
Some of you may remember that I picked another Coen Brothers film as my favorite movie on this very blog. I want to say here that I laughed considerably during Burn After Reading; Malkovich is so good at making fun of himself! I also want to say that I have not seen A Serious Man. Maybe it would be on here! Who knows? - Aaron McNally
Previously on You Aught to Know: Aaron McNally