Friday, July 06, 2012

Top 50 Films of the 00's, Part 8 (10-7)



10. Y Tu Mama Tambien (Alfonso Cuaron, 2001)

On the surface, Y Tu Mama is a great summer film based on a seductive fantasy: two horny teenagers take a hot cougar on a roadtrip to the beach.  For two hours of vicarious vacation, it's hard to beat, especially when they end up sleeping on the beach and dancing at a homey little seafood shack.  In fact, I've done my best to recreate the feel of that scene in my backyard tiki bar.  But scratch the surface and there's more going on here.  Occasionally the screen freezes, and we receive little bits of information that don't really further the plot, but enrich the story.  Little bits about how the consciousness of class differences plays out between the two boys, for instance.  They poke little holes in the fantasy we're watching.  The fisherman living on the beach seems to have such a fantastic life.  Why are we told the tragic, depressing story of his move to the city?  Maybe its meant to remind us how little of the story we get when we hear a story, like those elipses at the end of chapters in Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions

Suggested Double Feature: Jackass: The Movie.  Well, that's the double feature I ended up watching the first time I saw either.  Just one of those weird coincidences of movie viewing.  But taken together, the two films really do reveal a lot about the homoerotic nature of male bonding.


9. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)

With all due respect to Spike Jonze (and Charlie Kaufman, who did great work directing Synecdoche, New York), Michel Gondry made the best Charlie Kaufman movie to date.  It's also Gondry's best work by a long shot.  Kaufman's sad script brought out a subdued melancholy in Gondry, avoiding the often cloying whimsy of The Science of Sleep and Be Kind, Rewind.  Jim Carrey delivers his career-best dramatic role, possibly the only one where Carrey doesn't mug up in a sub-Tom Hanks effort to be loveable, as the tortured Joel.  (Carrey's best comedy role is, of course, The Cable Guy.)  And Kate Winslet is great in her too-small role as Joel's ex, Clementine.

The script is hung on a great science fiction concept: a company that will remove your painful memories.  You can immediately see the paradox: we all want to rid ourselves of the things that cause pain in our lives, yet those are the things that make us who we are.  Kaufman runs with the gags inherent in this concept, with Carrey trying desperately to hold onto painful memories that are being erased, but even at its most wacky, the script keeps those emotions front and center, and Gondry zooms in on them.  There are scenes in this movie that struck me so hard that I'm afraid to even write about them.  Like the scene where Joel, as a kid, has collected a dead bird in his red wagon (it's possible that the bird is injured and he plans on healing it, but my impression was that it was dead, and I'm a bit squeamish about going back and checking).  Joel runs into a group of neighborhood kids, who peer-pressure him into smashing the bird with a hammer.  It's painfully traumatizing for Joel, but what gets me is that, the whole time, Joel is wearing a superman cape.  He left the house with an image of himself as a hero, and he returns with an image of himself as a bird-crushing coward.  It's the kind of moment that haunts you your whole life, and would drive you to want to rip the memories out of your head.



8. No Country for Old Men (Ethan Coen, 2007)

The Coen Bros. great memento mori, with death here depicted as Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, with pale skin, a strange bowl cut that gives his head a skull-like shape, and a rictus grin stretched across his face), an unstoppable force always one step (at most) behind the protagonist.  That black cloud is always moving toward us across the prairie, that hellhound is swimming faster than you.  Think you can stop it? That's vanity. Think you can see it coming? Can't nobody see that. Think someone is there to light your way? Yeah, right..."And then I woke up."

7. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuaron, 2007)

2007 was a fucked up time.  After the 2004 election, I (and I think a lot of people) were...I'm not even sure what the right word is.  Disillusioned, maybe.  I mean, here we had this awful, awful president, who had gotten us involved in these two awful wars, at least one of which was completely unnecessary, and was shredding the constitution in a paranoid fit of anti-terrorist terror.  Indefinite detentions, warrantless wiretaps, torture, secret prisons: it was not a healthy time for democracy.  (In regards to most of the things I just listed, it still isn't.)  And then, the American people voted this asshole in for a second term!  In my mind, democracy had failed.  What possible hope was there, if even the voters couldn't be trusted?

Alfonso Cuaron's dystopian adventure, Children of Men (yes, I've got two Cuaron flicks in my top 10), captures that hopelessness that permeated the air in those days.  It takes place in a world where a plague of some kind has rendered people unable to reproduce.  Then, a pregnant woman shows up, and Clive Owen's character takes on the responsibility of protecting her.  Suddenly, there is hope.  When, with his last breath, he delivers her to a ship called Tomorrow, it's a glimmer of hope for the world: humanity will continue.  Now, I want to be perfectly clear about this: I'm not trying to say that that hope represents Barack Obama or anything that lame.  But surely this deep well of frustration (if that's even a strong enough word) was why the campaign's "Hope and Change" jive resonated so effectively with voters.

Children of Men also contains some pretty snazzy action sequences, the best of which is a nearly 10-minute chase scene at the climax that is filmed as a single, continuous shot.  But mostly, I choose it because it captures the general zeitgeist of the time more than any other film I can think of (along with The 25th Hour, which, as I said, captured a similar feeling from a few years earlier, in the aftermath of 9/11).  Thus, I think this is a good place to stop for now.  The six remaining films on my list are all masterful genre films that manage to transcend their genres, to come out of left field and offer you more than you went in expecting.

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