Time Out's 101 Films of the Decade – Part 9, with reactions from Peter Jackson, David Fincher, Guillermo del Toro and more…
In the top 20, our quest takes us all the way from high school to Hobbiton, where we find swashbuckling sailors rubbing shoulders with sheep-herding lovers, while marionette assassins terrorise mono-maniacal dictators, all to the sound of Japanese karaoke music and the snapping of camera lenses...
20. Team America: World Police (2004, US)Directed by Trey ParkerTerrorise this!Parker and Stone’s marionnette musical masterpiece is both our highest-placed comedy (not including ‘Downfall’ redubs) and the highest-placed film about the War On Terror (not including ‘Lord Of The Rings’). It’s a riotous cavalcade of puppet sex, soft rock and casual racism that, over an immaculate three-act arc, deplores American exceptionalism and Middle Eastern terrorism, but reserves the bulk of its contempt for preening liberal actors, who are puppetised and ritually slaughtered. The message? People shouldn’t make films about what they don’t understand. Contradictory? Of course. Hilarious? Fuck, yeah. PWRead the Time Out review
19. Brokeback Mountain (2005, US/Can)Directed by Ang LeeAnd the Oscar goes to... 'Chicago'?A film that will stand proud long after the petty prejudices which inspired it have been lost to history, ‘Brokeback Mountain’ is granite cinema, knowingly monumental but still achingly intimate. But for all the political impact of the movie, what’s perhaps most astonishing is that Ang Lee, along with screenwriter Larry McMurtry, pulled off an almost impossible trick in narrative terms: a time-spanning romance that actually works, that carries emotional weight and keeps the characters believable, that doesn’t descend into maudlin slush, pop-culture references and wrinkly-face makeup. All this, and Heath Ledger ossifying into an icon before your very eyes. THRead the Time Out review
18. Uzak (2002, Tur)Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan Modern life is rubbishFew had heard of Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan before he won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2002 for his third film, ‘Uzak’. The story of an Istanbul photographer who lives alone and whose unemployed rural cousin comes to stay, this is a masterly exploration of the gulf between the city and the countryside, the alienation of urban life and the inability of two men to communicate when they clearly need each other very much. Ceylan photographed the film himself and the cityscapes of wintry Istanbul are breathtaking. DCRead the Time Out review
17. Lost in Translation (2003, US/Japan)Directed by Sofia CoppolaJust like honeyTwo lonely strangers – a jaded middle-aged movie star (Bill Murray on blistering form) and a young newlywed (Scarlett Johanssen) hang out for a few days in an alien city and… don’t fall in love, don’t have sex, don’t even kiss. And yet it’s the most romantic, charged, intimate and transformative encounter, the likes of which don’t often make it on to the big screen because there’s no happy ending. There’s not really an ending at all. Sofia Coppola’s first film, ‘The Virgin Suicides’, showed intriguing promise but with ‘Lost in Translation’ she created a beautiful, unusual, sublime masterpiece enriched by a script that said more by saying less, a stunningly shot Tokyo, inspired music choices and a beguiling female lead who was at the peak of her powers prior to appearing in a succession of pedestrian period pieces and rubbish Woody Allen films. SCRead the Time Out review
16. Code Unknown (2000, Fr)Directed by Michael Haneke The state of thingsThe drum beats that haunt the final scenes of Haneke’s ensemble piece about communication and the lack thereof ring in the ears long after the credits roll… ‘Code Unknown’ begins with a young man throwing a bit of rubbish in a beggar’s hat on a Paris boulevard, so initiating a series of individual stories, some more directly linked than others, all of them riffs on the theme of misunderstanding. Haneke sidesteps the crudities of this dramatic format (‘The Butterfly Effect’! ‘Crash’!) to offer a film of staggering contemporary relevance and dramatic power. And the scene which shows Juliette Binoche being abused by a fellow passenger on a Paris Metro train is simply astonishing. DCRead the Time Out review
15. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003, US)Directed by Peter WeirAvast behind!Batten down the hatches. Peter Weir’s atmospherically spot-on adaptation of Patrick O’Brian’s tenth Napoleonic seafaring novel centres on burly captain-cum-amateur violinist Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe), his longstanding friendship with the ship’s doctor, Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) – with whom Aubrey indulges in early evening musical soirees – and their shipmates’ taut cat-and-mouse struggle with a pursuing French warship. The attention to detail here is truly beyond the call of duty, right down to the pedantic authenticity of Crowe’s violin playing, the period attire, the battle scenes, the sound effects, even the construction of the ship itself, which involved the weaving of 27 miles of rope. Wonderfully paced, evocatively mounted and blessed with an exquisite, mostly Baroque soundtrack, ‘M&C’ is more than enough evidence to suggest that Weir, when in charge of a period production, is one of the industry’s most meticulous craftsmen. Magisterial stuff. DARead the Time Out review
14. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001, US/NZ)Directed by Peter JacksonSo this is what nerd heaven looks like...If, as some of us argued, Peter Jackson’s monumental trilogy had been treated as it was made, as a single film, the combined votes for this and ‘The Two Towers’ would easily have pushed it into the top ten, where it deserved to be. Simply as a feat of filmmaking, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is unparalleled: ten years, millions of dollars, a cast and crew of thousands, all committed to realising Jackson’s ambition to make, if not quite the best, then undoubtedly the biggest filmgoing experience of the decade. But Jackson is also a canny enough craftsman to realise that size isn’t everything, embracing the depths in Tolkein’s work, the tragic undertones of this otherwise triumphal tale – that postwar sense of loss and grief that infuses every page of the novel also lends the film an emotive resonance popcorn movies so often lack. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Cinema. TH
Peter Jackson on 'The Lord of the Rings': 'There are fantastical elements, there are monsters and incredible cities and armies, things that are fantastical in nature, but we always teated it as if we were making an historical film. This really happened, these people really went through this.'
