EXPLORING THE ALCOVES OF CULT CINEMA …

The 100 Films Of The Decade: 90 – 81

90    Gosford Park (2001)

Dir. Robert Altman

Only Robert Altman, the great American maverick, could turn an English country house mystery into an ambitious, naturalistic study of the class system with a cast of sixteen leading actors. Rich with period detail and full of Altman’s trademark roving camera and overlapping dialogue, Gosford Park sits in the upper echelons of this director’s work, alongside Nashville and Short Cuts. By the end, the murder mystery element seems secondary to the social commentary and impressive characterisations. All the performances delight, particularly Alan Bates in one of his last roles as the lofty head butler hiding a shameful secret.  Also highly recommended is A Prairie Home Companion, Altman’s final film released just before his death in 2006.

89    Spellbound (2002)

Dir. Jeffrey Blitz

A documentary about participants in the National Spelling Bee may sound like a quirky novelty for a debut feature, but Jeffrey Blitz turns the event into a charmingly insightful study of a diverse society. The film focuses on eight very different families, covering children as varied as Angela from a Mexican family in rural Texas, Emily from a wealthy horse-riding Connecticut family, and April from a low-income Pennsylvanian family looking to better themselves. Through these families, the contest becomes something of a metaphor for the American dream, where socioeconomic status won’t stop high achievers reaching the top – especially if they can spell Iogorrhea correctly. D-E-L-I-G-H-T-F-U-L. Delightful.

88    House Of Flying Daggers (2004)

Dir. Zhang Yimou

Previously best known for his lavish acclaimed dramas Raise The Red Lantern (1991) and The Story of Qui Ju (1992), Zhang Yimou marked the first part of the decade by making two hugely popular wuxia films – Hero (2002) and House Of Flying Daggers – the latter being the best martial arts film of the last ten years. As romantic as it is dramatic, the action sequences are simply breathtaking and, typical of Yimou, the whole film looks incredibly sumptuous, especially the remarkable bamboo forest sequence bathed in vibrant green. The final epic confrontation stretches from the rich reds and yellows of autumn to the dazzling white of a wintry snow blizzard. Stunning.

87    Capote (2005)

Dir. Bennett Miller

Every now and then an actor gets a role so perfect they could have been born to play it, such is the case with Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Truman Capote, which rightly won him the Best Actor Oscar. Subtle and underplayed, the film focuses on Capote’s interviews with two suspected murderers during the writing of his acclaimed non-fiction crime novel In Cold Blood. As Capote develops an emotional attachment to one of the prisoners, the conflicting role of the writer is brought into question – that of someone molding a creative document whilst confronting moral implications and breaches of trust. A remarkably assured first feature from Bennett Miller.

86    24 Hour Party People (2002)

Dir. Michael Winterbottom

The explosive music scene of Manchester from the late 1970’s to the early 1990’s is brilliantly captured in all it’s anarchy by the great hope of British filmmaking, Michael Winterbottom. Ostensibly seen through the eyes and anecdotes of the great Factory Records head Tony Wilson (here portrayed by Steve Coogan, lending a suitable Alan Partridge-esque culture-clashing to the role), 24 Hour Party People is a heady concoction of real events, rumours, urban legends and a heavy dose of artistic licence. Not just a film for those who love the music, this is a fictional document of a wild and creative era which reveals far more about the times than any regular documentary could.

85    Man On Wire (2008)

Dir. James Marsh

A documentary framed as a heist movie, Man On Wire recounts the incredible feat of high wire artist Phillipe Petit, who shocked onlookers by walking on a wire between New York’s twin towers in 1974. Combining jaw-dropping archive footage and photographs with present-day interviews and dramatic reenactments, James Marsh succeeds in presenting a non-fiction story as exciting as any fictional thriller – one which would seem unbelievable were the events not originally captured on film.

84    Dogville (2003)

Dir. Lars Von Trier

Lars Von Trier returns to the themes of Breaking The Waves and Dancer In The Dark – that of the hardships of women abused by society but who ultimately discover a higher level of well-being – but he finds another unique method of presenting these themes in Dogville. The action takes place on a minimalist studio stage, with white lines on the floor representing walls and the barest of furniture and props. The story concerns Grace (Nicole Kidman), a woman on the run from gangsters, who finds refuge in the town of Dogville, but has to endure harsh physical labour in return for her safety. The experimental staging is highly successful, stripping the story of all distracting artifice and focusing attention on the dramatic parable. The biblical allusions are heightened by the story being split into nine titled chapters and the excellent narration from John Hurt adds serious gravitas to proceedings. Highly recommended.

83    Tideland (2005)

Dir. Terry Gilliam

“Hello I’m Terry Gilliam and I’ve a confession to make – many of you are not going to like this film.” In his introduction to Tideland, the director pleas for understanding from the viewer, explaining that the naivety and innocence of a child’s mind could be seen as shocking and unnerving. Jeff Bridges collaborates for the first time since The Fisher King (1992) as the has-been rock ‘n’ roll father of Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland), a girl with a darkly vivid imagination. This is purest, untapped Gilliam, free of studio interference and compromise, but instead dangerously unrestricted in letting his brain run riot. The result if often very dark, very funny and very Terry. A polarizing film for sure, but an essential one for all those willing to fully embrace the skewed mind of Gilliam.

82    Monsters, Inc. (2001)

Dir. Pete Docter & David Silverman

Only from being followed by the likes of Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Wall-E and Up, could a film as wonderful as Monsters, Inc. end up as a neglected picture, but such was the creative gold rush of the Pixar studio this decade. Much was made of Sulley’s brilliantly tangible blue fur but Pixar, and indeed Disney, know better than to hang a film on technical advances alone. The story is fast, funny and endlessly inventive and the vocal work of John Goodman and Billy Crystal is just perfect, as is the music of  Randy Newman. Incredibly, it was beaten to the Best Animated Film Oscar by the totally charmless and unfunny Shrek, which dates like a dodgy pair of flared trousers with each passing year.    

81    Capturing The Friedmans (2003)

Dir. Andrew Jarecki

Whilst Spellbound presented a generally upbeat take on the American way of life, Capturing The Friedmans revealed an altogether darker and stranger truth at the heart of the American family. Initially starting the project as a fairly innocuous documentary about children’s party entertainers, filming took a dramatic twist when director Andrew Jarecki discovered that both the brother and father of one of his participants, New York clown David Friedman, had been convicted of child abuse. What begins to unfold is a story where things are far from clear-cut, with Rashomon-style contradictions of truth, leading viewers to question almost every turn of events. Strangely compelling.

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