Monday, November 16, 2009

Movies of the decade

My top ten movies of the decade, based purely on how much of an emotional impact they had on me:
  1. United 93 An almost perfect movie that imagines what it was like inside the one hijacked 9/11 flight that missed its target. The closing sequence, not despite but because of its inexorability, is perhaps the most physically powerful scene I've ever experienced in the movies. I was completely overcome.
  2. The Lives of Others Three hours of shots of interiors and dialog, with virtually no action whatsoever, that nonetheless offers a riveting recreation of the psychology of a police state, from the point of view of a true believer in the system who is nonetheless a humanist.
  3. Children of Men What if the experience of life inside the Gaza Strip became the pervasive future, in a world with no children, and therefore no hope for the future? The dystopia is so comprehensive that even the redemptive moment feels merely like a prelude to worse horrors.
  4. In the Mood for Love A sad and beautiful account of the possibility of romance in the shadow of life's disappointments. Subtly erotic, with an endless parade of beautiful outfits for Maggie Cheung.
  5. Waltz with Bashir An animated Israeli movie about the difficulty of working through memories of extreme trauma. The animation induces in the audience the same sense of dissociation from the depicted events that the characters in the film experience as they try to remember what they went through as young soldiers in South Lebanon, in the run-up to the Ariel Sharon-sponsored massacres in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.
  6. Borat Vile, obscene, politically incorrect -- and utterly hilarious.
  7. The Diving Bell & the Butterfly Grim yet oddly humorous first-person account of what it is like to lose all one's physical capacities while maintaining an intact mind.
  8. Memento A classic film noir that puts you in the hero's no-memory shoes by being narrated backward. Carrie-Anne Moss does a brilliant turn as the femme fatale.
  9. Sideways Side-splittingly funny account of a couple of odd-bedfellow friends going on a joint bender in opposite directions.
  10. Downfall The definitive view from inside Hitler's bunker (in odd ways parallel to United 93's reimagining of a hellish scene from the inside). Bruno Ganz gives the performance of the decade as Hitler.
For a longer list, check out this one from the Times (of which I've seen about half).

Monday, November 02, 2009

Not with a bang, but in a rolling boil....

Tim Flannery summarizes James Lovelock's prediction as to how continued greenhouse gas emissions will impact human civilization:
Lovelock has spent most of his career trying to understand the consequences of increased greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. In his latest book, The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning, he argues that Earth's system of self-regulation is being overwhelmed by greenhouse gas pollution and that Earth will soon jump from its current cool, stable state into a dramatically hotter one. All climatologists acknowledge the existence of such climatic jumps—as occurred for example at the end of the last ice age. But chaos theory dictates that the scale and timing of such leaps are inherently unpredictable, which means that they cannot be incorporated into the computer models of Earth's climate system that such scientists use to project future climate change. Yet this is precisely what Lovelock attempts to do—using his own computer modeling—in The Vanishing Face of Gaia. A new climatic jump, he concludes, will occur within the next few years or decades, and will involve an abrupt increase in average global surface temperature of 9 degrees Celsius—from 15 to 24 degrees Celsius (59 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit). Such a shift, he contends, will trigger the collapse of our global civilization and the near extinction of humanity.
This will be a temperature jump greater than that while occurred at the start of the Holocene (the end of the last Ice Age), but with humans now overwhelmingly sedentary, our capacity to move in response to the northward shift of climate zones is much less than it was for our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Abrupt change in the weather will be followed somewhat more slowly, but perhaps even more devastatingly, by the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets and consequently rising sea levels. Even under Lovelock's most dire scenario, this process will unfold over several hundred years, albeit mainly in the form of statis followed by sudden shifts in coastlines after storm surges. Florida will shrink like this:
Long before sea levels rise 50 meters, however, half of Bangladesh (home to 150m+ people) will go underwater:
Where will those 100m people go?