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 →
Like the ambiguous floating metaphor dancing atop its Parisian landscapes, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Flight of the Red Balloon feels just out of reach, a slow, beautiful juxtaposition of grace and solitude guided by somber prevailing winds of change. It’s a film defined by rhythmic characterizations, but one haunted by a void of emotional expression. Hou’s characters, which include a distressed puppeteer named Suzanne (Juliette Binoche), her son Simon (Simon Iteanu), and a Chinese film student named Song (Fang Song), reflect different phases of individual artistic expression/frustration, contrasting souls on the verge of discovery or doubt, often left alone to reflect on their own relationship with the world around them. Elements of fantasy share equal weight with trivial interactions.
But since this is a Hou film, the camera glides just as effortlessly through cluttered interiors as spacious exteriors and nothing feels out of place or inconsequential. Flight of the Red Balloon once again proves Hou’s mastery of composing meticulously calculated human moments through silence and nuance, and the film’s measured pacing says more about the filmmaker’s obsessions with time and space than anything else. If the end result feels a bit incomplete, it’s only because Hou’s fleeting glimpse at melancholy and longing overwhelms traditional modes of cinematic expression, leaving us wanting more of what can’t be defined.
Hou Hsiao-hsien’s attentive, lyrical obsession with film space creates a distinctly personal longing for the pleasures and heartaches of the past. Hou uses silence and music much as Peckinpah would slow motion photography and squibs, both hypnotic formal qualities advancing character and mood over story. However, his latest film Three Times comes across a little too pat for my taste. Hou gives us three short stories, involving the same two actors (Chang Chen and Shu Qi), taking place in three different era’s, concerning various riffs on love, communication, and sacrifice. “A Time for Love”, set in 1966, is the most passionate and expertly paced segment of the three, harboring moments of beauty in tune with the characters mutual attraction and innocence. The middle segment, “A Time for Freedom” is set in 1911 during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, Hou using a silent film aesthetic, both inter-titles and accompanying music, as the primary modes of communication. Lastly, in “A Time for Youth”, Hou sets his sights on modern day Taipei and the interactions between two involved youths cheating on their respective lovers with each other.Three Times changes tone with each progressing segment; a nostalgic and smoky mixture of colors in “Love”, then a strict, silent adherence to tradition in “Freedom”, finally a sporadic urban disdain for communication and commitment in “Youth.” After the brilliant mixture of melancholy and longing in the opening act, the rest of the film feels amazingly obvious, especially for Hou. It’s the last segment that bothers me the most, a clear cut critique of the gaps and fissures modern technology has caused personal human contact. Hou’s brilliant attention to camera movement and space can’t mask the redundancy of his material. By this point, his themes have been beaten home, the modern day feel of “Youth” both lethargic and contrived. Which is disappointing, because after the incredibly involved character development and spatial beauty of Cafe Lumiere, Three Times, especially it’s final 2/3’s, doesn’t come close to showing the true genius of Hou.