The Buggles once proclaimed that video killed the radio star, but it wasn’t until nearly two decades later that the slogan became prophecy. As radio and MTV grew increasingly formulaic, along came MTV2 and MuchMusic. MTV2, then known as M2, became a 24-hour-a-day Buzz Bin for emerging artists. No Britney Spears, no Creed—just alternative counter-programming to TRL. Since the pre-MTV days of Friday night video blocks, the music video medium has evolved slowly into something more than a marketing tool. Initially music videos were just another way to promote albums, but videomakers quickly realized there was art to be made. Though the three oldest videos on our list (Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical,” Queen & David Bowie’s “Under Pressure,” and “Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me”) addressed their respective texts with decidedly different genre approaches, each one aimed to do more than sell records. No other artist has embodied this ideal more than Madonna, who has continually pushed the boundaries of video art and has single-handedly changed the way artists and music are consumed. It’s no secret that without MTV Madonna might not be who she is today. She is the artist with the most videos on our list—11 in all—with Björk, R.E.M., Smashing Pumpkins, and Annie Lennox (including her work with the Eurythmics) tying for a distant second place with three clips apiece. On the other side of the lens, videomakers-cum-Tinseltown-commodities David Fincher and Spike Jonze each helmed six videos on our list, while Michael Gondry and Mark Romanek, who found success with last year’s One Hour Photo, each directed five. While MTV and VH1’s own lists often seem to cater to populist opinion and favor controversy over artistry, Slant Magazine has sorted through the vaults (and we’re not kidding when we say that) and compiled a list based on what we think will survive the networks’ own expiration dates. Notable omissions include “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys (though their videos are consistently good, “Sabotage” is superfluous by Jonze’s standards), R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” (we opted for less heavy-handed R.E.M. clips like “Imitation of Life” and “Drive”) and Korn’s “Freak on a Leash” (the anti-gun commercial it was inspired by is far superior). Now, without further ado…
100. Christina Aguilera, “Dirrty” (Director: David LaChappelle)
Elbow-deep in sweat, chaps, naughty school girls, cockfights, female boxing, mud wrestling and Thai signs that, when translated, read “Young Underage Girls,” Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” video caused a nasty stink in 2002. The clip’s most poignant moments include guest artist Redman punching a dancer sporting a bunny costume and a scene in which Aguilera and a group of her young frolicking friends get hosed down in a men’s restroom. At the end, a spent and extrra-dirrty Aguilera attempts to wipe what can safely be assumed is Syphilis from her mouth.
99. No Doubt, “New” (Jake Scott)
For “New,” their contribution to 1999’s Go soundtrack, No Doubt enlisted director Jake Scott to help create a retro-rave club setting to juxtapose the band’s edgy new wave rock. Each band member assumed a role: Adrian was the speed freak, Tom was the club entrepreneur and Gwen was the free spirit who just came to get her groove on. Fuzzy plotlines aside, the gorgeously filmed “New” rang in the post-ska No Doubt as we now know them and reintroduced Gwen Stefani as fashion’s diva du jour.
98. Daft Punk, “Around the World” (Michel Gondry)
A group of Cold War aliens, ‘50s-style swimmers, skeletons, mummified women and statuesque ravers circle each other onstage in this demented clip for Daft Punk’s “Around the World.” Director Michel Gondry keeps things simple—via a series of effortless zooms and overheads timed to the circular choreography, he evokes dance music’s appeal as an ageless global phenomenon.
97. Run-DMC> vs. Jason Nevins, “It’s Like That”
DJ Jason Nevins made Run-DMC sound cool again with his remix of the group’s first single, 1983’s “It’s Like That.” This old-skool-meets-new-skool clip for the song works off the combative nature set up by the “vs” between Run-DMC and Nevins. A group of ravers gather together in an abandoned warehouse, fending each other off not with fists but with body moving. Killer choreography and silky camera moves are director Marcus Sternberg’s visual weapons of choice. More importantly, though, this anthropological celebration of alternative modes of competition works as a continuation of Jennie Livingston’s legendary documentary Paris Is Burning and Madonna’s “Vogue” video.
