Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Readers SLAM Screenwriter’s best of the decade (not really).

There was controversy galore when we announced the best of the noughties.

Wed, Dec 2, 2009, 23:21


Well, wouldn’t you know it. For the first time since this blog started, due to a mild technological irregularity while holidaying, I was unable to moderate comments for a full 24 hours. As it happened, that was, of course, the day Screenwriter had by far the highest number of posts in its brief history. No surprises there, I suppose. Who doesn’t have an opinion about the best 20 flicks of the decade? Anyway, normal service is now resumed.

To be fair, though there were dozens of posts suggesting omissions, you were, for the most part, very polite and acknowledged the impossibility of selecting a definitive list of 20 films. However, as the comments built up, the exclusion of one film in particular began to seem more and more conspicuous. In one of those mild ironies that make life worth living, I spent a good portion of Tuesday — the day the comment avalanche hit Screenwriter Gulch — wandering round the excellent DDR museum in Berlin. Over here we have a typical flat from East Germany circa 1982. Over there you can examine Stasi surveillance equipment. In the gift shop, you can buy a copy of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s fine thriller The Lives of Others. You know, that film the moron from The Irish Times failed to put in his top 20 of the noughties.


Team America World Police? I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Send in the goons.

In a good-natured post, Anton Chigurh (no doubt troubled by his own exclusion) suggested  that I was a “crazy jellyfish” for leaving it out. About a third of the posts also mentioned the Cold War classic’s omission. Yes, classic. Readers will be relieved to hear that the picture was in and out of the list during the hours up to deadline. Other frequently mentioned exclusions such as Adaptation, No Country for Old Men, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind were also penciled in and, had it been a top 25, I suspect those five (with, maybe, The Descent and Dead Man’s Shoes running them close) would have made it into the winner’s enclosure.

So, I couldn’t really, in all good faith, justify launching into a pondering of “what’s wrong” with The Lives of Others. It seemed to me to a deeply moving and thunderingly exciting picture. Perhaps it just felt a little bit — don’t yell, just a little bit — like a high-class soap opera. And I’m not sure young Florian shows that much directorial flourish. (But, then again, I hear you say, when a director can tell a story this well, he doesn’t need flourish). In any case, I still don’t think I would include the film if I were re-doing the chart tomorrow, but, when I see it in other folks’ lists, I nod in near-complete agreement.

What of City of God? Fernando Meirelles’s electrifying tale of the Favelas has certainly picked up legions of enthusiasts and driven quite a few young talents scurrying behind a camera. Many here felt its non-appearence, to quote Murta, an “unfathomable omission.” Indeed, only Lives of Others had more supporters. Again, I think it’s a very fine piece of work, but, after several viewings, it still seems like the classiest, zippiest sort of penny-dreadful. It never quite made my long-list.

What interested me most here, however, were the objections to inclusions and to two in particular. In the nine years that I have been battering keyboards for The Irish Times, the review that generated by far the greatest number of angry e-mails was neither my bored shrug at Harry Potter and Whatever it is This Year nor my facetious denunciation of Watchmen (though, as you can imagine, those notices did anger the Nerdisphere). It was my five-star rave for a film that received consistently excellent reviews elsewhere and (not that this really matters) picked up an Oscar for best original screenplay. Yes, a legion of readers hated Lost in Translation. And it’s still going on. Again and again, comments raged about Sofia Coppola’s odd comedy making in into the top 20 “Did Lost in Translation have to cheapen itself by trying to stuff in as much stereotypes as it did?” Fearghal said. “Totally empty” Mike said. “Lost in Translation sticks out like a sore thumb here,” Hairy Cake added. Phew! Well, I do acknowledge the problem with Japanese stereotypes, but, as a depiction of numbed dislocation and the emotional surges that result, it still seems right on the money. Surely it deserves credit for that gloriously romantic last sequence: the kiss, the unheard remark, the Jesus and Mary Chain? No? Does anybody out there still like the picture?

The other highly contentious inclusion was David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence. Now, since its release, this has been a Marmite film: you either love it or it makes you want to vomit. To those who preferred Eastern Promises, I would say that the latter picture is about as good a film as it is possible to make from a poor script. A History of Violence — though stubbornly odd — is a beautifully balanced whole that makes more sense the more you wallow in its ugliness.

What else? Well, other films mentioned often included Donnie Darko, Requiem for a Dream and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (all of which I like). I was going to end by saying that I was amazed nobody cried out for The Dark Knight. Then, as I began typing this paragraph, Brian did just that. Well done, sir. You have provided us with our full stop.