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The best films of the decade - II

November 29, 2010

In continuing with the list of the best films of this decade (2000 to 2009), here is the second part. Part 1 can be published here.

6. Let The Right One In (2008, Sweden, Magnolia Pictures)

Directed by: Tomas Alfredson

Vampires have become a bad cliché in films. Their image has been constantly revamped and revitalised to suit the film’s marketing purposes. And with time, many seem to have forgotten the human dilemma that any vampire faces.This film defies all that and much more.

Welcome to the world of a 12-year-old girl who lurks in the suburbs of Stockholm as a vampire. She doesn’t know when she was born and neither does she believe that she can ever find companionship within the human society. One night, she meets Oskar (a twelve-year-old boy) who is a social misfit and is often bullied at school. Each night he plans revenge on these bullies. She instantly falls for Oskar but is afraid he will never understand her.

The film almost plays like a beautiful sonata. No scene overexposes its dramatic potential, the CGI effects are smartly done and the romance between the two protagonists is so well-played, it can put the Twilight films to shame. I also think it was a smart move to allow John Ajvide Lindqvist (author of the book on which this film is based on) to write the screenplay as it allowed Alfredson to visually translate and design every shot and Mise en scène of the film. But ultimately, the strength of the film is the chemistry between the two main characters and thankfully, it does not shy away from that aspect which makes this a unique film on vampires.

7. The Man Without A Past (2002, Finland)

Directed by: Aki Kaurismaki

Bleak, droll acting always dominates Kaurismaki’s films. Since the 1990s he has engaged himself in finding the perfect balance between the sluggish drama and bleak humor. This film has finally achieved that exact strange balance. The result? Simply marvelous.

A man travels to Helenski in search of work. As he falls asleep on the park beach, some local hoodlums mug him, severely injuring his head in the process. When he wakes up in the hospital, he realises that he has amnesia.  From there on, he begins a new life.

It is quite refreshing to watch a comedy film without the necessity of laughing at the obvious routines placed by the filmmaker. Kaurismaki specifically works on an original brand of comic stylisation. Of course, the place depicted in the film never really exists. But yet you cannot deny the fact that you have been there. It is like living in the background of a Hanna Barbera cartoon, nothing seems to be moving and yet, you do feel life is slowly passing away. Who knew that humour could play out so well in such lethargic situations?

8. Amores Perros (2000, Mexico, Nu Vision)

Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Three (or more) loosely interlinked characters find themselves together at a single turn of an event. This sums up Iñárritu’s ‘Death Triology’ films. Apparently Amores Perros (his debut film) became such a hit overseas that Hollywood gave him a chance to direct two more films to complete his trilogy. After Amores Perros, he followed with 21 Grams (a reasonably good film but not in the league of his first one), and Babel (an unconvincing, clumsier version of the first two films).

The plot follows the lives of three main protagonists:

“Octavio y Susana” A young man named Octavio (Gael García Bernal) lives with his obnoxious brother and his young wife Susana, whom he has fallen in love with. As the story progress, he decides to run away with Susana but the only problem is that he does not have enough money.

“Daniel y Valeria” Valeria is a Spanish supermodel who has captured the hearts of everyone (including the secondary characters in the film). In comes Daniel, a rich magazine publisher who decides to leave his wife and kids to marry Valeria.

“El Chivo y Maru” This story is about a man named Chivo who abandons his wife and daughter in search of fulfilling his revolutionary duties but this ultimately lands him in prision. Twenty years have passed since then, Chivo is old, tired but dreams of reuniting with his family.

The film is astounding and engaging in terms of its rugged dialogue and hybrid, hand-held visuals that cultivate the plot inch by inch, even sometimes playing as a Hitchcock-ian thriller. The actors are more than convincing as their counterparts, the story never lags and the backdrop of the film brings authenticity to the story. Although the stories and themes take place in Mexico, the key elements in the film are universal to any country.

9. Werckmeister Harmonies (2000, Hungary)

Directed by: Béla Tarr

The protagonist looks into the eye of the Carcass Whale, searching for the hidden truth behind every social misfit and unrest that his small town is going through. He stares long enough and whispers, “See how much trouble you have caused?”

The film takes place in a small town on the Hungarian Plains where it is always cold and the mood of the crowd is always miserable. Luckily, there is a circus coming to town. They will be displaying a huge Carcass Whale and the “Prince” will be the guest star of the show. But as the story unfolds, turns out there is no "Prince" slated to appear in the show. Angry and devastated, the locals take their rage out on the streets, hospitals and public property.

What exactly is it about this film that makes it so appealing? Is it the black and white cinematography, the cold calculated performances or the depiction of the bygone nature of humanity? The film is definitely open for many different interpretations. Some might say it is the study of human nature under its most peaceful circumstances while others contemplate the natural human desire of pessimistic thoughts and destruction. Either way, Béla Tarr has created a quiet, poetic masterpiece that should never be underestimated.

10. George Washington (2000, USA, Cowboy Pictures)

Directed by: David Gordon Green

During a Charlie Rose interview, Green stated the reason he named the film ‘George Washington’ was to illustrate the innocence of a child living in America, listening to the ‘cherry tree’ story of George Washington and admiring that good values can triumph over all obstacles.

The film takes place in a small town in southern part of the US where a group of underprivileged kids hang out, discovering life and freedom. Unfortunately, a tragic incident takes place and all the kids need to stay together in order to survive the outcome.

It is a beautiful and sentimental film that explores the underbelly of American poverty stricken districts that are almost never depicted on film. This is an impressive and quite mature debut film by David Gordon Green who not only understands the rural settings of America but is able to translate it into such patient and lyrically moving pictures that will always leave you wanting for more. This film is a magnificent study of a child’s point of view of how he views the world. And it is a privilege to be invited to such a viewing.

Other films on the list:

11 Spirited Away (2001, Japan)

12 A Serious Man (2009, USA)

13 Gosford Park (2001, USA)

14 Mulholland Drive (2001, USA)

15 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007, Romania)

16 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, USA)

17 Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, Mexico)

18 Peppermint Candy (2000, South Korea)

19 The Pianist (2002, Poland/France/Germany/England)

20 Santouri (2007, Iran)

21 Nobody Knows (2004, Japan)

22 Zodiac (2007, USA)

23 In The Mood For Love (2000, China - Hong Kong)

24 Punch-Drunk Love (2002, USA)

25 No Country For Old Men (2007, USA)

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.