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Top Films of the Decade

Robert Altman and a happy Shelley Duvall before she met Kubrick

In March 2002 I woke up one morning in a trailer in the south of France, near the city of Carpentras. I worked on a fully organic farm (nothing mechanical, horse-drawn tills). There were no entertainment devices, save a transistor radio that picked up a plethora of European and Russian stations at night before evaporating during the first hour of sunlight. Though glad of the break from the tyranny of media, I knew it was still Oscar night in Los Angeles and I switched on the BBC to hear if someone Robert Altman’s Gosford Park or Todd Field’s In the Bedroom had beaten Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind for the grand prize. They didn’t.

In fact I hadn’t seen Altman’s latter-day masterpiece yet. But I had caught the other two American films that made 2001 into an incredible year for American film. Three masterpieces released within two months of each other. It reminded me of the glorious seventies when Nashville, Barry Lyndon, Dog Day Afternoon and Jaws made 1975 a very imposing year.

I begin my list with the three from 2001: Todd Field’s In the Bedroom (the first film he ever directed), Altman’s Gosford Park and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.

Lynch’s LA story I rushed to see twice, once in Germany and then in Vienna (viewing a new print of Blue Velvet the next day as part of a tribute to him). Recently I saw Mulholland Drive again and it has lost nothing. The humor sticks out more, Watts’s performance awes (even more so that they shot the first 2/3 of the film a good year apart from the last 1/3-it was going to be an ABC TV series but the bigwigs said no after they saw the pilot episode), and every performer from the Cowboy to the leather-skinned homeless man behind Winkies is perfectly realized. Lynch continued the abstract last 1/3 of Mulholland with its companion piece, Inland Empire 2006, a very worthy successor. Here the film director is summoned to meet the Cowboy in the Hollywood hills. All of his money has disappeared and he is losing control of casting his new film.

Gosford Park moves like a ballet. At a country estate the camera flows around the rich and poor characters, seeking foibles and humor. And there is a healthy dose but in the end Helen Mirren breaks down in the arms of her sister–an elusive fact for most of the film. She wails about her lost son, another servant, who came to the weekend to kill his father–the lord of the estate. But Helen Mirren, who years ago was the Lord’s sex toy and birthed this orphan (now a thirty-something Clive Owen bent on revenge) kills the Lord first. But Clive still kills a dead man and thinks he has indeed killed him. Got it? It’s the best murder-mystery in cinema history and it’s funny as hell. Here the one Irish servant, played by Kelly McDonald, finally realizes the truth about the situation.

In the Bedroom is the most serious film of the three–to my memory there are no laughs. This film should be a primer on how to adapt a short story (by Andre Dubus). Field wrote the screenplay and added a good deal that seems to have been channeled from Dubus. I am a-okay with him being behind the helm of the upcoming Blood Meridian. Despite the critical accolades for Sissy Spacek, it is Tom Wilkinson’s film–he plays the grieving father. The scene where he thinks before turning a gun on his son’s killer and eventually shooting him is so quiet and effective it reminds one of De Niro in Taxi Driver.

The films I choose for the best of the decade jolted me in the theater. I sat aghast, sweaty and yearning to remember my identity before being exposed to these runs of celluloid and sound. Dancer in the Dark (2000) by Lars Von Trier is that. I would equally place his Dogville (2003) on the list but Dancer makes me foam at the mouth a bit more. A musical with murder and execution? There can’t have been many of these. And call Von Trier a misogynist, a fascist–he produces some of the most powerful images of any director working. Added bonus: Bjork singing. In this scene, Bjork’s character comes upon her neighbor, a policeman (played by the great David Morse) blackmailing her out of the money she has been saving for her child’s operation on his malformed eyes. Things take a little turn…

The only foreign language film is Michael Haneke’s Cache. It is a thriller in the style of Antonioni’s Blow-Up. Many things are happening, we don’t see them all, but then we see something we’ve never seen before. In this case it’s when the Algerian man (Majid), who George (Haneke’s ubiquitous name for most of his male protagonists) thinks is tormenting him with videotape footage of his house, tells the taller Frenchman that he called him to his apartment to see something. Then Majid pulls out a knife. What follows sent the theater I saw it in (Sunshine-Houston St.) into gasps and grunts.

Finally Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead 2007. Overshadowed by the rock ’em, sock ’em No Country for Old Men and There Will be Blood on release, it is another tragedy in the mode of Shakespeare and it has Philip Seymour Hoffman’s greatest performance. Lumet’s camera bears in on his actors and every minute of this film gets ratcheted into a more combustible state. The opening scene should shake you up if you were expecting the same old white over black titles.

This long take (begin at 2:36) is stunning. I love it because it doesn’t explain anything. It is very matter of fact. Hoffman’s character has just taken some money out of his safe and he goes into one of Manhattan’s towers. Lumet lets it play out in one shot.

