Thursday, August 25, 2016

Best of the 2000s: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

2.5 Stars

The first of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is a spectacular technical achievement. However, none of the wizardry that went into creating the breathtaking visuals is present in terms of character or story. As a result, Fellowship never quite becomes the great film that it ought to be or that many reviewers seem to believe it is.

Fellowship tells the story of Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), a hobbit who inherits a dangerous and powerful ring from his uncle Bilbo (Ian Holm, who, in a nice casting nod, had previously portrayed Frodo in a 1981 radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings). Terrified of its destructive power and determined to save his homeland, Frodo forges a group of nine companions dubbed “The Fellowship of the Ring” and sets out to destroy the ring once and for all.

It’s interesting to return to Fellowship now, in 2016, in the aftermath of the general weariness with which reviewers greeted Jackson’s second Middle Earth trilogy adaptation of The Hobbit. In those films, reviewers were quick to note that there were too many characters, that they were clumsily introduced, that they were indistinguishable, and that they made almost no emotional impact. I feel much the same about many of the characters and events in Fellowship. For instance, quite early in the film, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) goes to seek the counsel of Saruman (Christopher Lee). Saruman betrays Gandalf. The scene is boring. Viewers just met Saruman. The film put no effort into establishing any kind of relationship between Gandalf and Saruman. As a result, his betrayal carries no emotional impact.

Fellowship is replete with moments exactly like this. The whole first half of the movie consists of Bilbo making oblique references to his previous, unseen adventure. He talks about defeating trolls, dragons, and of his desire to once again visit The Lonely Mountain and Laketown. Wikipedia, or people who are already familiar with the material, will instantly recognize these as incidents from The Hobbit, but for first time viewers, they add nothing to the film, and they take up time that would have been better spent getting to know important characters like Aragorn/Strider (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli (John Rys-Davies).

Alternatively, that valuable screen time Jackson chose to use reassuring fans that he had read The Hobbit would have been much more productive permitting the characters to actually discover the power, danger, and history of Frodo’s terrible new ring – the Ring of Power. Instead, Jackson crams all that information into a lengthy, expository preamble. Not only is this narration a clumsy bit of storytelling, it’s inexplicably narrated by Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), an elf ruler that our heroes meet in a woods late in the film. This narration also clearly establishes two pieces of information that the rest of the film promptly ignores.

First, the narration tells the story of the entire history of the Ring of Power from the day that Sauron (Sala Baker) created it until it came into the hands of Bilbo, 60 years before the beginning of the main narrative. Most of this history, Galdriel tells us, has become a forgotten myth that practically no one in all of Middle Earth knows or recalls. This is simply not true. At least one character, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), has been alive and present for much of the Ring’s history. Aragorn instantly recognizes the Ring after seeing its effects for only a matter of seconds in a dimly lit bar. Boromir (Sean Bean) also recognizes it instantly, though he does appear to have previously believed that it was a mythical object (akin to the Holy Grail). The list goes on. The only characters who don’t seem to recognize Frodo’s ring instantly are Gandalf, who goes on a quest to learn the Ring’s true nature from some old books, and the various hobbits who end up accompanying Frodo by accident (Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, and Dominic Monahan).

Second, this narration also establishes that the Ring has some powers and desires to return to its master, Sauron. What powers, exactly, the Ring has are ill defined, inconsistent, and used remarkably foolishly if the Ring actually wants to return to Sauron as Galadriel's narration claims. The narration establishes that the Ring grants its bearers exceptionally long life. In the case of Gollum (Andy Serkis, debuting his motion capture abilities), it grants him more than 500 years of life. Then the ring “abandons” him (more on this later) and falls into an underground river, apparently for some time. Gollum retains his longevity. Bilbo picks up the Ring and takes it away from Gollum for 60 years. Gollum retains his longevity. Bilbo gives up the Ring, and instantly loses his longevity, appearing to age several decades over the course of a few weeks or months. Gollum retains his longevity.

Returning to the subject of the Ring abandoning Gollum, the Ring appears to control its own gravity/mass/position in space. Thus, when Frodo falls backwards in the bar, the Ring lands on his finger in order to advertise its power and existence to the whole bar. Similarly, when Frodo slips in the snow, the Ring falls from his neck and lands at the feet of Boromir in the hope of tempting Boromir to use the Ring for his own purposes, which will eventually lead to Sauron reclaiming the Ring. But if the Ring's goal is to return to Sauron, why did the Ring fall off of Gollum and into the underground river some time (weeks? months? years?) before Bilbo found it in the first place. Kinda seems like a risky play. If returning to Sauron is the goal, why fall on Frodo’s finger in a room full of drunks or in the snow on some forgotten mountain but stay securely in Frodo’s pocket or around his neck when Frodo is hurled across battlefields by Sauron’s agents?

