31 July 2009

The Decade List: Some More Honorable Mentions (2002-2004)

While there are some stylistic and genre connections between some pairs of films below, the most unifying characteristic of all the films below is a certain boldness that makes them stand apart and above most of their peers. This boldness comes in many different forms but is commendable all-the-same. They are in no particular order.

Dahmer - dir. David Jacobson

Thinly utilizing small facts surrounding the infamous cannibal murderer Jeffrey Dahmer as a guide (I'm still convinced the screenplay shifted to specifics of Dahmer's case for broader appeal), Dahmer the film plays more like an Off-Off-Broadway play. Restricting most of the action to one location, Dahmer's apartment, director and co-writer David Jacobson molds Dahmer like a wordy character study and powerplay between a seductive killer (Jeremy Renner) and his prey (Artel Kayàru). I couldn't find anything to support this, but I was told, when the film was released theatrically in 2002, that positive reaction to the film dug it out of its direct-to-video hole (still then with its negative connotations), despite complaints from the victims' family members who objected to the portrayal of Dahmer as a sympathetic character. I suspect the unspoken objection was a result of the sexiness Renner brings to the character, his creepy intimacy and erotic taunting sure to make many people uneasy. Dahmer isn't a grand success by any means, but it's provocative enough to stand above the subsequent trend of serial-killer-sploitation flicks, including a Ted Bundy dud from the director of Freeway, that once invaded the once popular video rental stores.

With: Jeremy Renner, Bruce Davison, Artel Kayàru, Matt Newton, Dion Basco, Kate Williamson, Christina Payano, Tom'ya Bowden
Screenplay: David Jacobson, David Birke
Cinematography: Chris Manley
Music: Christina Agamanolis, Mariana Bernoski, Willow Williamson
Country of Origin: USA
US Distributor: Peninsula Films

Premiere: 21 June 2002 (Los Angeles)

Intolerable Cruelty - dir. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Unfairly regarded as a lesser effort from the brothers Coen, Intolerable Cruelty sits just beneath No Country for Old Men on my ranking of the filmmakers' ouevre this decade. With fiery performances from both George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Intolerable Cruelty is the madcap black comedy I (maybe unfairly) kept wishing The Ladykillers and Burn After Reading would be.

With: George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Geoffrey Rush, Cedric the Entertainer, Edward Herrman, Richard Jenkins, Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Adelstein, Julia Duffy
Screenplay: Robert Ramsey, Matthew Stone, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, story by Ramsey, Stone, John Romano
Cinematography: Roger Deakins
Music: Carter Burwell
Country of Origin: USA
US Distributor: Universal Studios

Premiere: 2 September 2003 (Venice Film Festival)
US Premiere: 30 September 2003

She's One of Us [Elle est des nôtres] - dir. Siegrid Alnoy

Edited from my earlier review: Fitting perfectly into a triple-feature of Werner Herzog's The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and Rolf de Heer's Bad Boy Bubby, the "heroine" of She's One of Us, Christine (Sasha Andres), just can't fit in with the world. She's a social cripple and, like our two other friends, likes to mimic dialogue and experiences from others and pull them off as her own. It's her only way of successfully communicating outside of her world of temp jobs and solitude. Eventually, she becomes one of "us"... or, more specifically, them. The collective "us" is always a "them," as she conforms to both office and social politics -- turning from wide-eyed and creepy to cold and cruel, and eventually finding herself a man (Eric Caravaca). Though Alnoy's first feature beams with an admirable eerieness, she composes several shots to be blatantly "arty" (see above), though her cool plasticity and use of the ugliest hue of red you'll ever see stylistically work through the rest of the film. Christine has a fascination that's quite comparable to Kaspar and Bubby, yet while Kaspar's story is tragic and Bubby's is darkly humorous, Christine's is coldly French.