Read the Time Out reviewl
13. A One and a Two… (2000, Taiwan)Directed by Edward YangA design for lifeIn his essay which accompanied the US DVD release of Edward Yang’s serene family comedy, critic Kent Jones rightly proposed that this was a work whose profound philosophical musings on family, cities, rituals, relationships, religion, business, politics, time, memory and the mysteries of the human heart made most other filmmakers seem abnormally slack by comparison. And it’s true – rarely does cinema feel as much like a survival guide for living as this, a film that informs, consoles and enlightens as it eases us into the intertwining daily dramas of a moderately wealthy Taipei family at a time when all its members are sliding into a brief period of intense self-reflection. To offload their various woes, they instigate a regime of talking to their comatose grandmother (see also Almodovar’s ‘Talk to Her’) who is situated in one of the bedrooms of their apartment. A surfeit of incident prevents a short plot précis, but suffice it to say Yang manages to keep countless narrative plates spinning while favouring no one character over the others and never straining for undue significance. Owing to his untimely death in 2007 the film remains Yang’s final completed work, and as swan songs go, this one is up there with the best: in its wistful condemnation of a society consumed by religion and commerce, it remains a film for our time. In its bittersweet celebration of the comedy of existence, it remains a film for all time. DJRead the Time Out review
12. Elephant (2003, US)Directed by Gus Van SantWorks great as the second part of a double bill with 'High School Musical' Van Sant spent the best part of the noughties in experimental mode following the more mainstream efforts of 'Good Will Hunting' and 'Finding Forrester'. Death, especially as it relates to the young, hangs over works like 'Gerry', 'Last Days' and 'Elephant', the last of which is an abstract take on the Columbine shootings, inspired by the camerawork of Bela Tarr and in which Van Sant shows more interest in capturing the details of emotions and relations between pupils in a typical school than in offering an explanation for an extraordinary event. The film is characterised by long, stalking shots, often following its subjects from behind, and by a disjointed approach to chronology. Often, we see the same event twice: a hint, perhaps, that with an event such as Columbine, we shouldn't always be quick to judge. The film won Van Sant both the Palme d'Or and the best director award at Cannes in 2003. DCRead the Time Out review
11. Downfall (2004, Ger)Directed by Oliver HirschbiegelThe Party's overIt took a long time for German filmmakers to tackle the spectre of their nation’s dubious warring past but when they did, they blew the majority of populist, English-language WW2 movies clean out of the water, so to speak. Witness ‘Das Boot’, to some degree ‘The Counterfeiters’ and, of course, this intense account of Hitler’s last 12 days in the Berlin bunker. It’s a testament to Bruno Ganz’s intoxicating portrayal of the Fuhrer that he is able to elicit from the viewer such a see-saw of emotions. Watching this is to have your sensibilities tossed about like a teacup in a storm: one minute you’re typically aghast at the outrageously callous way the Fuhrer talks about even his own struggling army and petrified civilians – ‘compassion is a betrayal of nature’ – the next you’re pinching yourself for feeling some form of sympathy towards him. Ganz’s performance is arguably the finest representation of the Fuhrer ever committed to celluloid. Best not mention the raft of hilarious YouTube spinoffs. DARead the Time Out review
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