96. Sinead O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U” (John Maybury)
In stark contrast to the often excessive videos of its time period, Sinead O’Connor and director John Maybury’s minimalist video for “Nothing Compares 2 U” proclaimed O’Connor as an iconoclast to be reckoned with. Moody images of O’Connor walking through a paganistic, gargoyle-filled park were offset with close-ups of the singer’s porcelain face against a black background. And yes, that’s a real tear.
95. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Don’t Come Around Here No More” (Jeff Stein)
Only in a Tom Petty video can Alice trip her way through Wonderland. A naïve Alice downs psychedelic shrooms courtesy of a hookah-smoking caterpillar. As the crazed Mad Hatter, Petty fucks with her high. The clip itself hasn’t aged well but its stunning art direction was remarkably ahead of its time. Here, it’s a virtual threat to Alice’s confused sense of perspective. When the munchies kick in, Alice herself is downright edible.
94. Paula Abdul, “Cold Hearted” (David Fincher)
A group of record executives arrive at a rehearsal hall where Paula Abdul is waiting to audition her new music video concept. The execs sit and watch in horror as Abdul and her troupe of dancers (who appear as if they’ve been plucked right off New York’s dingy city streets) pull the shades and unveil their racy creation. Inspired by the dance sequence “Aerotica” from Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz and directed by a then-virtually unknown David Fincher, American Idol Abdul’s campy “Cold Hearted” is, along with Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” and Madonna’s “Vogue,” one of the greatest clips of the “dance video” genre.
93. OutKast, “B.O.B.” (Dave Meyers)
OutKast’s urgent “po-wer music electric revival” is matched with a video clip courtesy of Dave Meyers that is just as brilliant and high-energy as the song. The video deftly mixes the soulful with the decadent as a pre- (or post-) apocalyptic community (including dancing hoochies, bone thugs and choir women) flocks to the last house on Earth for one final dance call. It’s all about peace, love and heading into your next lifetime with a smile on your face.
92. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Scar Tissue” (Stephane Sednaoui)
In 1999, Red Hot Chili Peppers returned with new do’s and John Frusciante in tow. The stylish first video from their much-celebrated Californication was simple and profound. Directed by Stephane Sednaoui, who helmed the band’s famously silver-hued “Give It Away,” the symbolic “Scar Tissue” found the Chili Peppers driving across the desert in a red convertible. Beaten, bandaged and at peace, the band mimes their broken instruments to the familiar riffs of Frusciante’s guitar. The clip was a beautiful metaphor for the band’s resolve and triumph over death, drugs and, most of all, time.
91. Soundgarden, “Black Hole Sun” (Howard Greenhalgh)
Director Howard Greenhalgh challenges American complacency in his apocalyptic video for Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.” The clip mocks and exaggerates our society’s search for truth in television and its gratuitous exploitation of the earth. Soon nature turns itself on the unsuspecting suburb. A tall, thin blonde bakes in the sun as a Barbie doll is scorched on a barbeque. For torturing a cockroach under a magnifying glass, two young boys are burnt under the giant lens of the Black Hole Sun. In the end, the town people’s distorted self-images and general arrogance becomes their end.
90. Alanis Morissette, “Hand in My Pocket” (Mark Koh)
Mark Kohr’s best music video is this underrated clip for Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket.” Based on Morissette’s purported fascination with observing people in crowds, the video casts the singer/songwriter as the chauffeur of a local parade. The languid black-and-white photography, Kohr’s cynical direction, Morissette’s possessed “taxi cab” facial tick and off-kilter lip-syncing manage to add to the strange if not elusive scent of subversion.
