Thursday, May 6, 2010

Design of a Decade: The Greatest Hits of the '00s - Part VI [Final]

This is it, the final piece in the jigsaw that is my personal countdown of the best cinematic achievements of the last decade. By now I am sure you have worked out what a good half or so of the final 25 positions will be held by, but I hope you still get a kick out of it. If you haven't read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and Part V then you will have no idea what's going on (reading the rules would be beneficial too) so before we continue please do so.

CRAFT: Production Design
Tom Foden, Geoff Hubbard, Michael Manson & Guy Dyas
The Cell
Shout out must also go to Eiko Ishioka's costumes, but it is the production design and art direction that really stood out most of all for me. Unique and fantastical, as well as visually astonishing representations of famous artworks and original set pieces alike. Incredible work.

MUSIC: Original Soundtrack, Selmasongs
Performed by Bjork
Dancer in the Dark
I originally spent a fair amount of time deciding how to represent the original song score of Lars Von Trier's Dancer in the Dark on the countdown. Should it be the "I've Seen It All" scene, or how about "Cvalda"? What about a song citation for "New World" or so on. I decided to simply go with the soundtrack that was released, Selmasongs. It features some alterations to the film versions - of particular obviousness is the new version of "I've Seen It All", now with Thom Yorke - but each and every song is overflowing with brilliance. It's hard to pick a favourite, and yet my mind seems to wind towards "New World".

CRAFT: Original Screenplay
Charlie Kaufman
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I don't think I have to discuss this much at all, do I? I think by this stage everybody and their pet knows how great this movie is and that a large part of it has to do with the screenplay by Kaufman. This movie is the best thing ever done by basically every single person involved.

"Nikki Grace" / "Susan Blue"

That about covers it, doesn't it?

PEOPLE: Lars Von Trier
Dancer in the Dark, Dogville, Dear Wendy, The Five Obstruction, The Boss of it All & Antichrist
With his only true misstep this decade coming from the awful Manderlay, a sequel to Dogville that sent him into near career-ending depression apparently, Von Trier was at his provocative best. Anybody who made Dancer in the Dark and Dogville would be right up there anyway, but throw in the rest of his work - including writing the screenplay for Dear Wendy - and he's earned his spot.

SCENE: "El Tango de Roxanne"
Moulin Rouge!
The best thing The Police have ever been involved in.

PEOPLE: Dion Beebe
The Goddess of 1967, Equilibrium, Chicago, In the Cut, Collateral, Memoirs of a Geisha, Miami Vice & Nine
The best cinematographer of the decade was this Aussie lenser. While he won an Oscar for Memoirs of a Geisha (his least impressive work of the titles listed above) and failed to even be nominated for Collateral, In the Cut and Nine (his three crowning achievements if you ask me) shows some weird alignment issues between the man and the Academy, Dion Beebe has proven time and time again that he is a stunning DP.

Just writing about him now and several images instantly flash into my mind - the blue bridge from Miami Vice, the delicate petals of the In the Cut opening sequence, the "Roxie" sequence of Chicago etc. His finest achievement, however, is Collateral, a film I have no qualms in saying features the best cinematography of the decade.

CHARACTER: "The Bride" aka "Beatrix Kiddo"
Played by Uma Thurman
Kill Bill, Vol. 1 & Kill Bill, Vol. 2
As truly blazing as I think Uma Thurman is in the role of her career in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films, I think so much of that has to be put down to the character itself. "The Bride" was an iconic character of the decade, without a doubt.

PERFORMANCE: Christian Bale
"Patrick Bateman"
American Psycho
The best male performance of the decade came before even the first year was up! Let's take a trip back to 2000, shall we? Leonardo DiCaprio had been rumoured to have the part, Reese Witherspoon was still willing to make artistic ventures such as this, Chloe Sevigny was perhaps on the verge of mainstream acceptance after her recent Academy Award nomination and Christian Bale was nothing more than an actor that we all felt a bit creepy about staring at in the shower/tanning bed because a) he was carving up characters left and right, and b) he was the kid from Empire of the Sun.

I wasn't able to see American Psycho at the cinema due to it's R18+ rating (sorta like NC17 in the USA), but I did win the soundtrack and so I heard the hilarious monologues about preening and dead souls and all of that good stuff and was instantly obsessed. When I finally did see it I was blown away, and my appreciation for the film - many, many viewings later - has only grown. Christian Bale is the epicentre for that love and if he's gone a bit off the rails lately, that's okay because in my mind he will always be reciting the virtues of Huey Lewis and the News, Genisis, Whitney Houston and the importance of a really good facial shower scrub.

