A Decade of Fear

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It’s taken me a year but I’ve finally managed to compile a list of my Favorite Films of the Decade: 2000-2009 so I thought I’d share it. My introduction echoes some earlier thoughts about fear and cinema that I shared during Halloween and wanted to expand upon. Besides my alphabetical list of Favorite Films of the Decade I also compiled lists of some Favorite Documentaries, Favorite Animation Films and Favorite Female & Male Performances. Naturally I haven’t seen every film produced between 2000 and 2009 so this list is limited to what I have seen and what made a lasting impression on me.

Letʼs just talk about fear. Fear, after all, is our real enemy. Fear is taking over our world. Fear is being used as a tool of manipulation in our society. Itʼs how politicians peddle policy and how Madison Avenue sells us things that we donʼt need. Think about it. Fear that weʼre going to be attacked, fear that there are communists lurking around every corner, fear that some little Caribbean country that doesnʼt believe in our way of life poses a threat to us. Fear that black culture may take over the world. Fear of Elvis Presleyʼs hips. Well, maybe that one is a real fear. Fear that our bad breath might ruin our friendships. Fear of growing old and being alone. Fear that weʼre useless and that no one cares what we have to say.
– Colin Firth in A Single Man; 2009

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself
—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

– Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address; 1933

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The decade began with a bang heard around the world.

I’m always a little surprised when people write about how “shocked” they were by the events that occurred on September 11, 2001. 9/11 didn’t shock me at all but it did horrify and sadden me. As soon a George Bush Jr. was crowned President I was fully aware that we were in for a shit storm of epic proportions that was going to rain reign down hard on us all. What did surprise me was the way that Americans responded to the events that took place on September 11, 2001. At first there seemed to be a genuine sense of unity and compassion among friends, family and strangers. But unity soon turned to fear and compassion transformed into distrust. Fear seemed to spread like a cancer and it ate away at the very fabric of the country while hindering progress of any kind.

The “Naughts” as they’ve been labeled were years when fear seemed to replace reasonable debate and logical arguments. Fear became the weapon of choice for politicians and media outlets trying to sell ideas and products. We were told to fear our neighbors, fear our food, fear teachers, fear doctors, fear plane travel, fear France, fear new ideas and finally to fear ourselves. Whether we want to admit it or not, the terrorists did what they set out to do on 9/11. They terrorized Americans and turned many of us into skittish creatures that jump when we see our own shadow and mistrust the motivations of just about everyone we come into contact with.

During the naughts people over the age of 60 seemed to disappear from public viewing. They were rarely seen on American TV or in Hollywood films except as figures of ridicule and humor. Old age is the last stage before death and people wanted none of it. We ran away from old age and death as if our own demise was somehow avoidable. Plastic surgery became commonplace. What was once a luxury for the incredibly wealthy or a medical procedure for those with debilitating scars was suddenly a beauty option that everyone should consider. It didn’t seem to matter that plastic surgery made most people look like aliens from another planet just as long as it masked their real age. In other words, looking like something from another world was far better than looking like an elderly person here on planet earth.

While we attempted to avoid the inevitable onset of old age we naturally began to obsess over our appearance. Image became everything. The naughts was a decade obsessed with physical beauty but often completely devoid of intellectual curiosity. American’s apparent obesity epidemic got lots of news coverage while anorexia was glamorized or swept under the rug. We were encouraged to shun overweight people and embrace silicon boobs. And no news outlet wanted to cover the rising poverty and hunger occurring in America throughout the decade. Starving children are not easy to talk about or pleasant to look at and you can’t make jokes about them. Where’s the fun in calling malnutritioned kids lazy and stupid?

In this kind of toxic environment the medical, diet and beauty industries thrived like never before while selling their snake oils in-between episodes of Extreme Makeover, Make Me a Super Model and The Biggest Loser. But it wasn’t just our bodies that needed fixing. Our minds were also in desperate need of a makeover and pharmaceutical companies fed on our fears. Having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning? Hate your job? Feeling trapped in an unhappy relationship? Got a bad case of the blues? Take a pill! Over-the-counter drug pushers made record profits in the naughts while praying on people’s depression during one of the countries most depressing decades. There seemed to be a pill made for everything and people bought what the drug companies were selling. Is it any wonder that legal drugs appear to be killing more people than illegal drugs these days?

School systems continued to crumble and the dumbing down of the nation not only became unavoidable, it was celebrated. Everyone had something to say. Everyone became a critic. Everyone started to blog (yours truly included) or visited chat forums and social media outlets where they could express their opinions no matter how vile or ignorant. When confronted by something that didn’t fit within their comfort zones or confirm to their limited world view many lashed out with hostility. It quickly became apparent that there were a lot of angry and miserable people sitting at home behind their computers and they all seemed to want to point the finger at someone, something or anything but themselves.

