12 October 2009

FILM CANONS – The decade draws to a close

'The Lives of Others'; one of the best films of the decade?

My blogging habits of late have been woefully inconsistent. I have been commissioned to write a book on Indian cinema and so most of my time has currently been overwhelmed by the demands of research. So many films seem to be passing me by with great annoyance and I can foresee that it is going to be somewhat of a problem negotiating my way through an ever increasing pile of DVDs. However, as this decade is quickly drawing to a close, lists have steadily started to appear across the blogosphere. I’m already under the impression that this decade is likely to come up short in terms of quality cinema when compared to the memorable world cinema scene of the 90s. This has arguably been the decade that DVD and the Internet answered the old age question to do with accessibility and availability that continues to haunt the discerning cinephile. So, what have been the best films of the decade? I have never been a fan of film cannons but in many ways top ten lists continue to provide a great source of debate amongst cinephiles. I personally think it is wise to have two separate best of decade lists – one for Hollywood and the other dedicated to non mainstream, world cinema films.

A few weeks back, The Observer (a Sunday newspaper), published a list titled ‘The Best British films of the last 25 years’ in their magazine supplement. Not only was the list made up of predictable, mainstream films but many of them including the likes of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ and ‘Shaun of the Dead’ were granted a place for inexplicable reasons to do with commercial sensibilities rather than be judged on valuable artistic merits. Michael Winterbottom was painfully represented by ’24 Hour Party People, one of his most recognisable films but also his most mediocre when compared to ‘Wonderland’ and ‘In this World’. Ken Loach appeared just once with his 1991 social realist comedy, ‘Riff Raff’, when in reality films like ‘Sweet Sixteen’ and ‘The Wind That Shakes The Barley’ should have also been fully represented. I wasn’t too sure if the Jonathan Glazer directed ‘Sexy Beast’ should have been included either, considering how uneven his career has been.

Surely the most dubious entry of all was Anthony Minghella’s ‘The English Patient’, a Miramax production shot in Italy and Tunisia. Whilst this may be a sweeping epic (another unfriendly marketing euphemism), other than the presence of a British crew made up of Minghella, Kristin-Scott Thomas and Ralph Fiennes, it to me falls short of attracting the status of a British film. I was also duly disheartened by The Observer’s dismissal of significantly authentic and prescient contemporary British films like ‘Yasmin’, ‘My Son The Fanatic’, ‘Raining Stones’, ‘Bloody Sunday’, ‘The Last Resort’ and ‘Dirty Pretty Things’. I might just have to put together my own list so that I can prove how characteristically pedestrian the art of canonizing can become if one is solely motivated by popularity.

So here is the question I would like to ask; what are the ten best Hollywood and non Hollywood films of the last ten years? I will be putting up my list sometime in November and I am looking forward to seeing what the major film critics, academics and friends on the blogosphere have to offer in the coming months.


  1. Welcome back Omar! And what a way to come back! First off, my best wishes for your book...

    I started watching movies three years ago and have rarely caught a great movie at the time of its release. Nevertheless, here is my tentative list from the minuscule amount of movies I've seen (I'm assuming that the year 2000 is included):

    Hollywood? Demarcation is tough, I have to exclude Michael Moore and other pseudo-indie directors.

    Hollywood (No particular order)
    Babel (Inarittu)
    Before Sunset (Linklater)
    Rachel Getting Married (Demme)
    Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino)
    Kill Bill (1&2) (Tarantino)
    Into The Wild (Penn)
    Match Point (Allen)
    Mullholland Dr. (Lynch)
    The Aviator (Scorsese)
    The Dark Knight (Nolan)

    Special Mention: Unbreakable (Shyamalan)

    World Cinema (No particular order)

    Coffee And Cigarettes (Jarmusch)
    Werckmeister Harmonies (Tarr)
    The Lives Of Others (Donnersmarck)
    Hey Ram (Haasan)
    The Motorcycle Diaries (Salles)
    In Bruges (McDonagh)
    The Piano Teacher (Haneke)
    Old Boy (Chan Wook)
    No Man’s Land (Tanović)
    Persepolis (Paronnaud/Satrapi)

    Specian Mention: 12:08 East of Bucharest (Porumboiu)

    Damn, it's just tough. I have left off somee of my favvorite films without any good reason. Let's see how it turns out.


  2. A big thank you Srikanth for your much appreciated comments. I haven't had time to leave a comment on your detailed deconstruction of IB - your succinct analysis of Tarantino is impressive and very intelligently written. Reflecting on your position has made me one to go back and revisit the film because I think may need to have a closer look at what could be an important American film. I see that it made it in your top ten. Still haven't seen 'Hey Ram' which has always intrigued me. I like how you have made a conscious decision to recategorise Jarmusch as a world cinema film maker, nice. Not so sure about 'The Aviator' though - impressively mounted but worthy of repeated viewings? An excellent set of lists overall. In reply to your insighful commentary on 'the revenge of the giant face', Lee Van Cleef and the close up in general that Leone repeats in 'The Good, The Bad and The Ugly' could also be aligned to the intertextual universe of Tarantino.

