Monday, July 23, 2012

The Best Films of The Aughts (50-59)

59. Before Sunset - dir. Richard Linklater (2004)

 "What is love, if it's not respect, trust, admiration? And I felt all those things. So, cut to the present tense. I feel like I'm running a small nursery with somebody I used to date."

58. The Royal Tenenbaums - dir. Wes Anderson (2001)

 "Look, I know I'm gonna be the bad guy on this one. But I just wanna say the last six days have been the best six days of probably my whole life."


57. A History of Violence - dir. David Cronenberg (2005)

 "You should ask come he's so good at killing people?"

56. Capturing the Friedmans - dir. Andrew Jarecki (2003)

"We had a middle class home, educated...where did this come from?"

55. Day Night Day Night - dir. Julia Loktev (2006)

"If I think that I've been noticed or there is a small chance that I may be caught I must execute the plan immediately, even if there is no one nearby."

54. In America - dir. Jim Sheridan (2003)

"Don't 'little girl' me. I've been carrying this family on my back for over a year. He was my brother too."

53. Superbad - dir. Greg Mottola (2007)

"Are you insane?! Look at Jules' dating record. She dated Dan Remmeck who's had a six pack since like kindergarten. Jason Stone who looks like fuckin' Zack Morris, and Matt Muer...he's the sweetest guy! Have you ever stared into his eyes? It was like the first time I heard the Beatles."

The 2000s weren't exactly replete with relatable cinematic teenage behavior, especially where sex and sexuality are concerned.  I have read the criticisms of Superbad many times over.  It's aimless, it's vulgar, it's cartoonish in its portrayal of adolescent sexual desire.  However, it's also funny.  Consistently funny from start to finish, while peppered with truly heartfelt moments between its protagonists Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill).

If you've ever been a teenager, you know that the pursuit of some tail is as honest and urgent an inciting incident for a narrative as any.  People will do strange things, often garnering reactions of head-scratching, if there is even a chance that sex will be the end result.  This is especially true if one has never actually had sex.  Is this the most groundbreaking or profound of hypotheses?  Hardly.  But it's a notion portrayed cogently, with humor and and an excellent ear for dialogue and timing in Superbad.

Yes, one can easily bemoan the fact that such films seem to completely  co-opt the teenage female perspective on one end and ignore it altogether on the other.  I once wrote, on this very blog that a version of Superbad wherein two teenage girls attempt to buy liquor for a party in order to impress and bed boys for the sheer purpose of sexual gratification could not exist in the current Hollywood landscape.  Bridesmaids made some strides in this arena (though I have mixed feelings about the final result) and women are at least allowed to be funny in ways we have rarely seen before.  However, our culture seems to be vaguely threatened by the notion of women, especially teenage girls, enjoying sex.  I mean none of this in any way as an indictment of Superbad itself, as these are all criticisms that exist completely extrinsic to the merits of the actual film. 

I chose the quote listed above, which exemplifies exactly what I'm talking about.  Too often in films, characters fail to inhabit any sort of universe that feels specifically drawn.  This problem usually stems from a lack of character specificity in its own right.  Seth and Evan are sex hungry teenage boys, yes.  But they are more than that.  The scene from which the dialogue is taken occurs fairly early on in the narrative and it shows us that we're in incredibly capable hands with screenwriters Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen. 

There is a beating heart at the center of what seems like a raucous comedy of sexual misadventure as we chart Evan and Seth's one-night odyssey, in search of Jules's party, in search of the nookie that's sure to await them.  It's easy to bemoan the fact that such human truth about the nature of growing up and moving on has to be wrapped in a seemingly facile package of raunch and menstruation humor.  But when it's done so effectively, is there anything left to do but smile?

52. He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not - dir. Laetitia Colombani (2002)

"Though my love is insane my reason calms the pain in my heart, it tells me to be patient and keep hoping."

51. The Departed  - dir. Martin Scorsese (2006)
"When I was growing up, they would say you could become cops or criminals. But what I'm saying is this. When you're facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?"

50. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - dir. Peter Jackson (2003)

"Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It'll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they'll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields... and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?"

Next: 40-49