Monday, 14 February 2011

The Romantic 00's

The Best Romance Films of the 2000s - Part 10 of our ongoing series

Before Sunset (c) 2004 Warner Independent Pictures
Happy Valentine's Day! Hope you didn't think I was done with these Best of the Decade -lists? I have plenty still to go, so here's the 11 Best Romance Films of Last Decade

(500) Days of Summer (2009)
Director: Marc Webb

500 Days Of Summer Dance Scene from Randy Beeman on Vimeo.

In a love story that has a broken narrative, we take glimpses here and there of a romance between Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel). The boy is deeply in love, but Summer is whimsical by nature and when it seems the relationship is getting too heavy, she breals it off. Tom is having a hard time adjusting. It's a film a lot more about the pains of love than the good parts movies tend to focus about. But it is also an optimistic film about coping with loss and a broken heart.

This isn't the kind of movie that'll cheat you with false premises of love. Rather, it is one that'll make you feel better about relationships that don't work. It's funny and charming, but also painfully real at parts. The empty or overwhelming feelings felt inside when in a one-sided relationship are brought out especially well. The music and athmosphere is still a bit too indie for its own good. This isn't overtly analytical about relationships but if you want that, you can go watch Woody Allen instead. For us with a warmer heart this is a real treat. Even if it doesn't give us easy, simple solutions. 

Battle in Heaven (Batalla en el cielo, 2005)
Director: Carlos Reygadas

This might be a story of an unrequited love, or not. The film seems to be a lot of things. At least it contains a lot of sex, from the opening scene featuring a blowjob on. The middle-aged chauffeur Marcos (Marcos Hernéndez) dreams about the young general's daughter Ana (Anapola Mushkaditz) who he drives around. Ana works as a prostitute, which increases Marcos' desperation and horniness both. Marcos also carries guilt for having kidnapped a baby which has died.

Mostly the film seems to be a portrayal of a middle-aged man's mind coming to pieces. It's not easy to say what is Marcos' fantasizing and what is real. At the scene where he finally has sex with Ana, for example, his mind begins to wander and the camera goes slowly around the neighbourhood. Could this all be just a daydream or is it that just to show just sex won't satisfy his hopes towards Ana? The Christian religion also plays a major part in the crushing guilt Marcos is feeling (it's in the title), and that is probably what makes him do the things he does in the end. It won't end happily for those concerned, but the film in all its difficulty is well worth multiple looks.

Before Sunset (2004)
Director: Richard Linklater

Before Sunset is one of the biggest miracles of the decade. How is it that Linklater was able to create such a perfect sequel to his 1995 Generation X romance? It's largely thanks to the actors, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. They helped out with the script, and as a result, both characters pour their hearts out at their frozen thirtysomething lifestyles in a painfully realistic manner. Hawke's marriage in the film is crumbling, although he has a young child. In real life, Hawke was soon divorced from Uma Thurman.

Celine (Delpy) hears Jesse (Hawke) is in paris to promote his new book and seeks him out. The couple haven't heard from each other since the last film - neither arrived at the rendez-vous. But they have a lot of catching up to do before Jesse's flight back home. The story follows the couple in real time as they wander around the streets of Paris, talking about their lives and everything else. The talk is more down-to-earth this time as 30-year-olds are more practical than 20-somethings. Linklater cuts the film perfectly and makes the whole film seem effortless. The couple starts to see the affection they had the last time around but were too scared to follow. The film ends just perfectly, not saying too much but giving us just the right amount. Will there be a third one in a few years? If there is, that would need to have an all new kind of magic as well.

Far From Heaven (2002)
Director: Todd Haynes

You could call Far From Heaven an anti-romance film, as it depicts a couple whose marriage is falling apart. But there's also a lot more subtle romance going on. In 1950's American suburbs the husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) drives around going around in bars not knowng what he's looking for. The lonely housewife Cathy (Julianne Moore), on the other hand, grows friendly with a black man, Raymond, son of her late gardener. This raises up all sorts of rumours among the suburb's other housewifes.