Finally, the Ring has the ability to influence the minds of the people who carry it. It can tempt them to put the Ring on at inopportune times. If that’s so, why not just compel Gollum to return the Ring to Sauron a half a millennium ago? Or compel Bilbo to return the Ring a half century ago?

Fans will no doubt tell me that I am nitpicking the plot of a film that I simply didn’t become emotionally attached to. They might point out that I haven’t gone after the Marvel films for their MacGuffins. Maybe. But those films are not primarily about their MacGuffins. Their MacGuffins are not portrayed as agents with a will. They are mindless objects of great power that bad people want and good people try to stop the bad people from getting. The Marvel movies are just capture the flag. The Ring is a much more important, active, and integral to the plot than the Infinity Stones The actions of a sentient Ring in league with the central villain are a fair point of criticism for a film series called The Lord of the Rings. I may not be able to say it in elvish, but it's still true.

All these problems aside, there were aspects of this film that I actually loved. That's right. Loved. The locations are beautifully chosen. The sets are ingenious. The battles, in contrast to many blockbuster battles of the last decade, are surprisingly intimate and well-staged. Each of the characters has a different skill, ability, race, size, and weapon. Consequently, they all fight in radically different ways. The action sequences truly reward a careful viewer. There is even a scene where the characters are racing for their lives along a collapsing bridge deep in a mine. The scene requires them to survive a gambit of Spielbergian genius, and I would be remiss not to single it out for praise.

Fellowship is also a watershed film for computer generated imagery and motion capture technology. The lasting legacy of The Lord of the Rings is and always will be Andy Serkis remarkable portrayal of Gollum. It begins here, and fifteen years later it remains spectacular.

Having criticized Fellowship for not taking the time to connect emotionally, I should say that there are times when it does. At several points in the film, especially in the last half, characters perform acts of great heroics. They take impossible stands. They engage in daring do. They make horrible sacrifices, and learn the actual moral content of their characters. Often, their best acts stand as rebukes of other characters’ failures or inspirations for other characters to embrace the roles they should be filling. I think those scenes are well-crafted, well-acted, and they do work emotionally.

When Fellowship works, it really works. It demonstrates the glorious and beautiful film that it almost is. Unfortunately, large parts of it don’t work because a great deal of the film is dedicated to fan service. As a result, it is not a classic that I want to return to again.

Then again, what do I know. Seven of the 37 critics surveyed all agreed that it was one of the best films of the decade. Two of them declared it (along with the other members of its trilogy) to be the very best film of the decade. I know for a fact that the next film on my list is one I can wholeheartedly endorse. It’s Spirited Away. I’m already on record loving it.

From Out in the Void,

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Best of the 2000s: The Dark Knight

4.5 Stars

Of all the films on the Best of the 2000s list, The Dark Knight is probably the film that I have seen the most times. It is an exceptional film, one of the best comic book adaptations of all time and an excellent crime drama to boot. That said, The Dark Knight is not without its flaws, and despite its greater critical acclaim, its predecessor, Batman Begins remains a better movie.

The Dark Knight centers on the contest between Batman/Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and the Joker (Heath Ledger) for the future of the crime ridden Gotham City. It is most notable for Ledger’s career defining and Oscar winning performance as the Joker, and both Ledger and the film are rightly praised for it. Ledger found a character of bizarre and haunting depth. He disappears beneath the caked on make-up and greasy hair of his psychotic, anarchy obsessed, Clown Prince of Crime. The greatness of Ledger’s performance is both a positive and a negative of the film. The Joker overwhelms Batman in his own movie. He nearly crowds Bale right out of the picture, which is a shame. The Dark Knight could have been a thematic counterpoint to Batman Begins. Where Batman Begins artfully traced Bruce Wayne’s journey to becoming Batman, The Dark Knight begins with Bruce Wayne practically begging to be released from his responsibilities as the Caped Crusader. If The Dark Knight had only spent a little bit more of its runtime bringing us to the point of understanding Batman’s desire to retire, the way Batman Begins spent its runtime making us understand Wayne’s desire to become Batman in the first place, The Dark Knight would have been a superior film.

