7.24.2010

BENNETT INVENTORY : Paul's Top 10 Films of the 2000s


'Twas the decade of adaptations: comic books, video games, tv shows, & plays -- the plays themselves often adapted from previous films (or classic albums/artist catalogues); a decade of sprawling anthologies & hasty remakes, lackluster computer animation, & less-than-compelling 3D (has it ever been more-than?) & yes - some or all of these qualities apply to both foreign & domestic mainstream contemporary cinema. So, what can be said of the independent genre (because, after all this time, it really is a genre)... Franchise rights & million dollar cartoon dragons & robots have stolen all the thunder, leaving only the innovation of consumer grade digital video as the last 'edge' in originality. Cinephiles & mainstream critics alike have adapted to the times, & mediocrity has become the new standard of "masterpiece." Now, I have no personal vendetta; I only use this because it's a recent example, & it's one of the few new films I've bothered to see in the past six months: out of all the reviews I've read for Inception, I'm left with this very specific summation: "It's not a masterpiece... but it's one of the greatest films ever made." There can only be one of two explanations for this mass contradiction: either people can't seem to own up to how they really feel about the movie (good or bad), or they've simply been conditioned to praise anything that isn't one of the aforementioned "adaptations" as "original."

The truly troubling thing here is that: this is just the beginning. In 1999, Entertainment Weekly noted that very same year as "the year that changed movies." Not that we needed it to be pointed out to us - we all felt it - but the validation itself only enhanced the exhilaration. EW, like the rest of us, was wrong. After the slew of stale movies released in 2000, & when Traffic lost to Gladiator, I, for one, thought it was immediately obvious as to how wrong we were. Not that I was instantly fatalistic regarding the entire decade to come - but all the promising aspects of '99 eventually let me down in one way or another: the hokey subsequent Star Wars prequels, the decline in CGI standards, the increasing inadequacy of Wes Anderson & Shyamalan, the near-absence of P.T. Anderson, & the absolute absence of Kubrick.
I say these things not to be sensationalistic; they come out of mere, honest frustration. Throughout the '90s, I was convinced the 80s were the worst decade in film. I was wrong; & I definitely don't say that in any kinda comparative sense -- I was 180 degrees wrong. Collectively, the 80s were great in nearly every sense, & if any point can be made outta this rant, it's this: I like my comedies PG (or PG-13) & my horror & action movies R. 
I can't be sure of what can be said of the fact that it's completely backwards now -- only that it's clear that everything is really wrong & bad, & I've just about given up.

10. The Devil's Rejects  In no way like the Freddy or Jason fan base -- it takes an intense amount of talent to turn a posse of serial killers & rapists into likable protagonists in the span of one film. (Corpses doesn't play into this sentiment).

9. Bubble  The only thing more surprising than the acute sense of realism is the sudden left turn into surrealism. Point being, the film was a surprise - a rarity in one's lifetime, let alone this decade. 

8. Zodiac  Proof that Fincher will always do his best work in the crime genre. More notably, the best male performance of the 2000s goes to Mark Ruffalo's understated (& underrated) portrayal of Inspector Toschi.

7. Secretary  "Romantic Comedy" has been synonymous with "shit" for nearly ever. This film is proof that no genre or sub-genre is completely hopeless. Great films have nothing to do with what side of Blockbuster you can find them on.

6. 21 Grams  After Pulp Fiction filmmakers managed to drive non-linear storytelling into the ground. Sometimes it was necessary to the structure - most times an annoying gimmick. The astounding thing about 21 Grams is that these scenes could play out in any order (linear included) and it would still be compelling & visually stunning.

5. The Pledge  The Crossing Guard was a very loose but good film filled with a lotta cynicism & melodrama - pretty much what you'd expect with Sean Penn behind the camera. So it comes as a pleasant shock to find The Pledge to be a tight genre picture that still manages to be wholly original. & of course, any time Jack doesn't play "Jack" is a fascinating thing to watch.

4. Unbreakable  The film that convinced me that, one day, Shymalan would trump both Spielberg and Hitchcock. It barely beats Dark Knight as the best comic book movie of all time.

3. INLAND EMPIRE  With the freedom of digital video, Lynch is now able to illustrate an almost literal stream-of-consciousness structure through visual prose - something we've all kinda been waiting for since Eraserhead.