Lots of documentary filmmakers also seemed to enjoy using fear as a tool to win attention and forgo good filmmaking. What they lacked in ideas and information they made up for in scare value. Did you know that gorging yourself daily on McDonalds’ food will make you ill and probably kill you? Were people really unaware of this simple fact before Super Size Me (2004) was released? I guess so because for some strange reason the movie was nominated for countless awards and endless imitators have followed Morgan Spurlock’s lead. Ignorance is killing us and fear sells.

But there was some benefit to all this fear peddling. After two decades of scant thrills and very little chills horror movies finally got scary again. Really scary! They also got really good.

Thanks to the rising popularity of Asian horror movies in the late ’90s as well as a new wave of independent horror cinema the naughts began as a decade ripe with possibility and the horror genre blossomed. Hollywood may have kept its head in the clouds while it regurgitated tired scripts and remade classic films into easily forgotten entertainment but outside of Hollywood and in other countries many filmmakers never let us forget that we were living in extremely scary times. Government sanctioned torture, suicide bombers, environmental disasters, serial killers, domestic violence, police brutality, sexual predators, date rape drugs, mental illness, increasing isolation, infectious disease. . . The list of terrors lurking around every corner grew endless and horror films gave us an unblinking look at them all.

I’ve appreciated the extremely graphic nature of horror films made during the last decade. Americans weren’t allowed to see the dead bodies of soldiers killed in an illegal war fought in our name but we could experience some catharsis through the movies we watched. I identified with the victims and sympathized with their plight because they were reflections of us all and our own fears. I also found myself occasionally stunned by the smart, scary and creative ways in which so many directors were able to infuse the tired genre with life. Violent, chaotic, bloody red and uninhibited life, but life nonetheless. Horror cinema was willing and able to tackle the very real terror that seemed to engulf the planet in the last decade and it also offered up the only constant critique of it. Directors around the world found inspiration in the horror films of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s that were often politically motivated and socially conscious. But like the horror films that came before them it will probably take another 10 or 20 years before these recent horror movies are fully understood and appreciated.

You’ll find that many of the films on my “Favorite films of the Decade” list are horror films made by talented directors like Danny Boyle and Brad Anderson as well as Gaspar Noe, Béla Tarr, Gus Van Sant and Claire Danes. Now I know what you’re thinking, horror films?! Most of those directors make art films, not horror film! But my response to that is bullshit poppycock. Film is an evolving art form still in its infancy. Thinly defined genres are always changing and assumed boundaries should constantly be re-imagined and tossed aside. If you lack the imagination to see films like Irreversible, Werckmeister Harmonies, Elephant and Trouble Every Day as horror films it’s your loss. Not mine. I embrace these films because of their darker nature and their ability to explore and unmask our fears. So to the horror films of the last decade, I salute you! I’m extremely thankful for all the directors that made my favorite film genre interesting and exciting again.

I’d like to write more in-depth about all of these films in the future and expand on the ways in which horror cinema challenged us and entertained us during the last decade, but that could easily turn into a book length article. I did link to a few articles I previously wrote for some films in 2009 during my “Modern Monday” updates.

