Top Ten Movies: 1995

la ceremonie

Months and, *ahem*, maybe, just maybe, years back, I had promised 1995. Well… here it is! Better late than never, right? And an interesting year at that. Not memorable for heavyweight masterpieces that are largely part of the mainstream discourse today, with perhaps the exception of Heat and Seven. In fact, I’d call it a rather passive year. Those movies that have stayed with me certainly are the ones that relish in the languid. Lyrical experiments, if you must. I mean, just take a look at Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise. It’s about as antithetical as you can get when it comes to a romantic drama. And yet, it is one of the most astounding of its kind because it’s so naturally disarming. It almost appears too easy when so many others of its ilk toil for conventionality. And lyricism can also be a manner to describe a handful of other gems that came close to making the cut. I’m talking to you, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, and Smoke. There’s even an unsettling peacefulness all throughout Claude Chabrol’s La Cérémonie that is painfully effective in its layered observation about class. It’s all so wonderfully macabre. That, along with an essay length discourse I could easily have regarding its perfect summation, are reasons it lands at my number one.

1. La Cérémonie (Claude Chabrol)
2. Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater)
3. Heat (Michael Mann)
4. Safe (Todd Haynes)
5. Underground (Emir Kusturica)
6. Seven (David Fincher)
7. The White Balloon (Jafar Panahi)
8. Toy Story (John Lasseter)
9. Fallen Angels (Wong Kar-Wai) and La Haine (Mathieu Kassovitz)
10. Carrington (Christopher Hampton)

Safe is Todd Haynes doing Kubrick, while Underground is Kusturica channeling Fellini. The White Ballon still renders emotional power through its simplicity, something Middle Eastern films were insanely attuned in achieving at this peak period. Then there’s Toy Story, which is quite possibly the most influential film to this day, ushering a new mode of animation that has seldom seized to desist. Carrington beats out the Jane Austen flicks because beyond its entrancing oddness, it covers the Bloomsbury Group, a topic you NEVER see covered anywhere. Then there’s Fallen Angels and La Haine. The former, heroin for the film-crazed, while the latter comes to show just how the French New Wave method of moviemaking, with things like La Cérémonie, was beginning to look old-fashioned. Hell, the Kassovitz film had Vincent Cassel practically yanking the baton away from his father, Jean-Pierre Cassel, in the Chabrol flick.

Others that almost made the cut include Living in Oblivion, To Die For, Strange Days, and Dead Man Walking. In a recent viewing, I was surprised to discover just how dated Leaving Las Vegas has become. And Casino and Clockers are lower tier works from solid filmmakers. As for Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man. That there’s a movie that would have probably made the list had I watched it recently. But ten years has made it a bit of a haze, which is no fault of the film whatsoever.

Interesting stuff beyond that include Devil in a Blue Dress, Kicking and Screaming, The City of Lost Children, and The Addiction. But what I don’t miss is The Usual Suspects.

Next time: 1923… Yeah, yeah. I had promised that one too.


Top Ten Movies: 2010


To steal an opening line from one of Roger Ebert’s reviews about a favorite filmmaker of his, “Sooner or later, everyone who loves movies comes to Ozu.” The same could be said of Abbas Kiarostami. Others like the Italian Neo-Realists had already played with documentary-like narrative. But what Kiarostami perfected was new and refreshing. Why not imbue that much more of the real world into the story? In fact, immerse it so much so that there’s no mark point as to where verisimilitude ends and actual reality begins. Movies like Close-up, and especially the Koker trilogy, are prime examples in this mental exercise of establishing a new interpretation of the real world through several layers of its manipulation, fore-fronting the Iranian film wave that took high strides by the 1990’s. If it all might sound a bit too labored, it isn’t, really. There’s too much humanity in Kiarostami’s characters for any reduction into a sort of film essay genre. Take Certified Copy as an example, a sort of Brechtian Before Trilogy. How far is Kiarostami playing the audience in its portrayal of the relationship between its two leads? They continuously argue about artwork copies in comparison to their original sources, never reaching a conclusion about whether forgery is valid in its own artistry. Once watched, the obvious extension made here is to the protagonist’s own veiled past. Are they two people that actually met for the first time or are they a married couple of fifteen years? Either way, they’re playing roles that the audience can’t separate truth from, for like Kiarostami’s other movies, it’s not easy to distinguish the real from the not. It’s quite astounding to be able to make a film that could express just about every complex trait of its filmmaker all in one narrative. It’s even more astounding to do that with characters like Juliette Binoche and William Shimmell, because no matter how clever the exercise is, you remember their banter and adoration for one another so much more. So who cares if the whole thing feels indecipherable, real or staged or both, if there’s love for it anyway. And so at number one it goes.

1. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)
2. Mysteries of Lisbon (Rául Ruiz)
3. Nostalgia for the Light (Patricio Guzmán)
4. Carlos (Olivier Assayas)
5. Poetry (Lee Chang-dong)
6. The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski) and Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt)
7. Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl (Manoel de Oliveira)
8. The Social Network (David Fincher)
9. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasenthakul)
10. 13 Assassins (Takashi Miike)

Mysteries of Lisbon is one of two Rául Ruiz movies I’ve watched and should be more than enough proof to anyone of his directorial legacy as one of Chile’s best… even though this one’s a Portuguese film. Then there’s Patrico Guzman’s Nostalgia for the Light, another Chilean master with a heartrending – and I mean that with every sense of the word – documentary that parallels astronomy with Chile’s own tragic past during Pinochet’s dictatorship. Really, there’s something in the way the astronomers look up towards the stars that gets to you when compared to the relatives of fallen victims whose missing remnants they’re still looking for down in the buried and barren desert landscape. Carlos has the exceptionally well-executed OPEC terroist attack sequence and Poetry has Yoon Jeong-hee with a role almost too complex for anything American, perhaps with the exception of Michelle Williams in Meek’s Cutoff.

The Ghost Writer is my favorite thriller of the year despite some interesting work up against it like Chloe or All Good Things, and Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl is the funniest, although Four Lions comes pretty darn close. The Social Network needs no added commentary and Uncle Boonmee I remember in scenes more than as a whole. I could have also placed Vincere or Sweetgrass at number ten, two overlooked treasures lost in time, but I can’t deny my fandom for the pulpiness of 13 Assassins. I’m just happy to see Takashi Miike up there because a great movie it is.

And yes, I am aware I missed some pretty good stuff like The Kids Are All RightWinter’s BoneAnimal Kingdom, and especially Another Year.  But what I don’t miss is Inception and Black Swan. Just watch The Red Shoes instead.

Next Time: 1923. If Buster Keaton could talk I bet you he’d have a Southern drawl.