Monday, August 4, 2008

Ten Best Films of 2007

1. Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien, France)
In remaking Albert Lamorisse's 1956 French children's classic The Red Balloon, the Taiwanese-based Hou has created the year's most multi-layered mediation on its subject: namely of the melancholic content of the source material and its process of reproduction in Flight of the Red Balloon. This is a work where each formal element retains a narrative and thematic significance, whether it is the piano score that conveys the young boy's psychology or the camera movements that transit between the spaces in front of and behind the Taiwanese puppet stage (thus doing the formal work of de-mystification). In other words, The Flight of the Red Balloon is one more masterpiece from a filmmaker who has been making nothing but for the past two decades.

2. Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/France/Netherlands/
Germany)
With his first two features, Japon (2002) and Battle in Heaven (2005), Carlos Reygadas showed himself to be the most spectacularly talented Mexican director of his generation. With Silent Light we may stop speaking of this talent in the implicit terms of promise; rather this is a work of exceeding formal rigor in the organic service of the film's subject. From the film's stupefying opening shot, Reygadas has remade the iconography of transcendent film practice. While the director's (literally) miraculous take on the theme of infidelity in the Mennonite world demonstrates its maker's continued taste for provocation, Silent Light never fails to be reverent. This is a much higher level of filmmaking than anything Reygadas has made to date.

3. Zodiac (David Fincher, United States)
One of the absolute highlights of a very good year for the American cinema, and a clear career peak for its director - Zodiac was nothing short of a quantum leap forward for Fincher - the director's latest offered another notable revision of the vigilante 'Dirty Harry' persona, wherein the character's real-life model Dave Toschi expresses a clear devotion to due process, rather than the vigilantism that provided Harry's initial signature. Zodiac's narrative carefully reconstructs only the known facts of the "zodiac killers'" murders, thus providing a decisive symbol for the DV medium it inhabits - as a work of addition rather than the material abundance of photo-chemical cinema. Zodiac is also one of the better true crime films that Hollywood has produced.

4. The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (Eric Rohmer, France/
Italy/Spain)
Rumored to be Rohmer's final film, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon does not so much represent a "leap forward" as it does a summary of the director's previous corpus. Synthesizing the master's conceptual interest in period filmmaking and his predilection for location shooting (among his contemporary pieces), The Romance of Astrea and Celadon continues the director's strategy of perpetually responding to his own filmmaking past. Likewise, Rohmer's summa re-formulates his career-long interest in commingling erotic love and his Catholic faith - which in this instance transposes both to France's pre-Christian past. In short, one last master work from the nouvelle vague's greatest director.

5. In the City of Sylvia (José Luis Guerín, Spain)
Spanish director José Luis Guerín's In the City of Sylvia continues the twenty-first century's marked turn toward a Bazinian realism (cf. Lisandro Alonso's comparably accomplished Los Muertos, 2004) albeit in a form that mediates this interest in reality through the prism of a thoroughly-considered reflexivity. Guerín's work takes its near plotless conceit of an artist's beautiful female objects of vision - mostly spotted at a French café - and manages harrowing, cringe-inducing drama to surpass any other work on this year's list. Guerín's is a work of unmistakable, acutely observed truths, be it the sensation of being looked at or the weightless feeling of pursuit. For many, this writer included, In the City of Sylvia announced a previously-unknown major talent.

6. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, United Kingdom/Canada/
United States)
Extending the director's interest in the epistemological, Eastern Promises qualifies as a companion piece to Cronenberg's 2005 masterpiece, A History of Violence: here, the formula of good to evil embedded in Viggo Mortensen's covert hero is reversed. If Eastern Promises falls slightly short of his recent career peak - perhaps the justification for the director's otherwise unexplainable neglect on most 2007 top ten lists - it remains one of the year's most extraordinary pieces of classical decoupage filmmaking, right down to the film's conventional exoticism and rear projections. This is Cronenberg as North America's finest living "B" filmmaker, and perhaps its finest contemporary director period.

7. The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson, United States)
Even more than with Eastern Promises, critics have seemed blinded to The Darjeeling Limited's clear artistic virtues. While The Darjeeling Limited does cover similar stylistic and thematic terrain to Anderson's earlier corpus (a criticism that is rarely leveled against cinema's sister arts, though it is the chief objection leveled against Anderson) it does so in a fictional India that seems perfectly suited to the filmmaker's fiction. And it does so on a locomotive - a minor but rich sub-genre - that provides a rich metaphor for the film's meta-textual concern: in this case cinema rather than the theatre of Rushmore or the novel of The Royal Tenenbaums. In other words, this is the latest, essential variation in Anderson's closed corpus.

8. Fengming: A Chinese Memoir (Wang Bing, China)
Wang's non-fiction Fengming: A Chinese Memoir establishes a new twenty-first century standard for conceptual minimalism: a single frontal camera set-up for most of its 186-minute duration. In front of the filmmaker's mini-DV camera, the eponymous subject, in a near endless stream of expertly-narrated anecdotes, recounts her experiences as the victim of Mao Zedong's Anti-Rightist purge and the subsequent Cultural Revolution. Wang uses neither archival footage nor photographs to illustrate Fengming's personal history, limiting his film instead to his subject's on-camera act of recollection. What emerges is one of the most vital and paradoxically visual films of the year, giving voice and embodied presence to Fengming.