89. Bonnie Tyler, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (Russell Mulcahy)
Before Highlander, Russell Mulcahy helped launch a network as director of the first music video to play on MTV, “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles. More threatening than the canons-cum-cocks of Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time,” Mulcahy’s cinematic clip for Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” re-imagined Wolf Rilla’s horror classic The Village of the Damned as gay fantasia. The witchy headmistress played by Tyler must defy the pink curtains and unexplained doves that shoot out at her from the vaginal hallways of her all-boys school. Tortured by her pent-up sexual energy, she discovers release in fantasy, imagining her pupils as dancing ninjas and scantily clad Tarzans. Morning call seemingly restores her faith in prudence though a child’s bright eyes portend yet another vaginal flow. Though the openly gay Mulcahy would channel some of the leftover homoeroticism into the first three episodes of the Brit version of Queer as Folk, the video’s stateside legacy is a sad one. In the 90s, the video was updated for two other Jim Steinman produced tracks: Meatloaf’s “I Would Do Anything for Love” and Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.”
88. Wax, “California” (Spike Jonze)
In one mesmerizing long take, Spike Jonze follows a man on fire running through a city street in California. Ignored by pedestrians and motorists alike, the man turns a corner as a bus pulls away from its designated stop. Jonze’s use of slow-mo works like a terrifying drawl that emphasizes a culture’s complete and utter self-involvement, not to mention its shoddy public transit. For anyone new to the Golden State or anyone without a car, the message is clear: keep out! Precedes and compliments the Daytonand Faris clip for Red Hot Chili Peppers’s “Californication.”
87. Janet Jackson, “Rhythm Nation” (Dominic Sena)
Culled from a long-form video which told the morality tale of two shoeshine boys who discover the Rhythm Nation (the mini-musical also included “Miss You Much” and the rarely-seen “The Knowledge”), the unity-themed “Rhythm Nation” clip stands on its own as one of the most intricately and powerfully choreographed music videos of all time. The solidarity of Janet Jackson’s multi-racial Rhythm Nation dancers is evoked with hyper-synchronized movements while their individuality is expressed via their separate, distinct dances.
86. Dave Matthews Band, “Crash Into Me” (Howard Greenhalgh)
Dave Matthews Band’s stylish “Crash Into Me” was pieced together from still shots taken by director Dean Karr on location in Woodstock, NY. The striking watercolor-like images (reminiscent of and perhaps influenced by the Eurthymics’s “Sweet Dreams”) include a ball-and-chain and bassist Stefan Lessard playing an upright bass submerged in a pond. The surreal video evokes a dream in which Matthews is indeed “the king of the castle” of love.
85. Alanis Morissette, “Ironic” (Stephane Sednaoui)
In Stephane Sednaoui’s video for “Ironic,” four Alanis Morissettes ride along a wintry highway and discuss things both ironic and, as many would gleefully point out, un-ironic. But grammar usage and execution aside, this colorful video clip captured Morissette’s multifarious public persona quite perfectly.
84. Foo Fighters, “Everlong” (Michel Gondry)
Inside their happy suburban home, a husband (Dave Grohl) and wife (Taylor Hawkins in drag) communicate via dreams. Grohl is Sid Vicious at a lame costume party. Pat Smear and Nate Mendel are the bouncers hot on his tail. The thugs access the couple’s shared consciousness, kidnapping the wife and hiding her inside a remote cabin in the woods. Water imagery and opening doorways heighten Grohl’s penetration anxiety. A ringing phone figures prominently in and out of sleep and serves to clue Grohl in to the power of dreams over reality. Or is it the other way around? Magritte meets Lynch in this surprisingly intimate paean to lucid dreaming.
83. Daft Punk, “Da Funk” (Spike Jonze)
Spike Jonze challenges the way music is incorporated and represented in music videos with his bizarre, ‘80s-style clip for Daft Punk’s “Da Funk.” Charlie the dog-boy moves to the East Village with a pocketful of dreams and a ghetto blaster by his side. Coping with a broken leg and lack of friends, this anthropomorphic creature is rejected by one New Yorker after another. “Da Funk” is his failed battle cry; indeed, an ornery street vendor reacts less to the noise emanating from Charlie’s boombox than he does to the dog’s lame attempt at “keeping it real.” A chance meeting with a childhood friend suggests things will get better yet the video’s devastating finale suggests that Charlie will never learn.
