EXPLORING THE ALCOVES OF CULT CINEMA …

The 100 Films Of The Decade: 80 – 71

80    Black Book (2006)

Dir. Paul Verhoeven

After two decades of Hollywood blockbusters, Paul Verhoeven returned to the Netherlands with honed skills and hefty financial backing to make this fantastic World War II thriller, a pet project with frequent co-writer Gerard Soeteman for over twenty years. The story of Jewish singer Rachel Steinn’s (Carice van Houten) infiltration of the SS is a welcome throwback to all the large-scale war movies of the fifties and sixties – a huge, lush and exciting two-and-a-half-hour adventure. But Black Book breaks away from certain genre clichés by controversially depicting sympathetic Gestapo officers and selfish resistant fighters, as well as presenting all nationalities speaking in their mother tongue. This lavish tale more than indulges Verhoeven’s penchant for copious amounts of sex and violence, and few films are able to sustain a driving narrative with such a staggering amount of plot twists. Marvellous.

79    Lost In La Mancha (2002)

Dir. Keith Fulton, Louis Pepe

When Terry Gilliam began filming his long-desired adaptation of Don Quixote with budgets, schedules and a cast of Jean Rochefort and Johnny Depp in place, he couldn’t have imagined that the only film to emerge from the project would be the documentary Lost In La Mancha. Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s behind the scenes footage followed each step of the way, as the delicate production completely unravelled beyond Gilliam’s control. Aircraft noise disruption, flash floods, an injured leading man, crippling insurance claims – the unluckiest production shoot ever is all caught on film in this remarkable document, as the director’s mission becomes almost as impossible as Quixote’s own quest. Gilliam’s second attempt to film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is now underway.

78    Team America: World Police (2004)

Dir. Trey Parker

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone defiantly take on a broad range of satirical targets, including action movies, musicals, terrorists, liberals, fascists and the Iraq war, for their polarizing masterpiece Team America: World Police, all done in the unique style of Gerry Anderson’s “supermarionation” (I wonder what he made of it all?). Any criticism of excessive bad taste, or the fact that the film is oddly not as politically biting as South Park could be, pale into insignificance against the sheer onslaught of outrageousness on display. Offended nations world over could take solace in the fact that liberal Hollywood A-listers come out of the film far, far worse than anybody else. One of the most consistently hilarious comedies of all time? Fuck yeah!

77    Sunshine (2007)

Dir. Danny Boyle

Before gaining international acclaim for Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle made Sunshine, an intelligent science-fiction film that became all but critically and commercially buried. Cillian Murphy is part of a team sent on a mission to reignite the fading sun and save the dying Earth in this atmospheric, contemplative sci-fi along the lines of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris and Alien. This was a risky project for Boyle, adding an entry to a practically defunct genre in the UK, and Sunshine was ultimately a commercial failure, but one which stood alone as a testament to the great British science fiction film (certainly until the release of Moon in 2009). Definitely a neglected gem ripe for rediscovery after only three years in the wilderness.

76    The Mist (2008)

Dir. Frank Darabont

After two hugely successful Stephen King adaptations – the massively overrated The Shawshank Redemption and the turgid The Green Mile – Frank Darabont got it just right with this sleeper horror hit. Something of an homage to 1950’s B-movies, The Mist presents an impressive array of terrifying and repulsive monsters from another dimension, provided by the studio behind Pan’s Labyrinth’s creations. But the real horror lies in the Lord Of The Flies style mob that emerges within a local community trapped in a grocery store, who resort to human sacrifice at the command of religious zealots. Also, kudos must be given for one of the most downbeat endings in cinema history! If possible watch Darabont’s preferred black-and-white presentation of the film, which adds an agreeably authentic period feel absent from the colour version.

75    DiG! (2004)

Dir. Ondi Timoner

Filmed over seven years and drawn from 2,000 hours of footage, it’s fair to say this incredible story of rock rivalry is as cleverly constructed as any fictional narrative. But the finished product is a hugely enjoyable distillation of all the dangerous trappings and foibles of rock stardom – drink, drugs, luck, misfortune, compromise, jealousy and ego. The developing careers of two bands – The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols – develops into a tragi-comic expose when Jonestown singer Anton Newcombe believes his band is set for superstardom, only to be confounded by the international success of the Dandy’s. The tragedy is that Newcombe destroys all possible chances for success through his own destructive excesses and the film ultimately presents little proof of his oft-mentioned “genius”. A true-life Spinal Tap with added pathos.

74    The Queen (2006)

Dir. Stephen Frears

What sounds like a rather sensationalist idea for a drama – focusing on the Royal Family and the Prime Minister in the immediate wake of Princess Diana’s death – becomes a superb and riveting character study by playwright Peter Morgan. The drama boils down to a fascinating culture-clash between the detached emotional restraint of the House Of Winsor and the exposure-hungry hysteria of 1990’s media. An excellent sympathetic performance from Helen Mirren takes the film away from any imitative novelty and presents the figure of a grandmother caught up in an extraordinary chain of events.  But the most striking element is the black comedy laced throughout, notably when the Royal Family go out on a shooting trip whilst the rest of the country are in apparent mourning. Surprisingly effective.

73    Y tu mamá también (2001)

Dir. Alfonso Cuarón

The new wave of Mexican cinema injected the last decade with the same fresh vigour and bold approach that the Nouvelle Vague did in the 1960’s. One of the first, and best, is Alfonso Cuarón’s vivacious road movie, which certainly has shades of Jules et Jim. Following the journey of teenagers Julio (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna) as they travel to an illusory paradise beach with the older and more sexually aware Luisa (Maribel Verdú), the trip takes place against the backdrop of a political shift in Mexico, although these events merely colour the landscape and actually seem to heighten the focus on the sincere coming-of-age narrative. Very funny, very sexy and with a fantastic soundtrack to boot.

72    Synecdoche New York (2008)

Dir. Charlie Kaufman

Charlie Kaufman’s obsessive mission to examine (but never really understand) the role art plays in resolving life’s issues was well explored in Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, but reaches  unrestrained fever pitch in his directorial début. The problems of Adaptation’s protagonist appear frivolous compared to the deep-rooted neurosis of theatre director Caden Cotard (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Given a genius grant to pursue his artistic ideal, Caden spends decades attempting to perfect a full-scale recreation of New York life in a giant warehouse, populated by an ever-changing, increasingly imitative cast. With all the logic of an Escher painting, Synecdoche New York is art-imitating-life-imitating-art to the power of ten. Frustrating, perplexing, wildly ambitious and unmistakably brilliant.

71    28 Days Later (2002)

Dir. Danny Boyle

Jumping between genres with Kubrickesque ease, Danny Boyle brought British horror kicking, screaming and indeed raging into the 21st century. Alex Garland’s screenplay depicts a chilling and barren post-apocalyptic England a mere four weeks after animal rights activists free a less-than-cuddly chimp from a research facility. Presenting another revolutionary (or is that evolutionary) stage in the zombie sub-genre, which in this case means not actually featuring any zombies, the “infected” are instead fuelled by a viral rage and have the rare ability to out-run their victims. Incidentally, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 Weeks Later (2007) did more than justice as the sequel to this truly exceptional horror.

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