This is the fifth list that I’ve made here and this year it seemed very easy. So in no particular order, here are the ten:
Rian Johnson’s debut feature brilliantly combines film noir and high school. While much attention is paid to the dialogue, which is classic Raymond Chandler, the film is very effectively shot and efficiently edited. Not an homage or parody, but a film that takes the attitude of noir and updates it with style and grace.
The Science of Sleep
Michel Gondry has a impressive resume with a distinctive style, but his previous two features films were both written by Charlie Kaufman. With The Science of Sleep Gondry wrote the script and while it has many of the elements of his previous films, it has a realism with honesty and darkness that surprised me. It’s a complex and wonderful film that creates a unique world that took me a while to snap out of.
Away From Her
With her feature directorial debut, Sarah Polley didn’t create a vanity project and instead created a mature and moving film built around remarkable performances from Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie as a couple who deal with aging and Alzheimers. It was surprising and moving.
Brothers of the Head
In the complex story told by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe they mix various styles in adapting Brian Aldiss’ novel Brothers of the Head. While it could have been an interesting drama, by framing it as a documentary with clips from an earlier documentary and an uncompleted drama directed by Ken Russell, it becomes something much more. With amazing performances and casting it’s an odd film that is more tragic and poignant than comedic.
Olivier Assayas mixes reality and drama in a film with powerful silences and an extraordinary performance by Maggie Cheung as a recovering drug addict who is trying to pull her life together. Shot in a casual, almost documentary style, it is a beautiful film about redemption.
Strangers With Candy
The much-delayed adaptation of the cult-classic tv series Strangers With Candy made me a bit nervous as I wasn’t sure if it would live up to my expectations. But it worked surprisingly well and was so funny that the first time I saw it with an enthusiastic crowd I missed many jokes. It’s a great introduction to the character of Jerry Blank and the writing of Paul Dinello (who directed), Stephen Colbert, and Amy Sedaris (who also act in the film). Edgy and bold, it follows a unique rhythm and style that you’ll either love or hate.
Pedro Almodovar creates a melodramatic and gorgeous film in Volver with a cast of amazing women with Penelope Cruz at the centre of a story that plays with expectations and has an infectious sense of fun and beauty that draws you in. It’s bold and wonderful.
Nick Cave wrote and John Hillcoat directed the dark and surprising western set in Australia. With an unconventional story structure that shifts the point of view, it became fascinating to watch the remarkable performance of Ray Winstone as the tragedy unfolds before us. It’s a dark story that almost seems to be set in hell with an overwhelming sense of dread.
The Journals of Knud Rasmussen
With a unique rhythm, look and structure, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen is drawn from the journal of a white man who lived in an Inuit community at the turn of the century. At the beginning of the film I wasn’t sure if I could get into it, but it clicked and the documentary feeling adds to the power of the story which become more powerful and profound as the film progressed. Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn manage to combine a cross-cultural drama with a family drama that has a startling immediacy. It is surprising and unique and it works on a very cinematic level.
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
Michael Winterbottom films an unfilmable novel in a faithful and hilarious adaptation with Steve Coogan as the egocentric actor at the center of the film. Blurring the boundaries and identities of who and what we see it’s a film that ultimately turns and turns and turns around so many times with so many layers that it feels simultaneously heavy and light.
It was a good year for films and it is encouraging to be surprised by the films and filmmakers of the past year.