82. Peter Gabriel, “Sledgehammer” (Stephen R. Rosen)
Peter Gabriel and director Stephen R. Johnson teamed with the Brothers Quay and Nick Park (Wallce & Gromit) in an effort to make a video that Gabriel called “a bit groundbreaking.” Clearly meeting their lofty goal, 1986’s “Sledgehammer” paved a stop-motion, claymation path for videos by Primus, Tool and, most recently, the White Stripes. Though the award-winning “Sledgehammer” isn’t exactly profound, its visual pretenses are crafty and certainly fun to watch.
81. Nirvana, “Heart-Shaped Box” (Anton Corjbin)
Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” is as ripe with allusions as it is oversaturated with color (the video was shot in black and white and then computer-colorized). Directed by Anton Corjbin, the clip features surrealistic images including a winged, gluttonous woman reaching for plastic fetuses hanging from a tree and an emaciated Jesus with a Victorian beard and Santa hat climbing onto a cross. While the song makes vague references to cancer, umbilical cords and meat-eating orchids, the video entangles faith and sickness with the clarity of a man who’s damn close to giving up his eternal search.
Interview: Mary Kay Place on the Emotional Journey of Kent Jones’s Diane
The actress speaks at length about the little pieces of herself that she sees in her character.
Diane, the eponymous character of film critic, programmer, and documentarian
Kent Jones’s narrative directorial debut, provides Mary Kay Place with a rare leading role that the character actress inhabits with customary nuance. Diane is a woman grappling with countless burdens, none bigger than her struggle to bridge the gap between herself and her son, Brian (Jake Lacy), who’s battling addiction. Place is in every scene of the film, and she’s mesmerizing in each one, for showing how Diane’s routines, from volunteering at a soup kitchen to caring for a dying cousin, takes some kind of toll on her mind.
Place has delivered many memorable performances throughout her long career, most notably in The Big Chill and Manny & Lo. She became reliable for playing folksy, no-nonsense women—often mothers—who’re predisposed to putting others first and leading from the heart. Maybe that’s why Diane felt like a perfect fit for the actress. Throughout Jones’s film, Diane drops by houses and hospital rooms, looking to stay “only but for a minute.” But her business masks a deeper pain and loneliness, and the film allows Kay to bring to the surface certain rhythms that she hasn’t often been allowed to channel in her previous work.
In a recent conversation with Place about Diane, the actress spoke to me at length about the little pieces of herself that she sees in her character, how she expresses her own anger, and why she considers herself a “kitchen dancer.”
Diane is selfless, lonely, ashamed, tough. Do you see yourself in her?
Yes, because she lives in a small community, and my parents came from small towns in Texas, and because I went to these towns my whole life to visit my grandparents with my family. The casserole exchange, and the experiences that take place in small communities—they resonated with me. Many of us in our families have addiction issues; we can all relate to that aspect of Diane. And many of us have said things we regret or feel ashamed about and hold on to, though maybe not for as long as Diane does. As members of her family pass away, that family loss is an initiation into a new dimension of your life. I could relate to that as well. She takes a turn into a deeper exploration of her own needs and wants because she has time to reflect.
Diane’s well-meaning is an attempt to compensate for her failures. Why do you think Diane is the way she is, so hard on herself?
Because some people just are. She’s a sensitive person. She busies herself with lists to distract her from thinking about the things she carries around as a burden. But as the film moves on, she has more time for reflection and goes through a transformation in small, tiny ways.
Much of your performance as Diane is internal. Can you describe your process in playing those moments?
