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The best films of the decade -I

November 16, 2010

It is quite an experience for me to talk about films. Unbridled joy always takes over my mind and it is hard to curb the enthusiasm when talking about them. Looking at the past decade, it is hard to imagine where this digital revolution in film will lead us to but in the end, it never was such a daunting task for me to make the top ten list of the decade. Most of the films came instinctively in my mind as I sat down to pen my thoughts. Of course, it is humanly impossible for anyone to watch every single film of the decade but I did my fair share of viewing. And it is quite obvious that every reader will have their own specific top ten lists. So, let me present to you my top ten films list of the decade from 2000 to 2009.

1) There Will Be Blood (2007, USA, Paramount Vintage)

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

It is an extraordinary film. I doubt any film critic can deny that. I’ve been following Paul Thomas Anderson’s career for quite some time now. The first film that I watched of his was ‘Boogie Nights’ (1997). Since then, his work has always shined well above the others and I am not surprised that this film has made most of the critic’s top ten films of the decade list.

The film is based on a novel by Upton Sinclair titled ‘Oil’ where a ruthless oil explorer named Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day-Lewis in the film) is in search of wealth during the early twentieth century in Southern California. But slowly enough, greed consumes his mind and he calculatedly isolates himself from the rest of humanity.

Amorality plays an important part in depicting the oil rush at the turn of the nineteenth century. His reasoning and paranoia drives him towards self-isolation, abandoning his adopted son and anything that seems humane to him. The only character that he feels threatened by is the young man named Eli (Paul Dano) whose hunger for fame and power conflicts with his own selfish motives.

Not only does the film succeed in convincing its audience of the sheer amorality that transfers from the ruthless capitalist system onto the protagonist but it does so in a manner that is not clichéd. It is always implied that Plainview wants to bestow human kindness to his son but for him, that comes with a price of sacrificing his own motives of self-indulgence; something that he wouldn’t stand for. At the end of the film, he does not regret his actions. He did what was closest to his heart and he paid for it. For him, the concept of love is menial and a hindrance towards personal success. Yes, he is satisfied with his life. And so are we as this film ends.

2) City of God (2002, Brazil, Miramax Films)

Directed by: Fernando Meirelles & Kátia Lund

This decade has produced a great number of South American films that have made their mark at all international film festivals but no film stands as tall as Fernando Meirelles & Kátia Lund’s City of God.

Adapted from a novel by the same name, the story is set in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro where two gangs fight for ultimate supremacy as the drug lord of the region. And in between the two sides, there is a young photographer named Rocket who narrates the story as he follows its characters back and forth, explaining the rise and fall of the drug dealer named Li'l Dice.

It is really hard for any writer to describe the level of enthusiasm this film has in store for its viewer. The use of extreme close-ups, the flashbacks, the suburban nature, the vibrant colors, this film is the ultimate hybrid experience of what it is to be living in the City of God.

Never have I ever seen a film depict the culture of suburbs in such an extraordinary fashion. This film ends up using every post production technique you can possibly think of and the strangest part is, this all actually WORKS! I’ve seen this film a couple of times and no shot, no dialogue, nothing seems odd in anyway. I am quite astounded by the film even today and am sure that people will talk about it for decades to come.

3) Fog of War (2003,USA, Sony Pictures Classics)

Directed by: Errol Morris

Uncertainty always reigns supreme in all conflicts. This conflict that shook the entire nation; after the Vietnam War, America was never the same again. And no documentary has captured this better than Errol Morris’s Fog of War.

The documentary interviews late Robert McNamara; former US Secretary of Defense who dictates his ‘Eleven Lessons of War’, a humane, modern-day version of Machiavelli’s The Prince. Throughout the documentary, we follow McNamara’s rise to success and his appointment as John F. Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense.

Clearly, his views on conflicts have changed over the years. The gray areas of good and evil are more visible than ever before. The first rule that McNamara defines is ‘empathise with your enemy’. The documentary takes us back and forth to illustrate how conflicts are built and supported. Whether it’s the fall of Dominos or McNamara’s concerned eyes, the visuals are memorable and have a lasting effect on its viewer. Phillip Glass’s score is haunting and uncompromising.  And sadly enough, the information in the film compels its audience to turn back and realise we have learnt absolutely nothing from our past mistakes.  It is a chilling look at the nature of humanity as we all stand at the brink of total annihilation. I guess the last McNamara’s lesson sums it all: “You can’t change human nature.”

4) The Squid And The Whale (2005, USA, Samuel Goldwyn Films)

Directed by: Noam Baumbach

Imagine yourself as a young teen, living in late ’80s Brooklyn, New York City, where your parents have recently separated and your undivided attention means everything to them. On top of that, they are both writers.

Baumbach’s films are strangely intoxicating in their own way. His stories always speak of the hidden corners of everyday lives that we never seem to care about. The Squid And The Whale is not a film about parental separation per se but it quietly allows its characters to revolve around the plot, slowly developing their own senses and allowing them to evolve as the story progresses. For some, the film might be about nothing in particular. Parents at the brink of a divorce while the children question where their lives are headed. That is the beauty of Noah Baumbach’s films. It resists following the cliché pattern of Hollywood melodrama and denies the audience to predict the whole plot during the first segment of the film.

This is a film that defines the new wave of storytelling.  The interest of the film’s plot lies in our daily lives; we just don’t bother to look hard enough.

5) Turtles Can Fly (2004, Iran/Iraq, IFC Films)

Directed by: Bahman Ghobadi

Where and how do you find love in a place where everything else is gone?

The film takes place a few months before the US invasion of Iraq in a Kurdish refugee camp where a group of children sweep and clear minefields which they later sell in the black market to earn their daily bread. The leader of the pack is a 13-year-old boy named Satellite’ who is smart, charismatic and most probably one of the few people in the camp who can understand and speak English. He feels his position is threatened when he meets Hengov (a boy with disabilities) who has the ability of clairvoyance. Along with Hengov is his nine-year-old sister, Agrin (a rape victim) whom Satellite falls in love with.

This film constantly reminded me of Lord of the Flies in so many ways. The real protagonists of the film are not the adults but the children who follow through every obstacle from installing antennas to mounting a machine gun. The heart that has been put into this film is breathtaking. Although the plot follows a very bleak turn of events, the humor which is placed in-between every scene is quite remarkable and logical. Many have criticised the film to be biased but I don’t think it is.  The story gives a very neutral perspective of the nature of the early days of Iraq War and where it has led its people to. Ghobadi has a peculiar yet fascinating view of humanity and his films are definitely worth watching out for.

Next week: Watch this space for Part II of the list.

Jibran Khan is an independent filmmaker whose "Dast-e-Tanha" was selected for the Three Continental Film Festival. Khan’s also an aspiring writer – his short story "Meditations of a Hari," was published by the Oxford University Press.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.