Best of the 2000’s: Discussion #10

The Filmist has posted our tenth and final discussion where we tackle Edward Yang’s Yi Yi and Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men, our respective favorite films of the decade. You can find it here.

I also want to thank you readers out there who’ve been following our trek through this insurmountable wealth of material.  Without you, we would be screaming into the wind.

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Best of the 2000’s: Epilogue

The Best of the Rest: Honorable Mentions for the 2000’s

For every beginning, there must be an end. Sadly, our joint venture has come to its waning days, but the experience has been invigorating and therapeutic. So we have a decade nearly in the books, ten personal favorites revealed, and plenty of great Cinema to spare.

As previously stated in the Prologue, a rash of other masterful films deserve mention as best of the 2000’s, and I’d like to consider each in short bursts. I’ve ranked them 11-20 but in truth, they are interchangeable on any given day. To be followed by my Top 10 performances of the decade. Continue reading

Smaller Screen, Bigger (and Different) Impact: Another Long and Fluid Walk with Children of Men

My favorite film of 2006 has just hit the shelves on DVD, fresh off it’s ridiculous shutout at the Oscars. The Children of Men release has a few documentaries, including a stunning short on the constructing of two long take sequences. The rig Cuaron and his crew built for the car sequence in the woods is nothing short of breathtaking. Which brings me to a segue-way. Since Children of Men has such genius visuals, I wondered how it would translate to the small screen. Like all great films, it got better the second time around, and this small screen experience heightened other aspects once overwhelmed by the awe-inspiring big screen mise-en-scene. Here are a few notes.- The long take sequences as a whole are diminished somewhat on the small screen, mainly because Cuaron has crafted them specifically for a theater experience. But their resonance and relationship with the story still holds water, especially the opening shot explosion.- Michael Caine’s performance as Jasper became a more central part to the story this time. His moments with Theo at the beginning, his character’s choice of music (The Beetles, Radiohead), and later in the film during his parting scene, all add up to the heart and soul of the old guard. Jasper’s collection of appearances in Children of Men create a heartbreaking duality with Theo, and his final tap on the car window, holding his outstretched palm up to Kee’s, elaborates and deepens Curaron’s interest in human connection.- Overall, the humanity of Children of Men shines through even brighter on a repeat viewing, at times overshadowing the brilliant camera work. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the actor’s faces as they maneuver Cuaron’s crashing world – Julian’s face as her neck gushes with blood, Kee’s look of fear as a guard dog sniffs her pregnant belly, and Jasper’s kiss on his wife’s cheek before her last breath. Throughout many of the scenes Theo’s looks of desperation ring louder than the gunshots spraying around him. Even the gypsy lady with the dog, who saves the day toward the end of the film, is crucial to Cuaron’s vision.- Most of all, the pacing of Children of Men is astoundingly focused, a singular trajectory which plays directly into the films themes and motifs. Cuaron purposefully propels Theo into action and he never stops evolving after the first act. I’ve heard complaints about the characters and how one-note they are. I couldn’t disagree more. I didn’t feel more connected and enthralled with a film’s journey than with Children of Men, and for me, that’s what film should be about – even more so when the world is tumbling down before your eyes. This is a masterpiece.

Children of Men (Cuaron, 2006)

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Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men is a direct attempt to address the consequences of our post 9/11 domestic policy in the West, functioning on a grander scale as a genre film, or for that matter, a mosaic of genres working together to realize new hopes in cinematic storytelling. At times a war film, a western, an action picture, and with some brief moments of comedy, the film is both uncomfortable to watch and impossible to forget. The story, adapted (by five screenwriter’s?) from a P.D. James novel, tells of a near future where Britain remains the only super power, and women are unable to give birth for no apparent reason. The youngest person on Earth has just been killed, and chaos reigns supreme. Theo (Clive Owen), a downtrodden government official with nothing more to live for, is approached by his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) who’s now a leader of an underground terrorist group attempting smuggle out a woman who has miraculously become pregnant. The film remains closely tied to this quest, injecting different genre motivators as the tone of the journey changes. The result is horrifying, strikingly pertinent, and from a filmmaking standpoint, accomplished like no other film I’ve seen this year. Cuaron has crafted a masterpiece out of a jumble of genres, a notion he has worked with before, but never with such devotion to material or mise-en-scene. Many film critics have called into question a supposed lack of depth in the characters of Children of Men. Also, some have seen his adherence to combining genre and in turn blurring narrative structure as problematic, devolving the pure sci-fi roots of the opening sequences into a conflicted and sometimes mindless conclusion. I see these complaints as a misunderstanding of what Cuaron is trying to do. Children of Men is above all a journey, more so than other standard Hollywood fare, namely because it’s possibly the last journey the world will ever see. Cuaron realizes this through the vast possibilities genre can offer in critiquing art, politics, and globalization, namely through iconography, and as a fascinating deconstruction of what genre can visually represent. Cuaron attempts to establish his characters motivations and actions outside the realm of what most critics would call the school of method acting, instead daring to contemplate how people might actually act and react in a world constrained by and entrenched in panic. Throughout this riveting and dynamic work, each major actor, from Clive Owen’s Theo, to Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, and every bystander caught in the crossfire, fully realize the world is crumbling around them. Cuaron wants to look at how each and every character is affected, but more crucially, how they react to their situation when faced with a new hope, new possibilities. Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki use a cluttered, dystopic mise-en-scene to address this panic and the now infamous one shot long takes as a visual cue for the hope, determination, and dexterity of Theo and his forced upon, but equally valid, vision of reality. Theo can’t give up, he can’t take into consideration other personal motives, because without this baby, their isn’t a future. Cuaron doesn’t base this hope in a religous or ideological sense, but out of a human instinct to assist. It’s no coincidence throughout Theo’s trek, he never picks up a gun. The violence engulfs his environment, but almost never his own actions. So simple, yet so harrowing a notion. Cuaron doesn’t blink an eye at honoring these thematics with grandiose, fluid visuals and a consistent, purposeful acting scheme grounded within the destructive but hopeful world being addressed.