The Back Row Manifesto's Incredibly Personal, Completely Subjective List of the Best Films of The Decade (2000-2009) will be unveiled over the course of the month of December. Think of it as a sort of misguided advent calendar without the little chocolate surprises. Either way, thanks for reading and please check back every day over the next few weeks for the full list. The introduction to the list can be found here.
Before we begin, I encourage you to take a moment and click on over to the website of any small town newspaper and peruse the local news section; crime, poverty, housing collapse, unemployment and various other indicators of the dire economic situation in this country are front page news, day in, day out, for the overwhelming majority of American communities. Now, turn to the business section; stocks are up, movie box office just went through the roof, consumer spending is up, America continues to work through its long, national state of denial by opening its wallet and pretending the bill will never come due. We are a nation that has spent the past decade in a self-created state of illusion, moving through imagined political threats into entire economies based upon a fantasy of never-ending growth. We have lived and continue to live a big lie. We aspire to the things just beyond our means, never content, creating cycles of existence and consumption simply by believing.
While Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood draws on the politics of our fantasy to manufacture a new American mythology of greed, no movie understands the personal cost and shame of a personal economic crisis like Laurent Cantet’s Time Out. Cantet’s film is a fictionalized re-telling of the true story of Jean-Claude Romand, an unemployed French man whose pride stands in the way of him telling his family that he has, in fact, never been the person he says he is. That pride always inspired Romand, fearing that his lie would be exposed, to murder his entire family. Romand’s story served many films over the course of the decade, from Tokyo Sonata to Nobody’s Life to The Adversary, but Cantet’s film on the subject transcends every other; Time Out is a masterpiece not only for its prescient understanding the pain of unemployed alienation, a herald of our present condition, but for its tonal and compositional beauty and Cantet’s brilliant decision to keep us closely in the company of his heartbreaking protagonist, Vincent (Aurélien Recoing).
Laurent Cantet's Time Out
Vincent’s days are spent traveling to his non-existent job with the United Nations in Switzerland, avoiding cell phone calls from home and studying up on the programs he has told everyone he is working on. Recoing’s performance is one for the ages, a man terrified by the choices he has made, rendered inert by his inability to publically confront reality. Instead, Recoing captures Vincent’s personal torment in the dissonance between the submission in his eyes and the need to always keep moving and busy, and the performance is absolutely devastating. Cantet also utilizes a brilliant score by the English composer Jocelyn Pook to set a minimalist mood and the cinematography of Pierre Milon is breathtaking in its use of blank winter landscapes and pensive close-ups, all of which tie us directly into Vincent’s state of mind, none of it proscriptive, all of it compounding our astonishment at the film’s devastating finale.
THINKFilm, one of the companies we lost this decade, brought Time Out to theaters in America in 2001, and the film went on to near universal acclaim and minimal box office. This was a growing trend and problem at the movies and as the decade wore on, Time Out’s $500K in U.S. box office would look downright gaudy next to some of the films on this list. The fact that so few people have seen this film is the source of major heartbreak for me, and while I cannot recommend it highly enough, I could only hope that today’s audiences would seek out this gem of a film and give it a fair hearing next to something like Up In The Air, which mines the shame of unemployment for decidedly different purposes. Time Out remains as relevant a document of the big lie as any film made this decade, towering proof of subtlety and patience yielding great rewards.
23. Quiet City by Aaron Katz
22. Mutual Appreciation by Andrew Bujalski
21. Frownland by Ronald Bronstein
20. Marie Antoinette by Sofia Coppola
19. Up The Yangtze by Yung Chang
18. Platform by Jia Zhang-Ke
17. Tarnation by Jonathan Caouette
16. Lilya 4-Ever by Lukas Moodysson
15. Far From Heaven/ I'm Not There by Todd Haynes
14. Sideways by Alexander Payne
13. Into Great Silence by Philip Gröning
12. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner by Zacharias Kunuk
11. There Will Be Blood by Paul Thomas Anderson
10. Zodiac by David Fincher
9. Beau Travail/ 35 Shots Of Rum by Claire Denis
8. The Diving Bell And The Butterfly by Julian Schnabel