So, I struggled quite a bit this year with my Top 10 Movie List. On the one hand, I had very visceral, emotional reactions to several films that I didn't really feel like putting on the list for one reason or another, yet didn't get too emotionally involved in other films that I nonetheless thought were remarkable for other reasons. Maybe it's my inner critic trying to be too objective, and I'm afraid that if I pay too much lip service to my subjective voice, films that maybe I saw but few other people saw, might be ignored. There are several on my list this year that I feel were grossly overlooked by a lot of you that I think you should see, and I maybe included them for that reason, or just because I thought they were overlooked gems in general. I'm sure that makes no sense whatsoever to you, but it makes sense to me.
I also decided, through a lot of deliberation, not to actually "rank" them by number, but to just put up the 10 I thought were best and let my little capsule reviews speak for themselves. I know that's kind of "against the rules," but whatever. I make my own rules, bitch. So, without further adieu, here are the 10 movies I thought were the best this year (in alphabetical order). Feel free to comment, criticize, question or praise. Thanks for reading.
Brokeback Mountain – dir. Ang Lee
I hate to applaud this film for many of the same reasons everyone else does: for its bravery, it boldness, its hubris, almost, people seem to think. It’s only “brave” because people make it so, and frankly, I find all of that a bit insulting. (Does no one remember River Pheonix and Keanu Reeves “playing gay” in My Own Private Idaho, like, a million years ago?) What I wish to applaud this movie for is its intelligence, its innate understanding of human nature, and the power of shame and repression to ruin lives, and its humanity. This is a film, indeed, that can change America, as many critics have claimed, and I hope it does. It is profoundly important (sadly, but that’s the way it is), but again, only because of the current nature of politics, but that’s not why I think it’s a great film. It is a tragic love story in its truest and most fundamental sense, and it’s heartbreaking. Pure and simple. Heath Ledger steals the show as a man ripped apart by grief and longing, but not all at once: slowly and agonizingly over a period of years, and who only too late faces his own demons and fears.
Capote – dir. Bennett Miller
An absolute tour-de-force. This film has everything a great film should have: a flawless script, a spiritual dilemma of Biblical proportions, a gut-wrenching climax, and the performance of the decade by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. This film boldly shows that what drives a man can also destroy a man; that art can not only be redemptive, but also a force for destruction. I didn’t know going in that Capote never completed another book after In Cold Blood, but the film makes it clear that this is so, and why. Without question. The closing scene left me feeling as if my guts had been ripped out and dumped onto the floor. It took sitting through the credits, and then several minutes afterward, the theater long since emptied and now silent, for me to even collect myself enough to stand and walk, and exit the building. I felt weak and used up, like my own life had been visited by devastation. A truly unforgettable and life-changing film.
Just Friends – dir. Roger Kumble
Yeah, I know it’s retarded, but any movie that makes me laugh as much as Just Friends did deserves a place on this list. Possibly the funniest movie I’ve seen in years. Predictable, cookie-cutter and dumb, yes, but I wanted to marry Ryan Reynolds after I saw it. I watched it alone and was still in hysterics on my couch. I could probably watch this movie over and over and cry laughing every time.
Millions – dir. Danny Boyle
Simply put, one of the smartest, sweetest, and most charming kid’s films ever made. Its innocence made me weep, and I wanted everyone I knew to go see it. I think it was grossly underrated, and has the ability to make you see all the possibilities in the world. I hope lead 5-year-old actor Alexander Nathan Etel has a long future ahead of him. His wide-eyed mysticism and confusion could make all of us rethink our priorities.
My Summer of Love – dir. Pawel Pawlikowski
Like Heavenly Creatures before it, My Summer of Love tells the story of 2 girls from vastly different backgrounds (working class tomboy Mona, and the upper-class, prep school Tasmin) sharing an intense summer together, drawn together by their mutual disillusionment and abandonment by their families. Naturally, their relationship turns sexual, obsessive and bordering on the pathological, both girls getting in slightly over their heads and getting their first real tastes of love. It’s a “coming of age” film where very little actually happens, but it’s rich in character and atmosphere, and a sense of foreboding that’s both mesmerizing and almost unbearable. Both actresses are phenomenal, and the heartbreaking ending somehow manages to be both shocking and completely predictable. You don’t think they’ll go there, but they do, and it’s gut-wrenching.
Mysterious Skin – Dir. Gregg Araki
Araki (thankfully) abandons his redundant and progressively empty in-your-face, punk rock ethos, but not his style, in this sensitive, shattering portrayal of the devastating effects of childhood sexual abuse. The performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbett as the teenage victims coming to terms in ways that couldn’t be more opposite of one another (one violently and recklessly acting out, the other retreating inward into a solitary world of loneliness and delusion), were 2 of my favorite performances of the year.
9 Songs – dir. Michael Winterbottom
For anyone who’s ever loved and lost, or simply wondered what the hell happened when it was over and quietly faded away. A starkly simple film based on 2 people who seem to care deeply about one another, but eventually, in the simplest terms possible, just run out of things to talk about. Quietly devastating, and filled with an aching loneliness that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever missed a lover’s touch so much they wore their sadness like a heavy coat.
Pride and Prejudice – dir. Joe Wright
This movie made me feel like I was in love again. A perfect love story of 2 people destined to be together but fighting it desperately. Contains all the elements of the perfect romance, with one of the most fulfilling payoffs in modern cinema history. I could even forgive Mr. Darcy emerging through a post-dawn fog, his coat billowing behind him, to retrieve his woman in the shuddering climax.
Rize – dir. David LaChappelle
I have to admit to a lot of skepticism, seeing as how this was a documentary directed by LaChappelle, in my opinion, one of the most overrated photographers working today. However, I was entirely unprepared for what I saw. What I saw moved me, made me cry, absolutely broke my heart, and made me believe in the salvation of art (well, confirmed by belief in the salvation of art). This film could rouse even the most cynical of hearts and broken of souls.
The Squid and the Whale – dir. Noah Baumbach
A hilarious but ultimately heartbreaking film about a family falling apart, and the confused children left in the wake. Jeff Daniels is spectacular as the pretentious, emotionally impenetrable, liberal elitist father a breath’s whisper away from falling apart but doing everything in his power to deny it. Jesse Eisenberg, as the son, Walt, who mindlessly mimics his father, but eventually learns better, displays a wisdom and disillusionment few actors his age could convincingly pull off. Laura Linney, as always, is lovely.
March of the Penguins
War of the Worlds
The Absolute Worst of the Worst:
You, Me and Everyone We Know
House of Wax
Best Director: Bennett Miller (Capote)
Best Actor: Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Capote)
Biggest Disappointment: Bad Education - dir. Pedro Almodovar