With: Sasha Andres, Carlo Brandt, Eric Caravaca, Pierre-Félix Gravière, Catherine Mouchet, Mireille Roussel, Jacques Spiesser, Geneviève Mnich, Dominique Valadié
Screenplay: Siegrid Alnoy, Jérôme Beaujour, François Favrat
Cinematography: Christophe Pollock
Music: Gabriel Scotti
Country of Origin: France
US Distributor: Leisure Time Features/Home Vision

Premiere: 16 May 2003 (Cannes)
US Premiere: 10 April 2003 (Philadelphia International Film Festival)

Awards: Direction, Special Mention - Siegrid Alnoy (Thessaloniki Film Festival); FIPRESCI Prize - Siegrid Alnoy (Stockholm Film Festival)

Monster - dir. Patty Jenkins

Biopics like Monster aren't rare, no matter which way you swing. Monster is, all at once, an ordinary true-life (crime) drama, a parable of murder that searches for humanity within cruelty and a platform for a then-underrated actress to shine. You can see examples of all three in the above-mentioned Dahmer, but I've seldom seen an actor as vigorous as Charlize Theron is here. We all recognize how much Hollywood and the Academy love a gorgeous woman in ugly make-up; seven of the last ten Best Actress Oscar winners have been awarded to portrayals of famous women of the past century, all of which by actresses significantly more attractive than their subjects. Theron's performance haunted me more than any of the others (though Helen Mirren, Marion Cotillard and Hilary Swank were just as deserving of their trophies) and forced the possibly prosaic film into my thoughts for the days following.

With: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Lee Tergesen, Annie Corley, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Marco St. John, Marc Macaulay, Scott Wilson
Screenplay: Patty Jenkins
Cinematography: Steven Bernstein
Music: BT
Country of Origin: USA/Germany
US Distributor: Newmarket Films

Premiere: 16 November 2003 (AFI Film Festival)

Awards: Best Actress - Charlize Theron (Academy Awards); Best Female Lead - Theron, Best First Feature (Independent Spirits); Best Actress, Drama - Theron (Golden Globes); Best Actress, Silver Bear - Theron (Berlin International Film Festival); Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role - Theron (Screen Actors Guild)

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead - dir. Mike Hodges

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead is a subtle noir in plain clothes, quietly smoldering beneath the surface. Seeking to find answers for his brother's suicide, Clive Owen travels through familiar corridors, for us and, of course, for him. The four central actors do what they do best: Owen brooding, McDowell hamming, Rhys Meyers posing and Rampling looking slightly too classy for her role. Everything comes together magnificently in Owen's final discovery, a wonderfully nasty monkey wrench typically found within other films' subtext.

With: Clive Owen, Charlotte Rampling, Malcolm McDowell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Jamie Foreman, Ken Stott, Sylvia Sims
Screenplay: Trevor Preston
Cinematography: Michael Garfath
Music: Simon Fisher-Turner
Country of Origin: UK/USA
US Distributor: Paramount Classics

Premiere: 16 May 2003 (Cannes)
US Premiere: 18 February 2004 (Portland International Film Festival)

Anonymous - dir. Todd Verow

Few filmmakers are as consistently multifarious in their productions as Todd Verow, the Maine-born director best known for his terrible adaptation of Dennis Cooper's Frisk. As a friend of mine would say, if you throw enough pieces of meat at the wall, one is bound to stick. In Anonymous, Verow plays a character named Todd, a movie theatre manager whose lack of ambition is being hustled by the ticking clock of age. Still physically desirable, Todd substitutes professional enterprise with sexual ardor, cruising online and in bathroom stalls behind his lover's back. Anonymous is more effective a portrayal of a homosexual ignoramus than Lionel Baier's Garçon stupide. Both films transpire with an aggressive sexuality, but Verow's realism trumps Baier's attempts to mirror the digital revolution.

With: Todd Verow, Dustin Schell, Jason Bailey, Shawn Durr, Sophia Lamar, Craig Chester, Philly, Noah Powell, Lee Kohler, Florian Sachisthal, Elliott Kennerson
Screenplay: Todd Verow
Cinematography: Elliott Kennerson
Music: Jim Dwyer
Country of Origin: USA
US Distributor: Bangor Films

Premiere: February 2004 (Berlin International Film Festival)
US Premiere: 27 April 2004 (Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival)

A Tale of Two Sisters - dir. Kim Ji-woon

Is it just me? I'm often of the mindset that when it comes to J- or K-horror (or whatever one likes to call Korea's answer to Japanese ghost yarns) explanation is of little necessity. I don't know if missing the answers to all my questions is a result of not understanding some of the cultural implications of what's happening, but I always find myself puzzled near the end. Unlike the other Asian ghost flicks that were remade into lame(r) American ones that I've seen, Kim Ji-woon's A Tale of Two Sisters really doesn't appear to give a shit whether I (or anyone else, I hope) follow the course of action. And unlike the others, it doesn't really matter; it's spooky and strange enough to exist without needing to justify itself. Please let me know if I'm alone in these sentiments, which is entirely possible.

