It somehow seems fitting that the final film on the list is as much a celebration of the medium itself as anything else. The Artist is a film that could only be told within the medium of film (and it has many times), not even television (the closest medium to film) could replicate it. It’s also refreshing that after a list dominated by miserable films exploring the dark recesses of humanity to end on such a positive note. Make no mistake, many viewers will end The Artist with tears in their eyes, but for once they will be tears of joy. The Artist is a joyful experience, not entirely free from anxiety, but one that allows (no, demands) a happy ending.
Low budget horror again, and who’d have thought that a remake of a relatively forgotten George Romero film would be one of the best films of the year? The Crazies lost the (faint) political leanings of the original, but made up for it by adding a level of paranoia and hopelessness that the original film lacked. It also helped that it managed to be genuinely terrifying without ever resorting to gore for gores sake, something of a relief as horror films began to exchange extreme violence for ideas.
Pixar could lay claim to being the most consistently high quality studio currently operating in the American film system. With a few exceptions their output has been a delight for both adults and children for nearly eighteen years now, so much so that actually trying to figure out what is their best film to date feels a little bit like an exercise in futility. However, there’s no denying what are their best five minutes – the opening of Up! was not only the best thing Pixar had done to date, it was also (by a country mile) the best five minutes of film that year, containing far more heart, emotion and old-fashioned story-telling than any other film managed in its entire running time that year. Three years later it still produces a mixture of smiles & tears as it lays the groundwork for what is to come. Wall-E may be more consistent throughout, but this is just sheer perfection, if the rest of the film had managed to match it in quality then this would be an undisputed masterpiece.
It wasn’t the best film of the year, it didn’t tax the grey cells or challenge your way of thinking, but in its own way Speed Racer has the potential to be one of the most influential films of the last decade – even more so than the Wachowski Brothers previous films, The Matrix Trilogy.
To the time of writing this, Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood” remains the only film I’ve seen on two consecutive showings at the cinema, such was the vice like grip it held me in from the first viewing. Like many films on this list it arrived in this country in the middle of awards season, laden with expectation and praise. For once it more than lived up to the hype – a rich, satisfying horror-drama graced with the most magnetic performance to grace the screen that year. Three months later when it emerged on DVD I introduced a whole host of people to its wonder, and when I sat down to develop this list it was amongst the first films that populated the list. Five years later I still think it was the finest film of this Centuries first decade. It was never a film to enjoy, but the level of craft involved meant that it could never be ignored.
In little over a decade Christopher Nolan has gone from one of the most interesting up-and-coming directors to the juggernaut behind the re-invention of the comic book movie. Whilst it would be easy to lay some of the blame for the current glut over large scale, big budget, teen orientated films that now dominate the multiplex, he’s also tried to at least inject a little intelligence into the genre – even if no one else seems to have taken that part of the equation on. Between the first two Bat-behemoths he produced what I still find his best film – The Prestige.
Why isn’t 28 Days Later the best British horror film of the decade? Quite simply because this is a genuinely terrifying film that actually remains scary despite multiple viewings, never quite losing the initial grip it had on you (something increasingly rare in horror these days – only Halloween gives me the heebie-jeebies like this. What begins as a tense thriller drama mutates into an old fashioned monster movie (with just enough of an indication that this is a possibility in the beginning to keep the interest). It’s testament to Neil Marshall’s skills at cranking up the tension that it comes as something of a relief when the monsters do finally turn up and begin to play havoc with the cast, at least then the likelihood of more horrendous caving accidents is reduced. This is not a film for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia.
Some years were easy to determine which film I’d write about, other years I’d quickly narrow the list down to a few candidates and then let them duke it out in my head whilst I ruminated on it. Other years finding a film was a bit more difficult (writing about them was a different kettle of fish entirely as inevitably real life took over).
And then there was 2004.
Gus Van Sant’s weird meditation on the Columbine Massacre is unlike any of the other films on the list, feeling more like a documentary than a straight narrative up until the point that the massacre occurs. Indeed, it’s questionable if it really is about Columbine or rather just about being a kid in America at a really specific point in time, whilst the inevitable massacre (this is not a film that you can watch blindly, it’s important to know where it will eventually head before you begin) whilst not being an after-thought (in retrospect the film clearly lays down the fact that this is going to happen) feels like one. Van Sant could just be making a documentary about life in a typical American school that just happened to take a horrific turn of events. Unlike Bowling for Columbine (the only other film that comes to mind that approaches the subject in a thoughtful way, although that veers to near to sensationalism for my liking at times) there is no wider picture, the story doesn’t need to be put into context for the horrifying truth to be seen.
Despite the protestations of the director, 28 Days Later is quite clearly a zombie film through and through. Man playing God leading to misery? Check! Sharp bursts of sudden violence? Check! Man being the real enemy? Check! Sure, the film does attempt to modernise the genre (is this the first sighting of the fast zombie?) but at its core it harks back to Night of the Living Dead – a small band of survivors try to make their way through a changed world before confronting the real enemy.