Note: This is the first in what will be a frequently continuing series of posts over the next year that spotlight the best movies of the 00s, albeit in a completely random order.
First up: City of God (2003) – Directed by Fernando Meirelles
Decades from now, when the dust kicked up during the early part of the 21st century has settled, I expect film historians and enthusiasts will argue that City of God might have been the best movie of the decade. Really, it has everything you could want from a movie: It seamlessly straddles being entertaining and deep, artful and accessible, bombastic and intimate. And it may well be remembered as the movie that finally took the styles innovated by Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritchie, and Danny Boyle and employed them to tell a truly meaningful story about the world we live in (much as I passionately love them, Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting, and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels don’t exactly change the way people view the world).
In a scant 130 minutes, first time feature director Fernando Meirelles manages to weave two decades worth of crime in one of the world’s largest cities into a cohesive story about the heartbreaking cycle of violence the children living in Rio de Janeiro’s slums find themselves born into. Centering around Rocket, the younger brother of one of the slum’s original rebels without a cause, we follow his journey as he watches various crime lords rise and fall, all the while continuously trying to pull out of the scene he keeps finding himself tumbling back into.
While you can view the trailer here, you’re better off just checking out the first five minutes of the movie. Very few movies are able to flawlessly draw the audience into a totally foreign world in the span of an opening credit sequence, but City of God is one of those movies. The editing pulsates at the pace of a latin drum beat, while the colors teem with as much life as the rain forest. And we even get a great acting performance out of a chicken. (Sadly, Youtube doesn’t seem to have a subtitled version of this clip; while the style is far more important than the dialogue, know that when you rent the movie, you’ll understand what is being said.)
(Sadly, Youtube doesn’t seem to have a subtitled version of this clip; while the style is far more important than the dialogue, know that when you rent the movie, you’ll understand what is being said.)
I’ve always believed in the ability of great films to inform who we are and how we think about things, and City of God is a perfect example. So many of us living in the silver spoon of American life don’t have any conception of true poverty, the kind in which the best prospects for getting out is to live fast and die young. Many characters in City of God aren’t killed as much they are swallowed whole by a way of life they had no power to choose against. Countless TV critics have praised the fourth season of The Wire (and rightfully so) for its expert chronicle of the way young kids find themselves involved in the drug trade; City of God deals with the same issues, except in a world where a way out simply does not exist.
It’s fascinating to watch the movie in hindsight, because it seems like a more realistic and interesting version of Slumdog Millionaire, which, after all, won Best Picture. When Slumdog came out, I called it a live action version of a Disney fairytale. Now, I just think it’s the Disney version of City of God. So for anyone that enjoyed Slumdog, do yourself a favor and check out the caffeinated version.