FAVORITES OF OH OH
by Chris Dashiell
Everyone seems to be complaining about what a bad year the double
zero was for movies. I thought it was a great year. I saw a lot more
movies that I really loved this year than last. I guess what people
are talking about are American movies. In that case, the year did kind
of suck. But that just points up the narrow-mindedness of looking at
film as if your own country's output is the only thing worth considering.
Every year I find myself explaining (and by inference apologizing for)
the presence of several movies on my list that were technically released
the previous year. But now I believe that this reflects the actual experience
of moviegoers much more accurately than the usual Ten Best lists containing
seven movies that haven't even made it to your area yet. Face it, most
of the films that are released in December to qualify for the Oscars
don't even play most places until January, and often even later. So
as far as I'm concerned, the films on my list are all from the year
2000. Well, except for some of the imports which took a few years to
1. THE WIND WILL CARRY US (Abbas Kiarostami).
All we have is today. If you can really see that, then you can see the
restless striving of people towards an ever-receding goal as a gentle
comedy of manners, just as Kiarostami presents it in this wise and brilliant
film, his best ever. Like the visitor to the little town built into
a mountain, with his two assistants whom we never see, waiting for the
death of the old woman whom we also never see, so as to document a mysterious
ceremony we know nothing about, all the while living among a people
who regard him with an affable mixture of curiosity and indifference
- our seeking plays out against a background of stillness. Funny and
sad and serene, with a visual texture that's like a quiet embrace of
the world, this picture manages to address life's greatest questions
while poking fun at the nature of film narrative itself.
And it's not just that this movie is about living in the present, but
that it evokes in me the very sense of attention to the moment that
it is about. It rejoiced and inspirited me, and I felt somehow more
alive after seeing it, even talking to strangers in the lobby about
it afterwards, something I never do. In the weeks since, I continue
to bring the film back into memory, with a sense of happiness. I think
this movie fulfills in every way the imperative of a work of art, and
that's why I dare to call it a masterpiece.
2. TOPSY-TURVY (Mike Leigh).
I love a film that creates a world and then invites you in. This movie
creates the world of the D'Oyley Carte theater company and Gilbert &
Sullivan. The joy of artifice, the real work that goes into it, and
the people who made it happen in a particular moment of time - all this
is magnificently presented, without a trace of the stuffiness or pretention
of the usual period film. Leigh is an actor's director, and this film
is a feast of good acting. As always, he is interested in the relationship
between people's real life and the roles they play. Like The Mikado,
the creation of which is the film's subject, the film is a monumental
effort to achieve the most delicious escapism. One of those movies that
I just reveled in as I watched in delight. And the music is great. Bravo.
3. ROSETTA (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne).
The Dardenne brothers want us to see what the iron grip of material
necessity can do to a soul. Rosetta, living in a trailer park with her
alcoholic mother, relentlessly pursues full-time work. The hand-held
camera constantly shows her in close-up, creating a sense of outward
and inward entrapment as she runs from one place to another in seething
and inarticulate anger. The tremendously moving performance by Emilie
Dequenne in the title role lets us glimpse the conscience underneath.
It is a film of intense realism and intense compassion.
4. BOYS DON'T CRY (Kimberly Peirce).
It's not often that a movie by a new director will come out of nowhere
and be this good. Peirce dramatizes the Teena Brandon story, and she
hits all the right notes - the boredom of a midwest town, the on-the-edge
feelings of young people killing time there, the fear and menace in
the air as Brandon strays farther over gender boundaries. The picture
reaches unexpected heights because of two splendid performances - Hilary
Swank's justly awarded one as Brandon, and Chloe Sevigny as the girl
who falls for him. Knowing what happens doesn't make this film any less
5. WONDERLAND (Michael Winterbottom).
A story of three sisters, and of loneliness in the malestrom of city
life. The city is London, turned into a vivid dream by Winterbottom's
moody, introspective style and the music of Michael Nyman, creating
the feeling, rather unusual in a film, that at any moment we can follow
other paths in the city, other stories. The ensemble acting - Gina McKee,
Molly Parker and Shirley Henderson play the sisters - is quite fine.
