You’ve never heard of the best film of the noughties
With only four months left until we leave the awkward-to-say noughties behind, why is no-one yet talking about the annointment of the “best film of the decade”?
Despite terabytes of movie blog and opinion sites, all hungry for content, there’s precious little undercurrent for this film or that: no “camps” of bloggers waving the flag for Adaptation, There Will Be Blood, Ratatouille or even the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Quentin Tarantino this week listed his top 20 favourite flicks since 1992 (the year Reservoir Dogs was released) and even that didn’t spur a response narrowing things down to the decade.
It’s been a quiet 10 years for masterpieces: few Palmes d’Or winners received broad support, the list of the decade’s Oscar finalists was underwhelming and the multiplexes choked on sequels and remakes.
But here we are on the eve of the teens and there’s hardly as much as a shortlist out there. So what better place to start the conversation than here?
First things first: this opinion isn’t coming from an arthouse snob.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a lively hoot and I’m as revved up as the next guy for Avatar and Roland Emmerich’s 2012.
But the best film of the ‘00s is the 2008 animated Israeli docudrama Waltz With Bashir. No other film released this decade speaks for its time as well; nothing holds as many creative and artistic aces.
Little-seen in Australia, Waltz With Bashir is a quasi-autobiographical examination of respected director Ari Folman’s army service during Israel’s 1982 war with Lebanon.
Then a conscript of 19, Folman was stationed in Beirut with the Israeli Defense Forces while a massacre of Palestinian civilians was conducted by an Arab Christian sect.
Over the course of the film, Folman (well, his animated avatar) speaks with his middle-aged friends who also served and pieces together flashbacks of the atrocity which, we learn, was carried out under the complicit noses of the IDF.
So what’s so special about Waltz With Bashir? What are all these ‘aces’?
For starters, it’s great art. That’s the obvious definition for anything that could emerge so poised and poignant from the Middle East conflict, one of the modern world’s most grotesque and frustrating stand-offs.
Voices from all sides of the troubles have attacked the film…always a good sign.
But Waltz With Bashir isn’t about causes. Besides, Muslims and Christians have also stood by while horrible things have happened. Who hasn’t?
It’s about individuals stranded in morally compromised situations far beyond their control, which neatly reflects the reigning political and social climate of the decade.
As an aside, Bashir’s also got the critical and awards juice – across the board raves, the Directors Guild of America documentary prize and - in a rare moment of relevance for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association – the Golden Globe for best foreign language film.
Skilfully deploying OMD and PiL on the soundtrack doesn’t hurt either.
It’s animated. With a gorgeously evocative, almost neo-impressionist look – brought to life at the off-kilter rhythm of DIY Flash animation – Waltz With Bashir sits right on the cutting edge of visual chic.
Animation’s time came during the ‘00s, as the gold standard animation house Pixar (Toy Story, The Incredibles) continued to blitz the industry with a history-making run of creative and commercial success.
Robert Zemeckis and George Miller, masters of populists live action, also made films animated on computers, while smarty-pants indies gave the medium a shot of hip with the likes of Persepolis and the sadly overlooked Walking Life and Final Fantasy.
It blurs lines between fact and fiction. This was the decade when rationalism met pop fiction: Christopher Nolan’s Batman felt gravity, 007 got a motivation and The Office pushed the mockumentary form until you weren’t sure if Ricky Gervais was a real-life twat or not.
The ‘90s gave us the high-strung fakery of Scent of a Woman, Pulp Fiction, The Silence of the Lambs and Fight Club.
But in this decade real life came back to the movies, as much through the astonishingly true performances in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Vera Drake as the handheld rough-and-tumble of the Jason Bourne flicks.
So what better standard bearer for the decade than Waltz With Bashir, a docu-real war film where the director plays himself and ruminates on the persistence of memory?
It’s of then. It’s of now. Waltz With Bashir tells a story about boy soldiers in a well-equipped army fighting a war in the Middle East against an ill-defined enemy. Checked cnn.com in the last nine of so years?
The film’s numerous flashbacks to the ’82 Lebanon War (populated by younger and slimmer versions of Folman and his friends) also deliver plenty of ‘movie movie’ oomph as they recount the mad minutes of combat.
In both the panicky battle scenes and the reflective moments of middle age, Folman’s control as an editor and ability to deliver precision emotional thumps lend Waltz With Bashir its real edge.
Combined with the raw subject matter and intriguing visual presentation, the pic’s tucked-in storytelling gets an audience gasping and flinching almost in unison, from fade in to fade out.
And that’s exactly what the best film of the decade needs to do.
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