Film review – Somewhere (2010)

27 December 2010
Somewhere: Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) and Cleo (Elle Fanning)

Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) and Cleo (Elle Fanning)

Sofia Coppola once more explores the alienating and empty life of celebrity through Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), an emotionally detached Hollywood heartthrob. The only burst of radiant sunlight in his literally overcast world comes from spending time with his 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning).

After the extravagant visual beauty of Marie Antoinette, Coppola has gone in the opposite direction to make Somewhere an incredibly lo-fi and minimal piece that evokes the independent spirit of New Hollywood and early 1990s America indi films. However, the ‘indi film’ aesthetic to Somewhere at times feels disappointingly more calculated than sincere. The stretch of film set during a press junket in Italy retreads over a lot of the same ground as Lost in Translation did and the symbolic act at the end of the film borders on being trite.

There’s still a lot to admire about Somewhere and the bond between Johnny and Cleo is incredibly sweet and no doubt used by Coppola in part to reflect on her own childhood relationship with her famous filmmaker father. This is Coppola’s least fulfilling film but key moments nevertheless linger in the mind long after the credits.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 369, 2010

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Top Twenty Films of the 2000s

25 March 2010

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I’ve been wanting to put together a best films of the 2000s list for a while now but felt it was appropriate to allow some distance before doing so (plus I’ve been a bit slack). I also wanted to catch up on many of the important films that I had missed over the past decade but I quickly came to my senses and realised that was an almost impossible task as the list of films that I must see is forever getting longer rather than shorter. After creating a short list of 100 possible films I was able to get down to a list of my personal favourite twenty films from the past decade.

My methodology was to simply list all the films that I’d given 5 or 4½ stars to and go from there. I tried not to pay too much attention to how I preferentially ordered films in my yearly best-of lists as my feelings about films do change upon reflection and repeat viewings. In the end the films that I included are the films that have long continued to linger in my mind, compelled me to watch them again or simply get me excited just by thinking about them.

Mulholland Dr.

Apart from one or two left-field selections I am aware that my list is hardly revolutionary but in the end I went with personal choices rather than attempt to make an all encompassing list of the most significant, important or influential films, which has been done very impressively elsewhere. So here are my top twenty films from the 2000s:

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
2. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)
3. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003)
4. Irréversible (Gaspar Noé, 2002)
5. The Proposition (John Hillcoat, 2005)
6. Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier, 2000)
7. Balibo (Robert Connolly, 2009)
8. Hero (Ying xiong, Zhang Yimou 2002)
9. Lost In Translation (Sophia Coppola, 2003)
10. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
11. No Country for Old Men (Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, 2007)

12. Russian Ark (Russkiy kovcheg, Aleksandr Sokurov, 2002)
13. Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002)
14. Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)
15. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, 2007)
16, Control (Anton Corbijn, 2007)
17. Conversations with Other Women (Hans Canosa, 2005)
18. Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki, 2004)
19. Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008)
20. Waltz with Bashir (Vals Im Bashir, Ari Folman, 2008)


Kill Bill: Vol. 1

Even though in 2004 I originally listed Irréversible above Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Irréversible was released late in Australia) subsequent repeat viewings of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind established it for me as a masterpiece of modern cinema. It’s a film that I can engage with on a deeply emotional and critical level as well as being able to appreciate just how well crafted a film it is.  To an extent the same can be said of all films on this list.

Mulholland Dr, Kill Bill: Vol.1, No Country for Old Men and Eastern Promises aren’t the best films by their respective directors but nevertheless reflect the incredible ongoing contribution that those directors have made to modern cinema. Unexpectedly Paul Thomas Anderson is the only director to appear twice with Punch-Drunk Love that, along with Lost in Translation, Donnie Darko and Mysterious Skin, represents the remnants of the 1990s American indi at its best while There Will Be Blood reflects a bold throw back to the grand narratives of classical Hollywood cinema.

Irréversible

Australian cinema peaked twice in the 2000s with The Proposition representing the middle spike and Balibo representing the incredible spike right at the end of the decade. Dancer in the Dark is von Trier’s masterpiece, Hero was the pinnacle of the ‘art house martial arts’ films and Control is the best musical biopic ever made (although I will admit to my heavy bias due to my love of Joy Division). Finally, some of the most distinctive cinema from the 2000s are the films that successfully did something original and daring with film form and style and they are represented on this list with Irréversible, Russian Ark, Conversations with Other Women, Hunger and Waltz with Bashir.

