Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Essays

The Top Ten Films of the Next Decade

[In 2010, I penned this whimsical piece as an April Fool’s Day feature for a site—which shall remain nameless—that no longer preserves the legacy of its contributors. Five years later I revive it for another run for the April Fools. I present it as written with no adjustments to subsequent history, which means the Dennis Hopper reference remains in tribute. Enjoy! – Sean Axmaker]

What a long, strange trip it will be. Markets peak and crash like yo-yos. Snowfall in Florida. Canada’s startling leap into geopolitical domination. China’s merciless foreclosure on the southern provinces of Mexico. North Korea’s transformation into the world’s largest theme park. The rise of New Jersey. The bankruptcy of California. The rise of curling from cult oddity to America’s new favorite pastime. Sarah Palin’s embarrassing slide to shopping channel sales personality. Steven Seagal’s surreal political run before signing on as Sarah’s on-air sidekick.

You can’t make this stuff up. Well okay, you can make this stuff up, and that’s the fun of looking ahead. I mean, why wait until the last minute to make a ten best list? To get a jump on the rush, we’ve put on our prognostication caps, hit the flashforward button and come back from the future with this snapshot of the ten best films of the 2010s. We were just as surprised as you at the results.

Neo is back!

The Matrix: Devolution (The Wachowski Siblings)

After the bizarre journey of Larry Wachowski’s transformation into Lana and a hermit-like retreat following the debacle of Speed Racer (only recently resurrected as a subversive blast of cinematic surrealism), the Wachowski Siblings relaunched their brand with a return trip to the virtual world that made their fame and fortune. Drawing liberally from the New Testament, the French New Wave, and various volumes of “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” Devolution pairs the messianic Neo with a sassy Southern society lady (Sandra Bullock, back with Keanu Reeves for the first time since Speed) who gets caught in the program while playing what she thinks is a cutting edge version of Fantasy Football. Impressed with his ability to surf the web and dodge bullets at the same time, she tries to adopt the jacked-up orphan and ends up marrying him rather than face deportation. The virtual romantic comedy of cyber-geddon took the country by storm: Titanic meets Tron with a dose of southern comfort and a flashback soundtrack that turned “Freedom of Choice” and “Mongoloid” into anthems for the new generation of techno-rebels.

Pride and Prejudice (Guy Ritchie)

After the debacle of Zach Snyder’s green-screen epic adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Roland Emmerich’s misjudged end-of-the-18th-century-world epic Pride and Predator, everyone figured that the endless recycling of Austen’s period romance for every genre was dead. Ritchie’s convoluted crime caper take on Jane Austen proved to be the key to unlocking the corset of this femme favorite for the lad market. With Reese Witherspoon as the feisty Elizabeth Bennett, girl gang leader at war with the male-dominated underworld (doing her own singing and her own stunts in yet another career reinvention) and Jason Statham as a streetwise Mr. D’Arcy plotting heists between his flirtations with the kick-ass rival turned dream girl, the film became the first chick flick with macho credentials and the ultimate date movie to please both swoony romantics and adolescent action junkies. The cameo of Colin Firth as the brutal London Godfather whose resolve is softened in the face of true love and superior firepower still melts the hearts of die-hard Austenites.

Swamp Thing (Lars Von Trier)

Ego freshly bruised from the public failure of the Dogme 15 movement, the fashionably controversial Lars Von Trier went Hollywood without ever leaving Denmark. Directing via remote connection from Europe, he took the reigns of a cult comic book featuring a trippy metaphysical plant man and transformed it into a savage satire of environmentalism, consumerism, capitalism and pretty much any other –ism that came into his conniving mind. Even Alan Moore, who has disavowed all previous film adaptations of his work, was impressed. We think. Wrote Moore: “Von Trier’s vision is as primordial as the muck from which this spiritual elemental rose and flowered and his mytheopoetic misanthropy takes this primordial figure into the next logical evolution: entropy.” No, we don’t know what it means either, but the film is a weirdly entrancing journey through Von Trier’s own twisted naturist mythos, where human cruelty and hypocrisy meets monstrous justice. Just like every other Von Trier film. Ever the self-made lightning rod of controversy, Von Trier has disavowed Moore’s original comic book run as a pale pre-make of what the director now claims as his own creation. The legal war with D.C. Comics is still working its way through the EU courts.

