Christopher Nolan, David Simon, David Bazan, Chris Moyles, Simon Cowell - Heroes & Villains of the Noughties

Nathan O'Hagan 31/12/2009

As we hurtle towards a new year (2010) and a new decade Nathan O'Hagan looks back on the noughties with his cultural and musical Heroes & Villains of the last ten years.


Christopher Nolan

Chris Nolan had already announced himself as a promising young director with the release of the short “Following” in 1997, but it was with the release of “Memento” in 2000 that he really arrived. Still one of the decade's defining movies, “Memento” is a twisty, noirish modern classic. Two years later Nolan followed up with a remake of Norwegian classic “Insomnia”. Nolan's remake is most remarkable for being perhaps the only Hollywood remake of a European film that doesn't completely degrade the original. In 2005 though, Nolan really established himself as a major player by taking over the reins of the Batman movie franchise. “Batman Begins” was a triumphant rebooting of the series, a dark, psychologically complex and thrilling movie which made all previous superhero flicks look amateurish by comparison. The following year, Nolan reunited with stars Christian Bale and Michael Caine to make “The Prestige”, easily the cleverest mainstream movie of that year. But it all seemed like foreplay to what is, so far, Nolan's crowning glory; 2008's “The Dark Knight”. Picking up where “..Begins” left off, “The Dark Knight” was bigger, louder and better, but with the kind of feeling, character arcs and soul that Michael Bay would only dream of, if he were aware that such things even existed. Not only was the film an instant classic, it is also one of the most successful movies of all time, proving to the likes of Bay that you don't have to pander to the lowest common denominator, and can fit in political allegories, and comments on the war on terror while still packing the multiplexes. If Nolan has raised the bar impossibly high for the summer blockbuster, his next project, the sci-fi thriller “Inception” (brilliant teaser trailer can be seen online) could well be the film to reach it.

David Simon

A former Baltimore Sun journalist, author of “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets” and “The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighbourhood” and writer and producer on the TV series' “Homicide: Life on the Streets” and the six-part HBO series “The Corner” that the books were respectively adapted into. All very noteworthy stuff, but what Simon will really remembered for is creating “The Wire”. What can I possibly say about “The Wire” that has not already been said? It is, hands down, beyond all doubt, not open for discussion, unequivocally the greatest TV series of all time. Period. Vast, multi-layered, Shakespearean, gritty, densely-plotted, funny, moving, violent, redemptive. This show has absolutely everything you could possibly hope for from a television series, and a lot more besides. Not only is it the best show of all time, it is one of the greatest dramas that has ever been produced in any format. Possibly one of the greatest pieces of art of any kind. To all the sceptics who wonder whether it can possibly be as good as everyone says, believe me, it really is. And to anyone who has seen it and fails to recognise its true worth; watch it again, you mustn't have been concentrating the first time.

Simon's “Treme” is currently in production, again with HBO, and I look forward to seeing it. Deep down though, I know neither Simon, nor anyone else, will ever equal the majestic brilliance of “The Wire”.

David Bazan

He doesn't have a fancy haircut. He doesn't have ridiculously tight trousers. He doesn't have a fixation with English 80's electro-pop, and he doesn't have a record company's marketing team forcing him down our throats. He doesn't have any of the things that seemed necessary for success in the 00's. What he did have, whether in Pedro the Lion, Headphones or as a solo artist, was a collection of songs unrivalled by any other songwriter. Biting, powerful, moving and sometimes shocking songs about politics, alcoholism, infidelity and loss (and partial rediscovery) of faith, delivered with honesty, intensity and wit. This year Bazan released “Curse Your Branches”, possibly his best work so far, and, thanks to his ingenious “I Helped Bazan Buy a Van” campaign, was finally able to tour with a full band for the first time in five years.

SamBain/Jesse Armstrong

Most comedy shows run out of steam and/or gags after two or three series'. John Cleese only wrote two series of “Fawlty Towers”, having seen even the great “Monty Python's Flying Circus” run out of ideas, Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant reduced their chances of burn out by only doing two series each (plus Christmas specials) of “The Office” and “Extras”. But “Peep Show”, created by Bain and Armstrong, has just finished its sixth series. Every time a new series is about to air, people are wondering whether this is the one where they will finally run out of ideas but, if anything, they seem to be getting better and better. It now seems as though the antics of the amoral Jez and the socially inept Mark could easily run for another sixth series, and still be as excruciatingly funny.

Cormac McCarthy

OK, so it may seem strange to name a man who was born in 1933 as a hero of the noughties, but, with 2005's “No Country for Old Men” and “The Road” the following year, he has written two of the decade's best books. “No Country….” is a magnificent modern western, with more allegories and symbolism crammed into its 309 pages than most writers could manage in a life time, while “The Road” is one of the bleakest, most haunting and yet beautiful novels ever written. The kind of book that will still be affecting you months, if not years, after you've read it. “No Country….” Also provided the Coen Brothers with the basis for their only genuinely great film since “The Big Lebowski”, while John Hillcoat's much delayed adaptation of “The Road” is finally due out in January, with early footage of a gaunt Viggo Mortensen trecking across a ravaged America with his son looking very promising.