  3. What we need is a separate blog just for end of decade lists.

  4. Looking forward to your list(s), and yeah, for your book on Indian cinema. I only hope that you don't pay more attention to Bollywood than it deserves :) Coming back to the list, I'll try and post one in your comments section hopefully sooner rather than later.

  5. Thanks. I've tried to steer away from using the term 'Bollywood', using instead the more sensible and less categorical 'Popular Indian Cinema'. I look forward to your lists.

  6. Thanks a million Omar for you comments. These films on my list are purely based on how they affected me during my first viewing. They may not stand close scrutiny, but these were the films, I could say, that increased my love for cinema bit by bit. I had to exclude Pixar, Spielberg, Moore for this list. I'm sure There WIll Be Blood and No Country For Old Men are going to be given a good welcome in the lists to follow.

    The Aviator pipped The Reader by a margin because of the fact that it showed me that Scorsese could make such a personal film out of a seemkingly bland biopic too!

  7. Instead of listing best Hollywood & non-Hollywood movies, I listed them as best English-language & non-English movies (according to me). Movies in each respective list have been arranged chronologically in order of their years of release.

    Best English-language movies:

    1. Memento (US, ’00) – Christopher Nolan
    2. Mulholland Drive (US, ’01) – David Lynch
    3. Mystic River (US, ’03) – Clint Eastwood
    4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (US, ’04) – Michel Gondry
    5. Capote (US, ’05) – Bennett Miller
    6. A History of Violence (UK/Can, ’05) – David Cronenberg
    7. Kill Bill Vol. I & II (US, ’03, ’04) – Quentin Tarantino
    8. Munich (US, ’05) – Steven Spielberg
    9. The Proposition (Aus, ’05) – John Hillcoat
    10. No Country for Old Men (US, ’06) – Joel & Ethan Coen

    Honorable mentions:
    1. Dancer in the Dark (Den, ’00) – Lars von Triar
    2. Minority Report (US, ’02) – Steven Spielberg
    3. Little Miss Sunshine (US, ’06) – Jonathan Dayton
    4. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (US, ’07) – Sidney Lumet
    5. Shotgun Stories (US, ’07) – Jeff Nichols

    Best non-English language movies:
    1. Amores Perros (Mex, ’00) – Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
    2. No Man’s Land (Serb/Bos, ’01) – Danis Tanovic
    3. Utsab (Ind, ’01) – Rituparno Ghosh
    4. Oldboy (Kor, ’04) – Park Chan-Wook
    5. A Bittersweet Life (Kor, ’05) – Kim Jee-woon
    6. Pan’s Labyrinth (Mex, ’06) – Guillermo Del Toro
    7. California Dreamin’ (Romania, ’07) – Cristian Nemescu
    8. 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (Rom, ’07) – Cristian Mungiu
    9. Let the Right One in (Swe, ’08) – Tomas Alfredson
    10. Waltz With Bashir (Isr, ’08) – Ari Forman

    Honorable mentions:
    1. Amelie (Fra, ’01) – Jean-Pierre Jeunet
    2. The Devil’s Backbone (Mex, ’01) – Guillermo Del Toro
    3. Y Tu Mama Tambien (Mex, ’01) – Alfonso Cuaron
    4. City of God (Bra, ’02) – Fernando Meirelles
    5. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (Kor, ’02) – Park Chan-Wook
    6. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring (Kor, ’03) – Kim Ki-Duk
    7. Bad Education (Spa, ’04) – Pedro Almodovar
    8. Goodbye, Lenin! (Ger, ’04) – Wolfgang Becker
    9. 2046 (HK, ’04) – Wong Kar-Wai
    10. 12:08 East of Bucharest (Rom, ’06) – Corneliu Porumboiu
    11. The Diving Bell & the Butterfly (Fra, ’07) – Julian Schnabel
    12. Revanche (Aut, ’08) – Gotz Spielmann

  8. I like this idea of honorable mentions. The Hollywood list is very respectable; Munich is perhaps Spielberg’s best film to date. Not so sure about Capote though; I remember Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance but nothing much else about the film. I guess one I need to return to. The Proposition is another great choice but isn’t that an Australian film? No Country For Old Men is one I had my doubts about but it is a film that grows on you.

    As for your world cinema list, I too was suitably impressed by ‘A Bittersweet Life’, even though it was horrendously reworked as ‘Awarapan’ with Emran Hashmi. City of God is great the first time you watch it but repeated viewings exposes many problems with the film including over stylisation. The Romanian New wave continues to offer us with some of the best world cinema. I can see why you included films like ‘4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days’.

    It was a pleasure readings your films of the decade. Thanks Shubhajit.

  9. Thanks a lot Omar for the appreciation. It was a pleasure on my part to sit down and make those lists. As for the honorable mentions, on a different day t one or two from them could make the top 10 lists of mine.

    Well, as for Capote, I quite loved the movie, and not just Hoffman's stellar performance - I found it a dark, layered movie like Mystic River. Yeah, Proposition is an Australian movie. As I mentioned, I made the list as English & non-English movies, instead of Hollywood & non-Hollywood movies. Even A History of Violence & Dancer in the Dark aren't American movies. As for world cinema, you rightly observed that I have a fascination for Romanian New Wave movies. I also love the Mexican New Wave movies.

    By the way, looking forward to your lists.