ButtCrackHead (John Waters)

After Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, every American director figured it was his right to make an animated film. The results were, at best, mixed (will we ever forget, or forgive, Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic CGI Hitler biopic in 3-D or, even more notorious, Oliver Stone’s Claymation remake of his own Platoon?). But John Waters found that doodling dirty pictures on the screen was the perfect approach for his streetwise slapstick musical farce about a congenital rehab junkie with an unfortunate physical malady. You might say Waters offers the ultimate cheek. Set in a crumbling rehab facility, where the syringes sing and methadone zombies break into chorus lines, Waters revels in flights of withdrawal hallucinations while Britney Spears completed her makeover by not only singing the lead but penning the inspired ballad “Stick It to Me Hard (I’ll Do Anything for a Needle).” Julie Taymor is already working on the Broadway musical version.

Bite Me (Dakota Fanning)

Just as the vampire craze bottomed out in a parade of toothless young adult romances, actress-turned-visionary director Dakota Fanning managed to both lampoon and revive the anemic genre with her savvy and sanguine satire. The producers thought they were getting just another cheap spoof in the Scary Movie vein but the ambitious Fanning saw the opportunity to twist it into another of her subversive social commentaries. She went for the jugular with a savvy mix of Twilight romance, Taxi Driver alienation and zombie movie social breakdown, spattered with just enough sex gags and fart jokes to keep the producers happy. The stealth spoof got under the skin of millions of teens and earned Hollywood’s golden girl rebel her third Oscar nomination and an invitation from Steven Spielberg to rework the Indiana Jones franchise in a hip, edgy vein. True to her maverick impulses, she passed on Spielberg in favor of her dream project: a radical remake of The Godfather as a femme-centric cyberpunk thriller.

Weekend (Michael Bay)

Tired of being the butt of jokes in the critical community, hardware hero Michael Bay cashed in his chips from seven, count ’em, seven monster hit Transformers movies and spin-offs (including the critically reviled but enormously influential Skids and Mudflap: Transformers in the Hood) and remade Jean-Luc Godard’s legendary social satire of a world eating itself alive. Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie are perfect as the appalling middle-class couple caught between social breakdown and cannibal guerillas. Bay’s inability to direct a coherent action scene creates an atmosphere of instability and insubstantiality, and his insistence on creating the famous traffic jam as an elaborate digital effect (which cost hundreds of times more than simply lining up a bunch of cars) gives the scene a surreal quality capped by the surprise flying cannon drone attack of the Overlord Army (one of Bay’s many “improvements” to Godard’s more cerebral template). The reclusive Godard refused to comment on a film alternately decried as sacrilege and embraced as a modernist masterpiece, but those close to the aging nouvelle vague auteur report him proclaiming the film “the funniest Hollywood movie since Jerry Lewis’ glory days.”

Pride and Prejudice (Quentin Tarantino)

Who would have predicted competing adaptations of “Pride and Prejudice” from dueling action movie veterans? Tarantino originally hatched his Austen rethink as a blaxploitation revenge movie with a soul music score way back in his video store days. That’s the vision the Weinsteins funded, but Tarantino rewrote it completely before cameras rolled and shut down production twice to recast the leads before he finally realized that the most daring approach would be near-complete fidelity: a lavish period piece with Austen’s wit enhanced by Tarantino dialogue diversions and ingenious 18th century epithets (voiced in a purr by Scarlett Johanson). It’s still best known as the film that bankrupted the Weinsteins (for which it is both decried and celebrated), but the wild weave of flashbacks and split screens, the playful appropriation of surf rock anthems, Samuel L. Jackson’s droll narrative commentary, and the career rehabilitating turn by Dolph Lundgren (who knew he had such a gift for period dialect?) makes this the most cinematically inventive film of its day.

The Lorax (John Woo)

“I speak for the trees,” proclaims our hero, but it’s more like a hysterical scream coming from Nicolas Cage as the eco-warrior in John Woo’s surreal adaptation of the Dr. Seuss storybook classic of environmental responsibility. It’s both refreshing and terrifying to see Cage once again unleashed and unhinged in front of a camera, this time as a peaceful protester driven to violent revenge when the greedy Once-ler (John Travolta, doing an unsettling Marlon Brando impersonation) guns down his adoptive father (Chow Yun-fat) as he and his Wu Shu Bar-ba-loots guard a sacred grove of Trufula Trees. After the debacle of Ang Lee’s Hop on Pop that came close to derailing the careers of Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep, Woo’s controversial action-painting approach turned out to be a daring interpretation of the controversial picture book. Guns blaze, doves (and Swomee Swans) fly, and blood sprays in slow motion, but nothing can upstage the maniacal energy and eye-popping intensity of Cage as he wails: “Everyone needs a THNEED???!!! Thneed this!”

