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It likely comes as little surprise that Mulholland Dr. emerged the winner in the Los Angeles Film Critics Association’s inaugural survey of the decade in cinema. Call us provincial David Lynch’s psychoerotic noir is one of the essential L.A. movies but the more significant reason for the film’s enduring critical favor may be its deconstruction of the toxic allure of the Dream Factory. Mulholland Dr. projects an ambivalence toward Hollywood with which almost any critic can identify: Moving images have the power to seduce and move us, but many of them are the products of a system that routinely turns dreams into nightmares and artists into meat. Famously salvaged from a rejected TV pilot, Lynch’s filmstands as both a cautionary tale and a mascot for the triumph of art and personal vision in an industry that, from where we sit, often seems actively devoted to the suppression of both.

Still, among those who have paid attention to our awards year after year, our choice for the film of the decade as well as the 189 lower-ranked titles selected by the 41 LAFCA members who participated may raise a few eyebrows, for reasons that have less to do with the films’ quality than with the group’s consistency. In 2001, Mulholland Dr. was our runner-up for best picture, placing second to Todd Fields’ In the Bedroom (which received no votes this time around and was our only top prizewinner not represented in the poll).

It wasn’t the only such rematch that seemed to fly in the face of our own voting history: Our first best picture of the decade, Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (No. 12), was bested by Edward Yang’s Yi Yi (No. 6), the other Taiwanese-directed arthouse fave of 2000, and the swan song of one of world cinema’s most cherished talents. Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (No. 3), which went away empty-handed in 2004, placed ahead of that year’s big winner, Alexander Payne’s Sideways (No. 10). And Payne’s other LAFCA champ, About Schmidt (No. 47), came in well behind a trio of 2002 imports: Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (No. 8), Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También (No. 9) and Pedro Almodóvar’s Talk to Her (No. 11).

Talk about the return of the repressed. Some of these apparent self-contradictions could be chalked up to the steady rise in LAFCA’s membership over the past decade, as well as the fact that members were allowed to vote for 10 films rather than three (the number of picks per category in our annual awards balloting). But the more telling truth is one that we critics, who like to believe in the infallibility of our judgments, are usually loath to admit: Opinions change, and so do movies.

Thus, one of the quirks of our poll (and hopefully, one of its weird ancillary pleasures) is that it offers a snapshot of how well, or how badly, our award winners have held up over time. It also conveys something that frequently gets lost in the yearly awards-season quest for consensus and compromise: the unique taste of the individual critic. This taste often finds expression in a fierce passion for movies that, unlike There Will Be Blood (No. 2) or Brokeback Mountain (No. 4), are not always widely hailed (or even widely seen). Inclusion can be as startling as exclusion: Surely ours is the only group survey that found room for In Vanda’s Room (No. 29), Jackass Number Two (No. 49), The Silence Before Bach (No. 52) and Team America: World Police (No. 47), but not a single film by David Cronenberg, one of the decade’s most critically esteemed filmmakers (and the director of our runner-up for best picture of 2005, A History of Violence). What can we say? Ten has never been an easy number to work with.

Art may be unquantifiable, but then, anyone familiar with the peculiar mathematics of list-making knows it to be a highly unscientific practice, governed less by the forces of logic and reason than by the whimsies of instinct, temperament and personal feeling. If that’s meant to be a disclaimer, it’s also one more reason why Mulholland Dr., as strong an argument as any for the art of the irrational, makes a fitting champion for a great decade of cinema. Here’s to another.

— Justin Chang

THE RULES: Following the playbook of the invaluable Village Voice Film Poll, each critic was invited to submit a weighted ballot of 10 films. On ranked ballots, the No. 1 choice received 10 points, No. 2 received 9 points, No. 3 received 8 points, and so on. On unranked ballots, each film received 5.5 points. In accordance with LAFCA’s longtime laissez-faire philosophy (“Vote your conscience”), we freely allowed votes for franchises (i.e., The Lord of the Rings trilogy), short films (The Heart of the World), films that premiered at festivals in the ’90s but didn’t play U.S. theaters until the ’00s (Audition), films that premiered at festivals in the ’00s but won’t play U.S. theaters until the ’10s (Wild Grass), and even films that were made four decades ago (Army of Shadows).

 

     
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