A Final Look Back at the Decade that Was in Film
This New Year I found myself looking back over the last decade rather than the year that has just passed. Naturally, this included all the conventional lists, but as my memory is lame, this proved extraordinarily difficult. And so, my lists were composed not so much of what I thought was the best work of the decade, but the work that I best remembered.
Of course, that's really what's important, anyway. I mean, as individuals we should measure the success of a work of art not by any sort of intellectual or even comparative analysis, but how that work spoke to and affected each one of us. And so now, I look back at a few of my more significant cinematic experiences over the last decade.
In 2001, when the French film Amelie came out, it was an immediate romantic ideal. Unexpected, warm and beautiful, it suggested an incredible world of possibility that existed in the pedestrian landscapes of the everyday. And of course, Audrey Tautou was a stunning revelation--a beautiful synthesis of the unexpected inventiveness of Miranda July and the aesthetic of Audrey Hepburn. She was a perfect distillate of all our romantic aspirations--a somehow overlooked diamond-in-the-rough who was joyously alive and attendant to the world around her, her presence revealing the truth that yes, everything we want, actually wants us back.
I walked out of that movie theatre incredible hopeful, assured that love was waiting right around the corner.
Spirited Away came out in 2001 and at the time, I had never seen a Japanese Anime film. The truth was that I really didn't know what Anime actually was, thinking it was some sort of weird hybrid between kiddie porn and Science Fistion.
What I saw in Spirited Away was gorgeous, strange and kind of disturbing. The movie unfolded in an eerie world that was prosaic and familiar, while being simultaneously dislocating and alien. It was dreamlike and spooky, and you never had any sort of certainty that there was going to be a happy ending, and although the movie didn't exactly offer comfort, it did offer wonder. When I watched the melancholy passage of the ghost train transporting spirits across the water, I was completely awestruck, although I honestly can't explain why.
When I went to see Werner Herzog's 2005 film Grizzly Man, I was kind of expecting to see a comedic treatment of a ridiculous, if ultimately tragic life. And of course, the movie was funny, in a terribly bleak and lost way, but the story of Timothy Treadwell, for all the lunatic flourishes, was about a profoundly alienated person who just looking for some sort of role in a world in which he didn't' belong. And Herzog, in his unflinching way, held the camera past the point of performance, allowing us to see Treadwell's descent into madness, as well as the indifference of the natural world to the vanities of man. It was a freak-out, that movie, the first Herzog film that I had ever seen, and as I walked out of the theater I stumbled upon a beautiful woman weeping on a bench, a mystery that I will forever twin with the experience of watching that film.
John Cameron Mitchell's film Short Bus came out in 2006, and the only reason that I wanted to go see it was for the sex. Sook-Yin Lee, who was a Much Music (Canadian MTV) VJ and then a radio personality, was featured having hardcore sex in Short Bus, and that fact alone was sufficient to pique my interest. And of course, it was an art house film, which somehow served to validate the masculine instinct to porn. Yes, so my reasons for attending the movie were entirely superficial, and I expected no more engagement from it than I would from a video clip from a porn site.
However, Short Bus turned out to be an astonishing and uplifting movie. Amidst the cacophony of sex and ejaculate, was a truly touching and redemptive story, one that joyously celebrated human connectivity. And so, when I cynically attended what I thought was going to be a mechanical and lifeless pageant of sex, I was utterly floored and delighted to discover a funny and jubilant film about forgiveness and love.
Like everybody else, I went and saw the Star Trek prequel in 2009. In spite of all the critical praise it had been receiving, I didn't really expect to like it, but about half way through the film, I realized that I had a big, sloppy grin sliding all over my face. And then, shortly after realizing that, something completely unanticipated happened, I began to feel emotional.
I certainly don't consider myself a Trekkie, but in one form or another, the cast of the original show, have always been present in my life, and in a weird way, they're like old, friends of my parents. They were an adult presence that was always around, and I guess I kind of felt like they were watching me grow up--like my parent's friends-- just as I was watching them age.
Over the years, they've cycled in and out of favor, often being replaced by newer, cooler versions. The show became a camp classic, and it became positively embarrassing to watch the aging and portly actors running about in Federation uniforms that had been designed specifically to disguise their paunches.
The new Star Trek movie propelled us all back to a time before our own cultural consciousness, reconfiguring the crew as vigorous and ambitious. We got to see a glimpse of them before they were defined, before they were set in our minds forever. For me, it was like watching my parents, before they became my parents, when they had lives and identities that were their very own.
The actors who played Scotty and Bones in the original have passed away, just as some of the old friends of the family have, too. The movie made me think of my parent's and their generation of friends, of all the people who went through officer's training and nursing school n the 60's with them, and the kinship and camaraderie that they shared for decades after, as they watched over and protected one another's children and grandchildren. The movie called them all back to me, and I saw my parent's fallen friends--Blair Rogers, Bernie O'Neil, Norm Pascoe--written in the cast of the Star Trek crew, back before I knew them, when they were beautiful lions just setting out to try to realize their as yet unblemished fields of potential.
Michael Murray is a freelance writer. For the last three and a half years he's written a weekly column for the Ottawa Citizen about watching television. He presently lives in Toronto. You can find more of his musings on his blog, or check out his Facebook page.