And with the curtains already beginning to close on us, the foyer slowly emptying and the hulking behemoth that is 2011 looming ominously on the aspect ratioed horizon what better opportunity is there to jump in our DeLoreans and take a nostalgic look back at the past ten years of cinematic splendour in order to pick out ten films that shone like precious jewels from the cavernous depths of 2001 to 2010.
Indeed, you needn’t look too far to stumble across a proliferation of end of the year “Best Of” lists literally bulging at the seams with the finest of filmic folly so what you’ll find here is something slightly different; a selection of ten films (one from each respective year) that, whilst not necessarily attaining huge box office success or mainstream crossover, nevertheless provided me with much entertainment and should, therefore, be watched by any self-respecting movie fan immediately.
And so, without further ado, let us rewind the clocks nine years in order to find our first candidate …
Back in 1997 the name Hedwig would, more often than not, conjure up images of sorcery, witches, wizards and stylish birthmarks so audiences were to witness an altogether different kind of magic when John Cameron Mitchell unleashed his wild creation upon us all in February 1998 with his transgender rock musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”.
Like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” before it Hedwig was quick to gather a devoted cult following so it was, I guess, inevitable that it would follow in the well choreographed steps of Frank-N-Furter in its journey from stage to screen. Released in 2001 the film was not only directed by Mitchell but he also portrayed the eponymous hero (ine?) Hansel a boy living in communist East Germany who falls in love with an American soldier. Law, however, dictates that any marriage must consist of a man and a woman so Hansel hastily tracks down a doctor to perform a sex change. But when said metamorphosis is sadly botched young Hansel is left with a one inch mound of flesh between his legs; the infamous “Angry Inch”.
Granted, it’s a far cry from the kind of musical that includes flying nannies, singing cats and impromptu solos on Austrian hillsides yet the film is infused with such energy, character, style and (perhaps ironically) balls as to be utterly intoxicating. Oh, and let’s not forget the fantastic songs that include such delights as the biting political fusion of “Tear Me Down”, the hauntingly beautiful mythology of “The Origin of Love” and the infectiously catchy “Wig in a Box”.
Drawing on elements of classical Greek philosophy and, in particular, Aristophanes “Origin of Love” speech from Plato’s Symposium you’re sure to fall head over heels in love with Hedwig. Wonderfully acted and directed, darkly witty, poignant and full of fantastic songs it more than holds its bewigged head up high on the list of all time greatest movie musicals.
Looking back at “Roger Dodger” Dylan Scott’s 2002 debut is primarily notable for featuring one of Jesse Eisenberg’s first movie roles. Years before the likes of “Zombieland” and “The Social Network” came a-knocking he’d starred alongside Campbell “Son of George C” Scott in this gloriously scripted gem of a movie.
Providing you can get past the horribly misleading title which seems to suggest more of an Ealing-esque knockabout British farce than the biting battle of the sexes held within then you’re in for a real treat. Opening with what is, arguably, the greatest round table discussion since Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” Kidd’s dialogue literally leaps from the screen and is eminently quotable, brilliantly witty, perversely profound and delivered with consummate professionalism by a superb cast. Top of that list would have to be the sublime Scott himself whose Roger is both charming, witty and loquacious whilst also being vile, repugnant, pretentious and woefully misogynistic. Eisenberg, on the other hand, perfects his awkward teenage schtick that, thus far, has seen his Hollywood star rise and rise.
And, lest we forget, the “boys” are ably supported by a fine female cast that includes Isabella Rossellini, Jennifer Beals, Elizabeth Berkley and Serenity’s Morena Baccarin in a brief appearance. So it’s a somewhat regrettable footnote that Kidd failed to replicate such success with his second feature “P.S” (2004) which, despite starring Paul Rudd, Topher Grace and Laura Linney, received generally negative reviews and made little impact at the box office.
Nonetheless, “Roger Dodger” is a cracking indie debut that’s well worth taking the time with.
Whilst not as commercially successful as the Coens or the Wachowskis the Polish Brothers have nonetheless carved themselves out a moderately successful directorial career since first appearing onscreen a twin Cenobites in the frankly abysmal “Hellraiser IV: Bloodlines” (1996).