Here are the remaining 80 films from my shortlist, ordered alphabetically:

4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (4 luni, 3 saptamâni si 2 zile, Cristian Mungiu, 2007)

24 Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom, 2002)
28 Days Later… (Danny Boyle, 2002)
Amelie (Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)
American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, 2003)
Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)
Artificial Intelligence: AI (Steven Spielberg, 2001)
Atonement (Joe Wright, 2007)
Avatar (James Cameron, 2009)
Birth (Jonathan Glazer, 2004)
The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass, 2007)
Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002)
Bridge to Terabithia (Gabor Csupo, 2007)
Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)
Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch, 2005)
Café Lumière (Kôhî jikô, Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2003)
Capote (Bennett Miller, 2005)

Capturing The Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki 2003)
Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
Closer (Mike Nichols, 2004)
Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008)
Code Unknown (Code inconnu, Michael Haneke, 2000)
The Counterfeiters (Die Fälscher, Stefan Ruzowitzky, 2007)
The Cremaster Cycle (Matthew Barney 1995-2002)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, (Wo hu cang long, Ang Lee, 2000)
Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino, 2007)
The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)
Downfall (Der Untergang, Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004)
Elephant (Gus Van Sant 2003)
Every Little Step (Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern, 2008)
Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002)
Flags of our Fathers (Clint Eastwood, 2006)
Forgiveness (Ian Gabriel, 2004)
Genova (Michael Winterbottom, 2008)
Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts (Scott Hicks, 2007)
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Alex Gibney, 2008)
High Fidelity (Stephen Frears, 2000)
The Hours (Stephen Daldry, 2002)
I’m Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007)
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Terry Gilliam, 2009)
In My Father’s Den (Brad McGann 2004)
INLAND EMPIRE (David Lynch, 2006)
Inside Man (Spike Lee, 2006)
The Jammed (Dee McLachlan, 2007)
Japanese Story (Sue Brooks, 2003)
Jindabyne (Ray Lawrence, 2006)
The Last King of Scotland (Kevin Macdonald, 2006)
Last Life in the Universe (Ruang rak noi nid mahasan, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang 2003)
Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, 2006)
The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson, 2001)
Love Exposure (Ai no mukidashi, Shion Sono, 2008)
Lust, Caution (Se, jie, Ang Lee, 2007)

Match Point (Woody Allen, 2005)
Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
Men’s Group (Michael Joy, 2008)

Monster (Patty Jenkins 2003)
Mystic River (Clint Eastwood, 2003)
Nightwatching (Peter Greenaway, 2007)
Not Quite Hollywood (Mark Hartley, 2008)

OldBoy (Park Chan-wook, 2003)
Once (John Carney, 2006)
Ong-bak (Prachya Pinkaew, 2003)
Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno, Guillermo del Toro, 2006)
The Piano Teacher (La pianiste, Michael Haneke, 2001)
Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, 2008)
The Rules of Attraction (Roger Avary, 2002)
Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thornton, 2009)
Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2004)
Silmido (Kang Woo-suk 2003)
The Spanish Apartment (L’auberge espagnole, Cédric Klapisch, 2002)
Spider (David Cronenberg, 2002)
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring (Bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom, Kim Ki-duk 2003)
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tim Burton, 2007)
Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance (Boksuneun naui geot, Park Chan-wook, 2002)
The Tracker (Rolf de Heer, 2002)
Traffic (Steven Soderbergh, 2000)
Two Lovers (James Gray, 2008)
Up (Pete Docter, 2009)
WALL·E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)

[EDIT 8/1/11 and 2/10/11: Since creating this top twenty and shortlist I have seen several films that in retrospect I would have included. Rather than re-editing the lists and running the risk of endless tweaking, I’ll simply list those new films here:

Enter The Void (Gaspar Noé, 2009)
I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra and John Reque, 2009)
The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos, Juan José Campanella, 2009)
Son of Babylon (Mohamed Al Daradji, 2009)
Still Walking (Aruitemo aruitemo, Hirokazu Koreeda, 2008)

Enter the Void would have probably made the top twenty.]

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Film review – Marie Antoinette (2006)

19 December 2006

Marie Antoinette is a period film with an indi/teen film sensibility. Having already proven herself on The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation as a director with talent to burn, Sofia Coppola has possibly set herself her biggest challenge yet. Marie Antoinette tells the story of France’s controversial last queen not as a weighty historical drama about the French Revolution, but as the story of a teenage girl with strong modern sensibilities. Audiences expecting scenes of suffering peasants, enraged revolutionaries and climatic beheadings are going to be sorely disappointed.

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Top Ten Films of 2003

1 January 2004

Contribution to the 2003 World Poll

I have limited myself to films released theatrically in Australia between 1 January and 31 December 2003. Therefore films that were only shown at festivals or went direct to video, DVD or television are not included in this Top Ten.

Nevertheless the following films that were screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival would have all been contenders for my Top Ten had they been given a general release:

Resurrection of the Little Match Girl (Jang Sun-Woo, 2002)
Interstella 5555 (Kazuhisa Takenôchi, 2003)
Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance (Park Chan-wook, 2002)
The Other Final (Johan Kramer, 2003)

I have also not included re-released films such as Director’s Cuts or Special Editions. This is mainly due to the fact that the following four films would have dominated too easily which would have been unfair to recent films:

The Leopard (Luchino Visconti, 1963)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966)
The Red Circle (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1970)
Alien
 (Ridley Scott, 1979)

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