Murder is central to every one of these films. It’s something most people don’t experience day to day. Does this account for the fascination? But these aren’t slasher films, they are high tragedies. These filmmakers have mastered image storytelling. It’s quite a grip.

31 thoughts on “Top Films of the Decade

  1. I didn’t know that Mulholland Drive was intended to be a television series. It probably would have brought me back to the idiot box, something I haven’t watched in almost twenty years.

  2. Hoffman is brilliant in “Till the Devil” for sure. He even manages to make a monologue as trite as the one at the end of that clip feel pretty intense and insightful.

  3. Also, I really enjoyed the first half or two thirds of Gosford Park, but it lost me when they started trying to pull the mystery together. I could have just continued watching the front room/back room dramas play out in the house for the entire length of the film.

    1. There’s NASHVILLE for that too. SHORT CUTS as well. Some critic once said they’d take Tarantino’s gangsters in Pulp over Altman’s yuppies in Short Cuts and they did say yuppies. I never understood that. The former is so programmatic and with Altman you really get the sense that the actors are so free and whimsical but totally grounded in the whole.

  4. Also, I think it’s been a great decade for Romanian film. Three of my favorites were:

    4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, by Cristian Mungiu (won Palm d’Or in ’07)

    The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, by Cristi Puiu

    12:08 East of Bucharest, by Corneliu Porumboiu (won Camera d’Or in ’06)

    1. I thought about putting 4 Months on the list. I mean it’s there, it’s great. I love how it is structured. The long abortion scene dominates the middle of the film.

      Speaking of Palme d’Or – The Wind that Shakes the Barley by Ken Loach is up there too. Dancer in the Dark won as well, as did White Ribbon.

        1. Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov) does not have a wikipedia page. What a mean son of a bitch. What character in a movie has acted more repugnant? I can think of something worse than this, because he lets them live with the humiliation. What makes it worse is that this movie is not far from the truth of the black market times. I guess Von Trier’s characters have their moments too.

  5. Quite a grip indeed. I don’t give a fuck about film–see maybe 2 a year, to be honest–but will add one of these, take Ketamine, and drop on in.

    1. Wait, aren’t you the person who commented recently that you weren’t into music?

      So you don’t listen to music and you don’t watch film. Were neither of these things around your house growing up? Or are you blind and deaf.

      I’m sorry if you’re blind and deaf. I didn’t mean to sound glib.

  6. I was talking about this with a film friend of mine (he was submitting a list to FILM COMMENT). I wasn’t able to narrow mine down beyond 25 (which is why I don’t get invited to contribute to FILM COMMENT!)

    I’ll paste them below, in case anyone’s interested, organized by year. I won’t claim they’re the “best,” but they are my favorites.

    Only three US films, and nothing past 2008 (so far—it’s too recent for me to really tell).

    Fah talai jone (Tears of the Black Tiger)

    Je rentre à la maison (I’m Going Home)
    Kairo (Pulse)
    Mak dau goo si (My Life as McDull)
    Pisutoru opera (Pistol Opera)
    Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (Spirited Away)
    The Royal Tenenbaums
    Va savoir

    Gomgashtei dar Aragh (Marooned in Iraq)

    Bu San (Goodbye Dragon Inn)
    Ruang rak noi nid mahasan (Last Life in the Universe)
    Talaye Sorgh (Crimson Gold)
    Warabi no kou (To the Bracken Fields)

    La Niña Santa (The Holy Girl)
    Sud pralad (Tropical Malady)

    O Espelho Mágico (Magic Mirror)

    A Scanner Darkly
    Juventude Em Marcha (Colossal Youth)
    Sang sattawat (Syndromes and a Century)

    The Man from London

    Les Plages d’Agnès (The Beaches of Agnes)

    1. As usual, it looks like I’m way behind in film viewing. Of your list I did see and enjoy these:
      Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (Spirited Away)
      The Royal Tenenbaums
      A Scanner Darkly

      And ever since Luca’s post about Agnès Varda I’ve wanted to see Les Plages d’Agnès (The Beaches of Agnes).

      Thanks A D!

        1. I would hazard a “yes,” as it’s very delightful film, very energetic and engaging. It’s in French, of course, so there’s that. But Varda is quite a presence. And the film has a lot of variety in it.

          Points in its favor: Varda dresses up as a potato at one point (seriously!). And another scene finds her in conversation with an animated orange cat (who represents Chris Marker).

          Harrison Ford shows up at one point, although that might be more thrilling for a thirty-something.

          All in all, the audience I saw it with was enraptured. At the moment, it’s my favorite Varda film of the 2000s, even more so than GLEANERS (although VAGABOND will probably always be my favorite of hers—but she’s made so many incredible films!).