2. About Schmidt  Another instance of Nicholson playing his age. But even more than that; he earns the character of Warren Schmidt with such humility that he sells an incredibly fragile parting shot that, in the hands of most other actors/writers/directors, it would've come off as sentimental hogwash.

1. No Country For Old Men  The best film in a career of otherwise 'best films' - for two directors who explore every genre of cinema, this is the ultimate 'Coen film.' If I were to show someone a Coen Brothers movie who'd never seen one, this would be it. A thriller that would make Hitchcock jealous.

7.22.2010

BENNETT INVENTORY : Jess's Top 10 Films of the 2000s

   When I was six, I told my teacher that I wanted to be just like Tim Burton when I grew up. This was around the time that I was unabashedly obsessed with Beetlejuice. I would watch as much of it before school as possible and cap the day with as many viewings as I could stay awake for. Come to think of it, I have probably seen this film a thousand times or more. I genuinely miss the that feelings of absorbing a film so deeply into yourself that it eventually embodies a fraction of your soul.

   Film just doesn't have that same effect on me anymore. It's a fucking chore to force myself to go and see anything new. Almost every new film is released in 3D, which means I have to wear glasses over my glasses and try to ignore how fucking stupid everything looks. The ending experience is is usually a combination of depression and a migraine so bad that I contemplate suicide. Film is no longer an art form, it's entertainment in the form of a static unbroken shot of a farting ass. Just replace smell-o-vision with 3D and there's your fucking gold mine.

   Godard once said that film is dead and this was long before the oughts. I used to think that this was a cynical and dangerous over-simplification. Now, having forced myself to review the decade as a whole, I think he was right. People are getting dumber and the dumbest people out there have creative control. I mean, I could go on and on about the politics of the decline of cinema, but what's the point? All of us geeks out there are sorely aware of the substantial dollar value attached to our respective destinies and all that it entails. Money, money, money.

   The best I can hope for is to be marginally entertained for the duration of the feature. Most of the time the film leaves me before I reach the exit. Occasionally I'm surprised. I've always graded movies and I'm delighted when I can give something an A+. Out of a hundred movies I have ten or fifteen standouts from the last decade. All of these films were either obsessive repeats viewings or films that I'm desperately trying to keep fresh. I am smarter after having seen them. I just wish it was more frequent. It's only going to get worse. 

   I'm at a point in my life where I have my creative partner and I feel more alone than ever as an artist. No one is going to give a shit about the stories that we want to tell simply because they are original ideas. Why is it enough for the average intelligent audience member to be presented with an original idea? Nearly all films used to be original. Now you can't sell a damn thing unless it's based upon, adapted from, or a remake of. I'm not a fucking sell out. I want to go out on a limb and say that we're going to take cinema back, but I say this with as much skepticism as I feel when I sit through the garish trailers I'm blasted with leading up to the truck of hot garbage juice I paid hard earned money to digest. Frankly I'm steamed.

   This angry tirade was just a prelude to a written list of my top ten films of the 2000s. Almost as much as I hate sitting through movies, I hate skimming pseudo complex wordy diatribes about them. It would be hypocritical of me to do the same to my own audience. Instead I will leave you with my initial impression of them.


1. Synecdoche, NY
This film taught me that there may be grave losses on our respective paths, but all the more profound and rich will be the achievements. 

2. Adaptation
Excuse me, but I think this is nonsense. 

3. Inland Empire
This film frightens me with its ability to show how dreams nestle alongside nightmares.

4. No Country For Old Men
It's frustrating for me that characters never learn that if in the end it wasn't for something meaningful, then it wasn't worth the risk. 

5. Dogville 
I couldn't believe that such an enormous quantity of film had been spent on the extended observation of a single location. 

6. Death Proof
In the recent barrage of half-hearted attempts at recreating an exploitation movie, this was the only one that simply was one.

7. Zodiac
Serial killers are better when they get away with it. 

8. Punch-Drunk Love
In Barry's world, words and actions are immediately judged, which sounds like a nightmare if not conveyed along a poetic path. 

9. Birth
One of the few films that felt like a religious experience while viewing it.

10. Little Children
The characters are not so much created as destroyed.





7.19.2010

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