Wednesday, February 24, 2010

554- You Aught to Know - Dustin Lilleskov

1. The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan, 2008

2. About Schmidt, Alexander Payne, 2002

3. The Prestige, Christopher Nolan, 2006

4. Adaptation, Spike Jonze, 2002

5. Children of Men, Alfonso Cuarón, 2006

6. Minority Report, Steven Spielberg, 2002

Ranked behind Children of Men, but not for lack of equally compelling visuals, Minority Report does what so many of the film’s on my Decade’s Best List do so well: it combines memorable characters with dramatic motivations and contemplative themes. In it, Tom Cruise’s character Chief John Anderton rolls a ball down a broad, futuristic computer’s keyboard which is caught by Colin Farrell’s Danny Witwer. “Why’d you catch that?” he asks. “Because it was going to fall.” Anderton argues, “But it didn’t fall. You caught it. The fact that you prevented it from happening doesn’t change the fact that it was going to happen.” The drama of destiny and free will is never pedantic or tedious, simply the foundation for a whirlwind story that never lets the action or the mind rest. The questions, ideas, and actions of this inventive and imaginative film, fittingly adapted from a Philip K. Dick short story, have been masterfully executed by Steven Spielberg and the cast into a movie whose intense moments have never left my memory.

7. Spider-Man 2, Sam Raimi, 2004

8. WALL-E, Andrew Stanton, 2008

9. Elf, Jon Favreau, 2003

Sentimental as it sounds, Elf was a magical movie experience. Will Ferrell was pitch perfect as the unassuming, innocent, naïve Buddy who, because of his upbringing in Santa’s North Pole, plausibly tracks down his long lost biological father in Manhattan. And, as comedy is often the clash of opposite worlds, Buddy’s carefree boyishness crosses with his father’s (James Caan) grumpy, joyless, strictly-business demeanor in the reality of New York, the laughs keep on coming. When a wide-eyed, enraged, completely serious Buddy shouts at a department store Santa Claus “You sit on a throne of lies!” the glee is insuppressible. It truly is a joy to watch the inevitable problems that happen when big-hearted Buddy cannot withhold his innocent love from the distant people in his life who are busy closing themselves off with their problems. One thing to remember about film is that families don’t gather together to watch Fellini over the holidays. When it’s Christmastime, there are certain classics that warm your heart and uplift the lines on your face, and this decade, Elf just made that list.

10. Crimen ferpecto, Álex de la Iglesia, 2004

This film was good enough for me to name my chinchilla after the lead character, the slick and always well-dressed Rafael (Guillermo Toledo- as if you knew who that was). It begins with a hilarious opening sequence where a strict, demeaning instructor tells his failing class of novice menswear salesman that only one man has ever scored a perfect grade, a man who had him buying a basketball jersey even though he hates basketball. Transition to Rafael, who has a framed picture of him and his old teacher, smiling, arm-in-arm as they model the newly-purchased jersey of lore. Rafa is the king of his domain, the manager of the ladies’ clothing department, preying on impressionable women with his sly flirtations as he competes to be the top earning department. Soon enough, the plot is set in motion as Rafa ensnares himself in a crime against the manager of menswear, and the only witness, the ugly Lourdes, blackmails him by forcing him to be her lover. This clever dark comedy is insightful as the tortured Rafa argues with Lourdes that her inside is just as ugly as the out, her jealousy for his pretty girlfriends, and her lust for not only his flesh but his attention as well, has turned her into a monster enslaving him to a bizarre romance. It’s a commentary on love and its dark, selfish motivations. He tries to get out of Lourde’s chains as she tightens them all the more, forcing him to prove his love at every step, lest she expose him to the police. It’s twisted but never disturbing; instead, upbeat and enthralling. Rafa charmed me as his audience as well as he could the other characters. Even though his motives were never pure, I thought the film played his story out in an entertaining and meaningful fashion, showcasing his funny and cunning ways.

Foreign films are often the favorites of cinematic popinjays and lovers of affectation, the kind who would resent it when I say American films are the biggest worldwide because they are also the best. No, of course I’m not attempting to wipe away foreign cinema with one overstatement. It’s worthy to include in a survey of film, this is already assumed of course, except sometimes the film critic loses sight and features nothing but foreign films, titles which no wider audience has seen or even cares to. They lack the relevance of a major effort like The Dark Knight. But when I accidentally came across this gem, it mesmerized me and implanted itself in my memory. I could not deny this unique and engrossing film.

Dustin Lilleskov sells ads for Mudd Advertising. He recently completed a novel and is searching for a publisher.

Next time on You Aught to Know: Steve Carlson

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