The Absolute Best of the Century (Thus Far)

When it was first suggested that each Dork Shelfer (we’re kinda like the Maple Leafs that way) write a blurb about their favourite comic book, video game and movie of the past decade, reactions were mixed. It’s the general consensus that the only thing more arbitrarily reductive than declaring the ‘best’ of the year is pretending to know what was the ‘best’ of the last ten years (if you’re thinking to yourself ‘what about the best of the last one hundred years?’ then you’re a smartass who’s missing the point). I mean, who am I to tell you that Wild Hogs will become the under-appreciated Citizen Kane of our generation?  Of course, this is by no means what we’re trying to do, but merely attempting to relay our personal impressions of what stuck out as our favourite sources of entertainment since recovering from the Y2K scare (I still keep all perishable food items at least 10 feet away from my computer at all times, just in case).

Comics

I only really began reading comics in the last few years, the majority of which were not written this decade. My expertise is further limited by the fact that I’ve stuck mainly to Batman stories and standalone graphic novels, so there were very few books for me to pick from.  That being said, my pick for favourite comic book is Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? by Neil Gaiman. The two part-story represented the final issues of the original Batman (as issue #686) and Detective Comics (issue #853) series respectively. Each part consists primarily of eulogies delivered at Batman’s funeral by his various allies and adversaries, many of which describe different versions of his death while he listens from some unknown limbo-like location. In line with the abstract poeticism and experimental storytelling (particularly for such an often overly literal medium) are Andy Kubert’s brilliantly detailed panels and representation of different Batmans throughout the ages.

Video Games

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I know it’s a bit ironic to say that I’m not a big comic book guy and then choose a superhero game as my pick, but I’m going to have to follow Zack’s lead on this one and say that Spider-Man 2 for PlayStation 2 was my favourite game of the decade.  What makes this game so fun is the freedom that the ‘choose your own adventure’ format allows.  Even though each stage has objectives you must reach, there’s no urgency to them, allowing you to swing around the city, climb the city’s tallest skyscrapers and earn hero points by preventing any crimes you deem worthy or interesting. I also recommend this game to anyone planning a visit to New York City as the game-space is a very detailed and accurate layout of the city which you can soar through much faster than Google Earth.

I should state that in line with my comic consumption is my video game knowledge which is also very limited, and Spider-Man 2 is one of the few games I spent any significant time playing. My new found addiction to Guitar Hero made me briefly reconsider my choice, but its concept is a rather simple one, and as much as I love pretending to be a rock star, it still came second after Spider-Man on the list of things I wanted to be when I grew up. Luckily, bartender/blogger was my bronze medal. Why haven’t they made a bartending video game yet? They could call it Sim Shame.

Movies

Unlike comics and video games, cinema is something I actually know a little about. Since movie watching has always been my pastime of choice and the last decade included four years in which I was receiving a “formal” education in film studies, I can safely say I’ve watched thousands of films since the year 2000. Granted, only a portion of them were made within that time period, so let’s say I’ve seen hundreds of movies made in the 2000s. However, I recently came across a pamphlet for a ‘best of the decade’ retrospective running at the Toronto Cinematheque, showcasing a unique selection of films from around the world chosen by ‘experts’, but featured very few titles I’d even heard of. This just goes to show you that try as some may, there is just so much out there that it’s impossible to fairly judge what is ‘the best.’

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That being said, while trying to think of movies that struck me as exceptional in the last ten years, I really couldn’t think of much that didn’t just come out in the last couple of years. I’m not sure if this says more about the quality of films in the first part of the decade or the quality of my memory, but the one I’ve settled on was only released about 6 months ago: Inglourious Basterds.

At first I was going to force myself to pick something a little older, something that’s been able to stand the test of at least a few year’s time. Basterds is still so young, who’s to say how well it will age?  It could still very well go the way of Haley Joel Osment. What ever happened to Haley Joel Osment you ask? Exactly. But having since watched it a third time, I’m still thoroughly impressed and entertained by all aspects of it. Some of Tarantino’s best dialogue aids brilliant performances by an international cast of mostly unfamiliar faces playing characters that bounce off one another as naturally as pool balls on green felt. I love the recycled Morricone scores and Sally Menke’s cuts are right on time as always. Speaking of Tarantino giving integral roles to women, this film gives us two more strong female characters without any unnecessary romantic subplots to weaken them.

