What a douzy this last decade has been! We began with fear of the apocalypse as all the digital clocks flipped over to the Y2K , and then, as we reached the year that 2001: A Space Odyssey was set in, we really did experience the end of the world, as we knew it. Any wonder, then, that much of the cinematic landscape looked so bleak in the mid-Naught’s? Inevitably, there were movies about 9/11 and the Iraq War, many of which were critically acclaimed but box-office flops, as clearly, the movie-going public was desperate for escapism. So of course, Hollywood obliged with bigger and more CGI-filled spectacles than ever before! None of those are on my 10 for 2010 list, however. Hollywood feels like its running on empty these days, nary an original idea coming out, all sequels and adaptations. The best movies these days are from independents or mavericks. They are intensely personal or intensely passionate. And, I think, they are full of hope, because Art is really good at giving hope. Thanks, Art!
So the first part of my 10 for 2010 focuses on filmmakers who have been around for a while, but who have influenced cinema greatly in the past ten years (or more), and continue to inspire. We must learn from our wise ones!
1. Wernor Herzog
And who is more wise than Wernor Herzog? Or he is just the most insane? The man has made 57 films or television shows to date, over ten in the last decade, and two opening at the Toronto Film Festival this year! He has made some of the most fascinating documentaries ever, including 2005’s Grizzly Man.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CYO6QCaXVk (Grizzly Man trailer)
An interesting thing to note is that Herzog’s documentaries are true only to what he calls the “poetry of the truth,” not “actual truth” itself. I was shocked at first to learn that sometimes he makes up details and stories for his subjects, things that didn’t happen but that he defends as being true to the feeling, the emotion. One generally thinks of a documentary as being objective, “all fact”, though what is seldom acknowledged is that truth always depends on how facts are framed, and can thus never be completely objective. I love his philosophy in general:
“The bottom line is, The Poet must not avert his eyes. You have to take a bold look at your environment, at what is around you. Even the ugly things, even the decadent things. “ (Herzog as quoted in this interview during which he gets shot by an LA sniper)
Herzog certainly continues to challenge our perceptions and definitions of cinema, and may he continue to do so for a long time.
2. Agnes Varda
Agnes Varda has been making films even longer than Herzog, and though not as prolific, her work made her one of the few women associated with the French New Wave. But in the year 2000, she made The Gleaners and I (2000), a thoughtful, very personal and very poetic documentary about aging, painting, consumerism and waste, gleaning and garbage picking. It might be one of my favourite film essays of all time, and foreshadows the current interest in the local and the sustainable. Varda uses the miniDV video format to foreground the intimate details of looking, capturing, documenting.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKgjjEJvMbM (The Gleaners and I)
Varda’s newest work is called The Beaches of Agnes (2009), which travels from her childhood to clips and anecdotes about her work, to her relationship with husband and fellow French filmmaker Jacques Demy, perhaps best known for his wonderful musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Not enough people know about Agnes Varda, but hopefully, this will change.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUUq1HPE6IE (The Beaches of Agnes)
3. Spike Jonze
Spike Jonze has been one of my favourite filmmakers for a long, long time; his works are highly original and postmodern. Adaptation (2002) was clever on so many levels, Being John Malkovich (1999) was playful and downright screwy, and his music videos (for The Chemical Brothers, Bjork, The Beastie Boys, to name but a few) are the best I’ve ever seen, jaw-droppingly brilliant in concept and execution. With his highly anticipated Where the Wild Things Are, to be released this fall, Spike uses animatronic puppetry (by Jim Henson Creature Shop) rather than depend completely on CGI. Is this the way to the future? Does the past repeat itself? I admit, I rarely see any CGI that I love. It’s too often much too shiny, too clean, too, well, too computery. Puppets are WAY cooler. And every trailer I've seen so far just makes my heart ache.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aG16ceUP3v4 (Where the Wild Things Are, featurette)
4. Paul Greengrass
Paul Greengrass is a Brit who started out directing made-for tv movies, and co-authored a book called Spycatcher that the British government tried unsuccessfully to ban. But he came to prominence in 2002 with Bloody Sunday, a pure revelation in docudrama. It's riveting, gritty, chilling, sickening, but not in the least bit exploitative or overdone. Bloody Sunday reminded me of every civil rights movement in history, of Kent State, Tiananmen Square. It’s a completely necessary film, an outrage, a challenge, an impassioned shout for justice.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oAw9FPwuTY (Bloody Sunday trailer)
Based on that film, Greengrass was hired to direct The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, both of which were taut, well-done thrillers with amazing action sequences (maybe there’s still some hope for Hollywood). He also directed United 93 (2006), a portrayal of the events of 9/11 and the plane that didn’t reach its target. It’s a difficult subject, one that I have very complex feelings about regarding the necessity of its existence. I had previously decided it was a film I didn’t want to see, but after viewing Bloody Sunday, I just might change my mind.
Stay tuned for Part II!