Top Ten

Chris Dashiell
Chris Knipp
Don Larsson
Shari L. Rosenblum
Howard Schumann
Mark Sells

Top Ten: My Take
by Shari L. Rosenblum

It wasn't a year of consensus, of great films undeniable. I didn't come to the task of naming the best with any sense of completeness or correctness. But as I wrote these down, edited some out, added others, I came to realize that the films that most stayed with me this year are all about universal themes told in specifics. They are all about choices made, the things we leave behind, or fail to, or cannot. They are all about love, or violence, or both. They made me hurt, they made me laugh, they made me think.

Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch)
Among the quietest of the year's offerings, Jim Jarmusch's gently comic and understated road pic leads an over-the-hill Don Juan back through the ghosts of loves past, and the promise of children who might never have been born. With graciousness towards the marks of age, respect for the tenderness of wounds long-thought healed, and a pitch perfect laconic lead, the film traces the finest of lines between wistfulness and what's left. The result is sublime.

2046 (Wong Kar-Wai)
Master of cinematic poetry, Wong Kar-Wai here turns love into memory, memory into place, and place into color and shape and sound. A curtain echoes the pattern of a cheongsam, a hotel sign reflects the body's contortions, a tapping foot marks the passage of minutes unclaimed, unclaimable. Hearts break, tears fall, time present is split into a past unresolved and a fictional future. It is a poignant reverie of wild days and love's moods, and it is utterly breathtaking.

The Beat My Heart Skipped (Jacques Audiard)
A mood piece of the highest order, where rage and rhythm share a single space, Jacques Audiard's remake of James Toback's Fingers  is palpably more human and more humane than the original. Commuting the existential frenzy of another age into emblematic spiritual crisis, and the sociopolitical angst of race and misogyny into a tightrope walk between a father's legacy and a mother's gift, it finds the life blood in both neon-flash nights of cynical disruptions and the sunlit promise of eloquence and order, in both urgency and serenity. It is a small film, but not one easily forgotten.

Nobody Knows (Hirokazu Kor-eda)
Hirokazu Kore-eda, taking as his source a tragic true-life tale, gives us this film of  four siblings between the ages of 4 and 12, each of different fathers, left to fend for themselves in a world not made for them, nor conscious of them. Without preciousness or emotional pushbuttons, the unfathomable horror of abandonment is told through the eyes of children, innocent and trusting, in performances so real, so fragile, that the heart starts to ache without relief. The film does not devolve into lecture or pedantry; no adult preaching or pointing of fingers intrude. Rather than manipulate us, it scrapes the superficiality until we feel ourselves raw. It proceeds steadily with the subtle details of harsh reality--the childlike wonder at throwing a ball in the park or drawing pictures on a gas bill, the loss of control over outgrown clothes and unkempt hair--and progresses with silent, eversoft determination to become a film of great violence and harrowing suspense, though not a hand is ever lifted and we see no blood flow.

A History of Violence (David Cronenberg)
A brutal murder towns away fades into a nightmare in a peaceful town closeby. The local good guy, reserved and unassuming, erupts in bloody self-defense, saving the future and bringing the past crashing down upon his house and home. Misdirection, indirection and suspense/thriller mode intact, the film poses questions in sequence. Whence violence and why? How does it revolt and excite us at once? And if we can know with full assurance that violence only begets more violence (a point the film brings home both literally and viscerally), what can we do with the equal truth that only violence can stop it? Not so much a character study as a study of character, Cronenberg's twisty adaptation of the graphic novel eschews political didacticism without sidestepping the questions that raise it and creates a complexity of values that betrays the film's ostensibly simple plotline.  Runner-up: Caché (Michael Haneke)

Munich (Steven Spielberg)
Violence begets violence, the message again. An endless, fruitless cycle. But more important, and more daunting, passivity does not bring peace. Haunting for what it fails to detail, excruciating in the details it cannot escape, Spielberg's historical account of massacre and vengeance, fictionalized and falsely balanced, succeeds nonetheless in getting fists to clench and pulses to race and breath to catch in one's throat. The politics of today intertwine with the realities of a yesterday yet unresolved in this telling, and political correctness overshadows political accuracy, but the essence of commitment, of choice, and of consequences seeps through, with blood still flowing. 
Runner up: Walk on Water (Eytan Fox)

Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee)
Most affecting in this tale of impossible love is its conflicting conventions, the buddy pic and the chick flick rolled into a single storyline. Scraping around the edges of western dramas, where men admire men for their manliness, and picking up the tones of romances lamenting impossible loves, Ang Lee's film raises both to their inevitable conclusion. Though the film relies too much on female sensibilities for its inner voice and bends too much to sociopolitical excuses in the choices it presents, the directorial contrasts of open air love with the dark closet secrecy, and the actor-invested exhilaration of connection, matching soul to soul unquenchably evoke an emotional truth that lingers on.

The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach)
Noah Baumbach's anatomy of a divorce among Brooklyn's self-defined intellectual elite is bitingly bitter, knowingly self-mocking, familiar and funny. Tennis provides a central metaphor, as does the title and its source, while literature and film set out the emotional decor. Academic, artsy and very 1980s, the film charts a moment in time and culture, shifting our sympathies from child to child, children to adults, wife to husband and back again, just the way the world does each time it peeks inside a different point of fact. Rooted in the real or not, the character portraits are incisive, though tinged with a hint of the filmmaker's disdain. Or maybe it's lack of forgiveness. Jeff Daniels turns in the performance of a lifetime, robbed though he was by the Academy's snub.

Match Point (Woody Allen)
The cleverness of Woody Allen's early, funny films has made way for well-served witticisms; the tedious self-importance of his later, serious ones has ceded place to wry observation.  In this, his latest work, he relies neither on the (self-directed) mockery of mixed-up characters nor the moral quandaries of the upscale New York Jewish milieu. Mixing cynicism with sexual sizzle, he sets his action in the well-heeled London of cinema and fiction, and silences the gasps in his audience with an amoral distanciation. Despite a superficial hearkening back to tragedies American or other and a familiar litany of crimes and misdemeanors, the focus here is not on the choices men make or the values that glare down upon them, nor on the hysterias and vengeance of women (misogynistic tendencies notwithstanding), but on the faith that experience invests in the fickleness of fate. Nicely served.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black)
Film noir at its funniest, with dry one-liners and insider winks. A murder mystery with a smirk (sure it's pleased with itself; but it isn't undeserving...). Self-aware in a pre-pomo sort of way. Smart, sassy, satirical, sweet, daring, dramatic and way underviewed. The dialogue is to die for, the action fast and unflagging. Robert Downey, Jr. is in top form; Val Kilmer is unsurpassed. Shane Black is back with a vengeance. Whenever I think of this film, I feel my lips curl into a smile.

3-Iron (Kim Ki-Duk)
L'Enfant (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
Breakfast on Pluto (Neil Jordan)
Casanova (Lasse Hallström)
Ushpizin (Giddi Dar)
Sky High (Mike Mitchell)
The Chronicles of Narnia (Andrew Adamson)
Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog)

©2006 Shari L. Rosenblum

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