  7. I’ve seen Crimson Gold and if this was the 90’s there would be a ton of Kiarostami on the list, but really there is Ten and ABC Africa and those are great, but Taste of Cherry and Under the Olive Trees are sublime. That’s pretty high praise for The Royal.

    I’ve seen in the Mood for Love, but what in the world was My Blueberry Nights? Oh my Lord…

  8. Hi Greg,

    CRIMSON GOLD is, at the moment, my favorite work by Panahi and Kiarostami, either singularly or jointly. TASTE OF CHERRY’s pretty ridiculously good, though, and one of my favorite films of the 90s.

    I haven’t seen MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS yet, but I can’t wait! I think it will shed a lot of light on Wong’s work. I’ve seen excerpts of it here and there, and think it looks a lot like his other films, only in English this time. (What do the Swedes say about Bergman? “If you could understand it in Swedish, you wouldn’t think so highly of it.” Kinda like how the French supposedly liked 1940s US films so much because they couldn’t understand the dialogue…)

    2046 is my favorite Wong film right now (although it took me about five viewings to get there). I’m in the minority here, I know, but I find it to be the culmination of his career, or the first grand phase of his career. I’m not surprised that he wanted to go do something different after it (BLUEBERRY, and then restore ASHES OF TIME). I’m curious to see what THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI is, and how it relates to Welles.

    I rank THE ROYAL TENNENBAUMS highly, sure. I’d nominate Wes Anderson and Gus Van Sant as the best US directors right now, or at least the most interesting—although we’ll have to see where Anderson goes (I think he could be doing much more). Richard Linklater’s also very good at the moment. And Alfonso Cuarón, whose Harry Potter film should also probably be on this list—but of course most of my friends consider me insane for thinking it’s that good. But it’s an amazing kids film—as I’ve said elsewhere, this generation’s TIME BANDITS!

    (I’m speaking here of the younger set; I know that for most people it’s Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood, Spike Lee, David Lynch, Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, etc. And they’re all good, but I don’t think any of them—save Lee, perhaps—are making their best work any more.) (I exclude Lee because WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE is stellar, and might even be the best new US film, and should probably be on my list—but I need to see it again before I can really process it.)

    Well, as my list indicates, I think the most interesting filmmakers of the Noughties were Pedro Costa, Bahman Ghobadi, Kyoshi Kurosawa, Lucretia Martel, Hayao Miyazaki, Manoel de Oliveira, Jacques Rivette, Béla Tarr, Tsai Ming-Liang, Agnes Varda, Apichatpong Weersethakul. Martel and Apichatpong are young, but they’re obviously ridiculously talented.

    And of course it’s not like I’ve seen everything—and there are so many great films that never get release. TO THE BRACKEN FIELDS is one of the best recent films I’ve seen, hands down, but it never got a US release. I don’t think it’s even out on DVD in Japan. And why not? It’s not like the director, Hideo Onchi, is some nobody. Just didn’t interest distributors, I guess. (And I think it could have been a big hit.)


    Same thing with this amazing micro-budget Japanese film I saw, THE SOUP ONE MORNING. Hard to convince people it’s one of the best films I’ve seen (screw mumble-core!) when you can’t show it to anyone. Or see it after a festival’s over.


    Most of these filmmakers get zero attention in the US, but of course the US is no longer at the forefront of cinema, alas…

    I really wish I hadn’t missed SPREAD earlier this year. Some of my film critic friends think that David Mackenzie is the second-coming. (Of course that film was laughed out of theaters.)


    PISTOL OPERA might be my favorite film of the 2000s—it’s probably the most complicated new film I’ve seen—but Seijun Suzuki is more of a 60s director, I suppose… Either way, this is the newest film that I most want to write a dissertation about!

    I also really want to see more work by Lucile Hadzihalilovic! INNOCENCE was so remarkable, and she can’t make a second feature quickly enough. Meanwhile, everyone’s falling over themselves to praise Gaspar Noé. And he’s good, but she strikes me as the real talent there…

    The new Romanian and Turkish cinemas are also wonderful, but I don’t rank them as highly as others do. That’s more a matter of taste than anything else. (I don’t find the films distinctive enough, although Fatih Akın stands out.)