PEOPLE: Gus Van Sant
Elephant, Gerry, Last Days, Last Days, Paris je t'aime, Paranoid Park & Milk
Career resuscitation didn't come quite as incredibly as it did with Gus Van Sant. He started the decade with Finding Forrester, unseen by me, but known to be thoroughly middle-of-the-road before trucking on with his "Death Trilogy" that was an astonishing achievement of artistic freedom, independent filmmaking and technical experimentation. It started with Gerry, although Australia got Palme d'Or-winner and personal favourite Elephant first, and continued on through to the proxy sequel Paranoid Park and then capped it off with the sublime Oscar-winner Milk.

15. / 14.
Ellen Burstyn
"Sara Goldfard"
Requiem for a Dream

"Selma Jezkova"
Dancer in the Dark

I am sorry, but it is nigh on impossible for me to separate these two performances. I genuinely believe they are as good as each other and I shouldn't have to split them up just because of some (non-existent, might I add) "no ties" rule that some people may have. Ask me on any given day of the week who I think deserved the Oscar and it'll change depending of my mood (if I'm depressed, Ellen, if I'm really depressed, Björk) and many other factors. So here they are, together as they should be.

SCENE: "The Face"

That about covers it, doesn't it?

MUSIC: Original Score
Angelo Badalamenti
Mulholland Drive
Obviously, at least a smidgen of the success that David Lynch had with Mulholland Drive had to relate to Angelo Badalamenti's fantastic score. The synths of that opening credits sequence (listen below) makes me want to put myself into the fetal position and rock back and forth, while "Love Theme" has the power to make me cry and "Silencio" is just aurally bonkers. It's all just so magical, I love it. I can only imagine what Badalamenti would have come up with if Mulholland Drive had have become the TV series it was originally meant to be. We'd be listening to volumes upon volumes of music much like I still do for Twin Peaks.

SCENE: "Shoot-Out"
Open Range
The best gun fight since The Matrix in 1999 was this in Kevin Costner's western Open Range. It easily trumps that pioneering movie and I can't even think of how many years we would all have to go back to see another one of this exemplary quality. I'd go out on a limb and call this perfect filmmaking if I was feeling bold...

Akiko Stehrenberger
Funny Games

A poster that, itself, plays games with the audience. Is it a movie still? Is it painted? Is it just photoshopped? Who knows. I don't and I don't care, because it just looks so incredible. It would have been so easy to make this one of those annoying stripey posters or one where Naomi's tear-stricken face adorns the bottom right hand corner surrounded by empty space, but it's not. They chose to use an image that not only strikes possible pain, anguish and terror into anyone looking at it, but does so in a manner than screams "WE'RE HERE!" There's no hiding from Naomi's face on this one.

The contrast, that image, that tagline, the simple helvetica font, it all just works. It's become iconic in poster-watching circles and for good reason. It's topped most similar lists to this and, for a change, group think is actually right! Viva la Haneke, I guess. Nothing can get me to actually watch the movie (so perhaps that's an immediate fail right there?) but this poster should be plastered all over my wall like wallpaper and like the Mona Lisa it would follow me everywhere.

EXPERIENCE: Interactive Cinema
The Room
In my review of Tommy Wiseau's "disasterpiece" I wrote that attending a screening of The Room was "the greatest cinematic experience of my life." And I stand by that. I have never had so much fun in a cinema, fact. It's obviously not the best movie I have ever seen, but there's something entirely different about experiencing a movie such as this in a packed cinema with others who are having a good time and enjoying themselves. It's a completely different thrill to what you get by watching something such as Birth. It's incomparable, really. I saw this again a couple of months later and it was just as good. I can't wait for it to return to Cinema Nova here in Melbourne so I can go again. It was life-changing, really.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
I can distinctly remember seeing this trailer for the first time. It absolutely terrified me. I hadn't seen the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre at that stage because the idea of it was just too much for me (I subsequently rushed out and hired it from the video store) and so that's probably why I have such a strong affinity for it. Something about it just struck me "to the core" and paralysed me with fear. And then I went and saw the movie and I was paralysed again, but we're not talking about the film here, we're talking about the trailer.

