A series where the Failed Critics look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choosing their favourite films from each year of that decade.
When I was putting together the longlist for this article, I realised that this year seems to be notable for the number of eminently forgettable films it produced. That is, films I’ve watched that I’ve never had a desire to watch again or, worse, had forgotten that I’d even seen. Examples include Syriana, Wedding Crashers (come at me bro), Jarhead, The Island, The Business, Casanova, War of the Worlds, Revolver, Mr and Mrs Smith, The Producers, Robots, The Longest Yard, Assault on Precinct 13, Just Friends, Lord of War, Match Point, Cinderella Man, Wallace and Gromit, King Kong, whichever mediocre interpretation of Harry Potter was due that year…
Oh and apparently someone made a fan-film about how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader? And they even pretended to be George Lucas?! What a crazy idea. I’m just glad it’s not part of the official canon – I’d hate for the legacy of the Star Wars trilogy to be tarnished.
Anyway, my conclusion is that I may have watched more films from this year than any other so far, and yet I’ve struggled to pull together 5 films that are really amazing. Usually selecting 5 films is an agonising process. I just have very little emotional connection to many films – I’d say my Top 4 are strong and I chose the other fairly arbitrarily out a number of ‘meh’ choices. And please, as always, bear in mind that these are not supposed to be the ‘best’ films of the year but simply the ones I enjoy the most.
5. Kingdom of Heaven
“There will be a day when you will wish you had done a little evil to do a greater good.”
I know this may be fairly controversial as many people I speak to think KoH is boring, but Ridley Scott’s epic tale of the Crusades has a lot going for it. Orlando Bloom is as good as Orlando Bloom gets (which admittedly isn’t all that great) and the historical world is lovingly created. Really though, I like this film because it has some awesome battle sequences, a rousing, sweeping soundtrack, and simply because I find that era of history utterly fascinating.
I won’t go into the historical accuracy or controversy about the film’s message on Western-Arab relations at a deeply sensitive time; far more qualified people than I have covered this in much greater detail. If you’ve not seen the film before or haven’t watched it in a long time, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the Director’s Cut Blu-Ray and strap yourself in to the home cinema system for the film and accompanying documentaries.
4. A History of Violence
“There. You see how cozy it can be when you decide to play nice? Now come, Joey. Get in the car. You won’t need your toothbrush. We’ll take care of everything.”
Criminally underrated by the general population but loved by critics, David Cronenberg’s film stars Viggo Mortensen as a man in a quiet town who responds with extraordinary, lethal skill when two men try to rob his diner. While not the most surprising or twist-filled narrative, the story is still gripping and as the film unravels, it is a pleasure to watch Mortensen’s consummate portrayal of the protagonist.
I’m not going to say any more about this film other than this: if you’ve not seen it, rectify this immediately. If you have, you’re probably overdue another viewing.
3. Hidden (Caché)
“Isn’t it lonely, if you can’t go out?”
It took me far too long to watch this film and I suspect many readers will be aware of the film without having seen it. As I said when raving about the film on a podcast many moons ago, the main feeling I was left with was simply awe at Haneke’s direction.
At the heart of the film is a mystery, a frighteningly real and possible mystery that it would be detrimental to discuss in case you, the reader, haven’t seen the film. Nonetheless, the way in which the narrative is unwound, meticulously, thread by thread, is a joy to behold. Without spoiling anything, I can say that the mystery continues right up until the final shot – which unlike most films doesn’t give the viewer closure but instead opens up a whole other line of enquiry for the viewer to ponder as they walk away from the film.
The beauty is therefore in Haneke’s intention; no explanation is fully satisfactory. There are flaws in any theory to answer the film’s questions, just as in life. If you’ve seen Hidden though, I’m sure you will be bursting with theories of your own and will happily engage others in a discussion/argument about it. And that, really, is the beauty of good entertainment, of a fine cultural artefact – enjoyable in the moment, just as enjoyable when shared with others.
2. Sin City
“The silencer makes a whisper of the gunshot. I hold her close until she’s gone. I’ll never know what she was running from. I’ll cash her cheque in the morning.”
Stylish, brutally violent and full of smart dialogue, Frank Miller’s graphic novel series is definitely worth a read. And as the film is arguably the most faithful interpretation of comic/graphic novel source material you’re likely to find, it isn’t surprising to find it here on this list. Robert Rodriguez had spent a few years directing kids films by this point (interspersed with Once Upon a Time in Mexico) so this represented a powerful return to type.
Still notable nearly ten years on for the striking visuals thanks to being shot almost entirely on green screen, Sin City explores the dark side of urban humanity. RR managed to pull together an all-star cast (who interestingly weren’t all signed up when some scenes were shot, so RR digitally swapped them in for doubles later on) and in particular a great turn from Mickey Rourke after years in the wilderness, an absolute must given the disparate nature of the multiple narratives woven together. Plus it has lots of sexy ladies in it who, much like in Planet Terror a couple of years later, kick a lot of ass and aren’t just there purely as eye candy.
Sin City is like the most archetypal film noir ever made and yet completely unlike pretty much every film noir at the same time. Mostly though, it’s just terrifically entertaining.
1. Batman Begins
“Jim Gordon: I never said thank you.
Batman: And you’ll never have to.”
There was only ever going to be one winner here and we all know it. Just a few weeks ago I found that a significant number of my work colleagues consider BB the best of the Nolan Batman films and I know they aren’t alone in feeling that way. Personally I think The Dark Knight is superior but Begins will always have a special place in my heart as a Batman geek.
It may be difficult to remember now but Begins came out when superhero films were reaching a difficult stage. We’d seen the DC heroes (Batman and Superman) decline by the late 90s with the genre seemingly dead until Raimi’s Spiderman and the original X-Men films smashed a big-budget hole in the cinematic landscape. Suddenly cinemas were awash with shiny, polished interpretations of a whole range of comic book heroes. New special effects technologies transported us to incredible, fantastical versions of the world time and again, with huge ticket and DVD sales for even the mediocre efforts (for instance, the distinctly average Hulk took $245m). Warner Bros took a look at their big ticket hero. And they had a problem.
What on earth were they to do with Batman? Since Schumacher took on the mantle, the Batman of recent memory was all style, no substance – and the style was questionable. Tim Burton’s Batman films in the late 80s/early 90s had been a huge success but the landscape seemed to have moved on. The WB execs found a way to get back to that darker vision of Bats and gambled on audiences being fed up of the more superficial treatment prevalent at the time. Enter Chris Nolan, still relatively unknown by mainstream audiences despite the relative success of Memento & Insomnia, with a bold vision: to make a film about Bruce Wayne, not about Batman.
The rest is history. I could write a very long article about this film, about the series it spawned, about the brilliance of Nolan’s interpretation (I kind of already have). I may still do. For now, let’s just bask in the glory of Batman Begins, a film that changed cinema for the better and kicked off one of the finest trilogies in recent film history.