    I didn’t see anything new by Altman that I like anywhere as much as his 70s work (which I rate very highly). GOSFORD PARK was, for me, a pale imitation of Renoir (although I tried to like it). I liked THE COMPANY better, but still thought it minor stuff. I’m eager to see PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION, though. Wish I hadn’t missed it in the theaters…

    Haneke is good, but I prefer his 80s and 90s films to anything he’s making today. And I tend to think of him more as a master of production design (his mise en scène is superhuman!) than I do a total filmmaker. Some bias on my part; he’s obviously talented and important. But I think he ultimately suffers from his slavish devotion to Hitchcock, who’s much stranger, and more perverse…

    I think Lars von Trier has finally gone round the bend, and not in a good way. DANCER IN THE DARK was good (albeit pretty crass), but I’ll take any of his 90s films over his current work. Or even his 80s films…

    I never really liked Sidney Lumet, although I also haven’t tried very hard. The 70s stuff is fine…but who wasn’t putting out good work in the 70s?

    I still haven’t gotten around to IN THE BEDROOM. One of these days…

    I like Lynch tremendously, and thought INLAND EMPIRE was terrific (it’s easily my favorite film of his since TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME), but I need to see it a few more times before I can process it. Unlike most others, I thought MULHOLLAND DRIVE slight, albeit fun. (I was very unpopular for thinking that, back when everyone was going nuts over it…)

    OK, that’s enough geeking out about movies for now. Ah, cinema…

  9. A lot of food for thought AD!

    Well I think there were some seventies bombs, we just don’t know them, because we weren’t around then, right? or are you 40 or 50?

    Sure I think BREAKING THE WAVES is his masterpiece, but he works hard, he makes it new. That he is perhaps a little fucked in the head makes it more real for me. As Kubrick perhaps was, I mean what great director was a really ‘nice’ person when you get down to it.

    I think Haneke hit it correctly in CACHE and THE PIANO TEACHER, the other stuff this decade is wobbly. Did you read his top ten in the NYer article? Psycho is on there. Slavish devotion? Well we have the whole career of Hitchcock to look at. Haneke might be hitting a 1958-1960 stride if the White Ribbon is as good as they say. We can excuse the second Funny Games, though blood on the TV strewn with NASCAR images is pretty poignant. Don’t know if it was the same in the first.

    But Altman already did his own thing before GOSFORD, was he regressing with the Renoir hommage? It’s a tight movie.

    So, TO THE BRACKEN isn’t possible to find?

    I wonder your take on THERE WILL BE you know what.
    I thought the ending was awful, that he surely talented but somehow should fix his scripts for him. The sequence with the false brother was the really climax of the film, the only time the Day-Lewis was really challenged. I still can’t believe some Miramex executive didn’t try and stop that ending. It seems it was also tacked on and not at all what Sinclair Lewis wrote.

    You know there is ARARAT too. Egoyan fan? EXOTICA is pretty incredible.

    Van Sant is a little uneven though. I sat through EVEN COWGIRLS in the theatre. I was being diplomatic.

    This is fun

    1. Hi, Greg!

      Movies are lots of fun, fer sure. Too much fun…

      > seventies bombs

      Oh, they certainly exist. A critic friend of mine told me once that he saw every single 1970s Hollywood release in the theater (he was working as a movie reviewer then), and he thought (at the time) that the decade was pretty lame. He and his friends used to complain that film then wasn’t as good as it was in the 60s, th3 50s….

      But, in retrospect, I do think there’s truth to the cliché that the 70s were a little golden age of US cinema. And that the Hollywood films from back then are better than the ones today (and I do think there are good Hollywood films these days!). But maybe I’m wrong, like my friend was?

      I’d pick BREAKING THE WAVES as one of my favorite Von Triers, definitely. At the moment, though, my favorite is his KINGDOM series, especially the second season. …I like the guy a lot and am glad he’s out there, and often find myself defending his work to my more jaded friends. I didn’t care at all for ANTICHRIST, though (because I thought it was boring—not the usual reaction, I know, but that’s what I thought), so I’m a bit jaded about the guy myself right now. But I retain hope. (That’s my problem when it comes to cinema—I’m too optimistic.)

      My favorite Haneke films run from 7TH CONTINENT through PIANO TEACHER. I actually prefer him when he was a bit rougher; since FUNNY GAMES he’s been getting too slick for my tastes (even as I admire that slickness). But I’ve progressively lost interest. I think he’s repeating himself (in the case of FUNNY GAMES USA, quite literally—although I can appreciate the perversity of that project). And, ultimately, I don’t think Haneke has all that much to say, which I think is unfortunate, as he’s extremely talented. His mistake, I think, lies in being too didactic—in always trying to say something. I prefer less articulate filmmakers, I suppose. (If I want didactic, I’ll watch Straub and Huillet, who I find more interesting anyway.)

      My own take on CACHE was that it was a very calculating, very cynical film. I read it as Haneke wanting to make a mainstream hit (and succeeding). It’s a shaggy dog story, really, but he threw in all sorts of little things (like the final shot) so people would puzzle over it endlessly, because that’s what a lot of people like to do with movies these days (interpret their “hidden meanings”). (You know you’ve succeeded when the NPR folk devote airtime to discussing what it all means.) I don’t find any of that very interesting, so I was turned off (and tuned out about halfway through). But it was expertly made, certainly, and some sections were disturbing. And I like that he copped so much from Lynch and J-Horror for it. Steal away, I say!