It flowed naturally because of the script. There was an inner dialogue going on and that was reflected on my face. I was aware of subtext. Even though it wasn’t written, my imagination found the rhythm and flow that occurred. Once you get into shooting, being in every scene helped that development. There was an inner and outer dialogue. We go through this whole time period and as she has more time alone and once her son gets sober—that’s a huge weight off her shoulders—she doesn’t know what to do with herself.
Diane’s relationship with her son is interesting. He lies to her, he bullies her, and at times she stands up to him. She’s no-nonsense in dealing with him. I’m curious to know your personal thoughts about this dynamic of their relationship?
She’s definitely codependent and enabling her son by doing his laundry. She doesn’t know how to let go. Maybe she’s never been to an Al-Anon meeting—or has and rejected it. So, they have this dynamic, and they feed off each other. They’re hooked in. She’s not able to break free of it.
How do you personally cope with the ups and downs of life?
Well, I do centering prayer, and mindful meditation, exercise. I think the prayer and meditation have always been important coping mechanisms.
There’s a scene in a bar where Diane goes drinking, puts on the jukebox and dances. It made me remember your dancing in the kitchen to “Handyman” in Smooth Talk.
I’m a big kitchen dancer—with other people or by myself. I have all kinds of playlists and I love to dance. I really wanted to do that bar scene. I picked the song—Leon Russell’s “Out in the Woods”—because it’s fun to dance to, and the lyrics were appropriate for Diane. Kent was game for that. It showed another side of Diane that we hadn’t seen. It was from when she was at a simpler time in her life and didn’t have shameful thoughts and was just out having fun.
We see what makes Diane come undone. So I guess I’m also curious to know what makes you lose your temper or patience?
I come from a family that doesn’t hold things in. We let the freak flag fly and then it’s totally over and done with. Explosions and then we’re through! I lose patience with people being oblivious to the feeling of others, and I have no tolerance for meanness. None. I might lash out, depend on the circumstances—and I can if called upon—but I generally don’t.
Diane appears to be a creature of habit, living a life that consists of routine. Are you in that mold, or more peripatetic or free-spirited?
I’m “both/and” instead of “either/or.” I get real orderly and then I get real spontaneous and have to start all over again. Diane’s driving connects the scenes and shows that monotony that she experiences. Oh my God, we’re back in that car again driving to someone’s house! It’s not a walking community. And it’s a different rhythm driving on country roads than in L.A.
We also see how patient Diane can be. Where do you think she gets that quality, and do you share it?
Sometimes she’s not patient. I strive to be more patient. I can be patient and sometimes I can be very impatient. Once again, it’s a “both/and” kind of thing.
Your career has been as an in-demand character actress. This is a rare leading role for you. Watching Diane, I kept thinking: “It’s long overdue that you were the star!”
Thank you for saying it’s long overdue. I enjoy every minute of it, but I love ensemble work. It’s interesting to find a rhythm and exchange words and movement with other people. It’s fun. It’s been interesting to have this leading part, but I love the other work as well.
Interview: Jia Zhang-ke on Ash Is Purest White and the Evolution of China
Jia discusses what he likes about digital video and how Zhao Tao helped bring her role to life.
Unshowy yet unshakably self-assured, sincere but with glimpses of a sly sense of humor, and unhesitatingly frank even about touchy topics like the Chinese government’s censorship of his work, Jia Zhang-ke comes off in person just as a fan of his films might expect. Ever since his 1997 feature debut, The Pickpocket, and 2000’s Platform, in which young people struggle to adapt to China’s increasing Westernization, Jia has been creating a kind of unofficial history of his homeland, quietly defying his government’s determination to erase its tracks as it barrels along by doing things like rewiring the economy, rewriting the social contract, and depopulating whole cities and erecting new ones in a matter of months.