The Dark Knight’s action sequences are the best in the entire genre. Whether we are discussing the opening gambit where a group of masked clowns rip off a bank, the skyhook sequence in Hong Kong, the car chases filmed on Lower Wacker Drive, or the final confrontation between Batman and the Joker, there is no other comic book film that seriously competes with The Dark Knight in terms of action adventure filmmaking.

The Dark Knight is also among the best looking comic book films ever made. Nolan and his cinematographer, Wally Pfister, made brilliant choices. The film is dark, but never hard to see. The lighting brings contrast, color, shadow, shade, and texture to well-chosen locations and even better designed sets. The Dark Knight came out in 2008, the year that Marvel launched its cinematic super franchise with Iron Man. In the intervening eight years, dozens of comic book films have been released, but The Dark Knight is the only one that has the layered and textured look of the great icons of cinema.

If The Dark Knight displays Nolan’s gift for crafting a gorgeous looking film, it also demonstrates some of his flaws as a filmmaker. The film’s climax appears to be cribbed from the footnotes of a Psych 101 course. It features a rushed, and half-baked, confrontation between Batman and Two Face, (Aaron Eckhart) in its final act. But perhaps the greatest sin The Dark Knight commits, is that for a movie that is so beautifully crafted visually, the script doesn’t feel nearly as polished.  Whether its Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) not remarking on the absurdity of a petty criminal with a history of mental illness having a park side apartment or Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) playing a seasoned prosecutor who specializes in organized crime prosecutions having to be reminded of the RICO statute, The Dark Knight is replete with tiny moments of dialogue that don’t quite ring true.

Nevertheless, despite these minor flaws, The Dark Knight’s action, Ledger’s singular performance, the powerful supporting turn by Gary Oldman, and Bale’s convincing portrayal of a reluctant savior power The Dark Knight to the very apex of its genre. I have little doubt that it deserves to be listed among the best films of the 2000s.

The Dark Knight finds itself on this list because seven critics share my enthusiasm for the film, including Gregory Ellwood of HitFix, who named it the number one film of the 2000s. My quest for a classic continues with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

From Out in the Void

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Best of the 2000s: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

5 Stars

I had been steeling myself against 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days almost since this project began. I even made a brief reference to it in my review of Finding Nemo when I commented on the emotional grind that many of the films in this Best of the 2000s project appeared slated to be. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days deals with a topic on which it is incredibly easy to say the wrong thing.

Set in Romania in 1987, the title refers to the age of a fetus, or perhaps more precisely to the length of time since Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) last experienced her period. She is pregnant and enlists her friend, Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), to help her arrange an illegal abortion. Paralyzed by fear, Gabita manipulates Otilia into doing virtually everything from simple tasks like renting the hotel room where they will perform the procedure to meeting the Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), the shady doctor who will perform the procedure.

Abortion is a topic that is politically and emotionally fraught, but 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days doesn’t strike me as a particularly political film. Certainly, it contains elements that both sides of the debate could point to in support of their cause. Otilia and Gabita place themselves at extreme risk precisely because the procedure is illegal. Some of the worst things that happen to them in this film would never happen if the girls had a safe and legal means of obtaining the procedure rather than being forced to deal with criminals. On the other hand, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days depicts a fetus of that age as, to my eyes at least, looking very much like a baby, and Gabita even insists that they bury the body. That said, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is not about abortion as a political topic, but about an abortion obtained by Otilia for Gabita.

The signature of achievement of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is the creation of a drama that plays like a thriller. It contains all the emotional highs and impacts of great thrillers while still being about people who are completely ordinary. Otilia and Gabita are not spies, master thieves, rich men being set up by their mistresses, or wives being gas-lighted by their murderous husbands. They are two young girls who undertake a criminal conspiracy, but it is of such a common variety that it is not even the focus of a specific investigation. Nevertheless, as the film progresses every time that a phone rings, a police car drifts by, a dog barks, or a hotel clerk asks for identification, they are threatened with exposure.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is superbly written and directed by Cristian Mungiu. He conjures precisely the right amount paranoia to craft a memorable thriller and the right amount of ordinary life to read as a compelling college drama. The film depends on a fantastic performance by Anamaria Marinca, which she delivers.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is not an easy film to recommend. It’s subject matter is likely to prove difficult for some, but I have no doubt that it deserves to be on the list of the best films of the 2000s. Seven of the surveyed critics agreed with me. The same number also enjoyed the next film on my list, The Dark Knight.