      In general, though, I like more passionate, less calculated, less rational filmmaking (and art in general). Which is something of a taste thing.

      I haven’t seen Haneke’s NYer article, but I will look for it. And any new film he makes, I’ll see. (I will DEFINITELY be looking for Ron Howard’s remake of CACHE, which sounds AWESOME to me. I really cannot wait to see that!)

      What I like about Hitchcock’s 1958–1960 stride (and I’d expand it to 58–64—yes, I’d include MARNIE) is that the films are all pretty strange. VERTIGO is ultimately inexplicable, a real mystery of a film, no matter how many times you’ve seen it. In fact, I think it just gets more and more mysterious (which is why, as Chris Marker says, it’s the greatest film ever made). Hitchcock was really working through his obsessions without trying to explain them, or even justify them. He was simply reveling in them. I really like that. And the films are *perverse*! I really like perversion in art…

      As for Altman, he certainly earned the right to do anything he wanted by the end of his career. But I’ll take MCCABE & MRS. MILLER over anything else he made. Or THE LONG GOODBYE. But it pains me to say anything bad about the guy, he was such a master.


      I have never seen it available anywhere. Here’s a bit more on it—good luck finding it! (If you do, please let me know!)



      > THERE WILL BE you know what.

      I thought it was OK. It’s the first film by that fellow, whatever his name is, that I was able to stay awake through. He seems all right, but I find his work fairly boring, in general. It’s so derivative!

      I actually liked the last section the best, but don’t interpret that as me saying that makes it good or anything. It’s loopy and doesn’t fit, but I nodded off a bit here and there during the rest of it, and the ending woke me up. (I was reminded of the John Cage story wherein he put on the extremely repetitive record, and after 15 minutes the one student screamed, “Turn it off! I’m going crazy!” and so he turned it off, and then another student said, “Oh, that’s too bad, why did you do that, I was just getting interested.” That was basically my reaction.)

      My problem with TWBB is that, once again, it’s so derivative. Like, why is Daniel Day Lewis’s performance an exact copy of Huston’s in CHINATOWN? (Personally, I think that Day Lewis was making fun of the movie, and that the director has never seen CHINATOWN—but I’ll admit that’s cynical of me.) Meanwhile, the whole thing is structured so tightly on 2001! (I haven’t seen others point this out, but I think it’s obvious to a fault.) First you have the near-silent “dawn of man” sequence, with abstract drone music and shots of hills. And the discovery of the enabling technology (here, oil). Then, a lengthy middle section with lots of dialogue. And then we jump ahead some number of years to an ornate mansion, where the protagonist is elderly and insane, and it doesn’t really fit, but he finally have a Wagnerian climax, and he becomes the Overman. More or less.

      I do agree that if you’re going to steal, by all means steal from the best, but I don’t really see what Paul Thomas Anderson has to add to the giant conversation that is cinema. But I’ll look forward to his future films, because I think he’s getting better.

      > ARARAT, Egoyan fan?

      Oh, yeah, he’s very good. I don’t find myself thinking about him the way I did ten years ago, though. (Same thing as with Hal Hartley.) Although I was just remembering SPEAKING PARTS. I guess I need to catch up with him.

      > Van Sant is a little uneven though.

      I don’t necessarily agree, but even if I did, I’d say that’s part of his charm. I can’t think of anyone who’s making so many *different* kinds of films like he is. (He’s like the American version of Wim Wenders.) And he’s good at making many different kinds of pictures: MILK and GOOD WILL HUNTING are good mainstream melodramas. PARANOID PARK is a good teen film. TO DIE FOR, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, and ELEPHANT are good indie films. GERRY and LAST DAYS are good semi-experimental films. (His PSYCHO was an interesting experiment, too, I thought, although few seem to agree with me.) He also makes good music videos and short films. EVEN COWGIRLS was indeed a minor picture of his, but it was an early film, and I think it’s still relatively interesting. (I have a high tolerance for wackiness, though.) And who else has tried to adapt Tom Robbins? …I never know what GVS is going to do next, which makes me excited about him. Richard Linklater is similar, although less varied in his output.

      …I can go on about movies for a very long time, so feel free to tell me to shut up.

      Cheers, Adam

  10. Adam,

    I agree the Antichrist sags in the middle, but then the end? I couldn’t call that boring you know.

    You think Haneke was trying to say something in Cache? It felt channeled. Like he didn’t have to think about what he was doing, that it was just there. Something that seems much more to be ‘saying something’ is the end of the Hurt Locker which seemed ridiculous after everything that preceded it. Cereal boxes?

