Movies at the Turn of the Century (Part I)

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Best-of lists are the ultimate panacea to the pop-culture blogger who is scrapping at the bottom of the barrel for inspiration.  Since it has been a while since my last best-of list (see “Stuck in the Nineties”), I figure it would be a good idea to shove my favourite movies from the noughties (that’s 2000 to 2009 if you are don’t feel like googling) down your collective throat. Why? Everyone needs a good movie (or at least a mediocrely entertaining one) to get thru the busy work week every now and then.


Ten) Linda Linda Linda – Nobuhiro Yamashita (2005)

No, this relatively obscure Japanese gem is not included in this list for the sake of hipster cred. The short justification is that the low-key, authentic portrayal of a group of students practicing for a school music festival reminds me of my own school days.

The long explanation is that Linda Linda Linda is just the type of endearing oddball movie that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere. It’s has neither the arthouse credence to qualify as an indie movie, nor the commercial appeal to bring in the box-office proceeds.  Instead, Linda Linda Linda is Nobuhiro Yamashita’s dual tribute to both the Blue Hearts (who wrote the eponymous hit song that inspired the movie) and the unblemished innocence of high school life.

Japanese movies about high school life tend to be exaggerated and rely on various clichés to achieve the desired comedic and dramatic effects, but Linda Linda Linda glides along effortlessly with an intimate but realistic portrayal of those wide-eyed wonder years. The girls bickered, shared corny jokes, daydreamed about funny shit and practised hard for their performance, in a manner that is likely reminiscent of your own school days.

Of course, with a title like Linda Linda Linda, you will expect the movie to feature the Blue Heart’s greatest hits. The band Paranmaum (made up of the quartet of actresses playing the schoolgirls) gamely performed endearing yet self-effacing versions of Boku No Migate, Owaranai Uta and the eponymous title track while former Pumpkins James Iha delivered a surprisingly fitting low key soundtrack.

Nine) 28 Days Later – Danny Boyle (2003)

Ever notice how Cillian Murphy’s crazy but beautiful blue eyes seem to typify the types of roles he tend to get? By which, I am referring to the roles of the volatile rational man who is borderline psychotic. 28 Days Later was where this quality was first mined to great effect.

While the zombie subgenre is being flogged like the proverbial dead horse these days with its presence felt in popular culture as wide-ranging as The Walking Dead, Warm Bodies, The Last of Us and the various zombie modes in first person shooters, back in 2003, there was a relative freshness to seeing a movie such as 28 Days Later on the big screen.

Cillian Murphy played Jim, a bicycle courier who woke up from a coma in post-apocalyptic London to witness a desolate wasteland that had been ravaged by victims infected with the blood-borne Rage virus. Together with fellow survivors Selena, Frank and Hannah, the foursome traversed across the sad, desolate country in search of a potential cure proffered by a military outfit. If that sounds like the first season of The Walking Dead, well The Walking Dead was only first broadcasted in 2010, although curiously, the comic book of the same name was issued in 2003 as well.

Like every other zombie story ever told, zombies are perhaps the least important aspect of 28 Days Later. While terrifying due to their speed, the zombies in 28 Days Later only serve as a backdrop to examine the darkness of the post-apocalyptic human heart. In this respect, the movie tackles provocative themes such as euthanasia and sexual slavery for the so-called “greater good”. Danny Boyle also displayed a remarkable talent for juxtaposing lighted-hearted moments such as the shopping scene (soundtracked with Grandaddy’s “AM 180” no less) with tragic events like Frank getting infected with a single drop of Rage-infused blood. Without a doubt, 28 Days Later is one of Boyle’s greater cinematic efforts, unmarred by anticlimactic endings or useless tropes.

Eight) The Dark Knight – Christopher Nolan (2008)

Marvel’s recent spate of cinematic successes always strike me as somewhat odd, due to the fact that the new movies are, as far as I can tell, mild upgrades to such critical flops as 2005’s Fantastic Four and the 2007 sequel. Yet commercial and critical reception of lukewarm offerings like Guardians of the Galaxy and Iron Man 3 seem to be shooting through the roof, as critics and audiences scramble for a last grasp on the zeitgeist of the times. Surely, the inevitable backlash cannot be too far behind?

With that said, it must be mentioned that The Dark Knight is quite the standout in a sea of mediocre releases. It is not just a great superhero movie. It is considerably one of the best crime movies of the decade.  While hindsight is 20/20, casting Heath Ledger (who was known mainly for his pretty boy roles up till then) as the Joker was a stroke of genius few could have comprehended at that point in time. Heath Ledger slyly avoided the campy performances of past Jokers (Jack Nicholson, Cesar Romero) and portrayed him as a chaotic force of nature obsessed with breaking the Batman. Suffice it to say that every one of his accolades won has little to do with sympathy for his demise and much to do with the strength of his performance.

If Batman Begins marked a new chapter for superhero movies by creating a plausible world in which a man dressed as a nocturnal creature can strike fear in the hearts of criminals, then the Dark Knight illustrates in loud, broad strokes what would happen if psychotic anarchists try to destroy social order by orchestrating insane games that expose the selfish nature of humanity when survival is at hand. Few, if any, superheroes movies can boast of the same level of ambition that The Dark Knight effortlessly wore on its sleeve.

Apart from its intricate storyline, The Dark Knight is also something of a technical marvel to behold. Nolan shot six sequences using IMAX cameras, something that was unprecedented in a major motion picture. The results were to say the least, a gorgeous accomplishment. The Dark Knight is truly a rare picture where great storytelling is perfectly complimented by technical brilliance.

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