Thursday, 3 December 2009
Deconstructing the Cinema of the 00's: Part 4 - The New Auteurs
The following is part of a continuing series of features breaking down the trends of cinema in the 2000's.
Click below for parts 1-3:
Part 1: Tentpole Franchisees
Part 2: Social Realism
Part 3: Documentary
The creative process doesn’t acknowledge breaks in years or decades, and so compartmentalizing and passing judgment on ten years in cinema is completely arbitrary. Yet this is an easy way to view the passage of time, and the evolution of cinema. Decades have always defined filmmakers. For example when we think of Jean-Luc Godard he’s a 60’s filmmaker, even though he made as many films in the 70’s and 80’s. Same with, say, John Hughes, a man whose influence was as prescient in the 90’s, will always be defined by the 80’s.
With the end of another decade upon us, it’s time to start defining people’s careers, packing them up into a little box to be put away on a shelf never to be tampered with again. And so, even if someone like say, Judd Apatow, were to go on to make film after film of complete and utter garbage, or if he were to be revealed as a pederast, he would still be a 00’s filmmaker.
If you’ve read the previous installment of the Deconstruction of the decade in Cinema you’ll know that the indie-film dominated auteur films of the 1990’s doesn’t quite apply with the same creative force as it did back. The death of almost every art house-sensible distributor in the U.S. helped cause this, same with the risk-averse attitude of the tent-pole mentality of studio heads.
From this largely mainstream perspective, a number of fine filmmakers emerged and will likely be defined by this decade:
Why not start with Judd Apatow? He directed three films in the decade – two successful (“The 40 Year Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up”) and one not so much (“Funny People”). But his influence as writer-producer extends into a number of the decade’s most successful and memorable comedies including ‘Anchorman’, ‘Talladega Nights’, ‘Superbad’, ‘Forgetting and Sarah Marshall’. He also emerged as discoverer of great talent, specifically the young players of his TV series ‘Undeclared’ and ‘Freaks and Geeks’ – Jay Baruschel, Seth Rogan, James Franco and Jason Segal.
Perhaps Christopher Nolan stands tall as the defining filmmaker of the decade. His career essentially started out at the turn of the millennium with his intellectually-stimulating art house noir film ‘Memento’ and ended with the biggest hit of the decade, ‘The Dark Knight’. After a number of filmmakers tried their hand at rebooting the Batman series, it turned out to be Christopher Nolan who impressed Warner Bros and DC Comics with his realistic and humanist take on the superhero. Nolan wasn’t one to sit back and coast on the hype of franchise filmmaking, in between his two huge Batman pictures, he crafted one of the best and most underrated films of the decade – “The Prestige”. A film as profoundly existential and powerful as it was thrilling mass-market entertainment. We don’t know how ‘Inception’ will turn out but his desire to keep working and produce both personal non-franchise films with his own writings is exciting.
Is it just me as does ‘Lord of the Rings’ seem like a hundred years ago? Those three films made so much money, were nominated for so many awards, got so much publicity the first 4 years of the decade Peter Jackson’s name was everywhere. Not to mention that after LOTR was over he miraculously was energized enough to remake ‘King Kong’ as a 3 hour epic CG gargantuan. The quality of that picture notwithstanding doesn’t taint Jackson’s influence on cinema in the decade, in what will be forever seen as his decade to shine. The achievement of shooting three films back-to-back is almost believable. But now, if anyone wants to do a franchise that’s just about the only way to maximum time, resource and the creative powers of your talent. After LOTR, Harry Potter employed the same methodology, essentially giving work to the same craftsmen and actors for 10 years straight, same with the last two installments of ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Pirates’ trilogy as well as the “Twilight” bunch.
Paul Greengrass’ visual style has become a verb in Hollywood. I can’t confirm, but I’m sure filmmakers are referring to the style of handholding the camera and rapid cutting it to almost near incomprehensibility is referred to as doing it ‘Greengrass’. Greengrass’s body of work is simply astounding – like Christopher Nolan, an ability to be put an auteur-intelligent stamp on big budgeted studio pictures. The decade started out for Greengrass with his Irish-UK dramatic recreation of ‘Bloody Sunday’ a Berlin Golden Bear winning drama which would come to define his distinct documentary-like visual style. Each successive film – ‘Bourne Supremacy’, ‘United 93’, ‘Bourne Ultimatum’ built upon this foundation of energetic realism. And arguably the zenith of his career will likely be ‘United 93’ – a perfect rendering of 9/11 and essentially the first and final cinematic statement of that fateful day.