Honourable mentions

Simon Pegg, Chuck Palahnuik, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Paul Thomas Anderson, Kate Winslet, All Tomorrow's Parties Festival, Charlie Kaufman, Larry David, Jeff Stelling


Chris Moyles

A hideous, bloated, bleeting walrus of a man, whose unfathomable success can be tracked in direct correlation with this country's moral and cultural decline over the last decade. A man who apparently devotes his entire prime-time morning radio show to boasting about how much alcohol he consumed the previous evening, and yet still finds time to cram in anti-semitism, misogyny and homophobia. And to do this, he was paid a reputed 630,000 by the BBC in 2007 (two years after having also crossed a BBC picket line). Shame on them for employing him, and shame on every single one of his millions of listeners.

George Lamb

Imagine you are part of a friendly gathering of chums and acquaintances, perhaps in a pub, or maybe even the comfort of your own home. In the background, some of your favourite songs are playing. The conversation is witty, engaging and informative. Suddenly, an annoying loud mouth gatecrashes the party, hurling a shit-smelling stink bomb right into your midst while talking very loudly at you in a vaguely mockney voice, that you just know is half an octave lower than his usual speaking voice. That is much the effect George Lamb had when he joined the BBC's digital channel 6 music 2 years ago. Since then the channel's online message board has been regularly filled with disillusioned listeners asking why this idiot was being allowed to lower the tone of a previously excellent station, with his tooting car horns, witless banter, and constant shouts of “shabber”. Bizarrely, he inspired almost equal levels of devotion on places like Facebook (either that, or he simply got his mates to post favourable comments on his behalf). Mercifully, the Beeb, having previously advertised his show as containing “inane banter” as though this was a good thing, has finally seen sense and shunted him from his weekday morning slot to a token show early on Saturday mornings. Lamb for his part is putting a brave face on it, but we can only hope that it is the first step in him being quickly and unceremoniously fazed off the channel all together, to continue presenting shit shows that nobody watched on BBC3, his true spiritual home.

Michael Bay

“The Island”, “Bad Boys 2”, “Pearl Harbour”, “Transformers”, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”. Either the CV of the decades' most ostentatious, and yet perhaps most successful movie director, or the viewing list of a 14 year old boy with ADD, who would rather play video games than watch films. Mainly under the patronage of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Bay has directed some of the biggest, loudest, most effects laden, and utterly character-devoid movies of the decade. Bay, has clearly never heard the old saying “Less is more”, his catchphrase apparently being “Crash! Bang! Whallop!” Bay puts explosions where the plot should go, gunfights where the character development should be and, if in doubt, simply inserts lingering shots of a scantily-clad Megan Fox. This is a director whose most character driven film was “The Rock” way back in '96. And even that was, at best, entertaining nonsense.

Not content with spending billions blowing stuff up, Bay also has a sideline in producing glossy, commercial remakes of classic horror movies. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “The Hitcher” and “Friday the 13th” have already fallen victim, and next up is a “re-imagining” of Hitchcock's classic “The Birds”. One can only imagine how horrific that is going to be. Oh, and we've still got “Transformers 3” to look forward to.

Chris Martin

How Martin's Coldplay managed to become one of the biggest bands on the planet in the space of a few short years is something that will continue to confound music fans, anthropologists and scientists alike for centuries to come. Becoming more and more vapid with each subsequent album (even Brian Eno couldn't make them sound good when he produced their last album), Coldplay's turgid, uninspired, droning songs and Martin's pretentious lyrics have filled stadia the world over. Worse yet, they are responsible for the proliferation of many other similarly boring-sounding bands; Keane, Snow Patrol to name but two.

Simon Cowell

He's taken over Saturday night television. He's taken over the pop charts. He almost single handedly rules the music industry, churning out endless superficial, thoughtless pap, most of which heads straight to number one, while the “artists” usually disappear from view within a year. Cowell though, remains an omnipresent figure, whether it be “Britain/America's Got Talent” or “The X Factor”, or his record label “Syco” it feels like this narcissistic little man is never off our screens, and his dreadful one hit wonders never out of the charts. He now wields such power that even established pop acts launch their new albums on his show. A man with a great understanding of what it takes to successfully market a pop hit, but with zero insight into why music touches peoples souls, Cowell unfortunately seems destined to influence mainstream pop culture well into the next decade, and I, for one, find that deeply, deeply depressing.

Dishonourable Mentions

Guy Ritchie, Nickleback, Piers Morgan, Mark Ronson, Jaime Oliver, McG, Brett Ratner, Dan Brown.