A Film Snob's Favorites of
Greetings from the Elitist Cabal. Well, another year is behind
us. Another year in which snooty, self-appointed critics like me attempted
to corrupt the morals and sensibilities of the popular mind. But to no
avail. God bless Adam Sandler.
Actually I saw fewer movies on the big screen this year than
ever, so my list of favorites is about as subjective and limited by circumstance
as it could be. The trouble with top 10 lists is that I'm ranking apples
against hand grenades. But I like to make them anyway because, of course,
I am an elitist. And damn proud of it.
As always, films considered are those that played on big screens
during the calendar year in my neck of the desert. That's why films that
were released earlier in other parts of the world are listed here. I thought
there was cause for hope this year. Some films with lower budgets and
out of the ordinary ideas succeeded with audiences, while TV retreads
and mindless sequels seemed on the wane.
THE THIN RED LINE
The true epic stance is a rare thing. Malick's heaven's-eye view, rich
with grief and - astoundingly - devoid of anger, seems to me the most
profound artistic vision of the year. The simple poetry of thought inside
these soldiers - living and dying together in a hell on earth - reflects
a wholly different world than that of their immediate struggle. It was
this focus on the soul, the one- pointed attempt to depict the suffering
observer as well as the experience he endures - over and above the terrifying
beauty of the film's visual texture and its unusual design - that burned
this picture into my memory.
THE SALTMEN OF TIBET (Ulrike Koch). This portrait of a nomadic
tribe and its annual excursion to a lake in the far north to collect salt
for trading, bursts the bounds of conventional documentary. There is no
narration. Everything is presented through the words and actions of the
participants themselves, and it is perhaps the most remarkable portrait
of a traditional, pre-industrial people since Nanook of the North.
It immerses us in the world of the saltmen, their songs and stories and
symbols, clearly and directly without romanticizing them. I was especially
struck by the way spiritual practices and beliefs are totally intertwined
with work and everyday activity. The picture succeeded in creating a feeling,
an experience, of what it is like to be in a culture that is as different
from mine as I could imagine.
HILARY AND JACKIE (Anand Tucker).
The love of two sisters, and all the pain that goes with it. Based on
the story of temperamental musician Jacqueline Du Pre and her more practical
sister Hilary, it has passion and intelligence, beautiful photography,
and very fine performances by Emily Watson and Rachel Griffiths. I loved
the insider's perspective on the life of artists. The film is enriched
by its ability to show events from different points of view, which deepens
the story's sense of humanity.
THE LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE
This huge labor of love, which took years to make, and even more to get
to the States, attempts - and largely succeeds at - a most difficult task:
bringing the tradition of high romance down into the world of the realistic
drama of urban poverty and despair. The results are stunning, and although
sometimes prone to excess, the film has a sense of tragedy and rapture
that justifies its huge scale. It also contains the most ecstatic sequence
of the year - a dance of passion on the Pont-Neuf, with fireworks exploding
in the sky.
ROMANCE (Catherine Breillat).
Anti-romantic to the extreme, Romance dares to portray a woman
in the throes of a relentless sexual hunger - her sexuality, moreover,
expressing the sharpest anger. Intensely serious although sometimes humorous
in tone, defiant, never inflating the characters beyond their limitations,
Breillat's film is committed to honesty about the ideas and images that
thrive in her heroine's head. Since film narrative usually avoids facing
issues of shame and confusion, not to mention the actual depiction of
sex (as opposed to soft-focus wish fulfillment), I found this movie bracing
THE SCHOOL OF FLESH (Benoit Jacquot).
An elegant and self-assured film about the obsession of an affluent middle-aged
woman for a young street hustler. Isabelle Huppert's performance is very
fine. The picture is sensitive to the rhythm of conversations and silences,
and the poetry of the human face. I love the way it takes its time to
capture the feeling of a relationship.
THE LIMEY (Steven Soderbergh).
A tale of revenge made completely fresh by Soderbergh's unusual cutting
technique - by coming at the story from abrupt angles, he gives it deeper
meaning and resonance. Splendid work by Terence Stamp, Peter Fonda and
Barry Newman. The ending has a quiet, unexpected power.
AFFLICTION (Paul Schrader). Yes, the Willem Dafoe narration
explains things that don't need to be. But Nick Nolte gives the performance
of his career as a small-town failure who can't escape his father's abusive
legacy. He completely inhabits this reckless, infuriating, strangely sympathetic
character. And Schrader creates a fine sense of dread.
BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (Spike Jonz). Despite getting too entangled
in its own plot, this picture has such a fine sense of the absurd, and
such a willingness to go the full length of its own mock metaphysical
ideas, that it puts other comedies to shame. A true original.
MY NAME IS JOE (Ken Loach).
Peter Mullan is excellent as a man getting his life together in middle
age, who risks it all for the sake of a young fellow in trouble. Loach
returns to the tough, working class atmosphere he thrives in, and it's
his best film in years. Every turn in the story leads inexorably to a
And honorable mention to:
THE DREAMLIFE OF ANGELS (Erick Zonca).
AUTUMN TALE (Eric Rohmer)
VELVET GOLDMINE (Todd Haynes)
THE BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB (Wim Wenders)
THE LAST DAYS (James Moll)
GO (Doug Liman)
AFTER LIFE (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
RUN LOLA RUN (Tom Tykwer)
THE IRON GIANT (Brad Bird)
AN IDEAL HUSBAND (Oliver Parker)
(besides those already mentioned):
Rupert Everett (AN IDEAL HUSBAND)
Natacha Regnier (THE DREAMLIFE OF ANGELS)
Brendan Gleeson (THE GENERAL)
(AN IDEAL HUSBAND, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY)
Ewan McGregor (VELVET GOLDMINE)
Richard Farnsworth & Sissy Spacek (THE STRAIGHT STORY)
Denis Lavant (THE LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE)
Sean Penn (THE THIN RED LINE)
Sarah Polley (GO)
Jane Horrocks (LITTLE VOICE)
Heather Donahue (THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT)
And now for some special awards:
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOT MUCH:
The Sixth Sense
PASS ME THE EXCEDRIN:
The Green Mile
The General's Daughter
The Phantom Menace
INTERESTING FAILURE AWARD:
Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut: intense, disturbing, but wildly uneven.
Scorsese couldn't breathe life into Bringing Out the Dead.
Runner-up: Cronenberg's comedy, eXistenZ, runs out
of steam halfway through.
THE PLEASE GO AWAY AWARD:
For the 12th consecutive year, this coveted award goes to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
That little blonde moppet in The Phantom Menace.
HEAD-SCRATCHER OF THE DECADE:
Hou Hsiao-Hsien is one of the most critically acclaimed directors in the
world - so why don't his movies ever get a general release in the States?
Tea with Mussolini
The Blair Witch Project
PUNISHMENT FOR THE SINS OF MANKIND:
Another movie starring Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan.
Movies based on Saturday Night Live skits.
A REAL SHAME:
The paucity of female directors.
SAY IT AIN'T SO:
The end of Mystery Science Theater 3000
ALRIGHT, I ADMIT IT. I'LL WATCH THEM IN ANYTHING:
Two of the greatest film directors ever:
Stanley Kubrick and Robert Bresson
And thanks to all my fellow snobs. You know who you are.