From Out in the Void

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Best of the 2000s: Pan's Labyrinth

2.5 Stars

I’m going to begin the review of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth where I usually end these reviews – a discussion of why this film is here on the list. Pan’s Labyrinth is on this list because six of the thirty-seven critics surveyed named it one of the best films of the first decade of this new century. Daniel Fienberg of HitFix named it the best film of the 2000s. It was also the film with the highest metascore on this list.

I actually previously saw Pan’s Labyrinth when it was originally released in theaters. I remembered liking it, thinking it was generally good, but not being as wowed by it as everyone else is or was. I had much the same response watching it again all these years later – and I think I know why.

There is a huge divide between the quality of Pan’s Labyrinth’s make-up, art design, sound design, and special effects and the quality of its story. All those artistic qualities are amazing. The magical creatures like the stick insects that become fairies and the Faun (Doug Jones) are beautifully rendered. The underworld realms are spectacular. The sets are amazing, and I especially liked that Del Toro creates a labyrinth as opposed to a maze (a distinction not always observed). The acting is superb. Ivana Baquero was a great young actress (who’s subsequent work I’ve never seen). Sergi Lopez is excellent as the film’s antagonist. Rounding out the cast, Maribel Verdu, who was last mentioned in these reviews for playing a far sexier but equally tragic role in is excellent as the film’s antagonist. Rounding out the cast, Maribel Verdu, who was last mentioned in these reviews for playing a far sexier but equally tragic role in Y Tu Mama, Tambien, deftly delivers a nuanced and intriguing performance in the film’s most challenging role.

On the other hand, there is the plot. Baquero stars as Ofelia, a young girl who is taken by her mother (Ariadna Gil) to live with her mother’s new husband, Captain Vidal (Lopez), in the forests of Spain. Vidal is a local leader of General Franco’s forces, tasked with eliminating the remaining pockets of resistance to Franco’s new regime. Near her new home, Ofelia discovers the ruins of an old labyrinth. There she meets the Faun, a magical creature who tells her that she is the reincarnation of an underworld princess. All she has to do is complete three tasks and claim her destiny.

The set-up of the plot is fine, but it all goes wrong in act two when Ofelia fails her second task. Upon learning of her failure, the Faun becomes infuriated with her. He declares that she will never see him again. Then Ofelia’s mother dies. Vidal locks Ofelia in her room, and the Faun appears unprompted, completely reverses his previous position (for no reason and without explanation) and gives Ofelia another chance to complete her tasks and seize her destiny. Now, this could be explained away by claiming that the Faun was always a figment of Ofelia’s imagination. One shot at the end of the film would tend to confirm that. On the other hand, the Faun’s magic appears to affect the real world (it’s what allows Ofelia to escape from her locked bedroom – she draws a door on the wall with magic chalk given to her by the Faun). I would say that the film, when read as a whole, is more consistent with the Faun’s reality than with the Faun being imaginary.

I have never encountered a single review of Pan’s Labyrinth that mentioned the capriciousness and inconsistency of the Faun’s character. I suspect the reason for that is that you have to discuss the plot of the film in some detail in order to make that case. Pan’s Labyrinth is the single biggest beneficiary of the prohibition on spoilers in the history of cinema. Convention prevents the reviewer from engaging in an in depth analysis of the film’s plot – and consequently, reviewers are left to gush over the beauty and majesty of the visuals. The film’s flaw, terrible plotting in the second half and inconsistent characterization during the film’s climax, get a pass.

Well, not from me. Pan’s Labyrinth is not the best film of the decade by a wide margin. It’s a technical achievement. It is a thing of beauty, but its plot is too messy to justify a rating any higher than 2.5 out of 5 stars. It was rightly forgotten by many of the same reviewers who lavished it with praise when it came time to select the best films of the decade. Perhaps I’ll have more luck in my quest for a classic when I review 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

From Out in the Void

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Best of the 2000s: WALL-E

4.5 Stars

WALL-E is one of the best films of the Science Fiction genre and a triumph for animation as a medium. Pixar was, without a doubt, the most valuable player of the 2000s, so far as studios were concerned, and WALL-E is another part of its ongoing string of successes.

