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Decade's Best

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    The Best Film of the Decade

    “This is all recorded.”

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    Best of the Decade #2

    At the heart of the film critical impulse lies the question, what is cinema for? This is central, even if not asked directly, even if the work at hand seems to hold no loftier ambitions than the avoidance of its own calamitous end. The act of writing on a particular film always points to an alternate work that might have been, one that exists only in the critic’s mind. Imagining a better or different object than the one at hand automatically introduces thorny questions of ideals and quintessentials, which in turn lead to purposes and absolutes. And if such a thing as a definitive “for” in cinema can be defined, captured in a bottle, then w...

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    Best of the Decade #3

    A man and a woman passing each other on a dark stairwell; the same man and woman trapped in a bedroom together, chastely waiting for a marathon canasta game to expire so they can separate without provoking unearned suspicion; the same man and woman walking down a cobblestone street pretending to be another man and woman, pretending to be in love, pretending not to be in love. These are some of the more vivid memories of Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love I’ve carried around since first viewing it almost nine years ago. It has remained one of the most shattering moviegoing experiences of my life. In my recollection, and that of many others, t...

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    Best of the Decade #4

    At the beginning of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset, Ethan Hawke’s Jesse answers questions at a book signing in Paris. He doesn’t realize it, but Celine (Julie Delpy), the radiant Frenchwoman with whom he spent one enchanted evening in Vienna some nine years ago in Sunset’s predecessor Before Sunrise, watches him from a corner. Jesse shares an idea he has for a novel that takes place during the span of a single pop song: A thirtysomething father watches his five-year-old daughter climb onto a table to dance, and he’s transported back to the night he lost his virginity at the age of 16. He sees his girlfriend dance to the same song on the ro...

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    Best of the Decade #5

    The English translation of Syndromes and a Century’s Thai title, Sang sattawat, which means “light of the century,” sounds atypically grandiose for humble filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul. It’s a reference perhaps to the illuminating presence of cinema, which corresponds roughly to the beginning and end of the 20th century, or maybe the medium’s digital successors that cast their own kind of light onto an uncertain 21st. If anyone should carry this torch, there’s none better than Weerasethakul, who, at 39, has already crafted a body of films that easily rank among the most important of recent years, if not decades, and whose own hybriditie...

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    Best of the Decade #6

    The first decade of the 21st century, even with all the technological changes that have greatly expanded knowledge of our origins and pointed towards our potential futures, holds no monopoly on the great unending debate of what the word “human” means. But this troubled decade may well have produced one of the purest artistic examinations to date of what makes us us. Steven Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence only seemed truly landmark to a few hardy souls back in the naive summer of 2001 (as an aside, if it weren’t for A.I., a true cinematic rallying point for myself, my co-editor, and several other Reverse Shot writers, this journal it...

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    Best of the Decade #7

    After I resolved to write about about Claire Denis’s L’Intrus for this round-up, I decided it might make sense to start with my piece on the film from 2005, when it placed sixth on Reverse Shot’s list of the year’s best films. That it has leapfrogged all but one of the titles ahead of it from that year for this best-of-the-decade reckoning probably speaks to some prosaic matters, like an influx of new writers and a general reshuffling of the auteurist deck amongst this critical circle (Denis’s stock has gone up, as evidenced by the recent Reverse Shot retrospective on her career). But it also suggests that, for all its utterly enveloping, imm...

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    Best of the Decade #8

    Somewhere in the middle of Hou Hsiao-hsien's Flight of the Red Balloon, the film’s protagonist, Suzanne, is sharing a quiet train carriage with her son’s Taiwanese nanny, Song, and the puppet master Ah Zhong, who has just given a lecture on Chinese puppetry techniques. Suzanne, who has been gazing out of the window absently, suddenly pulls a postcard from her scrapbook. It’s a gift, she tells Song to translate to Ah Zhong, an image of something she saw at the British Museum in London when she was working there as a nanny. It is deeply personal to her, she explains, but also something she feels is quintessentially Chinese—“la Chine profonde”—a...

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    Best of the Decade #9

    It’s almost astonishing now to think of the teakettle tempest that erupted when Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne were awarded the Palme d’Or for their Rosetta by David Cronenberg’s Cannes jury in 1999. That such a seemingly modest slice of peculiarly assertive social realism could triumph in a field almost exclusively reserved for art-house white elephants or Hollywood fare inflated by critical fawning was, at the very least, highly unlikely. Yet Cronenberg and company’s verdict was not simply a career-making coup for the brothers, but a rather bold recognition of those spaces going unfilled in contemporary cinema. Against the turf-staking instin...

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    Best of the Decade #10

    At the time of its release in December 2007, Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood received a wave of critical kudos, praising its formal control, bravura central performance, and idiosyncratic take on the Upton Sinclair novel from which it is loosely based. Among the multiple lines of critical and cultural discourse surrounding the film, however, one particularly stands out: the notion of There Will Be Blood—with its central conflict between cutthroat oil prospector Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) and zealous small-town preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) in 1911 California— as a kind of demonic origin tale for the state of contemporary...

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