Histories of Violence

The Year of Atrocities

7.Munich.The attacks of September 11, 2001, seem to have reinvigorated the artistry of Steven Spielberg in a way nobody could have imagined. First came The Terminal, a fanciful and heartfelt slapstick paean to a time when airports were still pleasant places to visit. Then there was this summer's War of the Worlds, in which our 21st-century fears of invasion became an ingenious springboard to an entire chronology of 20th-century genocides and other atrocities. And now there is Munich, a masterpiece both as breathless espionage thriller and deep moral inquiry—at least up to that grotesque moment in the third act when Spielberg intercuts his restaging of the titular massacre with an entirely unnecessary slow-mo sex scene between Eric Bana's vengeance-minded Mossad agent and his long-absent wife. The movie needn't strain for such an operatic climax, because it's already so unshakably powerful. Detractors have accused Spielberg of equating Palestinian terrorists with Israeli "counter-terrorists," but what he really does, in his most emotionally mature film to date, is refuse to condone, condemn or make even remotely heroic the actions of two peoples hellbent on mutual extinction.

8.Tropical Malady."When I gave you my Clash tape, I forgot to give you my heart," says city-boy soldier (and possible panthera) Keng to country-boy farmer Tong, before adding, "You can have it today." And so begins this beguiling, rapturous fairy tale from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul in which a forbidden passion signals a retreat into a serenely primal realm where the separations between genders and species fall away like water cascading off a leaf.

9.Duma.Another tale of animal love—albeit of a more platonic variety—was Carroll Ballard's sweeping, African-set adventure story about a young boy and his cheetah traversing treacherous deserts and contending with duplicitous fellow travelers en route to some place called home. In their ecstatic landscapes and deep respect for the natural world, Ballard's films create the same sort of ethereal effect Terrence Malick strives to achieve in his work. But unlike The New World, Dumaalso tells a richly compelling story that engages the intelligence and imagination of the young and the merely young at heart.

Mortensen shows some Violence
Mortensen shows some Violence

10.The Squid and the Whale.Not another tale of animal love, title notwithstanding, but rather a portrait of a family whose myriad dysfunctions nearly make Kings and Queenseem a study in well-adjustment. Writer-director Noah Baumbach's wry and beautifully observed account of two brothers coming of age as their parents' marriage crumbles around them possessed the deftest tonal shifts of any movie this side of A History of Violence. Uproarious one moment, bitterly cruel the next, The Squid and the Whale is fundamentally compassionate in a way that makes us care profoundly about characters we should have no business liking.

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