The Back Row Manifesto’s Incredibly Personal, Completely Subjective List of the Best Films of The Decade (2000-2009) will be unveiled over the course of the month of December. Think of it as a sort of misguided advent calendar without the little chocolate surprises. Either way, thanks for reading and please check back every day over the next few weeks for the full list. The introduction to the list can be found here.
Looking back across the decade, no American film sticks out more like a sore thumb than Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. Every time I see it, and that number grows larger and larger on an almost bi-monthly basis, I find new facets at which to marvel; an undiscovered, twisted facial expression, the purr and hiss of a word or sentence, the gnarl of a hand, the texture and meaning of the light in a shot. Unlike so many of his predecessors who have bowed in homage to the style and rhythms of the filmmaking of the 1970’s, Anderson not only gets it right, he betters many of his masters by understanding that the unruliness and freedom of the early twentieth century was the axis upon which the modern condition continues to turn. And so, trading in the loose and shaggy acting, the use of contemporary folk music and the misty-eyed sexual politics of the 1970’s in favor of a deeply rigorous use of the camera, a brilliant, flawlessly taut performance by Daniel-Day Lewis (the best of the decade by a man, I think), an absolutely stunning score by Johnny Greenwood (the best of the decade by anyone, I think) and a script that drills deep into the heart of American pathology, There Will Be Blood is a monument to the power of cinema to transform history into something far more moving, meaningful and relevant than any other medium could allow.
No movie captures the roots of the existential madness, greed, religious charlatanism and obsessive plundering of American resources quite like There Will Be Blood and, as such, no movie captures the terror of living under the Bush Administration quite like it, either. Here is the American soul laid bare for all to see; a greedy swindler feigning faith in order to be granted just enough trust to fuck an entire community over for all time. And the worst part of all? You feel as though they have it coming to them all along. Watching the prowling, growling Daniel Plainview devour suckers and rubes as if they were nothing more than an appetizer for the big meal ahead, well, I couldn’t help but shake my head with instant recognition of Anderson’s note perfect indictment of our times. Buried under the hard work and “entrepreneurial” spirit of Plainview’s oil prospecting racket is the timely notion that business, unregulated, speculative, life-destroying business, is the natural condition of the American experience, and woe unto he who gets in the way of a man trying to get as rich as he can. The film lays Plainview’s cards on the table when he meets with representatives of the Standard Oil company who are looking to get him out of the picture for a million dollars; all of that huckstering and preying upon good manners and naivete is useless, and a battle of pure will and power rips Plainview from the comfort of his bag of tricks and into an irrational rage. When they suggest he simply sell and enjoy his time with his son, Plainview pauses. “Did you just tell me how to run my family?,” he hisses. “One night, I’m going to come to your house, wherever you’re sleeping and I’m going to cut your throat.” And if you thought Plainview didn’t take his family seriously, just wait for the moment when he learns the truth about his brother, Henry.
There are so many opposing forces at work in this film, so much conflict between façades of dignity, honor, family and the grim realities of business, exploitation, ego and greed, that it seems impossible that the story could resolve itself. Well, look around you; it hasn’t. Of course, each of these dynamics clash not only between the characters but within them, and it is the complexity of these relationships between men and their true selves that sets Anderson apart as, in my opinion, a true genius. Nothing captures that genius more concisely than the two unforgettable scenes that send the move hurtling to its conclusion; Plainview’s humbling at the altar of the small town preacher Eli Sunday and its rhyming moment of pure revenge and one of the best finales in the recent cinema; Plainview’s exposure of Sunday’s own hypocrisy and greed in the infamous “I Drink Your MILKSHAKE!” sequence that finally unleashes the insanity buried inside of Plainview…
Anyone who believes that the title of this film is referring simply to the blood spilled from Eli Sunday’s head is perhaps being a little too literal; The 2000’s were soaked in the blood of Daniel’s worldview. The Cult of Family. False Prophets. Drainage. This, ladies and gentlemen, is my American decade. What a movie.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood
23. Quiet City by Aaron Katz
22. Mutual Appreciation by Andrew Bujalski
21. Frownland by Ronald Bronstein
20. Marie Antoinette by Sofia Coppola
19. Up The Yangtze by Yung Chang
18. Platform by Jia Zhang-Ke
17. Tarnation by Jonathan Caouette
16. Lilya 4-Ever by Lukas Moodysson
15. Far From Heaven/ I’m Not There by Todd Haynes
14. Sideways by Alexander Payne
13. Into Great Silence by Philip Gröning
12. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner by Zacharias Kunuk