WALL-E follows WALL-E (Ben Burtt), a robotic Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth-class. WALL-E is cute for a robot, like a cross between a trash compactor and a Mars Rover. He, the movie leaves little doubt about gender, inhabits an abandoned Earth where he is tasked with collecting, compacting into cubes, and organizing the piles of refuse left behind by humanity. He appears to be the last of his kind, his fellows having succumbed to disrepair in the decades and centuries since humanity abandoned the Earth, and, in his isolation, he has begun collecting treasures from our past: an old video of Hello, Dolly!, a rubik’s cube, a spork, and even a plant – apparently the last surviving (or the first revived) of its kind. He stores all these treasures in his home, the robot world’s answer to Ariel’s grotto, that he shares with his pet cockroach, but his world is rocked when a new robot, EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator – voiced by Elissa Knight) comes looking for the plant!

I was always going to like WALL-E as a character. Come on, he’s a romantic little robot with a taste for movie musicals – clearly, a robot after my own heart. But even setting aside my own biases, WALL-E is magnificent. It is incredibly emotionally compelling, even though most of the film consists only of the words “WALL-E,” “EVA,” and “Directive.” The animation is stunning, beautiful – even the parts that are supposed to be ugly are granted a sort of big box store version of elegant decay. This movie is so charitable that it even finds time to grant positive attributes to a cockroach. (Actually, between WALL-E and Enchanted, 2007-08 proved to be a peak time for pro-cockroach depictions at the Walt Disney Co.).

The music is spectacular, sampling Hello, Dolly!, La Vie En Rose by Louie Armstrong, and an original tune by Peter Gabriel in addition to a beautiful score by Thomas Newmann. With music, WALL-E also pays tribute to 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film that also appears to influence the film’s antagonist. Other science fiction greats get evoked throughout, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars. Nevertheless, WALL-E remains a thoroughly engaging and original work.

That said, it’s not without a few flaws. When I first saw, WALL-E, back in 2008, Fred Willard’s line, “Stay the course,” felt like an out of place pot-shot at the Bush administration. It’s not that a movie taking a political stand is inappropriate; rather, this particular shot seemed so out of place that it took me out of the world of the film. It distracted me. That said, with eight years of distance from the politics of its day, that particular moment no longer stands out quite as strongly. In fact, WALL-E’s politics have perhaps become more relevant as western governments have begun to discuss climate and environmental policy with much more force and frequency than before. Other flaws include WALL-E’s pet cockroach. If there are no plants, and no other life, what does the cockroach eat 800 years from now? The wall-to-wall carpeting wasn’t quite done.

However, the single biggest flaw in the picture is its depiction of humans. When WALL-E begins, the humans are actual humans (Michael Crawford and the cast of Hello, Dolly! appear on screen), but as the film progresses, the humans become animated. This is, I think, supposed to be a visual metaphor for how we lose our humanity by turning our lives completely over to automation and computers (a curious stance for a bunch of computer animators to take). However, the animated humans that arrive in the last third of the film fit seamlessly within the visual spectrum of WALL-E. That is, they look no less real than WALL-E or EVE. It is Michael Crawford and Fred Willard who look out of place. As a result, I don’t think the visual metaphor holds up, and the switch from real humans to animated ones is simply visually confusing.

All the flaws are minor. They do not hardly diminish the experience. WALL-E is a triumph. It is no wonder that it was named one of the best films of the 2000s by 6 of 37 critics and named the best film of the 2000s by TIME’s Richard Corliss.

Next on my search for film classics from the last decade, Pan’s Labyrinth.

From Out in the Void,


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Best of the 2000s: Amelie

5 Stars

I so loved Amelie - both the film and the central character it’s named for.

Amelie tells the story of Amelie Poulain (Audrey Tatou), a shy and mischievous waitress working in a restaurant frequented by a group of eccentric customers. Amelie also has a highly active imagination that almost doubles as an ability to see and understand others impressionistically. When she finds a box containing the toys and mementos of her apartment's previous tenant, she begins to use that imagination, and her tendency toward mischievousness, to intervene surreptitiously in the lives of the people around her.

Amelie, though, does not succeed because of its plot. It succeeds because of a beautiful fusion of character and tone. Amelie is a singular creation, an eccentric girl, fully formed, self-possessed, romantic, deeply flawed, and completely absorbing. As embodied by Ms. Tatou, she looks at the camera, not because she is aware of the audience, but because she treats the camera as her beloved imaginary friend and co-conspirator (in this way, Amelie may have presaged both Pushing Daisies and House of Cards). She invites us to see her world the way that she does, and in the process, gets us to re-imagine our own lives. Are we as strange and abnormal as the oddballs who frequent her restaurant? If we are, are we as wonderful as they? How would Amelie Poulain see us?