Despite the fact that it’s clearly not a film for everyone, it has everything I want in a movie. More than any Tarantino film before it, Basterds transcends genres. The most superficial assessment would be that it’s a war movie, in that the story is set ‘Once upon a time in Nazi occupied France…’ and most of the characters are engaging the enemy in some way, yet not a single battlefield is seen. Many times it feels more like a Western, not to mention the moments of hilarity. Though many find the scenes drawn out and overlong, none would disagree that every one of them contributes to the story and is suspenseful for a different reason. I think the film has perfect pacing, and find that long, engaging scenes will always make a film go by a lot faster than one with hundreds of scenes under a minute long (Basterds‘ longest comes in at about 35).  Each scene has that sort of slingshot feel to it that a Leone film has, where there is a long, slow pullback before the weapon is released and snaps us forward at an alarming speed.

One consistent comment (criticism?) I heard from people after seeing this film was that they didn’t get enough of the Basterds whom they were expecting to headline the show. It’s true, Lt. Aldo Raine’s renegade group of Jewish American soldiers are titillating to say the least and their on screen time is almost as elusive as their characters, but I’m sure this was every bit Tarantino’s intention. In this case, less is more and I bet he loves it every time someone says to him “I wanted more Basterds!” We know he’s written a backstory and adventures for the Basterds that precede those in this film, now let’s see how long he teases us with talk of a prequel and if he every actually makes it.

Spoilers Below

What ultimately secured this film’s place in my heart was the final act where all the characters come together in a French cinema for a Nazi film premiere. Here we get the culmination of everything the movie has worked toward in a perfectly executed climax. This set piece is the ribbon on the gift for the cinephiles who Tarantino is pandering to more than ever. From making heroes of a film critic and a projectionist, to the vintage posters in the background of several scenes while having Joseph Goebbels (Germany’s minister of propaganda) play a role in the story, the cinema element blends seamlessly with the rest of the content.

The first time I saw it, it kind of bothered me that two suicide missions succeed when only one really needed to. But after seeing it again, I realize that this is a bold and original choice. They all get to go out in a blaze of glory knowing that they played a large part in cutting the head off the Nazi party. Neither is aware of the others operating to the same end and therefore are never faced with the idea that their death may be in vain.

In the end, nothing is predictable and we get the final indicator of how this film should be viewed when we see Eli Roth’s ‘Bear Jew’ take apart Hitler with a machine gun. As real and accurate as many of the film’s details are, it is to be seen as a complete work of fiction and should not disturb viewers who feel the true events are being disrespected, misrepresented or glorified in any way.  In this sense, it is much more akin to Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark than to Saving Private Ryan.

Honourable Mentions

Even though the new found gem gushed over above allowed me to actually choose a single film to concentrate on, I can’t help but mention a few other noteworthy achievements in world of filmmaking from the last decade.

Writer/Director Steven Soderbergh started of the millennium with a bang in 2000 by being the only person ever to be nominated for Best Director for two different films (Traffic and Erin Brockovich) by the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, and the Directors Guild of America.

Since then, he hasn’t really had a film that has garnered as much critical acclaim and mainstream success as those two, but he’s been busy continually making his filmography a mixed bag of goodies. Being one of the few males around with a bigger mancrush on George Clooney than myself and often casting him as the lead in his films (The Ocean‘s trilogy [2001-07], Solaris [2002], The Good German [2006]) has created a dynamic duo that I’d take over DiCaprio and Scorsese any day. In addition to features,  the two have co-produced several projects together, including the underrated HBO mini-series Unscripted (2005), half the episodes of which Clooney also directed. However, my favourite work of theirs remains their 1998 collaborative debut, J-Lo et al.

Looking at his output last year alone: the hilarious docudramedy (The Informant!), a low budget quickie (The Girlfriend Experience), and the epic two-part Che bio, we see a filmmaker who is continuously diversifying. Sequels and two-parters aside, each film is incredibly unique. This is why I’ve decided to bestow this constantly experimenting artist the prestigious title of ‘director of the decade.’ If anyone has his contact info, please inform him of this.

I’d also like to give a second honourary mention to the advances in animation. I don’t mean just the technical advances, which I don’t really care that much about, but studios have been creating much more original stories to animate that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. Of course Pixar gets lots of credit for this, most of it deserved, their finest moment being last year’s Wall-E in my opinion. However this past year showed me an array of new animated films using different methods but all bursting with imagination.

Titles which come to mind include Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, A Town Called Panic, and the brilliant, under-distributed Mary and Max which I highly recommend seeing if you get the chance. Some other choice picks from the last decade include Spirited Away, A Scanner Darkly, The Triplettes of Bellville, Persepolis, The Corpse Bride (not as close to as many hearts as The Nightmare Before Christmas, but just as good in my opinion) to name a few varied examples.

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