Jia’s films operate in metaphorical deep focus, surfacing the ways that these sweeping societal changes affect individual lives and relationships by zeroing in on sensitively detailed portrayals of two lovers, or of a group or pair of friends, while just as clearly portraying the socioeconomic backdrops to their stories. And often at the center of his films is Zhao Tao, his wife and longtime muse. In Jia’s latest, Ash Is Purest White, Zhao reprises the role she played in 2002’s Unknown Pleasures: Qiao Qiao, a strong-willed woman from Jia’s hometown of Fenyang, this time over a span of 17 years that starts when she’s the young lover of a gangster and ends with her in charge of the gambling den he once ran.
In a conversation before Ash Is Purest White’s debut at the New York Film Festival, Jia explained what he likes about digital video, how Zhao Tao helped bring her role to life, and how he deals with his government’s suppression of his work.
The music in your films is always an important part of the story. Can you talk about how you picked the songs for this one, starting with “Y.M.C.A.”?
Since I wanted to set the story starting in 2001, I wanted to find a piece of music that can trigger that particular era very authentically. And back in the day, in 2001, the younger generation, they didn’t have a lot of sources of entertainment. They might have had a disco club and karaoke, and that was about it. Two songs very popular at that time were “Y.M.C.A.” and “Go West” [the Pet Shop Boys song that was a motif in Jia’s Mountains May Depart].
The reason that we liked “Y.M.C.A.” was not because we understood the lyrics or understood who sang them or who was involved in the production. We had no idea what they were singing about. But we did enjoy the rhythm, the melody, and the beat, which is matching the heartbeat of the young people. It really got you going and brought up the energy of the room.
Another song that is particularly important in the film—you hear it again and again—is “Drunk for Life” by Sally Yeh, a Cantonese pop singer. This is a song I listened to when I was in junior high. At the time, young people tended to hang out in the video arcade, and this was one of the songs heard there. It was also a theme song for John Woo’s The Killer. That film, in the triad genre, is very similar to the John Woo motif that I want to evoke in this film.
The third song in this film is “How Much Love Can Be Repeated?” This sequence was actually shot 12 years ago in Three Gorges, when I made Still Life. I think the reason why I wanted to use it was that it could create this interesting contrast between what was happening on stage and Zhao’s character off stage, when you see her reaction watching this performance. Mind you, the on-stage part was shot 12 years ago, but Zhao’s part was shot last year. Hopefully, you cannot tell that these two footages were from two different times and spaces.
Was any of the other Three Gorges footage shot for Still Life, or shot when you were making that film? I know you shot a lot of documentary footage there at the time.
Only that particular clip was shot 12 years ago. The rest, we went back to the same location and tried to capture what we did in Still Life. But, unlike in other parts of the film, where we tend to use digital video, for the Three Gorges part we use film stock. That’s why it gives you a sense of nostalgia, evoking what happened in the past.
You’ve worked in digital video for a long time, partly because it allowed you to bypass processing labs, which would not have developed your films because they weren’t government-approved. Digital video also made it much easier for your films to be copied and disseminated in China when they weren’t being played in theaters. Are there also things that you prefer artistically about using digital video, especially now that it can do so much more than it could early on?
Starting in 2001, using DV to shoot Unknown Pleasures, I didn’t think of it just for practical purposes. DV as a medium has its own aesthetics that I can really explore and develop. Using DV you can create a close proximity between the camera and the actors and actresses, a kind of intimacy that cannot be done through the traditional camera.
The other thing is, things that happen unexpectedly can be easily captured with DV cameras. With cameras that use film stock, things are usually highly scripted in a contained, particular environment. With DV you tend to have a lot of spontaneity and a lot of impromptu happenstances that can be easily captured.
It’s so important for people to share their stories and learn from history. To me, one of the most important forms of disruption in China since Mao is the way people have been barred from telling their stories, or made to alter what they say to fit some official narrative. So you’re performing an important service by writing history with your films, recording the story of the present and the recent past for the people of tomorrow.
