The Best Films of the Decade: #6 02/23/2010
The first decade of our young century has come to a close. During that time the world around us has changed rapidly, and cinema has changed with it. Mainstream filmmaking continues to go down a dark path, moving ever closer to an event-style industry with no perception of "art". Meanwhile the cinema is ennobled all over the world by artists who reject or beat the studio system. As strong as ever, if you look in the right places, the art form thrives. For the next 10 days, I'll be counting down the 10 greatest films of the decade...
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
By far, the most difficult part of putting together this list was choosing between Paul Thomas Anderson's two masterpieces of the decade, There Will Be Blood and Punch-Drunk Love. There Will Be Blood is the more common selection, and understandably so; it's a brilliant, strange and bold film. But so is Punch-Drunk Love. In fact, both films are somewhat similar in their conception, even if it can appear otherwise on the surface. Each film centers on an eccentric figure, and explores their state of mind through the world Anderson creates. Sure, Blood is broader, but both films are clearly the work of a single auteur, a man who happens to be one of America's greatest living filmmakers.
Unable to decide which film was truly the better of the two, I settled on Punch-Drunk Love because it felt like the only way I was being honest to myself. It is a film that perfectly articulates the power of love, not in some overly romantic or Hollywood way, but in an authentic and realistic way. Having fallen in love (and being in that state currently), it just made sense to pick Punch-Drunk Love.
The performance Anderson gets out of Adam Sandler is remarkable, to be sure, but the character receives his definition through little details and the ingenious musical score by Jon Brion, which paces itself according to Barry's state of mind. The film makes me feel so panicked and anxious, and eventually so empowered and blissful. We go through the emotional journey of Barry and feel what he feels and just as intensely. The emotional elevation provided by the film's most affecting moments is unparalleled, such as when Barry fights the "three brothers" or during his showdown with the "Mattress Man". It's one of those magical movies that can completely alter how you feel, and leave you completely moved after the credits roll. Punch-Drunk Love is a rarity of the American studio system: a wholly original, consummate work of art.