Wednesday, March 03, 2010

563 - You Aught to Know - Paul Clark

1. The New World, Terrence Malick, 2005

So many films have treated the natural segue from youthful idealism to the long-haul pragmatism of adulthood as a tragedy that it’s sort of amazing to see a movie that treats it as a simple fact of life. The marvel of The New World is twofold- that master director Terrence Malick sets this transition in the life of Pocahontas (played wonderfully by Q’Orianka Kilcher) against the backdrop of a land about to make the same leap, and that it does so without ever once insisting upon the point. Yet there’s so much more to love about The New World- the completeness with which its world is imagined (Jack Fisk’s magnificently hewn sets are breathtaking), the breathtaking cinematography (courtesy of Emmanuel Lubezki), and above all, the directorial command that Malick brings to the tale. And to think he’s already got another film on the way!

2. Everything Will Be OK, Don Hertzfeldt, 2006

Since the late nineties, Don Hertzfeldt has been the reigning prankster of American animation, hand-crafting little wonders like the Oscar-nominated Rejected. Yet there’s always been a wealth of ideas behind his work, and these ideas came to the fore most prominently in Everything Will Be OK, a meditation on mortality and circumstance that feels like the cartoon cousin to Raymond Carver. That’s not to say Hertzfeldt has lost his sense of humor- far from it- but that it’s become load-bearing, in the service of some surprisingly profound issues about life.

3. Waking Life, Richard Linklater, 2001

To its many detractors, Richard Linklater’s first animated feature is little more than a glorified undergraduate bull session, gussied up with some computer animation. But to these eyes, the film is less about the particular (and often conflicting) ideas espoused by its gallery of characters than about capturing the liberating feeling of being able to give voice to such ideas, no matter how facile or misguided. And with the assistance of Bob Sabiston and his team of animators, Linklater has made a film that dances in time with the ideas it expresses.

4. 8 Women, François Ozon, 2002

This one is sure to be the most controversial pick on my list, with a handful of devoted fans and more than a few naysayers. But then, such is the nature of Francois Ozon’s hilarious, borderline experimental take on classical Hollywood melodramas. Unlike the acclaimed Far From Heaven, released the same year, 8 Women is a film that delights in doodling in the margins, finding room in its Agatha Christie-esque plot and silky Sirkian style for off-the-cuff musical numbers and intertextual allusions a-plenty. Oh, and that cast- if the names Deneuve, Huppert, Darrieux, Ardant, and Béart mean anything to you, you’re just the audience this film needs.

5. Dogville, Lars von Trier, 2003

6. There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007

7. 25th Hour, Spike Lee, 2003

8. The Son, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne Jean-Pierre Dardenne, 2002

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are often compared to Bresson, but let it not be said that they dwell in his shadow, as they’re currently riding one of the hottest streaks in world cinema. The Son is above all a fascinating character study about a fundamentally decent man who comes face to face with a boy who once did him an unspeakable wrong. There’s quite a bit of plot in The Son, but the Dardennes have the rare gift for making it spring directly from their characters, and with Olivier Gourmet (giving one of the decade’s best performances) in the lead role, they make their greatest film to date.

9. Synecdoche, New York, Charlie Kaufman, 2008

Like Waking Life (listed above), Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut attempts to navigate the immensity of the human mind. But while Linklater’s film portrays the mind as a playground, in Kaufman’s film it’s a labyrinth. The anti-Synecdoche contingent has painted the film as little more than unpleasant navel-gazing, but I’ve seen few films that have such a profound grasp on the paths we take in life- our bodies break down, things start to repeat themselves, and we gradually cede control of our lives to others, but all the while we strive to make a change in the world. Synecdoche is a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s truly mind-enlarging.

10. La Commune [Paris, 1871], Peter Watkins, 2000

One of my greatest cinematic discoveries this past decade was the world of Peter Watkins, and his epic La Commune is one of his finest works. La Commune tells the story of the Paris Commune, who briefly took over Paris before being overthrown by the government. But instead of making a straightforward period piece, Watkins presents the Commune’s story through the lens of two television networks, one presenting the Communards’ point of view, the other voicing that of the establishment. Paradoxically, this dueling-media device gives the story a greater immediacy than a conventional telling ever would, turning a safe history lesson into a rallying cry for dissent and activism in today’s world.

Paul Clark runs the fabulous blog Silly Hats Only, and really loves Belle de Jour.

Next time on You Aught to Know: Where were you when it happened?

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