It's such a perfectly constructed trailer, I think. It doesn't show you everything, but it also doesn't show you nothing at all (like some trailer seem to do in an effort to be cool, "look how obtuse this trailer is! you can barely tell what movie it's selling! etc!" It ramps up all those key horror zing words such as "tension" and "dread" and offers but mere glimpses of several key ingredients (such as Leatherface). I also love the camera sound effects, an obvious direct reference to the opening scene of the 1974 original. Not to mention the perfect use of music, This Mortal Coil's "Song to the Siren" and Peter Gabriel's "Signal to Noise" and some excellent editing in the second half.

What I think the trailer did best, however, and this part is key, is that it completely changed the outcast for the film. Before the trailer premiered every single person who had an opinion on the topic was in the negative. "How dare they!" and so forth. With this trailer people suddenly changed. In fact, you could say that this trailer changed the horror genre. Sure, it "changed" it for worse from a creativity standpoint, but the current trend of remaking famous horror classics (think Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and so forth) - arguably the genres only reason to still be seen as a dominant box office force outside of Saw - wouldn't exist without it and despite how poor most of these remakes have been (Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes being the only ones I could label as better than "adequate"), where would the genre be without them? I imagine nobody would be talking about horror as a viable box office force and without that we wouldn't get the few moments of genuine horror goodness that studios feel safe in funding because they know there is an audience for them.

I'm sure you can now understand why I have ranked this trailer so high? I can talk and talk about it endlessly. I have watched it countless times and, I say, anytime the DVD special features denote a segment to how good a trailer was then they've done something right. And, just lastly - seriously, I'm going on for ages, aren't it? - it very literally changed the way I look at movie marketing. I want all trailers to be this poster, just like I want all posters to be as good as #10 up there. That's why this was such a defining moment of the decade for me.

TREND: Musicals
Dancer in the Dark, Moulin Rouge!, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, 8 Women, The Happiness of the Katakuris, Chicago, The Producers, Prey For Rock & Roll, Dreamgirls, Happy Feet, Across the Universe, Hairspray, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street & Nine
I was so freakin' happy that the musical came back. It'd be gone for too long (well, it was there, but it wasn't good) and I missed it dearly. There's only so many times one can watch Xanadu and wish that somebody would make a movie just like it for today's audiences. Oh who am I kidding? You can never watch Xanadu too many times!

But seriously, the musicals listed above all have stuff about them that I admire greatly. Yes, even the ones such as The Producers and Nine. And - oh yes - there is a reason I didn't include Once or Were the World Mine or Camp, all of which are movies I have firmly placed in the "overrated shit" column. But, hey, if I'm allowed to like The Producers then, by all means, others are allowed to like Camp.

I definitely think that out of all the musicals this decade it was Hairspray that got the balance best. It can be silly to see characters suddenly break out into song, I get that (hello Mamma Mia!), but Adam Shankman's film made it feel so effortless and easy. Of course, Dreamgirls had issues with "is it a stage musical or not? and what worked for Rob Marshall's Chicago didn't always work for Rob Marshall's Nine, but in the grand scheme of things I was just glad to be able to at least twice a year enter a cinema and see people singing on screen. Sometimes it was in lavish costumes, other times it was on bare stages, but it was there and that's all that matters to me. I look forward to another decade of musicals and hope that the likes of Burlesque, In the Heights, My Fair Lady and so on can continue to make the genre a strong and formidable force.

SCENE: "Car Chase"
Death Proof
The greatest car chase ever filmed? It's certainly right up there, and without having seen the classics of that particular list (The French Connection, Bullitt, the original Gone in 60 Seconds) on the big screen, it's hard to tell. I, however, can never get enough of this extended sequence in the second half of Quentin Tarantino's GrindHouse segment (that was released in Australia all by its lonesome), Death Proof. My adrenalin goes through the roof! Classic.

PEOPLE: Alexandre Desplat
The Luzchin Defense, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Birth, Hostage, The Queen, The Painted Veil, Lust Caution, The Golden Compass, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Coco avant Chanel & Fantastic Mr Fox
Alexandre Desplat would have ranked high without Birth on his roster, but the fact of the matter is that the score to Jonathan Glazer's Birth is - and I'm not using hyperbole here - the single greatest musical score I've ever heard. Yes, I said it. I'm not just saying this because I'm young and don't know any better like when I was 11 years old and had a serious debate with myself as to which was my favourite movie of all time, Independence Day or Mars Attacks. No, I am sure there are hundreds of incredible scores out there that I have never heard, but of all of those that I have heard Birth is my favourite. Now, add on all the others up there and you have your reason for why he is ranked so high. He is already well on his way to being one of the greatest.

