As far as I see it, these are the absolute ten best films put out this year, regardless of the politics of the Oscar race. This list may be a bit unorthodox, without any appearances by favorites Martin Scorsese or Clint Eastwood, but just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s bad. Like it or not, the way I see it these are the ten best films put out this year.
First off, I’d feel bad if I didn’t mention a few promising films that I’ve yet to be able to see that, as such, aren’t on my list. These movies – The Last King of Scotland, Notes on a Scandal and Volver – all look fantastic, but I’ve simply not been able to see them yet.
I also want to list a few flicks that didn’t quite make it into the list, but never the less Casino Royale, Lucky Number Slevin, The Good Shepherd, The Queen, Stranger Than Fiction and Shortbus are all films I’ll be sure to remember in the future. But those movies aren’t the topic of this post, the ten best are; and so without further adieu, the list:
I don’t know that Marie Antoinette was ever given a fair shot. Already easily alienated from people thanks to its dialogue- and story-light elements, it wasn’t easy to find an audience. And when the historians complained that it contradicted what the books have taught us, then it was as good as over for Antoinette‘s chances. It’s a shame, because Sofia Coppola has given us a film that, for the few people who actually saw it, won’t easily be forgotten. Most of this is thanks to the films tremendous cinematography, wardrobe and set design, which makes for the most elaborate eye candy in recent memory.
#9 – Half Nelson
I’m still not entirely sure what the message behind Half Nelson was, but I don’t know that it matters. The film is so strongly presented with great performances that you could pull a different meaning out of it for each day of the week; but at its core the way you read the movie will depend on how you read Ryan Gosling‘s character; but on one hand, he’s the history teacher you can only wish you had in Middle School. On the other hand, he sneaks into the girl’s bathroom after he coaches their basketball team to snort crack. Not entirely clear of its purpose, Half Nelson opens the door to one thousand discussions, but a little conversation never hurt anybody.
The idea of combining a teen comedy and film noir sounds fairly loony, but it worked with flying colors in Rian Johnson‘s debut feature, Brick. The most refreshing film of the year, Johnson and his star Joseph Gordon-Levitt perfectly blend the cockiness, self-doubt and humor of being a teenager; and the script’s sharp exchanges of witty dialogue, along with its mystery buried under a thousand clues make it impossible to stop paying attention. This really is the most creative and stand-out Indie of the year, and will be enthusiastically remembered by fans of the genre for quite a while.
To say that watching United 93 is a fun experience would be grossly wrong. Filled with nervous but hovering cameras and a subtle fear that is as reminiscent of the Eleventh as is possible for a film, you’re not going to enjoy watching the film. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a brilliantly well put together film, one that should snab Paul Greengrass Oscar nominations for both his screenplay and his direction of the film. It’s not at all an easy film to sit through, but that doesn’t detract from its greatness in any way.
Alfonso Cuarón‘s scenario of how our culture might panic when the most basic privilege is denied us is the most intelligent film of the year. Clive Owen plays a man who, eighteen years after the last known pregnancy was documented, finds himself trying to help a woman with child out of a totalitarian nation and into a safe haven. But the world that Cuarón locates Owen’s character into is what makes the film memorable – bombings in your local coffee café and signs adamantly advocating that not taking a fertility test is breaking the law, it’s not a pretty picture. Any film buff will justify the film by any one of its long shots, one of which takes Owen out of a fight, into a battlefield, and into a building, all in over five minutes. It’s all the same shot. A technical masterpiece whose director easily deserves a nomination, Children of Men is a latecomer into the Oscar race, but by no means should be ignored.
Between this film and Michel Gondry‘s other movie about dreams, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it’s hard to choose the winner. But even if Eternal Sunshine comes out on top, that doesn’t make this follow up a bad film. Gondry’s latest focuses in on a terrific Gael García Bernal, who plays an eccentric day dreamer with trouble differentiating between the real world and the world of his dreams. The story kicks in when his character falls in love, which easily becomes the most authentic and lovable romance in film this year. Gondry’s recreation of dreams is both astounding and awesome, almost hypnotizing the viewer. An absolute treasure about the confusion of attraction, it’s and an ode to our dreams.
#4 – Little Children
Guillermo del Toro‘s place in cinematic history is assured with this twisted masterpiece. As sick as it is beautiful, Pan’s Labyrinth is a visual force matched only by the massive storytelling. The films is a combination of horror films and war films and fairy tales that works maybe purely because of del Toro’s obvious love for the grotesque and the gorgeous, as he weaves the story of a fantasizing girl who wants to dream all day and a military man who cares only for honor. The message behind the film is twisted and holds several meanings, but regardless of your interpretation, anyone who can appreciate heart-felt film-making and stomach some gore will fall in love with Pan’s Labyrinth
The Prestige is never anything new. It’s never revelatory and to be honest, I’m surprised it’s as high on this list as it is; but it is one damn well made, taut thriller that will grab you by the eye-sockets and hold on without any mercy until the credits role. Christopher Nolan‘s stylized period piece on the rivalry between two magicians is one that, thanks to Hugh Jackman‘s great performance and Christian Bale‘s nomination worthy performance, will keep you attentive and tense. It certainly doesn’t hurt when you have David Bowie playing an eerie Nikola Tesla.
#1 – The Fountain