Some of the best I saw we have to wait for because they're coming later, or maybe never, to theaters: Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, Stephen Soderbergh's Bubble and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's L'Enfant (all coming); Aleksandr Sukurov's The Sun, Patrice Chéreau's Gabrielle, Philippe Garrel's Regular Lovers and Lisandro Alonso's Los Muertos (without distributors). But what did make it to US screens included some very amusing, spine chilling, or moving stuff.
TEN BEST U.S. (alphabetical)
Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee) is an extraordinary mainstream event: a movie where two young Hollywood hunks (Gyllanhaal and Ledger) play out a heartbreaking doomed gay love affair. Wow! This hit me hardest of all that I saw. Whatever it loses of the hardscrabble pain of Proulx's short story it gains in impact and meaning for ordinary people, and average gay men are thrilled out of their skins. That includes me.
Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch) shows the sardonic auteur working with prince of deadpan Bill Murray, a marriage made in heaven that's dripping with droll feminine vignettes, really a slow feast of choice acting turns.
Capote (Bennett Miller) is Philip Seymour Hoffman's devastatingly accurate recreation of Truman Capote at work on his cruel, self-destroying "non-fiction novel" In Cold Blood. A triumph for the gifted Hoffman.
Night, and Good Luck
Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog) is an important documentary portrait that shows the devastating innocence of a man who anthropomorphizes lethal wild beasts. This is very specific about the guy, but it's also about all of us and how we misjudge and misunderstand nature, to our peril.
Last Days (Gus Van Sant) is a stoned visual poem, a hypnotic meditation on youth and death with a surprisingly intense performance by Michael Pitt that completes the Van Sant trilogy begun with Gerry and Elephant and makes up for all Van Sant's dips into mediocrity since My Own Private Idaho.
Lords of Dogtown (Catherine Hardwick) is an accurate and funny and fun portrait of the legends of skateboarding, full of spicy performances, notably Heath Ledger's as druggy coach/sponsor Skip Engblom. This was a breakthrough year for Ledger, whose cred as a serous and selfless actor, no pretty-boy, is now firm.
Match Point (Woody Allen). With this sparkling, enjoyable social climber-cum-Hitchcockian-suspense drama set in London, Woody got himself back on the map. This one isn't like Chinese food. You aren't hungry an hour later; you remember it, thanks to Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Scarlett Johansson's chemistry.
Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki). The formerly wild and silly queer-cinema queen Araki took on a new maturity with this serious story about two victims of pedophilia trying to grow up. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a strong performance. This is tough material handled with imagination and taking us somewhere very dark and real.
Thumbsucker (Mike Mills) shows a fresh light touch with the tired coming-of-age theme.
TEN BEST FOREIGN
2046 (Wong Kar Wai). The most lush and complicated of Wong's period fantasies yet, the end of an epic series. It's so pretty and plot-encrusted it almost makes you sick, but what sweet sickness!
The Beat That My Heart Skipped (Jacques Audiard). Molding James Toback's first fillm into a rich unclassifiable mix of thriller and portrait-of--failed-artist-as-a-young-man, Audiard gave us one of the most complex and complete films of the year. Another breakthrough for a young actor into serous cred: Romain Duris.
The Best of Youth (Marco Tullio Giordana). In-depth decades-spanning family portrait that shows off the Italian sense of time and place and ability to spin a mini-series such as we poor Anglos are starved for.
Being Julia (István Szabó) isn't a great movie but it's hilarious Masterpiece Theatre-type fun and a wonderful display of Annette Bening's inexhaustible talent.
Caché (Michael Haneke). Haneke likes to tease and torment us into guilty awarenesses. This is Haneke in top form, with a consistently challenging and original work about responsibility and connectedness.
of Love and Chance
Good Morning, Night (Marco Bellocchio). Another surprisingly beautiful visual and auditory poem made out of something very dark. This portrait of a terrorist act--the Aldo Moro kidnapping that tore up Italy in 1978--is seen from within by Bellocchio as a study of moral doubt.
Innocence (Lucile Hadzihalilovic). A terrifyingly consistent, coherent, and beautiful first film that provides a fantastic dreamlike vision of girlhood and oppression.
The Intruder (Claire Denis). Amidst the mostly conventional American movies of the Christmas season, watching Claire Denis' new one was like taking a plunge in cold, fresh water. Pure cinema, without limits or guidelines.
Nobody Knows (Hirokazu Koreeda) In this excruciatingly claustrophobic story of abandoned siblings trying to muddle through, Koreeda looks deep into the saddest side of childhood: its helplessness.
There was other good stuff. My shortlist includes Down to the Bone (Debra Granak), Kings and Queen (Arnaud Desplechin), and Kontroll (Nimród Antal). Credit for good intentions has to go to a muddled pair grasping at political significance, Munich (Steven Spielberg) and Syriana (Stephen Gaghan) and to the high-pitched Crash (Paul Haggis).
Besides Grizzly Man, several other documentaries went the extra mile (if not at all as many as last year), notably the muckraking Mondovino (Jonathan Nossiter) which exposes egomania and globalization in the wine trade, The Boys of Baraka (Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady), about a valiant effort to save Baltimore ghetto youths, and Martin Scorsese's thrilling and seamless portrait of young genius in process of self-creation, the Bob Dylan study, No Direction Home.
The best revival surely was Antonioni's Professione: reporter, starring Jack Nicolson, previously known here as The Passenger and in retrospect possibly Antonioni's most perfect film, as well as his personal favorite. It's looking very good at the age of 30.
Excellent but still overrated were Cronenberg's A History of Violence (which is better to talk about than to watch), Fernando Moreilles' inappropriately overwrought adaptation of John Le Carré's The Constant Gardener (it was a good year for Ralph Fiennes with that and the swoony Merchant/Ivory swansong, The White Countess). Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale is a good study of kids dealing with a divorce, but not as brilliant as people said. I saw a lot of movies this year, but I'm guessing there still are at least a dozen or so new releases that might have caused a rearrangement of this list, and possibly of my psyche, if I hadn't unfortunately missed them.
©2006 Chris Knipp