Monday, 14 December 2009


I should prelude my pick of my ten fictional films of the decade with a disclaimer, and it is not the usual one of the critic, the one in which he (for it is always a he in matters of listeria) leans away from his sums for a moment to lecture us on subjectivity, and how he has attempted to put personal taste aside and strive for some kind of fairness.

No, being a hardline subjectivist, I have no concerns about whether my choices are popular or right (these two things sadly too often being seen as the same thing in most parts of Western culture, and perhaps everywhere else too). My concerns are more practical. For while it is difficult for a critic or amateur film enthusiast to pick ten films from a decade at the best of times, picking ten fictional films is clearly a much harder task. Viewing enough cinematically released pieces to make a broad overview of the last ten years worth of available art possible involves a huge investment of time for even the professional film writer; to pick ten well, one must surely see many hundreds. I commend them their efforts. But my task is almost impossible. The number of imaginary films out there is so numerous as to make any cohesive overview as similar as nailing jelly to the wall- both are awkward, messy, and leave apparently random patterns. Each place on my list could have been filled with millions upon millions of alternatives, and any imaginary film enthusiast could make a list entirely different to this one.

So what follows, is by no means conclusively the 'best' or 'most important'. Just ten good ones that came to mind.

10: TRAVEL 'TIME TRAVEL!' (Jacob Michaels, 2006, USA)

If Computer Generated Images in modern cinema are indeed the jewels, crowns and swimming pools, all the cacophonies with which beggar boys drown out the silence of imaginative poverty, (and let it be known I'm no fundamentalist on these matters- give me a bejewell'd dragon in three dimensions over tawdry Oscar buzz on any and all of the seven days), then perhaps Jacob Michaels of California is a King of Ideas who needs no such lusty shenanigans. Perhaps.
Without him, sci-fi would be in exactly the same place it is now. No-one has followed his curve, bending schemes beyond the paradoxical until a sublime nonsense jazz permeates. 'History is worth more than the future. Darwinism and Jesus Christ would not be so contentious otherwise,' declares Dr Schwimmer (Jim Broadbent) the man behind the titular Time Travel time-travel company. His technology allows two rivals (Ben Kingsley and Udo Kier) to go back in time to kill one another as babes. The effects of their past-meddling are legion, a swarm of loose ends, a mind-meld of subplots. Michaels explores the chaos of time travel by splattering his screen with ridiculous real-time ephemera: three-legged mothers, unborn siblings, memories that are ruptured and false.

The simplistic cause-and-effect logic of Back to the Future is amplified horribly: deaths happen apparently randomly, the consequences of tiny seeds of actions completely unrelated. The world is explosive, as mistakes are being erased and paradoxes created constantly. If time is confusing, time travel is Confucius. Or concussion. Don't do it.

9: THE DRIVE (Lucy Simmons, 2002, Can)

'When I first read what I had written, I threw it in the fire. It was like Pithecanthropus Erectus giving birth to a fully-clothed smoking philosopher and murdering the child in mute shock, the writing was so far advanced from what I had done before. I rewrote it immediately, leaving out the best parts. Naturally, it was even better. With each rewrite, I removed more plot, like a chef boiling some fresh vegetables down to nothing. I came to realise that the repetitive action is the most powerful; this couple, driving in a car, leaving some kind of family dispute behind, not wanting to go home, but driving onwards, onwards: they were almost wishing the road into never ending, and of course it didn't.' Lucy Simmons.

'A couple drive in the country. They stop at a gas station. Repeat to fade.' Roger Ebert.

'The fact that they are so distracted by... life, by death, by something... that they fail to notice that they keep stopping at the same station- is perhaps the most poignant contemporary commentary on the modern human condition. The final shot- of the wife looking at the attendant, looking at her distant husband, looking back at the attendant, furrowing her brow, as if on the verge of realisation, recognition, of some kind of comprehension (about what? the fact that the road is repeating itself? That they're in some kind of dull hell? That they're simply lost?) before shaking her head distractedly- takes this quiet film beyond the perimeter of Hitchcockian suspense, to something less satisfying and more truthful: there may be bombs under our respective tables, but we rarely notice them, even when they do go boom.' Slavoj Zizek.