Later on it becomes obvious that Frank has homosexual urges. He tries to act as a real husband but with no avail, which makes him drink and rage. Poor Cathy is ever in a worse situation, yet her friendship with Raymond deepens with their common interest in art. The blooming romance is spoiled by the racist athmosphere of the times and the will for Cathy to keep her face. Also it can create danger of violence on innocents, like Cathy's daughter has to face. Only at the very end she realizes that she deserves happiness as much as Frank, but by then it's too late. Director Haynes nails the old Douglas Sirk formula of making melodramatic dramas, yetmanages to make an issue film that's easy to follow, yet doesn't feel it's pandering its audience with a hard-handed message.

In The Mood For Love (Fa yeung nin wa, 2000)
Director: Wong Kar-wai

One of Wong's finest deals with an apartement block where a man and a woman meet. They are both married, yet their spouses are never there and the couple feel lonely. As they start to spend more time together, they start to realiye their spouses might even have an affair among themselves. This puts a stop to them wanting to have a deeper relationship with each other as they both "don't want to sink to the same level" of a homewrecker.

Christopher Doyle does tremendous photography here and creates vivid and colourful images that are melancholy and deep at the same time. Likewise Wong has a great film that doesn#t have any easy answers nor anything extra within it. A must see.

I'm a Cyborg, but That's OK (2006)
Director: Park Chan-wook

This list's black horse is a fantasy-romance set to a madhouse, directed by the Korean wonderboy Park Chan-wook. It hasn't been as critically acclaimed as many other of park's films, but I simply love its whimsical nature and giddy funniness. It is a love story between a woman who thinks she's a cyborg, and a masked cleptomaniac. He prefers to walk backwards, she talks to lights and vending machines and sucks batteries. And of course dreams sbout brutally murdering all the nurses in the clinic with her fingertip machineguns. It's rare that a romantic comedy is so violent, even though in actuality, only one person dies in the film. But nevertheless, the core romance is touching. The man doesn't try to change her love, but rather works with her on the same rules as she plays to get her to eat and do other things she really needs to survive. That's basically what every great love is all about, but this one comes as a bonus for having fantasies to shrinking so small as to ride a ladybug around.

Lost in Translation (2003)
Director: Sofia Coppola

I think this list might show off my view of romances as being by definition complicated. Indeed, very few of these are straightforward boy-meets-girl -stories that have a happy ending. Well, a boy meets a girl here - if you can call 50-something Bill Murray a boy. He plays Bob Harris, a 50-something actor, out in Tokyo to shoot a Japanese commercial. Bob meets Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a beautiful young newlywed, whose husband is a photographer and always out to work. Both people, left alone in a big city, find console in each other. It's not entirely clear whether it is a depiction of your typical romantic love, but some sort of mutual admiration is found between the pair.

Tokyo is depicted as full of everything, all of which is worthless. Bob can't get inside the Japanese culture, which causes more alienation. The only downsides in the film are some racial tones, which Coppola uses to emphasize this contrast. She would later get more skillful with it. Yet Bob also has differed from the youth of his own homecountry, as told by his costume choice when out to meet young people.

As it is, LOT is a pretty gripping piece of work that perfectly captures the comfort we get when we get remedy for aching loneliness. The main characters may keep on having pretty much the same kind of lives, but it is heart-melting to watch them ease up even just a little.

Love Exposure (Ai no mukidashi, 2008)
Director: Sion Sono

Love Exposure is so much unlike any other romance film there is. At four hours, it feels like a short music video and by the end the viewer is left wanting more. The punk music, below-the-navel humour and cool fight scenes help a lot, I suppose. Love Exposure is to love what 2001: A Space Odyssey was to the development of mankind - it includes it in its entirity. Celibacy, first love, sexual relationships, homosexuality, late bloomers, perversity and, of course the never-ending frustration are vividly brought to life by Sono's imagination.

