EXPLORING THE ALCOVES OF CULT CINEMA …

The 100 Films Of The Decade: 60 – 51

60    Sideways (2005)

Dir. Alexander Payne

Purveyor of sophisticated and satirical comedies like a latter-day Preston Sturges, Alexander Payne continued his brilliant track record with this comic-drama of two 40-something friends (Paul Giametti and Thomas Haden Church) taking a road trip to the vineyards of Santa Barbara. Sideways famously raised the profile of Pinot Noir and worldwide sales of Merlot actually dropped after Giametti’s Miles exclaimed “I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!” I feel obliged to make a wine analogy, so let’s say that Sideways has a complex and elegant flavour with witty aromas and it’s ageing nicely.

59    Dancer In The Dark (2000)

Dir. Lars Von Trier

Another emotional wrench from Lars Von Trier, Dancer In The Dark takes the redemptive themes of Breaking The Waves to new agonizing levels. Bjork is excellent as Selma, a blind factory worker who makes the ultimate sacrifice to save her son’s eyesight. Criticised by some for all too clearly manipulating the audience’s response to Selma’s plight, the combination of extreme sentimentality and Dogme 95-style reality (although all the rules of that restrictive doctrine are in fact ignored) turn the film into something wonderfully unique. And importantly, Von Trier understands the powerful essence of the film musical – that the songs represent the soul crying out to be heard where dialogue just won’t suffice. An extraordinary film.

58    The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

Dir. Paul Greengrass

The third Jason Bourne film, and the second from Paul Greengrass, leaves the first two standing as the heart-pounding action cranks up to dangerously high levels. Bourne (Matt Damon) continues to search for his true identity across Paris, London, Madrid, Tangier and New York, each location providing a sensational dramatic set-piece. Greengrass’ camera rarely settles for the two-hour running time, so expect your head to be reeling as the final credits roll. Undoubtedly the most exhausting and exhilarating action movie of the decade.

57    Syndromes And A Century (2006)

Dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul

With a steady camera and delicately precise framing similar to Yasujiro Ozu, Weerasethakul succeeds in creating a sweet and subtle portrait of two separate hospitals 40 years apart. The first is a calm rural retreat and the second is a bustling city medical centre, with identical scenes played out in both but differing outcomes, suggesting that certain times and places can transform people. The film was initially banned in its homeland of Thailand after Weerasethakul refused to remove scenes considered inappropriate by the censors, stating that “there is no reason to mutilate them in fear of the system. Otherwise there is no reason for one to continue making art.” Limited screenings later showed a blank screen during the missing sections in protest. Syndromes And A Century is a beautiful testament to a director’s artistic conviction.

56    The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)

Dir. Joel Coen

The Coen Brothers’ lovingly crafted film noir is as good as the best entries from the 1940’s and 1950’s. Like a cracking James M. Cain story, The Man Who Wasn’t There concerns barber Ed Crane’s (Billy Bob Thornton) predicament as he attempts to blackmail his wife’s lover, only for things to spiral out of control. Great support is given here by James Gandolfini, Scarlett Johansson and Coens regular Frances McDormand. With steady but gorgeous cinematography, where every bristle of hair and puff of smoke sparkles, this sensational noir homage is recommended to anyone who may think things always look better in colour.

55    Big Fish (2003)

Dir. Tim Burton

A joyous, free-falling fantasy from Tim Burton, taking a break from the adaptations and re-imaginings of recent years to present a completely original and dazzling story. Big Fish floats from one extraordinary event to another, making the viewing experience all the more surprising. In his best film since Ed Wood, Burton gives us another Ed who is equally full of tall tales and big ideas. Ed Bloom recalls a life filled with unusual characters and bizarre incidents, only we’re never quite sure who or what to believe. Excellent ensemble work from Ewan Macgregor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Billy Cruddup, Helena Bonham-Carter, Steve Buscemi and Danny De Vito in a charming and personal film from the dark master of Hollywood.

54    Up (2009)

Dir. Pete Docter, Bob Peterson

The unbroken chain of brilliant films from the Pixar studios from Toy Story onwards could be compared to Disney’s own gold run after their late 1980’s revival. But after the release Up it seems clear that the company had reached a maturity and prodigious creativity comparable to Disney’s original golden era of the 1930’s and 1940’s, where consistent artistic excellence and innovation were the order of the day. Incredibly, Up has the same dramatic poignancy of Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, a similar story of a widower taking a touching road trip with a young companion, but still manages to reach a wide family audience. A momentous achievement.

53    The Diving Bell And The Butterfly (2007)

Dir. Julian Schnabel

Based on the inspiring memoir of journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby, who wrote an account of his life after a paralyzing stroke left him with only the ability to lift his left eyelid, Julian Schnabel does a poetic and moving job of bringing this supposedly difficult-to-film story to life. Mathieu Amalric portrays Bauby, displaying great apathy and sincerity in a performance that largely involves him blinking a single eye. Bauby’s physical confinement juxtaposes with lively flashbacks of his time as editor of Elle magazine, as well as his own vivid fantasies of idyllic beaches and mountains. Along the way we encounter other characters who are similarly confined, including a friend who was held captive for years, and Bauby’s father (Max Von Sydow) who is too frail to escape his high-rise flat. The Diving Bell And The Butterfly is a rich and inspirational viewing experience.

52    The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)

Dir. Wes Anderson

Critics seemed to miss the boat on this one, but it’s my personal favourite of all Wes Anderson’s films. A colourful and quirky ocean adventure, like Woody Allen adapting Jules Verne, The Life Aquatic maintains Anderson’s dry comic approach to dysfunctional family life. A tribute to Jacques Cousteau as well as a thoughtful paean to childhood and a child’s spirit of adventure, the film mixes beautifully surreal sets and stop-motion animation from Henry Selick with a soundtrack of Seu Jorge covering David Bowie songs in Portugese – what’s not to like? Bill Murray leads a great cast including Cate Blanchett, Michael Gambon, Jeff Goldblum, Angelica Huston, Owen Wilson and Willem Dafoe. Uniquely Wes Anderson yet still unlike anything else ever made.

51    Heaven (2002)

Dir. Tom Tykwer

Krzysztof Kieslowski died before filming his love-on-the-run screenplay, so it was left to Tom Tykwer to bring it to the screen. Part of an uncompleted trilogy (with Hell and Purtgatory), Heaven opens as Phillipa (Cate Blanchett) plants a bomb designed to murder a corrupt Italian businessman, but unknowingly kills four people including a mother and child. But young Carabinieri clerk Filippo (Giovanni Ribisi) falls in love with Phillipa during her questioning and helps her to escape. The critical backlash against this film now seems absurd because Heaven clearly succeeds in every respect. Moments of unbearable tension sit alongside moments of astounding beauty and, despite committing a heinous act, the audience’s sympathy towards the fugitives is affectingly palpable. Possibly the most underrated film of the decade.

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