Nevertheless, Amelie is never weighted down by its circumspection. Instead, the film mimics the breezy optimism and impishness of its heroine. Amelie finds the magic in the ordinary, the fun in the extraordinary, the adventure in the peculiar, and the romance in the most unlikely. Amelie loves simple pleasures, and Amelie is certainly one of them.

I often say that we have to leave just a little room in the world for magic. If we don’t, where’s the fun? Amelie embraces a very similar worldview, daring us to see the world better through our imaginations. It is done beautifully, artistically, and so thoroughly life affirmingly that I can easily say that Amelie is exactly the kind of movie I was looking for when I began this project last year – a film that can be enjoyed over and over, and a classic that makes us feel good.

Amelie finds itself on this list because 6 of the 37 critics agreed with me and listed it among the best films of the 2000s. I’m surprised the number was so small. Nevertheless, it shares that honor with the next film on my list, Wall-E.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Best of the 2000s: Children of Men

3 Stars

The second entry by Alfonso Cuaron on the best of the 2000s list, Children of Men, is set in London in 2027 amidst an ongoing mass infertility crisis that has led to the collapse of most nation states. England, under an authoritarian government, “soldiers on.” Refugees from the rest of the world have rushed to England leading to an immigration crisis. On the day after the youngest person on earth dies, Theo (Clive Owen) is contacted by his ex-wife, Julian (Julianne Moore). Julian leads a human rights organization/terrorist cell known as “the Fishes” who fight for the rights of refugees. She needs transport papers for a young woman named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), and she needs someone she can trust to obtain them. It’s a spoiler, but Kee is pregnant - the first pregnant woman in almost 20 years. Children of Men follows Theo’s quest to bring Kee from London to the coast where they hope to make contact with “The Human Project,” a nearly mythical secret society of geniuses who might cure the mass infertility.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see that Children of Men is a futuristic gloss on the Nativity Story. A young woman, carrying a child that could save humanity, escorted by a man (not the child’s biological father) through a world where powerful forces seek to control the child for their own purposes of varying degrees of nobility.

However, where the nativity story expressly makes hope come from the divine, eternal resurrection and salvation, it’s clear that Children of Men is a humanist piece. Hope does not fall from on high in Children of Men it is birthed from our loins. The hope that our children and our children’s children will have it better than we do, Children of Men argues, is what animates humanity as a species. I find that argument depressing. Surely we are more than our ability to pass on our genetic material.

Nevertheless, Cuaron’s bleak, pessimistic future is breathtaking. I liked the small touches. In 2027, people dote on their pets because they have no children to spoil, and the animals all seem to really like Theo. The young adult population appears less healthy than adults Theo’s age or older, hinting that the infertility crisis manifested slowly through increasing rates of birth defects. The music choices, with lyrics like King Crimson’s “Lullaby in an Ancient Tongue” were thematically appropriate, if a bit on the nose, and, of course, Luzbecki’s cinematography is as perfect as ever.

I recognize that Children of Men is a good movie, well above average, but I think it’s also going to be somewhat forgettable. It reduces humanity to our urge to reproduce as a way of taking our hope away from the divine and giving it back to us. Unfortunately, this process deprives us of what I think humanism depends on – that we matter because we are human, and that’s true regardless of whether or not we have the ability to pass on our humanity to the next generation.

My favorite scene occurred early and almost hit upon this theme. In the scene, Theo visits his cousin Nigel (Danny Huston) to request transit papers for himself and Kee. Nigel is a high ranking official in the Ministry of Culture, and apparently spends his life rattling around in a museum of rescued (plundered?) treasures: Michelangelo’s David, Picasso’s Guernica, something that looks like a Banksy. Theo confronts Nigel and asks him why he preserves all these pieces of art. Humanity will be over in a matter of decades. Nigel replies, “The truth is, Theo, I just don’t think about it.” I’m not sure Cuaron has completely thought it through either, but he wants us to, and that’s something.

Children of Men finds itself on this list because 6 of the 37 critics surveyed named it as one of the ten best films of the 2000s, an honor it shares with the next film on my list, Amelie.