Best of the Decade
Just as they did ten years ago, James Quandt and TIFF Cinematheque (née Cinematheque Ontario) have conducted a worldwide poll of film curators, archivists, historians and programmers for best ("most important") films of the decade (scroll down for the compiled list). It's a heady and wonderful list that militates unashamedly and polemically for film as art. There are 54 films on the list, and four of the top 5 are Asian. Here's the top 10:
1. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand)
2. Platform (Jia Zhang-ke, China)
3. Still Life (Jia Zhang-ke, China)
4. Beau Travail (Claire Denis, France)
5. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-Wai, Hong Kong, China)
6. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand)
7. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, Romania); and Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr, Hungary).
8. Éloge de l'amour (Jean-Luc Godard, France)
9. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu)
10. Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico)
One of the purposes of such a list is to stimulate conversation and debate. So, let me make a few comments about it; I invite you to do the same.
-- Just 5 of the 54 are women-made films: Beau Travail and L'Intrus (Claire Denis); The Gleaners and I (Agnes Varda); The Headless Woman (Lucretia Martel); and Longing (Valeska Grisebach). Missing women filmmakers include Chantal Akerman, Catherine Breillat, and Jennifer Reeves (among many others).
-- The list privileges narrative, feature-length films. Avant-garde/experimental cinema is almost wholly absent (save Ken Jacobs, and Apichatpong, whose work straddles narrative and avant-garde modes). Thus, for instance: no James Benning, Peter Tscherkassky, Nathaniel Dorsky, Michael Robinson, or (again) Jennifer Reeves. Also: no short films except Guy Maddin's The Heart of the World.
-- The decade was marked by an explosion of the documentary form, which had a profound influence on fiction filmmaking and even made great incursions into the mainstream. But documentaries (except the Varda) go missing on the list.
-- By explicitly advancing the cause of art cinema, a poll such as this automatically marginalizes the aesthetic merits of commercial cinema. So, from Hollwyood to Bollywood, popular cinema barely registers here.
-- A personal aside: My own cinephilia peaked during this time. I attended TIFF throughout the decade, and caught most of the films on the list at the festival. There's exactly one film here that I didn't care for at the time: Roy Andersson's Songs from the Second Floor (2000). Time to give it a second look.
-- I wonder: are all filmmakers represented here by their most worthy work of this decade? There are two Tsai Ming-Liang films on this list but not What Time is it There? (2001), which, to my mind, is a key film in his oeuvre, a kind of summation of his themes and a compendium of his style. I have no quarrel whatsoever with Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth or In Vanda's Room (astounding films, both!) but I miss the inclusion of his Straub/Huillet documentary, Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie? Finally, I wonder: is Lucretia Martel's The Headless Woman her best film--better than The Holy Girl or La Cienaga?
Let me conclude by adding a handful of personal choices that are not on the list: La Captive (Chantal Akerman, France), RR (James Benning, USA), Remembrance of Things to Come (Chris Marker, France), Man Without a Past (Aki Kaurismaki, Finland), and Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (Peter Tscherkassky, Austria).
I'd love to hear your reactions to the Cinematheque list--and your ideas for "best films of the decade" that don't appear on it.