SCENE: "Welcome to the Moulin Rouge!"
Moulin Rouge!
No single scene, no single moment, was as immediate and as film-defining as Christian’s introduction to the Moulin Rouge club of 1898. No single moment drew such a definitive line in the sand and proudly screamed "LOVE ME OR HATE ME!" as the moment a chorus line of gents in tops and tails struts past a giant elephant singing Nirvana’s "Smells Like Teen Spirit". Or how about a hallucinogenic Kylie Minogue dissolving into a swirling black hole of debauchery. Or Jim Broadbent flying through the sky with an umbrella to the sounds of Can Can dancers? This extended sequence – I include up to Satine’s collapse from the high-wire – was literally like nothing I had ever seen before (or since). Make or break... and it made.

I could go on and on about this sequence - how did this alone not win Best Editing and Best Sound at the Oscars? Nicole Kidman's range in these seven minutes alone is astonishing. So much exposition that I honestly can't take anybody seriously who claims it's one big indulgence. - but I won't. There are those that said Moulin Rouge! was a musical for "the MTV generation", which is a shorthand way for old fogies to give themselves a pass for not wanting to put in the work and actually watch what Baz Luhrmann was doing. I, however, MTV generation or not, cannot imagine the decade without it.

Part II, which can't be embedded.

SCENE: "The Opera"
There aren't too many words to describe this moment from Jonathan Glazer's Birth that truly express my feelings on the matter. Seeing it on the big screen, something that not many people did, left me speechless. Rewatching it on DVD does too, but that first time watching this moment was like something spiritual. An epiphany.

"Betty Elms" / "Diane Selwyn"
Mulholland DriveM
A performance of such instant eye-opening revelation and ferocity, Naomi Watts' performance as duel David Lynch catalysts is truly the greatest performance of the decade. From the innocent of "Betty Elms" to the lurid, desperation of "Diane Selwyn", Watts tears through this performance with incredible tenacity and bravura. Star-making turns don't come quite like this very often and it is now impossible to imagine what Mulholland Drive would be without her.

PEOPLE: Nicole Kidman

Moulin Rouge!, The Others, The Hours, Cold Mountain, Dogville, Birth, The Interpreter, Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, Happy Feet, Margot at the Wedding, The Golden Compass, Australia & Nine
Consider this: The last Nicole Kidman movie that I failed to see in the cinema (and still haven't seen on DVD for that matter) was The Human Stain way back in 2003.

For me there was no one quite like Nicole Kidman this decade. She had shown promise before - namely in her early Australian work and Gus Van Sant's To Die For - but nothing could have prepared for the 1-2-3 punch of musical Moulin Rouge!, horror The Others and Oscar-winning drama The Hours. Throw in Lars Von Trier's Dogville and Jonathan Glazer's Birth and you have one of the most incredible runs I can think of. While the quality of the movies certainly dipped in the second half of the decade, there was still greatness to be had. Her performance in Margot at the Wedding is astounding in its acidic bite, The Golden Compass is delicious evil and even Australia features some wonderful stuff.

But this #1 placement isn't just for the movies and the performances, it's for this idea of Nicole Kidman who is so willing and fearless. What other top tier actress would get on an airplane the day after winning an Oscar for a British prestige period piece to go to Denmark and film a Lars Von Trier allegory tale on a set with only white lines on a bare stage? How many others would be willing to make such an nontraditional biopic like Fur when there was surely a more Oscar-baiting one waiting to be made. Did anybody else make three musicals this decade? Who else was so able to see what directors were doing great stuff and actively sought out working with them? Luhrmann, Amenabar, Von Trier, Glazer, Shainberg, Hirschbiegel and Baumbach aren't names that will appear of anybody else's filmography in succession. Not to mention the likes of Pollack, Minghella, Daldry and Miller.

I am sure that some of my readers will have negative things to say about her - omgtoomuchbotox, omgshesicecold etc - but I don't care. Nicole Kidman was this decade's defining actor and that's why she is number one. No actor meant more to me than Nicole Kidman and no other actor deserves the number one ranking in my mind more than Nicole Kidman. Viva la Kidman!