Catcher in the Wry (Todd Haynes)

Never content to follow the rules, Todd Haynes put J.D. Salinger’s landmark novel of young adult alienation into a blender, added a couple of shots of Douglas Sirk and Citizen Kane, and served up a heady cocktail that transformed Holden Caulfield into a transgendered runaway (alternately played by Jaden Smith and Abigail Breslin) wandering through a Technicolor world of fifties suburban perfection and artfully sculpted urban blight. Think Donnie Darko by way of Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire, set to a soundtrack of glam rock standards and chopped up into a swirl of flashbacks and fantasies featuring Julianne Moore, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, and David Bowie as Mr. Antolini (reimagined by Haynes as a Fagin-like pimp on the troll for runaway boys). While some critics were appalled at the liberties taken with the source material, young audiences identified with this portrait of anxiety and confusion and transformed it from an underground sensation to a marketing gold mine. Meanwhile, according to unverified reports, the casket of Salinger was exhumed and the deceased author had indeed turned in his grave.

Tim Burton’s Beowulf (Tim Burton)

America’s weirdest screen fantasist scrubbed the collective memory of Robert Zemeckis’ doughy 3-D movie with his idiosyncratic incarnation of the ancient poem epic. No surprise that Burton identifies with the misunderstood Grendel (Johnny Depp as a mutant with a song in his heart and a practical joke on his mind) and his pet Dragon (voice of Paul “Pee Wee” Reubens), a couple of demi-gods and monsters who just wanna have fun, while Beowulf (300‘s Gerard Butler) becomes a figure of macho absurdity turned brutal killjoy. Using a mix of stop-motion animation, CGI, and Jim Henson puppetry, Burton recreates the mythic world as a primeval wonderland, part role-playing game and part fairy tale fantasy, where the traditional heroes are just bullies trying to beat down the playground of imagination. Helena Bonham Carter plays Grendel’s mother as a doting, dotty old granny oblivious to the chaos around her. Watching her serve Beowulf tea and biscuits when he trashes the room in temper tantrum remains one of the funniest screen moments of the decade.

Crash 2: Fenderbender Freeway (David Lynch)

Who knew such a mind-bending work could spring from a glib piece of guilty liberal pandering? I don’t know what was going through Paul Haggis’ mind when he handed the reigns of this sequel to/shameless rehash of the Oscar winning hit to David Lynch, but I thank the heavens for it: this is the most surreal big screen experience of the decade. Haggis retains screen credit but there’s no trace of his self-conscious social commentary in Lynch’s ingenious remake/rethink, an absurdist farce that skips timelines, mutates characters, and transforms the centerpiece crash into a cosmic event that splinters into a myriad of alternate realities, each played out by a different cast. One big surprise is Paris Hilton, who proves she’s more than just a skinny face when she becomes the warped mirror reincarnation of Naomi Watts in a wreck that sends victims sprawled across the Yellow Brick Road of his nightmarish twist on Oz (with Dennis Hopper as a gas-huffing Wizard). Forget cultural collision and class warfare, this is life as an existential identity crisis ripped through the fabric of reality and cinema alike. And bless Clint Eastwood for gracing the film with his craggy authority as the crotchety ghost of Dirty Harry looking down on the mess with a snarl of disgust.

Nebraska (Joel Coen and Pedro Coen)

Turning Bruce Springsteen’s haunting album into a movie (from a scrip developed with Cormac McCarthy) was risk enough. Putting his teenage son’s name as co-director, however, was simply spite against his brother, Ethan, who he blamed for the fatal misjudgments that sank their first studio tentpole epic (a misbegotten attempt to make a movie out of the theme park ride Space Mountain). This was his first directorial effort after the acrimonious split of the most successful brother act in Hollywood. The stripped down odyssey into the soul of man (with detours into his trademark gallows humor, courtesy of George Clooney as Mr. State Trooper) shot on the lonely plains and endless highways of the Midwest became the funniest blast of American nihilism to ever get an Oscar nomination. The fidelity to Springsteen’s stories (with Woody Harrelson bringing Johnny 99 to life and Jeff Bridges as the Highway Patrolman) and lyrics is astounding and Coen’s ultimate statement on the human condition is bleak indeed. Forget old men, Nebraska is no country for anyone.

Copyright © 2010 by Sean Axmaker