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 Right, Winter’s Bone, Animal 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.