Yu Honda (Takahiro Nishijima) is a preacher's son. As a devoted catholic, he's promised to keep his virginity until he finds the perfect lady. He also is interested in finding out about the worlds of sin, just so he could have something to confess to his father, who's lost the will to live after his wife's death. One day, after losing a bet to his friends, Yu is forced to dress up as a woman. He soon gets into a major street brawl, where he first meets Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima). He falls head-over-heels in love and so does Yoko - but she to the female character Ms. Scorpion Yu was dressed up as. Things get even more complicated when Yu's father marries Yoko's stepmother and they become siblings. In addition to that, Yoko's friend and cult leader Aya Koike (Sakura Ando) has some reasons of herself to keep the couple away from each other. And that's just the setup, about the first hour of the film.

Even though the film doesn't shy away from such bad taste, it also has a ponderous side of the nature of love and how one creates it. And it has also a darker side. All the characters are three-dimensional as they have skeletons in the past, which helps to understand why they do the things that they do, and how hard it is to get to a happy ending. Sono directs it all with a wonderful, weird touch and plenty of great ideas.

The Man without a Past (Mies vailla menneisyyttä, 2002)
Director: Aki Kaurismäki

The most internationally acclaimed Finnish director has made a long career of brilliant films, but this one is one of his best. It is a romance told with small nyances and scenes. A rewatch revealed that it was also a lot more. A man (Markku Peltola) arrives by train to Helsinki and is soon brutally beaten. The man is pronounced dead at the hospital, yet he escapes without remembering who he really is. He starts working at the docks and falls for a Salvation Army worker Irma (Kati Outinen). The man, now known as M makes friends with the poor, but has troubles with the authorities as he can't remember his name. He's been told that the government isn't interested in knowing anything other than his name.

Kaurismäki makes no mistake he would miss the Finland of the olden days where a man was measured by his friends, not by papers and a bank account. He tells the story in his common style, with a lot of dry humour and deadpan delivery of literary lines. No single line is used that doesn't have use for the story. The film is funny as hell and has great musical numbers in between. The central romance perhaps isn't the deepest part in the story, but has great captures of moments, such as the part where M and Irma go out to collect mushrooms. This is the sort of image I'd like foreign people to have about Finland.

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

An Adam Sandler movie worth watching? Now I've seen everything. Yet the greatest American Actor's Director Paul Thomas Anderson nails it again. Sandler does have some of his manners, but is not playing his moronic man-child image purely for cheap laughs. Instead, he is a mostly symphatetic person that has his darker sides that we as viewers feel uncomfrotable with. Does a borderline mentaly ill person deserve a romance or should he need some help? Sandler's character Barry Egan is a novelty item salesman, constantly tortured verbally by his seven sisters. Barry's lonely, desperate and prone to having bursts of rage. To the outside world he's something to take advantange of, and he tries to do the same thing himself, with poor results. Barry has a string of bad luck that gets him chased by some shady men. But then he meets Lena (Emily Watson) and it all seems to finally go OK. But the people bossing Barry around aren't going to let him go that easily.

Anderson mixes just the right amount of weird real life quirks (such as the pudding scam to achieve free air mails) to a love story that's dark around the edges. I find it strange that the film is not more acclaimed. It's smaller in scale and a lot more intimate than the puffed-up and overrated Mangolia.

Wall-E (2008)
Director: Anderw Stanton

I may have already used Wall-E in these lists (in Sci-fi one), but I just don't have the heart to leave it out. For I truly think it's one of the most touching romance films of the decade. And probably the most identifiable for me, as well. A lonely garbage disposal meets a high-tech scout droid. Against all odds such different beings do find common ground. Wall-E falls for EVE in a second, but part of the film's magic is watching the process in which EVE learns to love Wall-E too. All without saying no more than each character's names. Now THAT'S dialogue minimalism that would impress Kaurismäki. It is not a perfect film, as all scenes not concerning the love of the two robots seem to belong into another film, more noisy and idealstic. I would've been happy just to watch these two the whole time, stranded on wasted Earth with each other.

Bubbling under:
Brokeback Mountain (2005), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), The Fountain (2007), Let The Right One In (2008), Mister Lonely (2007)

To be seen:
The Dreamers (2003)
Intimacy (2001)
Innocence (2000)
The Piano Teacher (La Pianiste, 2001)
Shortbus (2006)

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