8: KAL-EL (Ang Lee, 2002, USA)

Another film, then, trading science-fiction cliches for hard currency. Ang Lee removes the rumbuncious idolatory from Superman by leaving him on Krypton; an alterna-hell of green normality. His semi-beurocratic life has echoes of Clark Kent, but shorn of the sudden gear-change at the drop of a baby into heroically sentimental icon, that refracted ideal of America's self-image. So, we have a man in a robe doing a job, with no smellovision sonatas, no Christmas tones. Kal-El is a regular alien with regular parents. But he has dreams, dreams in which he is strong enough to lift vehicles, repair dams, fly. 'To say I made Superman without Superman is absurd. He exists in Kal-El's dreams, just as he lives in ours,' Ang Lee said, in a defence of his apparent sabotage. The real heresy (if that is a strong enough word for pop culture fanatics in a post-Christianity world) was perhaps having a Kal-El whose escalating resentment about the disparity between his life and dreams ends with him making a bomb big enough to destroy his homeworld, before fleeing and crashlanding on a green and blue planet where he has ultrasonic ears. And where, naturally, he can fulfill his own invented destiny.

'That this Superman is like any reality show contestant- tall, handsome, convinced of his own uniqueness- makes him simultaneously loathsome and sympathetic. Lee's genius is in holding these two weights in complete harmony' LA Times.

7: LIPSTICK FIBROSIS (Bert Smith, 2007, UK)

'The blogging generation's Spiceworld' The Guardian.

'Hey Hey We're the Junkies' The Sun

'War of the Worlds meets Kiss Meets The Phantom of the Park meets Mars Attacks meets Head meets The Day The Earth Stood Still meets Abba: The Movie meets Mamma Mia meets Signs meets Purple Rain meets The Faculty meets Help meets The Thing meets Eddie and the Cruisers meets ET meets That Thing You Do meets Mack and Me meets This Island Earth meets Oliver Stone's The Doors meets Plan 9 meets Dreamgirls meets The Faculty meets Paris Blues. In fact, I'll tell you exactly what this film is like- the scene in Masters of the Universe where Courtney Cox's boyfriend discovers that he can decipher the key to the cosmic flux capacitor portal device by plugging it into his Yamaha keyboard and playing strident yuppie rock chords, thus evading Frank Langella's Skeletor- that scene, over the course of ninety minutes, refracted through myspace. Fun.' Mark Kermode.

Real-life legends-in-their-own-bathtimes Lipstick Fibrosis play themselves as Earth's last hope against marauding martians. Druggy singer Oskar Minimal is the hero whose asexual pipes flood the air with so much tuneless drivel that the aliens cannot decipher it among the rubble of hipster carnage in 21st century London. The previously unheralded spazzcore refuseniks turn out to be lovable heroes, world is saved, triumphant sell-out concert ensues. The rushed sequel Lipstick Fibrosis At The Beach (2008) was a step too far, and the forthcoming Lipstick Fibrosis In Space (2011) seems doomed. After the dismal failure of Razorlight At The Edge of Time (2007), and Jet: The Movie(2008), the brief band movie resurrection seems over. He Hit Me And It Felt Like A Kasabian (2008), it should be noted, received a verdict of 'surprisingly watchable' in my house.


  1. Yowzer! Can't wait for 1-6!

  2. I'm a big fan of both Kermode and Zizek, and anyone who quotes both, even falsely, gets my vote.

  3. Yowzer? Who says that?

  4. Thanks, ladies and/or gents. I have to confess that 'Lipstick Fibrosis' is not a 'great' film, but its personal charm puts it on the list. It is possibly my favourite band name of recent times too:

  5. "drive" sounds like a Gus Van Sant film.

    For the record, I don't use "Yowzer", but "gee" and "sheesh" are on the menu.

  6. 'Yowser', was a catchphrase of W.Axl Rose, who interestingly (or otherwise) makes an appearance in one of the films coming up in the rest of the top ten.

    My readers are onto me.