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Favorite Films: 2000-2009
Title/Director/Year/Country or Main Countries of Origin
28 Days Later (Danny Boyle; 2002) UK
American Psycho (Mary Harron; 2000) US
The Bank Job (Roger Donaldson; 2008) UK
Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku; 2000) Japan
Before the Fall (F. Javier Gutiérrez; 2008) Spain
Bright Future (Kiyoshi Kurosawa; 2003) Japan
Bright Star (Jane Campion; 2009) Australia/UK
Brotherhood of the Wolf (Christophe Gans; 2001) France
Calvaire (Fabrice Du Welz; 2004) Belgium/France
Capote (Bennett Miller; 2005) US
Cecil B. DeMented (John Waters; 2000) US
Cloverfield (Matt Reeves; 2008) US
Control (Anton Corbijn; 2007) UK
Cracks (Jordan Scott; 2009) UK
Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier; 2000) Denmark
The Devil’s Backbone (Guillermo del Toro; 2001) Spain
The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci; 2003) Italy
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry; 2004) US
Exiled (Johnnie To; 2006) Hong Kong
Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff; 2001) US
Ginger Snaps (John Fawcett; 2000) Canada
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Niels Arden Oplev; 2009) Sweden
Gus Van Sant’s Death Trilogy (Gerry, Elephant, Last Days; 2002-2005) US
High Tension (Alexandre Aja; 2003) France
Hunger (Steve McQueen; 2008) UK
I’m Not Scared (Gabriele Salvatores; 2003) Italy
Ichi the Killer (Takeshi Miike; 2001) Japan
Innocence (Lucile Hadzihalilovic; 2004) France
Irreversible (Gaspar Noé; 2002) France
Last Life in the Universe (Pen-Ek Ratanaruang; 2003) Thailand/Japan
Left Bank (Pieter Van Hees; 2008) Belgium
Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson; 2008) Sweden
Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch; 2009) US
Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola; 2003) US
Love Songs (Christophe Honoré; 2007) France
Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay; 2002) UK
Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch; 2001) US
No Country For Old Men (Ethan & Joel Coen; 2007) US
Oldboy (Chan-wook Park; 2003) Korea
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (Michel Hazanavicius; 2006) France
The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke; 2002) Germany/France
The Proposition (John Hillcoat; 2005) Australia
The Quiet American (Phillip Noyce; 2001) Australia/US
[Rec] (Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza; 2007) Spain
Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky; 2000) US
A Single Man (Tom Ford; 2009) US
Session 9 (Brad Anderson; 2001) US
Shadow of the Vampire (E. Elias Merhige; 2000) US
Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright; 2004) UK
Strigoi (Faye Jackson; 2009) UK/Romania
There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson; 2007) US
This Is England (Shane Meadows; 2007) UK
Time Crimes (Nacho Vigalondo; 2007) Spain
Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis; 2001) France
Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr; 2000) Hungry
Wonder Boys (Curtis Hanson; 2000) US
Zodiac (David Fincher; 2007) US

Honorable mentions: Sunshine (Danny Boyle; 2007), The Prestige (Christopher Nolan; 2006), In Paris (Christophe Honoré ; 2006), Antichrist (Lars von Trier; 2009), Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas.; 2008), Hostel Part: II (2007), Suicide Club (Shion Sono; 2001), Vinyan (Fabrice Du Welz; 2008) and Puffball (Nicolas Roeg; 2007).

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Some Favorite Documentaries: 2000-2009
Title/Director/Year/Country or Main Countries of Origin
51 Birch Street (Doug Block; 2005) US
Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki; 1003) US
Children Underground (Edet Belzberg; 2001) Us/Romania
Chris & Don: A Love Story (Guido Santi and Tina Mascara; 2007) US
Crazy Love (Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens; 2007) US
The Fog of War (Errol Morris; 2003) US
Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog; 2005) German/US
Gumby Dharma (Robina Marchesi; 2006) US
In the Realms of the Unreal (Jessica Yu; 2004) US
Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis (Mary Jordan; 2006) US

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Some Favorite Animation Films: 2000-2009
Title/Director/Year/Country or Main Countries of Origin
Blood: The Last Vampire (Hiroyuki Kitakubo; 2000) Japan
Chicken Run (Nick Park; 2000) UK
Metropolis (Rintaro; 2001) Japan
The Powerpuff Girls Movie (2002; Craig McCracken) US
Ratatouille (Brad Bird; 2007) US
Samurai Champloo series (Shinichirō Watanabe; 2004-2005)
Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki; 2001) Japan
The Triplets of Belleville (Sylvain Chomet; 2003) France
Vampire Hunter D (Yoshiaki Kawajiri; 2001) Japan
Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman; 2008) Israel

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Some Favorite Female Performances: 2000-2009
Asia Argento (The Last Mistress)
Maria Bello (History of Violence)
Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream)
Abbie Cornish (Bright Star)
Béatrice Dalle (Trouble Every Day)
Julie Deply (Before Sunset)
Cécile De France (High Tension)
Eva Green (The Dreamers)
Naomie Harris (28 Days Later)
Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher)
Katharine Isabelle & Emily Perkins tie (Ginger Snaps)
Nicole Kidman (Birth)
Eline Kuppens (Left Bank)
Julianne Moore (Blindness)
Samantha Morton (Morven Callar)
Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)

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Some Favorite Male Performances: 2000-2009
Tadanobu Asano (Ichi the Killer)
Christian Bale (American Psycho)
Josh Brolin (No Country For Old Men)
Min-sik Choi (Oldboy)
Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Revolutionary Road)
Michael Douglas & Robert Downey Jr. tie (Wonder Boys)
Michael Fassbender (Hunger & Fish Tank – tie)
Colin Firth (A Single Man)
Louis Garrel (Love Songs)
Stephen Graham (This Is England)
Viggo Mortensen (History of Violence)
Bill Murray (Lost In Translation)
Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later)
Sam Riley (Control)
Jason Statham (The Bank Job)