Archive for the ‘Best of 2000s’ Category

Best of the Decade, No. 95: Shaolin Soccer

January 8, 2010

Gagman and opportunist, multi-hyphenate Stephen Chow timed his football comedy to coincide with the arrival of the World Cup in Japan. Tapping into the global power of the sport, he also made the first successful HK crossover hit which actually had more comedy than martial arts in it. The original pre-Weinstein cut of Shaolin Soccer is happily scatological and senseless in its story of a drunken master (Chow) who learns that sport is the best way to spread his kung fu gospel. There are some poetic moments as well, such as adorable Vicki Zhao, who makes steamed buns using her own martial arts skills. Chow and Zhao assemble a team of misfits who, in the best Major League tradition, suit up for a final match that will avenge the honor of slighted soccer star. The China Super Cup final plays out like a Fox Sports interstitial on Barry Bonds’s medicine cabinet. The film established Chow not only as a superior clown but one who knew how to use his camera. And beneath the laughs is a serious point: while martial arts may be the glory of Chinese’s aesthetics, the world demands that its fundamentals be applied to more modern pursuits.
See also: Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

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Best of the Decade, No. 96: The Hurt Locker

January 7, 2010

If filmmakers took their time before jumping on Vietnam, Hollywood was determined to report on Operation Enduring Freedom as it was happening. Indeed, rarely has mainstream film jumped on contemporary events so quickly. Audiences stayed away in droves, but history will hopefully one day return to films like Redacted and The Battle of Haditha. Those movies had points to prove. Kathryn Bigelow’s canny thriller prefers to tie her issues up in the sheer visceral routine of a bomb disposal unit. Locker first and foremost deserves to be celebrated for its suspense sequences—Jeremy Renner’s first day in the field could have made Hitchcock’s palms sweat, while the dispatch of a sniper seems set in the same absurdist desert where Bunuel planted St. Simon of the Stylites. Bigelow emphasizes stress over pyrotechnics. While big name stars are hurriedly put into the ground, the real casualty in this movie is American manhood and the audience’s nervous system. The most enduring image of the film, however, might just be when Renner’s cowboy sergeant returns to the United States and stands bewildered in front of a massive wall of cereal boxes.

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Best of the Decade, No. 97: Pootie Tang

January 7, 2010

“Sa da tay,” you say? This inscrutable Chris Rock-endorsed satire of blaxploitation superheroes ain’t the most coherent movie in town, but it invites the audience into a world governed by unstable rules. Wielding his father’s belt, the titular Tang (Lance Crowther) radiates an African-American “It” imperceptible to everybody except those on screen. In a favored 2000s theme, he battles the nasty forces of corporate America as incarnated in Robert Vaughn’s toupee. The low-budget comedy could have been made in somebody’s backyard and the gags evaporate about ten minutes before the end. Up until that point, though, this film made Squally laugh like a Paris sewer. It also provided an early showcase for the talents of Wanda Sykes and Jennifer Coolidge, indicating that despite the onscreen misogyny, Tang‘s gospel was all-inclusive. Written and directed by Louis C.K., whose auteurist command extended to doing the music, too. R. Kelly missed his chance, but his own 2000s masterpiece “Trapped in the Closet” took the Tang and ran with it.

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Best of the Decade, No. 98: The Descent

January 7, 2010

The unseen has always been the filmmaker’s best friend and darkness one of their greatest tools. It was something Val Lewton understood when he took over RKO’s B-horror unit. In a decade when Saw and its ilk was showing us more than we cared to see, writer-director Neil Marshall turned the lights down. Six women spend an annual holiday spelunking in the Appalachians. Alas, this day they’ve picked the wrong tunnel to wriggle down. Flashlights and torches reveal bleached bones. Soon the women are being picked off one-by-one by barely glimpsed mutants. Marshall has studied horror and understands it. He knows the women have to be more interesting—and possibly more savage—than the mutants, and they are. He understands that horror–as opposed to say, the western–is a specifically feminine genre. The final girl emerges from the cave reborn, but the past is still determined to have its way with her. Shocking and grimy, The Descent won’t be scrubbed off.

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Best of the Decade, No. 99: Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

January 7, 2010

The Ken Burns Method became an unfortunate byword for documentary veracity in 2000s—Squally’s stomach is still recovering from the treacly use of pictures and voiceover in Seabiscuit. His four-hour epic Unforgivable Blackness, on the other hand, was a genuine scoop lifted from an unreported era of American history. From Galveston, Johnson battled his way to the heavyweight championship in 1908. Disgust at his prowess reached such a height that he literally had to travel around the world to Sydney for his chance at the title—in the process giving birth to the idea of “the great white hope.” His defeat of Jim Jeffries in 1910 led to deadly race riots while feeding black pride. Johnson’s subsequent “fall,” due in part to his taste for white women and sporting lifestyle, remains a paradigm that continues to inspire athletes and expose the nation’s racial fissures. Amid the vintage film and Samuel L. Jackson reading from Johnson’s memoirs, Burns’s narrative thrusts like a haymaker. Obama’s victory in 2008 only made scrutiny of the Johnson myth more essential.

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Best of the Decade, No. 100: Never Back Down

January 7, 2010

There are films that you see because they’re supposed to be good for you. Then there are films which are the tonic for jaded eyes. Such is this teen-friendly knuckle-duster, in which a country boy is thrown into the world of Florida high school fight clubs. No innovation or transcendence is needed. The plot is a premise for good looking boys to strip off and start throwing ham while the good looking girls simper on the sidelines. As the decade drew to a close, director Jeff Wadlow (Cry Wolf) stripped away extraneous elements to stay true to the exploitative heart getting pummeled beneath.
See also: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

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