I think that’s also why I rely a lot on DV. I joke that only the pace of the evolution of DV equipment can keep up with the pace of the development of China. For me, this film is very much about how, in this time span of 17 years, human connections and human emotions—the interpersonal relationships between people—evolves and changes as a result of all that. On the surface, you can see very clearly the changes pre-internet era and post-internet era, [things like how] in the past you had slow trains and now you have high-speed trains. But that is on the surface level. What I’m interested in exploring is what happened in terms of the inner world of those people in this particular historical context, how their relationships evolved or dissolved and the reasons for the dissolutions and the evolutions of their relationships.
You’ve said you like working with your wife partly because she becomes a kind of second author of your screenplays, adding detail to what you have written. Can you give an example of what she brought to this movie?
When she was in the cabin of the boat and the lady in black [a cabinmate] came in, she just, almost as a kneejerk reaction, stood up, suddenly and immediately. She was trying to capture what it would be like for someone who has been in prison for five years, how she would have reacted to a security guard entering the jail cell and how she would react the same way when this lady in black entered her cabin.
I see her training as a dancer a lot in the physicality of her acting.
Yes. Another example would be the water bottle in this film. It was used to evoke this same character in Still Life, and she carried that water bottle there too. It makes sense because of the weather; it was very hot so she would need to drink. But the water bottle also came in handy to enhance the mood I was trying to create. Zhao Tao took this on and really went for it. She used it as a weapon, she used it as a way to stop the door from closing,
And to avoid holding hands with the man she met on the train.
Exactly. She was using this bottle as a kind of third character in the film, thinking about how this can be expanded and explored.
Your work has faced such strong resistance from the Chinese government. What is the government’s response to your films these days, and how does that affect how you work or how your films are seen?
I make films based on my own ecology, my own tempo and rhythm. I don’t really think too much about whether or not the film can be shown in China. Of course, I would love if my film could be shown in China, but that’s not the only reason why I make films. The most important thing for me is to understand that that’s not the end goal, so I don’t need to somehow sacrifice and change the way I make films in order to be shown in China.
I will make the film I want to make, and if it can be shown in China, great. If not, so be it. That’s the way I interact with this particular censorship system. But I have to say that the situation has improved in terms of the communication channels. Those have opened up a lot more, so after I finish the film, I will do my best as a director to communicate to the censor bureau why this film should be shown in China. That I am willing to do. But I will not compromise the quality or any subject matter.
Translation by Vincent Cheng
Every Cannes Palme d’Or Winner of the 2000s Ranked
There’s a certain formula that often defines the recipients of Cannes’s most prestigious prize.
There’s a certain formula that often defines the recipients of the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious top prize, the Palme d’Or. These films, in recent years especially, tend to have a sense of importance about them (Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11), frequently due to their sociopolitical awareness of the world (Laurent Cantet’s The Class), or of specific societal ills (Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days). Very occasionally, the Palme d’Or goes to a bold, experimental, and divisive vision from a well-liked auteur (Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), but more often it’s awarded to a film in the lineup that the most people on the Cannes jury can probably agree is good (Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake). And in less than three months, we’ll see if Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s jury will follow any sort of predictable formula when it announces its winners.
You’ll find us on the Croisette this May, covering most of the titles in Cannes’s competition slate. Until then, enjoy our ranking of the Palme d’Or winner from the 2000s. Sam C. Mac
Editor’s Note: This entry was originally published on May 1, 2018.