And, because I'm sure you all now have some sort of rough estimate of what my top ten of the decade was, I'll just list them without any further words.

1. Mulholland Drive, dir. David Lynch
2. Moulin Rouge!, dir. Baz Luhrmann
3. Birth, dir. Jonathan Glazer
4. Elephant, dir. Gus Van Sant
5. Bowling for Columbine, dir. Michael Moore
6. American Psycho, dir. Mary Harron
7. Dogville, dir. Lars Von Trier
8. Lost in Translation, dir. Sofia Coppola
9. Dancer in the Dark, dir. Lars Von Trier
10. Chicago, dir. Rob Marshall

And so ends 'Design of a Decade'. I hope you have had as much fun digesting the decade as I have.


Popcorn and Cigarettes said...


I was considering doing my own "Best of the Decade" posts, but I realized how foolish it would be because it could never be as great as this list, and also because it would look almost exactly the same.

I am so happy Nicole Kidman has taken your top spot because she deserves it. She has been the most versatile and interesting actress to watch in the past ten years.


Amir said...

glenn, i've been a long time reader of the blog, just never commented before, but i'm thinking, if i don't comment on this, then when the hell am i gonna start?
truly the best decade review i've seen.
thanks so much!

and i agree very much with your top pick. would definitely be in my personal top five as well, if i made such a list.

Derreck said...

i can't even begin it describe how much i enjoyed reading the entire list. I agreed with like 90% of it. ;)

and of course, number 1 is just perfect. Nicole is the only actress who i'll jump to defend if she's criticized and pretty much the only one who'll drive me to go to the theatre because she happens to be in the movie. I'm rolling my eyes now, but i know i'll be right there watching Just Go with It when it comes out. I'm a huge fan and will probably be terrified/excited if we ever cross paths.

She deserves so much more than all the crap that gets thrown on her.

Before looking at the list, i never really thought how much the past decade brought so much delights. These days, i'm rarely excited at an upcoming movie.

But once again, i loved the list. It was a joy to read.

Sid said...

Great work, Glenn. One of the best decade retrospectives I've seen on the web -- of course, it helps that I agree with so many of these picks! Especially #1.

Anthony Mai said...

I would do anything to have watched that scene from Birth in a theatre!!! I thought the scene was great the first time I saw it, but it gets better and more heartfelt in subsequent viewings.

Actually just had a chat with a friend about Dancer in the Dark a few days ago! I haven't seen the film, but she filled me in on what I was missing out on!

Loved Moulin Rouge! (!) :) loved the scene where Satine wanted to leave the moulin rouge. the only problem I have with that film is the portrayal of some of the supporting characters. Very exaggerated, but I guess it suits the film.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much Glenn. This list has been the one of the highlights of the past few weeks. Thank you for continuing to be a champion for BIRTH and all things Kidman. "A real actress" if ever there was one.


Joel said...

I feel like I need to comment on everyone of them! But I wont, ill just pick a few...
17. Bale has never been better than this, though I'd go for Daniel Day Lewis in TWBB as the best male performance. I also was too young to get in to see it in the cinema, though I did try. And I failed miserably.
15/14. Brilliant.
12. Such a great score, its like old school noir if they had synths in the 50s.
11. Never saw Open Range, but Ive added it to the top of my list.
9. The screening I went to will be the last time I watch that film, despite owing the DVD, because that viewing was just too perfect.
8. I remember seeing that trailer in theatres too! The camera sound effect still chills me today. Thought the film was pretty decent too.
6. Great to see that film so high up!
5. & 3. Birth is one of the most underrated films of the decade. That score is one of my favourites too, and Nicole Kidman has (arguably) never been better. I always tell people who dont like her to watch that opera scene and get back to me.
2. & 1. Agreed.

ScottNYC said...

that, dear sir, was the most incredibly honest list i've ever had the pleasure of reading. you are fearless in your choices and adamant in their rankings. i applaud you for your skill as a writer, your knowledge of film and in general, your taste, which is remarkably similar to my own. thank you thank you thank you!!!!! and yes, i totally agree with Nicole Kidman as number 1. she might not be a box-office draw but she's been more interesting to follow than any other actor in over 15 years.

Janice said...

Viva la Kidman INDEED! Fun list and worth waiting for the finish Glenn.

Simon said...

You win the decade.

Vinc said...

Absolutely. Nicole is a Diva. Moulin Rouge! is a revolutionary masterpiece. She id the Best of the decade.