The picture's sense of the hidden strangeness and sadness of our search
for love is beautiful and very moving.
6. LATE AUGUST, EARLY SEPTEMBER (Olivier Assayas).
The title is a metaphor for the time when young people must face growing
up and getting on. The film is a sharply observed, affectionate portrait
of a group of friends clustered around a fortyish writer (Francois Cluzet)
who is dying. Assayas' observations on relationships are delicious and
funny and true to life. Among a marvelous cast, the gently charming
Mathieu Almaric shines as a man who can't make up his mind about commitment.
The film has an unforced, natural style which compliments its themes
of striving and attraction, wish and regret.
7. LEILA (Darius Mehrjui).
A brave film from a veteran Iranian director about a woman who has so
internalized her second-class status that she helps her husband look
for another wife when it is discovered that she can't have children.
Never preachy or pedantic, the film carefully details each step in the
destructive process of a marriage. It is subtle, powerful, thoroughly
adult both in theme and treatment, and with a great ending too.
8. YI YI (Edward Yang).
Extremely generous in its ability to present multiple points of view,
Yang's portrait of an extended family in Taipei has the attention to
detail, mundane and extraordinary, of life richly observed. His visual
strategy, often looking through doors and windows or into hallways and
corners, attains surprising emotional intimacy. If you cry at the end
as I did, you might not be sure if it's with grief or joy. Probably
9. SET ME FREE (Lea Pool).
It's a rare treat to see a movie about early adolescence that is free
of formula or cheap moral lessons. Pool stays true to the heart of her
13-year-old French Canadian heroine, who keeps her spirit alive in the
midst of her unhappy family. The remarkably sensitive and expressive
Karine Vanasse was just the right actress for the role - she gives the
best performance of the year that no one has heard of.
10. MAGNOLIA (P.T. Anderson).
Self-indulgent, over-the-top, willfully obscure, narcissistic, flamboyant
for the sake of it, long-winded, immature... the list goes on and on.
And maybe it's all true. But who else in American film is even trying
to do the kind of bold and inventive stuff that Anderson does here?
With great turns by Jason Robards (his swan song), William H. Macy,
and yes, Tom Cruise - it's about the grief of men and women, the curse
of the gifted child, and finding some way to believe in love. Among
And the B-sides:
11. THE TERRORIST (Santosh Sivan). A suicide bomber
preparing for her mission. The movie treats a subject close to my heart
- living on the edge of life and death - in a profound and exciting
12. THE CUP (Khyentse Norbu). Refreshingly unsweetened
comedy about Tibetan kids in a monastery who love soccer more than Buddha.
Real life clashing with religion - and nobody loses.
13. HUMAN RESOURCES (Laurent Cantet). The father
is a factory worker, the son is in management. A very smart film about
work and class and labor unrest, very natural and straightforward in
style, and not afraid to ask big questions.
14. THE APPLE (Samira Makhmalbaf). A true story
- twin girls in Iran who were locked inside their house by rigid parents
for their first eleven years - played by the actual people. Remarkable
for its clear-sightedness and humor, the film's semi-improvised feel
is wholly engrossing.
15. BEAU TRAVAIL (Claire Denis). Ostensibly this
is Melville's Billy Budd transposed to the Foreign Legion in
North Africa. Actually it's a radical experimental film that seeks to
translate into images the inner life of men that no one can see, only
feel. A work of fragmented memory and peripheral vision.
16. NOT ONE LESS (Zhang Yimou). Portrait of an
indomitable will - a stubborn, uneducated girl who is thrust into the
role of a rural schoolteacher. Zhang conveys a strong sense of the overwhelming
forces arrayed against her.
17. BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE (Jasmin Dizdar). The Bosnian
war comes to England. The film presents political hatred as the petty
comedy that it is, without underestimating its staying power.The multiple
stories are expertly woven, and there are glimmers of hope for those
willing to keep their eyes open.