    For CACHE you know, even if you took away the final scene I still think the real end is George getting naked and going to sleep. Don’t even need the flashback. We know and he knows that he has is trying to cover up what he did. His ending is pitiful. I don’t think he tacked that ending on for people to puzzle over, I think the point of it is that it doesn’t matter who is sending the tapes, (as in it doesn’t matter who Shakespeare was) the tapes are there for a reason, they exist and the tear down a lovelorn family, a family that doesn’t know how to relate to one another. And that’s the test right? When the shit hits the fan, can you stay come, can you stay true to who you love?

    I’m sure Haneke didn’t lobby for NPR.

    Yeah, Hitch well – Antonioni was on his own streak at the same time. The tetralogy. But the first hour of THE BIRDS!!! Ooof. Kind of hollow until the Birds really attack – no wonder I remember only those scenes from seeing it as a kid.

    I’m sure Anderson saw Chinatown (He is a movie geek.) The 2001 stuff seems more than apt. And the end, the shots of the bowling are basically verbatim homages to the shots of the corridors in THE SHINING. Surely he is getting better, but he can’t pump them out like Altman did (and it seems he picked up something by being shooting PRARIE HOME with him for a few months, what a dream job!)

    Oh Hal Hartley where have you gone – but I just saw Daytrippers again and was totally delighted. For the Parker Posey connection. Very literary work though. Andrew Marvell is funny.

    I consciously missed all whole spate of teen Van Sant movies and the Cobain movie. Didn’t he do one with Damon walking in the desert lost, or am I confusing things? That seemed interesting.

    Before Sunset probably should be on the list. He really out My Dinner’ed My Dinner with Andre with that one.



    1. Hi Greg,

      Sorry for the delay in my response. There was some kind of holiday or something, and I found myself buried under fruitcakes. Family!

      > I agree the Antichrist sags in the middle,
      > but then the end? I couldn’t call that boring you know.

      There may be something funny with my brain, but I found the whole thing boring, including the ending. Sure, some of the shots are, uh, visceral, but even there I was like, “Yawn—show me something I haven’t seen, Lars Von Trier!” Which is perhaps my own fault for having watched too many Takashi Miike films.

      Not that I’m a gore-hound or anything! I’m not! But I think it’s a problem when the entire movie is built on a graphic final reel, and then that reel doesn’t include anything that hasn’t already been shown in, like, HOSTEL. Meaning that a European art film is *behind* a mainstream US Hollywood release. Meaning that it’s *reactionary*. Way to go, European avant-garde!

      To me, this exposed two things:
      1. Lars Von Trier is a commercial filmmaker (not a real revelation, but)
      2. The “outcry” at Cannes over the film was calculated, a PR ploy designed to get the film into theaters. Well, that’s hardly a revelation, either… (Man, am I cynical these days!)

      That said, the first half is definitely the most excrutiatingly boring part—the five or so hours of shakey-cam of Willem Dafoe saying things to Charlotte Gainesbourg. I fell asleep more than once during that. Although I imagine some people might like all that—people who like Willem Dafoe talking, for instance. (I’d rather watch NEW ROSE HOTEL.)

      > You think Haneke was trying to say
      > something in Cache?

      Yes, I think it’s all a pretty obvious metaphor for the guilt Europeaners carry for colonialism. Specifically, for what the French did in Algiers. And how everyone bears some responsibility for that, for their inaction, if nothing else. And he then draws a direct connection with contemporary US imperialism in the Middle East.

      And he argues, also quite literally, I think, that the only recourse that the victims of colonialism often have is the destruction of their own bodies. Like in Algiers. Like in Sri Lanka. Like Palestine. Like in Iraq. (And how what’s changed with Iraq, for example, is that insurgents have access to things like video and the internet to reach a broader audience.)

      I don’t disagree with any of that, necessarily, but I thought it was all pretty simply presented by the film. And I thought it was heavy-handed and, well, whatever. I was like, “Sure, Haneke.” Meanwhile, the movie didn’t do much of anything for me. Although, once again, his production design was excellent. A little too excellent, in fact. When those chicken drawings arrived I was like, “Oh, the mystery man has the art department draw those up for him.” Same thing with his videotapes: nice when you can have Haneke step in and direct those for you with super-duper cameras. Well, it was all really slick, and over-designed. Like so many things these days, really.

      (Remember that movie ONE HOUR PHOTO, where Robin Williams steals photos from everyday people, and every one of the photos was shot by an art school grad now working in the production department for the film ONE HOUR PHOTO? CACHE does the same thing.)

      I’m afraid I didn’t see the HURT LOCKER. I was stuffed inside too many lockers when I was in high school; revisiting that would be too traumatic.

