It’s fun to make lists and I think that I have my top ten films for this year. Looking back I had 5 favourites for 2002 and 7 for 2003, so I figured that I’d be more traditional this year and have 10. What always happens near the end of the year is that a bunch of films are released in time for the awards season, but don’t get out that wide… so this list exists without me seeing The Aviator, House of Flying Daggers and A Very Long Engagement which I think may make my list for next year. The other fascinating (at least to me) thing about the list for this year is that I have the DVDs of half of the films on my list and will get the DVDs of the others as they come out.
Here is my alphabetized list:
Bus 174 - José Padhilla tells the story of the hijacking of a bus in an unforgettable documentary that manages to combine a personal story with an analysis of a social problem that is both suspenseful and tragic.
Machssomim (Checkpoint) - Is a documentary about checkpoints in the occupied territories around Israel. I saw it at the Atlantic Film Festival and it doesn’t appear to have distribution yet. Subtle and moving without being preachy. The form and content of the film balance very well.
Control Room - Being in the right place at the right time means that you’ll have a documentary that people want to see, but it doesn’t mean that the documentary will work well. With Control Room in Jehane Noujaim’s hands the film becomes much more than just a lucky break for filming. She manages to give a fascinating glimpse into Al Jazeera television in a period of time during the invasion of Iraq when the world was watching and she focusses on the people who are there and lets the story emerge from them. Human and more complex and emotional than I thought it would be.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman perfectly balance each other out in a tale of love and memory and loss that is understated and more complicated and finely-tuned than it appears on the surface. Gondry is a mad-scientist genius of a director and with cinematographer Ellen Kuras he creates a film that looks casual, but is tightly constructed. I see more (and enjoy it more) each time I watch it.
Hero - A visual poem that is dazzling in how it looks, sounds and moves. A simple story told in a complicated fashion that reminded me how beautiful a film could be. Zhang Yimou creates a large film that works on a human level with Christopher Doyle’s stunning cinematography that made me glad that I saw it in a theatre on a big screen.
Tarnation - Jonathan Caouette made an incredibly personal and unique documentary out of his life. It’s amazing to watch and the question that most people at the Atlantic Film Festival said when you asked if they saw anything interesting was, “did you see Tarnation?” It was powerful on the big screen and I’m wondering if it will work as well on a smaller screen when it is released on video.
The Dreamers - Bernardo Bertolucci is a romantic and I think that he (along with many others) has a thing for Paris in 1968. He captures the vital link between sex, cinema and Paris in a film that is thin, but a treat for those who love cinema and what France gave to the world through the Nouvelle Vague.
The Fog of War - Errol Morris continues his string of flawless documentaries that are precise and personal. Morris refines the form with a film built around one talking head. Carefully constructed with a perfect score the film shows Robert S. McNamara in a new light and reveals more about the Vietnam War than was previously known.
The Incredibles - When I saw The Incredibles I was thinking that I would see another great Pixar film with solid animation a few twists. What surprised me was how well it worked as a film, not an animated film, but a film. It felt like one of the great James Bond films (the ones with Mr. Connery) combined with a family drama. I didn’t think of the animation a lot, but I was sucked in to the story, the sets and the costumes. All of it done with a computer, but it didn’t feel animated, it felt real even though it did not look realistic. Apparently Brad Bird originally was going to do the film as live-action, but the computer animated version is much more human than most of the big-budget action films of recent years.
Young Adam - The last film on the list is also the film that I saw most recently. A simple Scottish tale of a man and the decisions he lives with is subtle, sexy, understated and haunting. It’s great to see a film that is built around the characters with great performances.
A film that I saw this year that would have made the list if it were a 2004 film was Lynn Ramsay’s haunting (and Scottish) Morvern Callar. Other great films that almost made my list from the year that is soon to be over are City of God, Melvin Goes to Dinner, Good-Bye Lenin, Bright Leaves, Spider-Man 2, and Spartan.