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A Decade In Film – The Noughties: 2005

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

kingdom of heavenThere 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

a history of violenceThere. 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)

hiddenIsn’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

sin cityThe 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

batman beginsJim 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.

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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

“Nancy: Looks like trouble..

Marv: Looks like Christmas.”

By Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

sin city 2 2Back in 2005, the world finally got an adaptation of the Frank Miller story that it didn’t even realise it was craving. Alas, it wasn’t a live action version of The Dark Knight Returns or Batman: Year One, but was instead the pulp noir crime thriller, Sin City. After his RoboCop sequel scripts were butchered back in the 1980’s, it seemed Miller was destined to remain known as a successful comic book writer (albeit one of the most important and influential of our time) and not a successful script writer.

Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Sin City came at a time when only five short years before, comic book movies received a successful revival; thanks in no small part to Bryan Singer’s PG-13 X-Men. Two years later, Sam Raimi got in on the act as he turned Marvel’s biggest property, one friendly neighbourhood web-swinging wall crawler Spider-Man, into a PG-13 movie. As ground-breaking, box-office record smashing and popular as they were, fans knew that the market for more mature offerings was lagging behind somewhat. Why did they have to all be PG-13? The promise of Batman-to-come (allegedly based on Frank Miller’s seminal Year One) never truly broke that cycle. Batman Begins, also released in 2005, may have been darker and seedier than your average superhero flick, dealing with crime families, murder and that long wispy moustache of Liam Neeson’s, but it too found itself restricted to a PG-13 audience. In the 5 years between X-Men and Batman Begins, the only two major R-rated comic-book movies to come out of America were Blade II and The Punisher. That’s pretty much it.

To say Sin City was a gamble would be an understatement. Hiring a director to make an R-rated, somewhat arthouse thriller, who at the time had seemingly moved on from his over-the-top action movies (the brilliant Mexico Trilogy) and bloody sci-fi horrors (From Dusk Til Dawn, The Faculty etc) to create the family-oriented Spy Kids trilogy, it was a risk. Yet it paid off in more ways than one. It may not have topped the box-office charts in 2005 ahead of the likes of Star Wars Episode III, King Kong and another bloody Harry Potter sequel, but it still earned praise from critics and fans alike whilst being relatively commercially successful. It may not have been the catalyst in turning studios on to a wave of adult comic book movies, but it was seen as a triumph on its own merits.

Quite why it took Rodriguez and Miller nearly 10 years to allow us to return to the filthy stinkhole that is Basin City seems almost unfair. With its saloon bars every ten feet full of drunk criminal louts, sleazy prostitutes on every corner and corrupt officials turning a blind eye to every crook looming in a shadowy doorway ready to take every dime you own and leave you for dead, perhaps it was a place of mind that Rodriguez and Miller weren’t keen to frequent too often! Nevertheless, I, for one, am glad to have had the privilege of another peak into the loathsome lives of Sin City’s inhabitants.

The four stories that comprise the run time are equally as entertaining as each other. Beginning with a tale from Marv (Mickey Rourke) as he comes to after a brutal accident, hunting down some despicable youths, the tone of highly-stylised ultra-violence is set very quickly. This is continued as Johnny (played by the always impressive Joseph Gordon-Levitt) introduces himself as the cocky young gambler taking on a game of poker that will only end one way, with his story intertwining with that of Jessica Alba exacting revenge for her lover’s (Bruce Willis) death. The atmosphere is continued in the next sequence, upon which Sin City 2 titles itself. Dwight (previously played by Clive Owen, now re-cast with Josh Brolin) sets out on a mission to save his nearly always naked femme fatale ex-wife (Eva Green) who is oppressed by her cruel husband. Feeling sorry for her, he agrees to help but as with everything in Sin City, it appears someone is manipulating the situation beyond his control.

Short snappy sentences that Billy Wilder would’ve been proud of litter the script, just as a classic crime-noir should. It’s immensely enjoyable, trashy and disturbingly fun. Shot entirely in black and white with colour only occasionally piercing the dreary shades of grey like a strike of lightning, it is a film with an abundance of style. Is it perhaps a case of too much style and too little substance? Debatable. There’s a chance that the co-directors may have papered over a few cracks in the plot with some pretty pictures – although, they are very pretty pictures. The cast and their performances are a step up from 2005’s effort, with returning faces Rourke, Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson and particularly Powers Boothe all revelling in their roles, as do the new additions. Eva Green especially steals the show as a siren-like Ava.

Whilst A Dame to Kill For has not followed suit with its predecessor, stuttering at the box office and picking up mixed reviews along the way, it still has plenty to enjoy for returning fans and new ones alike. You do not need to know everything that happens in the previous movie – in fact, some people seem confused by the chronology of both. Approaching it as a stand alone movie about some stuff that happens in this crime-ridden city may be the best method.

If Frank Miller’s stories have any message to tell, it’s probably a not very pleasant one. Everyone is corruptible, it’s just that some people are better at taking advantage of it than others. Yes the film’s morals and ethics are as questionable as the characters who entertain us; is vigilantism justified in a city like this? Is murder ever acceptable? Can you honestly have your strongest independent female character’s motivations bent around her love for a man? These are questions the film raises and leaves unanswered. But I’ll tell you what, it doesn’t half look cool as it poses them.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is in cinemas nationwide right now in both 3D (not worth it) and 2D (totally worth it).