With: Lim Su-jeong, Moon Geun-Young, Kim Kap-su, Yum Jung-ah
Screenplay: Kim Ji-woon
Cinematography: Lee Mo-gae
Music: Lee Byung-woo
Country of Origin: South Korea
US Distributor: Tartan Films

Premiere: 13 June 2003 (South Korea)
US Premiere: 16 April 2004 (Philadelphia International Film Festival)

Awards: Best Picture (Screamfest)

Autumn [Automne] - dir. Ra'up McGee

Like the dapper cousin of I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, American director Ra'up McGee's French crime noir Autumn takes a more virile approach to the genre. Some may regard McGee's unwavering stylization and plotting as a fault, but he's thoroughly consistent. And sometimes that alone gets you points in my eyes.

With: Laurent Lucas, Irène Jacob, Benjamin Rolland, Dinara Drukarova, Michel Aumont, Samuel Dupuy, Denis Menochet, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Didier Sauvegrain
Screenplay: Ra'up McGee
Cinematography: Erin Harvey
Music: Cyril Morin
Country of Origin: France/USA
US Distributor: Truly Indie

Premiere: 10 September 2004 (Toronto International Film Festival)
US Premiere: 15 April 2005 (Filmfest DC)

Tony Takitani - dir. Jun Ichikawa

It was a safe choice for the first Haruki Murakami story to be adapted onscreen to be one of his lesser known short stories. While the decision was safe, Jun Ichikawa, who sadly passed away last year, composes Tony Takitani with an impressive delicacy, a trait that would be paramount in taking on any of Murakami's works.

With: Issei Ogata, Rie Miyazawa, Shinohara Takahumi, Hidetoshi Nishijima
Screenplay: Jun Ichikawa, based on the short story by Haruki Murakami
Cinematography: Taishi Hirokawa
Music: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Country of Origin: Japan
US Distributor: Strand Releasing

Premiere: 11 August 2004 (Locarno Film Festival)
US Premiere: January 2005 (Sundance)

Awards: Special Prize of the Jury, FIPRESCI Prize - Jun Ichikawa (Locarno Film Festival)

Calvaire [The Ordeal] - dir. Fabrice Du Welz

Fabrice Du Welz showcases a number of traits that seem to have disappeared in the horror genre. He's certainly a commendable visual artist, and with Calvaire and the later Vinyan, he appears well-versed in the traditions of American and European horror which makes Calvaire a much, much better reworking of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre than both the putrid official remake and Xavier Gens' vacant Frontière(s). Gens seems preoccupied with the nastiness of Massacre, which is such a common mannerism that it seldom, if ever, works when there's nothing to substantiate the grizzly malevolence. Thankfully, Du Welz focuses on Massacre's absurdist qualities, and this is what makes Calviare the tastier descendent.

With: Laurent Lucas, Jackie Berroyer, Brigitte Lahaie, Philippe Nahon, Jean-Luc Couchard, Philippe Grand'Henry, Gigi Coursigny
Screenplay: Fabrice Du Welz, Romain Protat
Cinematography: Benoît Debie
Music: Vincent Cahay
Country of Origin: France/Belgium/Luxembourg
US Distributor: Palm Pictures

Premiere: 18 May 2004 (Cannes Film Festival)
US Premiere: 11 August 2006 (New York City)

1 comment:

Charles Lyons said...

The Coen's 'Cruelty' is indeed underrated, but not nearly on the same level as their 08 near comedic masterwork "Burn After Reading".

But who knows, judging from the trailer, "A Serious Man" might surpass them all...