Painting their films with a rich tapestry of American history and magical metaphor nowhere has this conjunction proved more exhilarating than in their 2003 effort “Northfork”. Set in the eponymous town of Northfork, Montana in the mid-Nineteen Fifties the narrative follows a disparate group of individuals who, despite the town being evacuated prior to a flood, have yet to relinquish their beloved homes. Enter the mighty James Woods as Walter O’Brien, head of the evacuation team, who alongside his colleagues is tasked with rounding up the remaining inhabitants of Northfork before the waters rise. Delivering a typically wonderful performance Woods is ably supported by a fantastic cast that includes Nick Nolte, Peter Coyote, Kyle MacLachlan and Clare Forlani alongside the simply enchanting quartet of Darryl Hannah, Ben Foster, Robin Sachs and Anthony Edwards as Flower Hercules, Cod, Cup of Tea and Happy, four angels holed up in an old house.
Yet what truly makes “Northfork” so utterly beguiling are the simply beautiful visuals. Whether it’s the breathtaking vista of the Montana mountains as seen from a local church, a lone wooden ark perched incongruously amidst the vast open plains or the eccentric quirkiness of the angels’ homestead the film is never less than beautiful and married to a haunting sense of ambiguity and surrealism results in a truly unforgettable film.
A magical meditation on life and death, dreams and reality and the power of hope over despair “Northfork” is a delightful gem of a film that, like the angels at the centre of the narrative, deserves to soar.
Time travel has long been a familiar staple in science fiction cinema yet it ultimately only took the combination of a mathematician and former engineer, $7,000 and a big grey box to create what is, arguably, amongst the greatest time travel movies of all time not to mention one that is so rooted in reality.
A film so complex as to have spawned countless online explanatory diagrams “Primer” was written, directed, produced, scored and edited by 32 year old Shane Carruth who somehow also found the time to act in one of the lead roles. Kicking off with dialogue so technical as to make audiences wish they’d brought along their scientific textbooks “Primer” is never a film to oversimplify matters for the sake of the audience and can, consequentially, be altogether too cerebral an experience on initial viewings. Give the film the required patience, thought and time, however, and Carruth’s film is a low budget masterpiece; a fiercely intelligent sci-fi fable that sidesteps such archetypal visual flourishes so prevalent of the genre to concentrate first and foremost on narrative and character.
Set in the early 21st Century the film follows two engineers, Abe and Aaron, who “accidentally” create a device that can send an object backwards in time. After initial tests lead to the pair cheating the stockmarkets the inevitable realm of possibilities lead them to seek scientific solutions to life’s many problems leading to paradox after paradox and an increasingly fragile relationship as the moralistic conundrums that their new found power give birth to becomes slowly apparent.
Recipient of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2004 “Primer” is certainly not recommended to audiences not suitably au fait with the machinations of time travel but for those of us who consider Emmett Brown to be an inspirational icon the film is sure to delight, confuse, excite, inspire and entertain time and time again.
Though it was the combined efforts of ”Stardust” and “Coraline” that were to give Neil Gaiman the Hollywood break he deserved his visually sumptuous collaboration with artist Dave McKean is still an truly captivating experience.
Anchored by a duo of surprisingly effective performances from Stephanie Leonidas as both Helena and her darker doppelganger the film, whilst not entirely successful from a dramatical perspective, presents us with a truly unique world that fuses live action and CGI to bring McKean’s distinctive visuals to glorious life.
After an argument leads to her ailing mother (played by Gina McKee) ending up in hospital Helena slips into a surreal fantasy world that sees her mother cast as both the White Queen and the Queen of Shadows, her father (Rob Brydon) as the Prime Minister and a strange masked figure known only as Valentine lead her on a bizarre journey to locate a charm that could well be the only thing that can save the City of Light from the encroaching shadows. Granted, the basic premise is simplistic at best but it provides a perfect framework on which to hang McKean’s inimitable visual flair.
Also along for the ride are a number of renowned British comedians who, alongside Brydon, include Robert Llewellyn, Lenny Henry and the divine vocalisations of Mr. Stephen Fry as the Librarian, whilst saxophonist Iain Ballamy provides a suitably quirky, jazz-tinged soundtrack that perfectly highlights the more idiosyncratic aspects of the dreamscape. One of the many highlights sees young Helena encounter a room full of clockwork figures that suddenly appear from musical boxes and join together in a fractured rendition of The Carpenter’s “Close To You”.
It’s a scene that resonates with both haunting beauty and underlying darkness and whilst the remainder of the film isn’t always as successful “Mirrormask” still remains a fantastical journey well worth taking.
Join us again on Thursday when we’ll talk about the remaining five films on the list (2006 – 2010)