In general Greengrass fits into a new wave of British filmmakers employing a similar tone of stylish realism, including Kevin MacDonald (‘Touching the Void’, ‘Last King of Scotland’) and Michael Winterbottom. Winterbottom was prolific throughout the decade making 8 dramas and 2 documentaries, honing the run-and-gun, location-based filmmaking he established in the 90’s. Despite his preference for genre hopping, the near future sci-fi of ‘Code 46’, the Western epicness of ‘The Claim’, the procedural realism of “A Mighty Heart” or the absurd comedy of ‘Tristram Shandy’, his visual sensibilities admirably connect his body of work with a true auteur stamp. Perhaps his most memorable film of the decade is his ambitious ‘In this World’ which follows an Afghan refugee boy from across the world from war torn Peshawar to Great Britain.
In 2006, the careers of the Mexican trio Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón, and Alejandro González Iñárritu, famously merged with three of that year’s most acclaimed films, respectively, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, ‘Children of Men’ and ‘Babel’. Throughout the decade the trio great success: Cuarón delivered the hardcore sexual road comedy, ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ then segued curiously into the Harry Potter franchise with, arguably, the series’ best entry, ‘The Prisoner of Azkaban’. Iñárritu’s decade started off loudly with his cleverly structured triptych story ‘Amores Perros’, then reworked the same concept with varying results in ’21 Grams’ and the aforementioned ‘Babel’. De Toro found success with each of his five films in the decade – the genre fantasy action pictures ‘Blade 2’ and both ‘Hellboy’ films as well as his lower key Spanish language creepers ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ and ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’.
Since most of Charlie Kaufman’s work in the decade was as writer, he may not qualify using the ‘Cahier du Cinema’ definition of auteur but nonetheless emerges as a legitimate cinematic force. As writer of ‘Being John Malkovich’ in 1999, Kaufman expounded on these same Escher-like methods of storytelling producing three memorable films – Spike Jonze’s ‘Adaptation’, Michel Gondry’s ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ and his own directorial debut ‘Synecdoche NY’.
Looking into Asia, Korean cinema overtook Japanese cinema as the most influential of the Asian extreme genre. And there’s no doubt the work of Chan-wook Park stands as the high bar of Asian cinema in the decade. The force of nature that is his ‘revenge’ trilogy will leave a lasting legacy. Arguably, it was the internet support of ‘Aint It Cool News’ which helped ‘Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance’, get some notice in North America. And so, when ‘Old Boy’ was released in 2003 Park was high on the radar of cinephiles. It did not disappoint, certainly shocking me into a cinematic coma.
There’s lot more interesting filmmakers with memorable bodies of work I haven't discussed like American indies Kelly Reichardt ('Wendy and Lucy'), David Gordon Green ('George Washington), Rahmin Bahrani ("Chop Shop') Jason Reitman’s three films seem to be increasing in complexity, though the 10’s promise to be even better. And I barely touched on international cinema, but filmmakers like Thailand’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul (‘Syndromes and a Century’), China’s Jia Zhang-ke (‘Still Life’), France’s Claire Denis (‘Beau Travail’), Jacques Audiard (‘Un Prophet’) and Gaspar Noe ('Irreversible') became unquestioned auteurs of world cinema.
Of course, I end off these discussions with my own personal favourites of the ‘New Auteurs’ discussed here:
United 93 (2006) dir. Paul Greengrass
The best film of 2006 was no doubt, ‘United 93’. All public worries that it was too early to make a film about 9/11 were allayed when Greengrass’ intense, reverent and shattering depiction of 9/11 was first seen. The film succeeds beyond its need to commemorate the event and the heroes, it’s supreme immersive filmmaking no matter the subject.
The Prestige (2005) dir. Christopher Nolan
Largely ignored at the time, the film had the misfortune of coming out after another ‘magician’ film that year, ‘The Illusionist’. But you just have to look at the userforum discussions from viewers and fans who continue to debate this beguiling film
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) dir. Guillermo Del Toro
Del Toro’s film had the misfortune of going up against the equally miraculous ‘Lives of the Others’ at the Oscars that year. ‘Others’ won the Oscar and shocked most people, including myself, who assumed ‘Labyrinth’ would win. I’m sure del Toro will get his Oscar some day, but for now, his wholly imaginative and emotionally heartbreaking WWII-set fantasy picture is still a masterpiece.
Old Boy (2003) dir. Chan-wook Park
Like ‘United 93’ Old Boy had the same visceral impact. Without knowing anything about the film, it’s possible to foresee how deep Park goes into the characters’ deep dark internal psychoses. Few films have capture the raw power and impact of vengeance with as much cinematic force as ‘Old Boy’. The final act packs as much force as a freight train.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) dir. Michel Gondry
I’m confident enough to say that I doubt there is a more creative director working cinema today than Michel Gondry. As evidence in his phenomenal music videos, he is a cinematic magician. And the merging of Gondry and the storytelling surrealist trickster Charlie Kaufman with ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ is a magical concoction. Gondry manages to create a kaleidoscope of emotions of Kaufman’s character logical and empathic. ‘Eternal Sunshine’ is masterpiece of this age of self-ware cynicism.