      It may not matter in CACHE who’s actually sending the tapes, but that’s all I heard people talk about for months on end. And I think Haneke is savvy enough to know that by sticking a shot like that on there, he’ll rope in a certain audience. To me, that’s…well, I don’t know what that is. I guess it’s a commercial move. And I suppose I can’t begrudge him for doing it. Go Haneke! Be successful! But I don’t find it all that interesting. I find it cynical.

      > I’m sure Haneke didn’t lobby for NPR.

      I’m not so sure. He strikes me as someone who’s very much in control of his own empire. I’m sure he has plenty of PR people who make sure to get him all the right interviews. He has his own film school, you know. He’s a businessman.

      He scored the December cover of Sight & Sound, for WHITE RIBBON. And he’s the darling of the European media. Things like that don’t happen by accident.

      I never minded the first hour of THE BIRDS. I might even like it better than the second half. But I’m weird like that.

      > I’m sure Anderson saw Chinatown
      > (He is a movie geek.)

      Sure, I’m sure he did. But then why wasn’t he like, “Hey, Daniel Day-Lewis, what’s with the John Huston impersonation? Like, seriously, that’s what you’re going to do throughout the entire film?”

      > I consciously missed all whole spate of teen Van
      > Sant movies and the Cobain movie. Didn’t he do
      > one with Damon walking in the desert lost, or
      > am I confusing things? That seemed interesting.

      His “walking around trilogy” (actually, his “death trilogy”: GERRY, ELEPHANT, and LAST DAYS) is pretty excellent, IMO. GERRY is the one with Matt Damon, and it’s my favorite by far. But it’s nifty how different each film is from the other two. And how similar they are. Well, it’s a great work of modern cinema. You can consider them all one film, if you want to.

      > Before Sunset

      I still haven’t seen that, or the other one. Woe is me!

      Well, it’s nice to have something to look forward to… At the moment, though, I’m busy rewatching everything by John Carpenter…


  11. I saw Haneke’s Caché last night and while Hitchcock and Lynch were certainly touchstones I thought that its strangely muted paranoia mixed with ennui made it unique. What I also liked were its compositional elements, the angular ways that the scenes were shot. And I didn’t feel that the production was slick; on the contrary, what it evoked for me, in a subtle way, was how filmmaking is artifice, and also how acts of terror can sometimes feel staged themselves. The long takes, while reminiscent of some of Kubrick’s and Hitchcock’s films, and also Tarkovsky’s Solaris, also stirred me in ways different than those directors. That first time we see them rewinding what we thought was merely an establishing shot was brilliant. And each time we’re momentarily displaced is great. I liked the awkward dream insertions, too. And as much as the sliced throat scene was brutal, and also a great mirror of the first bloody scene, what was most disconcerting was the subtle betrayals between the couple, and the air of disregard for their son.

    I haven’t seen Haneke’s other films so I may feel differently going backwards.

    I’d love to see a list of films that are built primarily of long shots, particularly those where the camera is fixed.

  12. Glad you liked it John. Yes, the whole family destructs and all the while the Iraq War is going on in the background. I think the film captures the powerlessness of the situation. How can we be connected with such bloodshed going on? I know we can, but I felt very displaced through the last decade, with some friends not giving a shit about the war and some wishy-washy.

    I’m reminded of Mock Orange

    Mock Orange by Louise Glück

    It is not the moon, I tell you.
    It is these flowers
    lighting the yard.

    I hate them.
    I hate them as I hate sex,
    the man’s mouth
    sealing my mouth, the man’s
    paralyzing body—

    and the cry that always escapes,
    the low, humiliating
    premise of union—

    In my mind tonight
    I hear the question and pursuing answer
    fused in one sound
    that mounts and mounts and then
    is split into the old selves,
    the tired antagonisms. Do you see?
    We were made fools of.
    And the scent of mock orange
    drifts through the window.

    How can I rest?
    How can I be content
    when there is still
    that odor in the world?

    ROPE by Hitchcock is all long shots. Michael Snow the Canadian has a long film in one shot – Wavelength – I havne’t seen it but it has quite a reputation.

    The White Ribbon, the new Haneke film, continues in the tradition of Cache. A film of half seen actions and lies.

    1. Hi John, Greg,

      I do like the “strangely muted paranoia mixed with ennui” that characterizes CACHE. I think Haneke is best when he’s somewhat mournful, which is to say I like him best when he’s more human. As opposed to being more cruel, which he can also be. From what I’ve seen of WHITE RIBBON, it seems to me that it’s going to be one of his colder, crueller films, but we’ll see. In general, I think he’s been getting colder and crueller ever since FUNNY GAMES was a surprise hit for him (the original one).