19. The Son’s Room (2001)
Halfway through The Son’s Room, director Nanni Moretti shifts the rhetoric of his narrative away from an exaggerated view of happy domesticity and into a realm of weepy melodrama. Psychiatrist Giovanni (Moretti) is a perfect father and husband: he helps his daughter with her Latin homework (perducto means “without hardship you will be guided”—wink, wink); allows her boyfriend to exalt grass (when high, the boy says he’s “looking at the universe”); and initiates group lip-synching during the family’s car trips. Nicola Piovani’s score grotesquely heightens the joy behind every smile, meaning disaster is inevitable. As Moretti delves deeper into Giovanni’s work, focus is shifted away from the family arena. Though the film blooms when Paola (Laura Morante) and the family seek deliverance from their pain by connecting with a girl their deceased son, Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice), met at summer camp, Paola remains a cipher throughout. Cue Brian Eno’s “By This River,” which blares from a car radio as the family stands near the sea that killed their Andrea: “Here we are stuck by this river/You and I underneath a sky/That’s ever falling down, down, down.” In this one stoic moment, not only does the family seemingly escape their grief but also the Rob Reiner soap opera Moretti trapped them in. Ed Gonzalez
18. Fahrenheit 911 (2004)
A mediocre director but a master PR man, Michael Moore is the father of the Happy Meal documentary: big fonts, quick-fire montages, celebrity cameos, causing elaborate scenes. Fahrenheit 9/11 is no less an attention-grabbing stunt than his Bowling for Columbine, but what a scene it is. At the time of its release, Moore’s compilation of the Bush I administration’s bamboozling of the American public in the wake of 9/11. More than 10 years after its release, though, what lingers most about the film is Moore’s self-aggrandizement and forced sanctimoniousness (he rah-rahs from the sidelines when an interviewee says something he agrees with, and you sometimes get a sense that he wouldn’t call a dying man an ambulance if it meant getting the money shot of the guy croaking). At least it’s some kind of mercy that he spends very little time on screen. Gonzalez
17. Amour (2012)
There’s a deceptiveness lurking deep within Amour, an insincerity that colors the drama, recasting it as a ploy. Whereas across earlier films Michael Haneke’s predilection for deceit served a high-minded, if still somewhat suspect, intellectual purpose (an interrogation of privilege and meaning in Caché, the deconstruction of genre in both versions of Funny Games, and so on), here his disingenuous approach is not only unwarranted, but is actually at odds with the tone and tenor of the drama. This suggests two possibilities: Either Haneke has attempted to shear his sensibility of trickery and failed to do so convincingly, or he has made an experiment in manipulation and feigned empathy so exacting and oblique that nobody has understood its real purpose (I wouldn’t put the latter past him). Either way, Amour intends to dupe us, to feed on our own pain and suffering. Moved to tears or scared to death, we’d all lose our dignity in the end. Calum Marsh
16. I, Daniel Blake (2016)
English stand-up comedian Dave Johns brings the sort of spontaneous energy to his eponymous character that’s consistently made Loach’s films worth keeping up with. But Blake’s storyline veers from its emotionally grounded setup and into grandstanding displays like the Michael Moore-worthy stunt from which I, Daniel Blake takes its title. Both principal actors have a strong enough sense of their characters, even as they’re pulled into increasingly harrowing places, to make the film a more successful one than Loach’s last few, but it’s still schematic and predictable, and it aggressively stacks the deck against Blake and Kattie (Hayley Squires) in a way that makes it more effective as social activism, and less so as drama. The Loach of two or three decades ago, who made intimate, naturalistic films about the working class, like 1969’s Kes and 1994’s Ladybird Ladybird, is distinctly different from the Loach of today—and the soapbox-prone I, Daniel Blake reaffirms how unlikely it is for that to change. Mac
15. The Class (2008)
When a plot finally emerges, it’s all about the quandaries of privileging principle (and principal) or empiricism, duty or personal preference, questions that have been implicit all along, even in kids’ protests that they’re always being picked on or favored. As a clever late twist suggests, the interactions themselves are almost all riffs on Socratic debates—usually, the teacher seems to be asking students to verify their claims so he can give himself time to rebut—and as director Laurent Cantet said at The Class’s New York Film Festival press conference, the school’s a place “where democracy is at stake.” Instead of the usual righteous monologues, this is a film of dialogue and dialogues, in which the bickering teachers’ conferences begin to echo the kids’ troublemaking and skepticism but for the adults’ pretense of understanding and decorum (everyone, in any case, has their reason and handily states it in close-up). It would make a perfect, though not particularly good, double feature with Frederick Wiseman’s documentary State Legislature or Advise and Consent. David Phelps
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