Top Ten Movies: 1997


The two at the top of my list for 1997 couldn’t be any more disparate. Boogie Nights is a three-hour race through the golden age of the porn industry. Picture the coke-induced drive at the end of Goodfellas with as many characters as there is depravity. Mother and Son is an hour long Russian piece on the meditation of death between, what else, a mother and her son. It sighs and whispers, with every subtle motion a rift on the screen. And while both exemplify the quality of great films, Boogie Nights has got the fumbled excitement of a child that proudly takes his or her erratic behavior on the chin. P.T. Anderson’s second feature can overwhelm itself in its own scope but its ambition is something to admire. It revels in the hedonistic binge of its content all the while taking a sobering look at the trappings of sterilizing insecurities. Sex isn’t sex but a business, with everybody soon finding out that you can’t even get away with that. Somehow, you end up leaving the movie with the solemnity of exiting an art house picture, getting at something much deeper than all the surface drama. So at number one no doubt it goes.

1. Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson)
2. Mother and Son (Aleksandr Sokurov)
3. Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami)
4. L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson)
5. The River (Tsai Ming-liang) and The Eel (Shohei Imamura)
6. Happy Together (Wong Kar-wai)
7. Funny Games (Michael Haneke)
8. Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino)
9. Lost Highway (David Lynch)
10. In the Company of Men (Neil LaBute)

The once polarizing Taste of Cherry is still the poster child of 90’s Iranian cinema, that decade initiating – and still blazing – movement that’s produced some of the most outstanding narratively experimental social dramas, peeling away layer after layer of film grammar. Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential has tested far better than a lot of its contemporary crime peers by displaying its makers’ unabashed passion for everything the movie stood for. And Jackie Brown, a mutual screenwriter’s class darling, is strictly built upon that principle alone for Tarantino and the 70’s blaxploitation boom.

As for the rest, just look at all the bleakness! You have Tsai Ming-liang’s crumbling family drama desperately attempting to salvage its self-inflicting wounds. You have Michael Haneke perversely playing with the medium in his cool malevolence. You have David Lynch snatching a Luis Buñuel trope of replacing the lead midway in his bristling grumble of a shadowed world. The adjectives! Then there’s Chad from In the Company of Men, who could quite possibly be the most terrifyingly evil character on the screen in the ever most eerily of gratifying ways. A nod to LaBute for that, I guess…

Those that got pretty darn close include Robert Altaman’s Jazz ’34, which I ended up liking more than Kansas City. And I like Kansas City! Paul Verhoeven’s sly and subversive Starship Troopers, dating brilliantly because it never took itself serious… or did it? Richard Kwietniowski’s Love and Death on Long Island, inspiring in its first half but a bit of a let down once Jason Priestly’s character actually arrives on screen. John Woo’s Face/Off, because like Verhoeven, bonkers is the way to go! And Nil by Mouth, Gary Oldman’s directorial debut that I haven’t watched in a very long, and I mean LONG time. For that matter, there’s also Grosse Pointe Blank, Gummo, The Ice Storm, and The Sweet Hereafter. Oh, and Titanic. Yeah… Titanic.


Top Ten Movies: 2009

The White Ribbon It’s the second week in a row that a horror film nabs the top spot in my best of the year list. The third if you include my very first post in a project I’ve begun just a little over a month ago. To be honest, this recurrence comes as a bit of a surprise since I’m not particularly fixated on the genre, or at least not more so than any other. But there’s no denying the brilliance behind Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon. Every minute of the film is as unsettling as the mysterious crimes committed in this small village set during pre-WWI Germany. From the rigid Protestantism enforced by the townspeople down to the social gatherings of the children, who, you know, you’d think would act like children and stuff, something always appears to be lurking beyond the corners of the frame. Of course, this foreboding tension is never fully realized but why would you want it to when the dread of it all stays with you long after the credits roll. That Michael Haneke can continuously tread familiar territory (i.e. Funny GamesCode Unknown, Caché) and still manage to present a new and disturbing angle towards his philosophy is a merit to his talents as a true auteur, perhaps the best working in the industry today. And so The White Ribbon situates itself as my number one in a year that presents a mixed bag of movies that are as assuredly uncompromising in their vision as they are in their eclecticism.

1. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke)
2. A Prophet (Jacques Audiard)
3. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
4. A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen)
5. Bright Star (Jane Campion) and An Education (Lone Scherfig)
6. I Am Love (Luca Guadagnino)
7. Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos)
8. White Material (Claire Denis)
9. Police, Adjective (Corneliu Porumboiu) and The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)
10. Wild Grass (Alain Resnais)

Snuck a couple more in there that I just couldn’t ignore. An Education is another picturesque British period piece that, like Bright Star, tackles young love in a unique and vibrant way, not to mention bestowing the film world with a spunky Carey Mulligan whose as light and frothy in the role as a catchy French tune from the early 60’s. Then there’s The Hurt Locker and its well deserved accolades as a raw and relentless portrayal on a subject that all too often gets muddled in the cinema (and just about everywhere else). Tarantino delivers one of his most honed, and therefore one of his best, while the Coen Brothers indulge in what appears to be a passion-piece after the astounding success of their previous efforts in No Country for Old Men.

For those that didn’t make the ranks, 2009 was also a wonderful year for animation. Who would have thought that Disney could have delivered an even more idiosyncratic story in Up than Wes Anderson’s jab at stop-motion? But Fantastic Mr. Fox is indeed fantastic. And so is Avatar, that box office phenomenon which loses more than its scope when viewed on a small screen, especially when compared to the unwavering originality of Dogtooth or the complex moral gradations of Police, Adjective, big screen or not.

And the heavies? Andrea Arnold had Fish Tank, revitalizing the British kitchen sink realism from yonder years. Tom Ford had A Single Man, which is a gorgeously photographed drama that never attains the reach it originally sets it eyes on. And Martin Scorsese had Shutter Island, a film I wish I liked better than what I truthfully did. Add two foils from Soderbergh, The Informant and The Girlfriend Experience, Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans, and Pedro Almodóvar’s luscious Broken Embraces, and you’ve got yourself a year. Oh, and Antichrist too, whose first ten minutes gave me just enough of an inclination about the rest of the movie to not really want to finish it. And believe me, I’ve heard the stories.

Next Week: 1952. What a glorious feeling!