      I will maintain that it’s a pretty slick production, though. Those dream sequences are sure pretty pretty! And those kid’s drawings were drawn by someone who had fine arts training. I’m betting that Majid didn’t go to the Cooper Union. But this is a nit I always pick with films.

      > That first time we see them rewinding what we
      > thought was merely an establishing shot was brilliant.

      What ruined that for me is that the fast-forwarding effect is so slick! I don’t know how he accomplished that one, but I imagine it’s some effect overlayed in post, and not real fastforwarding. It may seem silly for me to harp on something like that, but I value authenticity. (If you want a fast-forward effect, really fast-forward the film!). It doesn’t work for me. Maybe the Europeans have fancier systems than I’m accustomed to…? But it’s so high-end. It looks like a Fancy Filmmaker effect. Too much of CACHE is like that for my tastes. (Those drawings!)

      Compare it with the fast-forwarding effect in FUNNY GAMES (the original). That film, for me, is a good mixture of slickness and grittiness. It’s very professional, and masterfully controlled, but also rough around the edges. I think that Haneke peaked there, in that regard. Since then, he’s been getting slicker and slicker, and letting the air out of his films, rather excruciatingly slowly. This relates to that disappearing sense of humanity that I sense. But I suppose most people don’t agree with me here, or don’t consider it a problem, because he’s more popular than ever these days.

      As for the long takes—those I like quite a lot! I love long takes, in general. But I wouldn’t take any of them (pun intended) over any single shot in any Tarkovsky film.

      > I liked the awkward dream insertions, too.

      Those are very nice.

      > I’d love to see a list of films that are built primarily
      > of long shots, particularly those where the camera is
      > fixed.

      TSAI MING-LIANG!!!!!!!!!!!!! Early Sokurov, too (and of course THE RUSSIAN ARK is fairly perverse, though the camera moves). The films of Straub and Huillet. Pedro Costa’s recent COLOSSAL YOUTH is all long, static shots, and they add up to one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen.

      Aleksandr Dovzhenko, before any of them.

      Jane Campion’s PORTRAIT OF A LADY is also fairly languid. It turned off a lot of viewers when it came out, but I think it moves too quickly, if anything. I’d love to see an even longer, more dreamlike cut.

      Greg, I really like your question “How can we be connected with such bloodshed going on?” That’s something people in the States aren’t asking enough, I fear. HOW CAN ANYONE BE CONTENT THESE DAYS?@!!?!?!?!?!?@??#!? Even though we have a lot of great cinema available on DVD.

      Michael Snow’s WAVELENGTH is unbearably brilliant. See it any way you can—although preferably projected. And multiple times; it only improves (although I know people who can’t bear it).

      Cheers, Adam

      1. Adam,

        I just watched Egoyan’s Calander again. There is a bunch of fast-forwarding and rewinding in it and in many of his early films if I’m remembering correctly.

        Cassavetes has long takes. The beginning of THE PLAYER.

        1. We should make a list of long-take directors. I know I have a few things to say about them. A couple of years ago Bela Tarr came to Facets here in Chicago to present WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES, and David Bordwell and Jonathan Rosenbaum were there as well, and they had some interesting things to say about the ethics of the long take.

          Very briefly: longer takes tend to reveal, whereas shorter takes tend to conceal. Reveal what? Well, many things. The performance. And often various aspects of the film production itself. As the take develops, you can often “see” the crew on the other side of the camera, in terms of how the shot develops. Here’s one example:


          from “Dong” (“The Hole,” 1998), directed by Tsai Ming-Liang

          3 minutes 15 seconds
          one shot

          ON CAMERA
          the actor (Kuei-Mei Yang)

          OFF CAMERA
          . the director (Tsai)
          . people to operate the elevator
          . the camera crew who are pushing it forward, then backward, on a dolly (cinematographer, camera operator, a lens puller, grips)
          . a lighting crew (main lights come down, spotlight comes on)
          . someone to work the sound (the finished sound is post-synced, but I imagine they’re playing the song on set so the actor can dance and lip sync)

          …plus all the typical people: runners, a continuity person (script supervisor), catering, producers’ rep, insurance, nurse, etc.

          …I think there’s also something very human about watching actors perform in long takes. Kuei-Mei Yang’s performance here is rather charming.

          By way of contrast, the recent LORD OF THE RINGS films rarely feature long takes. See my recent comment regarding them here.

          I find it odd the way the film cuts away from Sean Astin during his monologue. I think the film is rubbish, but Astin is a terrific actor (he really shines in this role, despite how difficult the work must have been). But rather than allow him to perform the monologue on camera with another actor present, Peter Jackson stuck him in some sound booth somewhere to record it. Which is why it sounds so overwrought, I think. (Voice acting encourages one to overdo it–especially when you have nothing present to pitch your performance against.)

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