As I was looking back at last year’s Top Ten Movies post, I realized that I’ve been blogging for over a year, and recently celebrated my one-year blogging anniversary on February 9th. How fun!
1. Children of Men, Alfonso Cuarón
Show me technical virtuosity, imaginative direction, and heartrending intensity — show me a six-minute gun battle done in one take. Children of Men is my favorite movie of the year. Alfonso Cuaron owes much of this movie’s success to cinematographer extraordinaire Emmanuel Lubezki (who also shot The New World, my favorite film of last year), but the gripping speed and ruthlessness with which he directed Chidlren of Men is breathtaking. Times of respite and calm are brief but full of sweetness, and the moments of human connection amidst the chaos drove me to tears. I have never before felt like I needed to catch my breath as the credits rolled.
2. United 93, Paul Greengrass
Paul Greengrass successfully navigates the minefield of post-9/11 sentiment, bringing us a movie that astounds with its taut, bright consideration of the high-jacking of United flight 93. This film is nearly flawless: Greengrass’ tight, steady camerawork and minimal artifice suit the subject matter perfectly.
3. Old Joy, Kelly Reichardt
Old Joy is remarkable in that it not only depicts feelings of strain and sorrow, but embodies them. Every shot, scene, and note (the score was written by Yo La Tengo) is full of slow, precious tenderness. The tone is very fine, and lands the viewer somewhere in the uncharted territory between sadness, expectation, and frustration. Beauty lurks about the film, but in an everyday way we are not accustomed to seeing on screen. Because Old Joy feels so much like life, the feelings and responses it evokes are among the most specific I have ever experienced in a movie theater. (from what I wrote the day after seeing Old Joy).
4. El Laberinto del Fauno, Guillermo del Toro
It’s a fairy tale, except that it’s not. Guillermo del Toro’s film is wickedly smart, at turns cruel and tender — to both its characters and its audience. The special effects are seamless, and the sound design is magnificent. The film’s ending, which could have gone wrong in countless ways, is impeccable. Pan’s Labyrinth has the ability to lodge itself into the viewer’s mind, allowing us to fully inhabit the world it creates. Because it arrests the mind so completely, memories of scenes, images, and sounds linger long after the film is over.
5. The Departed, Martin Scorcese
There just so much to love in this film: Scorcese doing what he does best, Leonardo DiCaprio’s growing brilliance, and the spectacular supporting performances turned in by Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, and Mark Wahlberg. It’s violent, yes — but you know what you’re getting into. Jack Nicholson seems way too confident, but it fits his character, and gives DiCaprio a chance to out-act him without Jack even realizing what’s happening; considering their roles, it couldn’t have been cast better.
6. Marie Antoinette, Sophia Coppola
Disappointing, but still gorgeous. Sophia Coppola’s film is too indulgent — which is problematic from a historical and literary perspective, but the scenes, costumes, music, and tone are all spectacular. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in beauty, Marie Antoinette is the perfect film. I hope that in the future Coppola will stay small: her sweet tones and soft shots are perfectly suited to searching characters, for they reveal an inner life that dialog and explanation can never approach. There are glimpses of this in Marie Antoinette, but the queen is too royal, and her soul remains unapproachable.
7. The Queen, Stephen Frears
Unsurprisingly, British Royals — even contemporary ones — make great subject matter for films. The delightful thing about The Queen are the performances of Helen Mirren and the even-handedness of the film’s director, Stephen Frears. The Queen could easily have turned into a diatribe against the other-worldliness of the Queen, but instead it frequently stands on her side, against the frenzy of the media circus that surrounding Diana’s death and burial. As for Mirren, her acting is miraculous: Queen Elizabeth undergoes a radical transformation as the film rolls along, but Mirren does not over-indicate the Queen’s feelings, instead fully embodying the changes. Masterful.
8. La Science des rêves, Michel Gondry
The story is charming but underwhelming — and that hardly matters. The Science of Sleep is a surrealist dream of a film, full of great set pieces, sequences and fun camera tricks. Twisted, hilarious, delightful — just what we’ve come to expect from Michel Gondry. Expert more: I think Gondry is only beginning to reach the heights of which he’s capable. I can’t wait for the next film.
9. Little Children, Todd Field
In my original reaction, I was very critical of certain aspects of this film — but I still think it stands up as one of the year’s best. Little Children is deeply sad, full of a new but familiar sense of suburban alienation and distress. Kate Winslet deserves all the praise we can heap upon her.
10. A Prairie Home Companion, Robert Altman
A Prairie Home Companion will eternally bear witness to the fact that Robert Altman was a brilliant director to the very end of his brilliant career. From the gorgeous long takes that begin the film to its tender conclusion, this film is a delight. Only under Robert Altman could such a dynamic, brilliant cast flow so seamlessly together.
Close but no: An Inconvienent Truth, Miami Vice, Scoop, Shortbus