2005-2009 in Film

12/31/2009 12:00 PM |

by Michael Atkinson

If ever a year peaked out of its otherwise scattershot decade and said fuckya, it was ’07, which looks now like some kind of individualistic cataract spuming out of a sea of blockbuster tedium and indie compromise. I can’t say I saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood coming—the first Upton Sinclair adaptation in 40 years, since The Gnome-Mobile!—nor could anyone have anticipated, as if gritty American history was suddenly cool, Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, a reportedly disastrous production that somehow gelled into a epic ballade that stands, methinks, beside Unforgiven as the best western anyone’s crafted since the Vietnam War ended. Of course, it was the year for the Coens to get serious, if not quite as serious as all that (and consider this: how many other films since Unforgiven felt worthy of a Best Picture Oscar? Answer: none). But the utter adulthood turning gears in Michael Clayton and Zodiac also made us suspect that something was in the water, something that compelled the zeitgeist to turn away from Teenage Nation (where do those kids get all that money anyway, that allows them to control the culture?) and toward those of us who have come to disbelieve in easy answers and to find no reward in relentless fantasy.

The Romanians were peaking in ’07, while Hou Hsaio-hsien went to Paris, Guy Maddin stayed home (even if his daydreamy “home” was a different kind of Winnipeg altogether), and Carlos Reygadas discovered Mennonites, and therefore Carl Dreyer, in Mexico. Wong Kar-wai toured America and found it to be Wongian, while Roy Andersson decided his sense of apocalypse could also be poignant. All told, the year’s alpha-wolf achievements were born, unsurprisingly, from autuerist whim and wisdom, in stupefying variety—and I hadn’t been as happy to be a moviehead since, maybe, 1994.