The film that defined this past decade for me is itself a decade-spanning epic: Jia Zhangke's 2000 "Platform," a generational bildungsroman by turns joyful and crushing, an account of China's open-door '80s as experienced at street level, by the members of a small-town performance troupe. (They go from propaganda skits to break-dancing demos.) There are films from the past 10 years that I've probably watched more often ("Mulholland Drive," "Punch-Drunk Love," Hou Hsiao-hsien's "Café Lumière"), but "Platform" has the special force of a state-of-the-world address.
Jia, who was only 30 when he made "Platform" (he has since directed another half-dozen good-to-great movies), has a knack for showing how large, mysterious forces, like modernization and globalization, bear down on individual lives. Planets away from the scolding, we-are-the-world gibberish of something like "Babel," Jia's films have a complex view of the global village and of the political and technological upheavals that have made China the world's most dynamic economy, swept many to prosperity and left untold others behind, and flooded its previously isolated citizens (especially its youth, people like Jia's underdog heroes and heroines) with imported pop culture. It would be myopic to think of this remarkable filmmaker simply as China, Inc.'s most prominent chronicler. He has certainly assumed the role of witness and conscience in a society characterized by convulsive modernization and a growing amnesia, but his films, like few I have ever seen, capture the flux of human experience in a world that's changing faster than we can comprehend. "Platform" is in every sense monumental, a film that gives concrete form to concepts that in most other movies remain vague and intangible: the meaning of art, the weight of history, the passage of time.