18. POLA X (Leos Carax). Melville again - this time it's
the novel Pierre set in modern France. The artist follows his
mysterious lost sister/lover into exile. The movie is like a fevered
dream - full of eccentric flourishes and bold eruptions of imagery.
19. DANCER IN THE DARK (Lars von Trier). A genre-bending
melodramatic anti-musical on von Trier's favorite subject - the world
as a living hell of affliction for the innocent. Bjork is intense and
the dance numbers are strange and beautiful. Say what you like, you
won't forget it soon.
20. GIRLFIGHT (Karyn Kusama). A well-crafted movie
about a young woman who wants to be a boxer - taken to another level
entirely by the sensational lead performance of newcomer Michelle Rodriguez.
Other performances that moved me (or shook me):
Lathan in Love & Basketball - expressiveness, toughness,
Nathalie Baye, so intelligent in An Affair of Love.
Liev Schreiber in Hamlet - the best Laertes I've seen.
Christian Bale, wickedly funny in American Psycho.
Maria Galiana's enduring mother in Solas.
Mike White, Chuck & Buck - so infantile he's frightening.
Robert Downey Jr.'s gay publisher in Wonder Boys.
Clive Owen, Croupier - clever and disarming.
Jennifer Connelly's weary-eyed junkie in Requiem for a Dream.
The old pro, James Caan in The Yards.
Jim Broadbent, brilliant as the exasperating Gilbert in Topsy-Turvy.
Jean-Claude Vallod, a real-life factory worker,
as the beaten-down father in Human Resources.
Michael Rispoli's working class dreamer in Two Family House.
Douglas Henshall's rueful scapegoat in Orphans.
Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon -
she's the real thing - I'm talking old-fashioned star power.
And not to forget the kids:
Jamie Bell, Billy Elliot
Jamyang Lodro, The Cup
Jonathan Chang, Yi Yi
Agnes Godard, Beau Travail
Harris Savedos, The Yards
Edward Lachman, The Virgin Suicides
Score: Scott Walker, POLA X
RZA, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
Michael Nyman, Wonderland
Guilty Pleasure: Howard Shore's score for The Cell, a movie I
Ben Affleck's orientation speech to the trainees in Boiler Room.
Confessions in a plummeting airplane, Almost Famous.
Another weird aircraft - the escape in Chicken Run.
A breathtaking duel in the treetops - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Kate Winslet as the vision of an eight-armed goddess in Holy Smoke.
A slimy rain's gonna fall - Magnolia.
Really hard to watch:
The incest scenes in The War Zone.
Mules flailing in the snow - I'll bet animals were harmed in the making
A Time for Drunken Horses.. (Good movie, though.)
The entire ending sequence of Requiem for a Dream.
Land of the Overrated: Quills, High Fidelity,
You Can Count On Me.
A Glut on the Market: Helen Hunt
Runner-up: Charlize Theron
Ho-hum Award: Traffic.
I'm Not Impressed: The Online Film Critics Society
Please Go Away: Arnold Schwarzenegger got cloned.
As if one weren't stupid enough.
Interesting Failure Award: Ghost Dog: The Way
of the Samurai.
Maybe I just don't get Jarmusch. His gangster parody pastiche didn't
add up for me, but as usual there were striking elements.
Runner-up: The Virigin Suicides. Some wonderful things here,
but the whole is less than the sum of the parts and the narration really
Best new idea: The Shooting Gallery Series,
bringing independent movies to a multiplex near you.
Best film I should have seen in '99: David Fincher's
farewells: Alec Guinness, Hedy Lamarr, Walter Matthau, Loretta Young,
John Gielgud, Claire Trevor, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Gwen Verdon, Vittorio
Gassman, Richard Farnsworth, Julie London, Steve Allen, Jean Peters,
Ring Lardner Jr., Nancy Marchand, Vincent Canby, Jason Robards.