Archive for Birth (2004)

The Best Films of the Decade

Posted in film, Lists with tags , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2010 by Nathan Douglas

I don’t know why it happens this way.  I try to put together a “Best of …” list through methodical and reasonable means.  I let it stew for month after month, taking the time every once in a very long while to try and find spots for my new darlings and justify the ones that stubbornly hang onto their spots, all the while never making much actual progress towards finishing it.

And then, somehow, usually at 2:00 AM on a night that I really have to be asleep, everything falls into place.  The final list reveals itself to me in the dark, and I go scrambling for my notebook and pen.  That’s how it happened with my first All Time Favourites List, which (completely unexpectedly) solidified one night in December, and now it has happened once more with my long-frustrated attempts to figure out my absolute favourite films of the last ten years.

What sets these films apart?  They all have one thing in common:  My experiences of watching these films went deeper than any other experiences of films made between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2009.  By “deeper,” I mean this: of the responses that plenty of good and great films from this period have stimulated within me – passion, worship, reflection, revelation, a heightened awareness of being alive – everything that passes between the viewer and the screen, and remains with the viewer for the rest of their lives; the richest and most powerful of these exchanges found me while sitting and watching each of these ten films, and realizing in real-time or soon thereafter, that something truly amazing was before me, and changing me.  All of these films strike me as vitally alive in ways that their contemporaries are not.  All of these films have blessed me richly.

My ten favourite films of the Aughts:

1. Children of Men (Cuaron, 2006)

2. Munich (Spielberg, 2005)

3. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Jackson, 2003)

4. Birth (Glazer, 2004)

5. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (Rothemund, 2005)

6. Moolaade (Sembene, 2004)

7. Speed Racer (Wachowskis, 2008)

8. The Twilight Samurai (Yamada, 2003)

9. Silent Light (Reygadas, 2008)

10. Once (Carney, 2007)

Too Good To Be a Runner-up, But I’m Not Sure If I’m Ready For It To Be on the Big List:

  • The Gleaners and I (Varda, 2000)


  • The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (Dominik, 2007)
  • Gosford Park (Altman, 2002)
  • Grizzly Man (Herzog, 2005)
  • Hero (Yimou, 2004)
  • A History of Violence (Cronenberg, 2005)
  • I’m Not There (Haynes, 2007)
  • In Bruges (McDonagh, 2008)
  • Public Enemies (Mann, 2009)
  • Ratatouille (Bird, 2007)
  • There Will Be Blood (Anderson, 2007)

I hope to come back and elaborate on my reasons for these choices, but I’m away for most of this week for my brother’s wedding and need to keep this brief.  I’m very happy with this list, though.  It will be revised in the years to come; I’ve only scratched the surface of this past decade’s great cinema.  Several of my top picks are in need of revisiting, but the strength of their first viewings, years ago in some cases, remain too powerful to ignore. Until the next batch of great discoveries, these will do nicely.

Image above from Birth: arguably my single favourite shot of the decade.

Harris Savides and the Use Of Black

Posted in film, Miscellaneous with tags , , , on March 27, 2010 by Nathan Douglas

Moving Image Source has posted an excellent interview with Harris Savides, director of photography of several very good recent films, including Birth, American Gangster, and Zodiac.  Excerpt:

Let’s talk about Birth. It’s so exquisitely lit and photographed. The whole idea of looking at faces, and the mystery behind faces, is so important, because that’s sort of the premise of the film: you’re wondering, who is this person? I’d read that you had in mind certain paintings, in thinking about the film.

That was true of a movie I did for James Gray, The Yards. He walked me through a museum once and taught me a bunch of stuff. He wanted me to see things that he liked and appreciated, not only in regard to art, but more in regard to light and the direction of light. And it’s really stuck, stayed with me.

Were there specific painters that stayed with you from that?

Yeah, Georges de la Tour, who uses a candle most of the time. And for lack of a better way to describe it, there’s a kind of muddiness in the black, which is basically the fall-off of the lit part from the candle to the blackness. It’s not a true black. And true black doesn’t exist, really, in the world, nor does it exist in painting at all. Yet in our world, the technical world of filmmaking and video HD, black is really black now. And that seems to be the benchmark for every kind of new technology that comes along is, “Look at how good these blacks are.” They’re almost like anime blacks. It’s very unnatural.

Technicolor had that feeling, the old Technicolor. They were able to get really rich blacks.

But even there, if you go see any of these new restorations, that black still has something that’s relatable in our lives, as opposed to this synthetic black that is very, very contrasty.

That murky black that you’re talking about—it creates a sense of mystery?

Yeah. It’s muddy black, it’s purple-y black. Technically, it’s wrong. But I don’t want to discount the power of that in telling a story.

The interview includes an image of de la Tour’s “Christ In The Carpenter’s Shop.”  Below, two more de la Tours, and two screenshots from Birth (2004).

“The Repentant Magdelene”


The Dice Players”