Thursday, January 21, 2010

Requiem for a Dream (2000)

I often hesitate from writing about some of my favorite films. I'm afraid that I won't do them the justice they deserve. My short, ~500 word blog posts simply cannot engage a film (perhaps with the exception of Choke) on the level it was created. Entire books have been written on films such as Sunset Boulevard.

I recently put Darren Aronofsky's film, Requiem for a Dream (2000) on my list of the best films of the decade. And I promised that I would post about each one of those.

Well, Scott Tobias of the AV Club, the Onion's younger, hotter, non parodic sister, wrote a piece about Requiem for a column called The New Cult Canon. There really aren't too many spoilers. Read it here.

Funfact: According to IMDb, "most movies contain 600 to 700 cuts. Requiem for a Dream contains over 2,000."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Escapism, Suicide, and James Cameron

Remember when I blogged about audiences needing forms of entertainment other than escapism? This article from CNN documents responses to an Avatar (2009) forum thread entitled "Ways to cope with the depression of the dream of Pandora being intangible." According to CNN, the thread has received over 1,000 responses from individuals battling with depression and even suicidal thoughts after watching James Cameron's $500 billion dollar film.

Forum member "[Ivar] Hill, 17, explained that his feelings of despair made him desperately want to escape reality."

He told CNN: "One can say my depression was twofold: I was depressed because I really wanted to live in Pandora, which seemed like such a perfect place, but I was also depressed and disgusted with the sight of our world, what we have done to Earth. I so much wanted to escape reality."

CNN explains that the reason for such emotional attachment to the film is that Cameron's special effects, in conjunction with that newfangled 3-D contraption, make the film "very lifelike."

This simply does not make sense to me.

Now, I have not seen the film yet, and perhaps the special effects are amazing (with that budget, they fucking better be). But I still don't understand how a fantasy can be "very lifelike." Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the Avatar Forum members are especially susceptible to "very lifelike" renditions of alien planets and races. Maybe James Cameron wants everyone to commit suicide. Maybe CNN has morphed into an alarmist, sensationalist 24 hour news outlet with nothing better to report on than internet forums. Maybe the Avatar fans are all bullshitting us.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Best Films of the Decade (2000-2009)

The Aughts were a decade of turmoil and confusion. 9/11 led the United States into the war on terror and spawned a flurry of both documentaries and Hollywood films about the event. According to New York Times film critic A. O. Scott, Hollywood executives decided that "in the wake of such unimaginable horror, we needed fantasy, comedy, heroism." Big-budgeted blockbusters and fantasy franchises dominated the box office as viewers flocked to the cinema to drown in escapism. In fact, 80% of the top 50 highest-grossing films of all time were released in the 2000s.

However, Michael Moore popularized the documentary and, in the later years of the decade, Neo-Neo Realism arose to combat the escapist films brought about by the recession. While bombastic musicals not unlike those of Depression-era director and choreographer Busby Berkeley are still being produced, audiences and filmmakers (thanks to French and Italian cinema) seem to have grown up, if only by a little.

There's nothing wrong with escapism. I love to turn my brain off and watch Lord of the Rings as much as anyone. But escapist cinema is all too ubiquitous in an era which has many problems. Films such as Chop Shop (2007) and Gomorra (2008) reject Hollywood glitz and glamor in favor of a gritty, realist point of view. The world has problems. They won't be erased by wizardry, vampirism or singing and dancing.

All tangential discussions aside, here is my list of the best films released in 2000-2009. Well, perhaps I should rephrase. These are my favorite films of the decade.

Honorable Mentions
Entre les murs (The Class, dir. Laurent Cantent, 2008) - The final shot of empty desks piled in the middle of an empty classroom was moving and symbolic of the tragic fate of the inner-city students.

United 93 (dir. Paul Greengrass, 2006) - By far one of the best films about the 9/11 attacks, United 93 surprisingly does not feel as whorish as Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) or World Trade Center (2006).

Runners-up (in chronological order):
Requiem for a Dream (dir. Darren Aronofsky, 2000)
Les glaneurs et la glaneuse (The Gleaners and I, dir. Agnès Varda, 2000)
The Fellowship of the Ring (dir. Peter Jackson, 2001)
Elephant (dir. Gus Van Sant, 2003)

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (dir. Wes Anderson, 2004)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (dir. Michel Gondry, 2004)
Caché (dir. Michael Haneke, 2005)
Vals Im Bashir (Waltz with Bashir, dir. Ari Folman, 2008)
Wendy and Lucy (dir. Kelly Reichardt, 2008)

And the best film of the past decade (in my humble opinion, of course) is

There Will Be Blood (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

Stay tuned for more detailed discussions about the films listed above!