9. The Duchess of Langeais (Jacques Rivette, France/Italy)
Yet another major work from an ageless nouvelle vague master, The Duchess of Langeais extends many of the director's career-long preoccupations - chief among which are its emphases on repetition, contingent duration and the interchangeability of roles - through a form that has fully narrativized, which is to say classicized these themes. As always, Rivette's style is equal parts Hawks (in the invisibility of its decoupage) and Mizoguchi (for its sense of volume conferred by an often mobile camera), which though theoretically self-canceling provides the ideal platform for Jeanne Balibar and Guillaume Depardieu's acting pyrotechnics and William Lubtchansky's lush, period-recreating cinematography.

10. RR (James Benning, United States/Germany)
Another farewell - in its instance to the medium of 16mm rather than to the photochemical art itself - Benning's RR returns to projected cinema's first subject - the train's arrival - to discover the baseline of moving image viewership: namely, in its cuing of spectator attention through the introduction of minor variations (be it the sudden ripple of a watery surface or an inconspicuous piece of refuse). Indeed, any interest in the eponymous subject of the film is quickly displaced onto those elements that do not obtain over the entire 112 min. duration. From the point-of-view of 2007 at least, RR, along with 13 Lakes and Ten Skies (both 2004), comprise the decade's most significant experimental corpus.

2007: Lisa K. Broad

Ratatouille
1. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, United Kingdom/Canada/
United States)
2. The Man from London (Béla Tarr, Hungary/France/Germany)
3. Ratatouille (Brad Bird, United States)
4. The Duchess of Langeais (Jacques Rivette, France/Italy)
5. Zodiac (David Fincher, United States)
6. Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/France/Netherlands/
Germany)
7. Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien, France)
8. Adrift in Tokyo (Satoshi Miki, Japan)
9. A Girl Cut in Two (Claude Chabrol, France/Germany)
10. Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, United States)

2007: Emily Condon

Superbad
1. I'm Not There (Todd Haynes)
2. Great World of Sound (Craig Zobel)
3. Superbad (Greg Mottola)
4. This Is England (Shane Meadows, 2006)
5. Ratatoullie (Brad Bird)
6. Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy)
7. Away From Her (Sarah Polley, 2006)
8. Exiled (Johnnie To, 2006)
9. The Host (Bong Joon-ho, 2006)
10. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg)

Note (12/30/07): I haven't seen No Country for Old Men, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, or There Will Be Blood yet.

Emily is a graduate student at the New School for Social Research and a fellow native of Watertown, Minnesota.

2007: Richard Suchenski

Pitcher of Colored Light
Conditions: I restricted myself exclusively to films - narrative, avant-garde or documentary, distributed or otherwise - that were first premiered theatrically somewhere in the world in 2007. For that reason, I excluded exceptional films, like Colossal Youth and Honor de Cavalleria, that had their North American premieres in 2007 but played elsewhere in 2006.

1. Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
2. The Duchess of Langeais (Jacques Rivette)
3. Pitcher of Colored Light (Robert Beavers)
4. Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant)
5. Alexandra (Aleksandr Sokurov)
6. The Man from London (Béla Tarr)
7. At Sea (Peter Hutton)
8. Zodiac (David Fincher)
9. In the City of Sylvia (José Luis Guerín)
10. Terror’s Advocate(Barbet Schroeder)

Please also note that I have not yet (as of 12/30/07) had the chance to see There Will Be Blood.

Richard is a PhD candidate in film studies and the history of art at Yale University.

Ten Best Films of 2006

1. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/France/Austria)
Apichatpong’s structuralist-inspired Syndromes and a Century continues the director’s preference for comparative, bipartite narratives: in its case pitting languidly-paced, digression-filled country remembrances with an ecologically-calamitous present confined to the antiseptic interiors of an urban hospital. The Thai auteur does however mediate his ‘Walden’ with an ambivalent, new-urbanist coda. Clearly, Apichatpong is one of the most vital directors in the world; we are almost certainly living in his moment.

2. Private Fears in Public Places (Alain Resnais, France/Italy)
The year’s most elegant piece of filmmaking – witness the handling of multiple, interlocking storylines, separated by lyrical, snow-trimmed dissolves or the film’s remarkable balance between tonal lightness and thematic seriousness – Private Fears in Public Places is ‘Left-Bank’ maestro Alain Resnais’ best film in twenty years. It may also be his most directly personal work to date, signaling a new direction for this master of conspicuously impersonal art film entertainments. Private Fears joins Rohmer's The Lady and the Duke and Rivette's The Story of Marie and Julien as an absolute highlight of the nouvelle vague's latest extraordinary flowering.

3. Still Life (Jia Zhangke, China/Hong Kong)
For one of the most rigorous film directors working anywhere, Still Life may just be its maker Jia Zhangke’s most thoroughly conceived yet: the filmmaker’s multi-layered consideration of cultural loss (Jia’s key theme) is extended to include the personal toll of China’s real-life Three Gorges Dam project. Jia utilizes DV to capture the site in an almost infinite depth-of-field, thereby securing a visual and thematic backdrop for the above subject. Still Life joins Platform (2000) as one of the director’s very best.

4. Déjà Vu (Tony Scott, United States)
As Christoph Huber and Mark Peranson have argued, Déjà Vu is director Tony Scott's Vertigo, his meditation on dead love brought back into a tactile proximity with the film's naive protagonist. Déjà Vu however extends well beyond its hypotext, providing one of 21st century Hollywood's most profound engagements with recent American tragedy from Oklahoma City to September 11 to Hurricane Katrina. This is Scott's masterpiece, consolidating the forms and obsessions of Enemy of the State, Man on Fire and Domino in an exactingly mimetic art.

5. Longing (Valeska Grisebach, Germany)
Valeska Grisebach’s Longing centers on an incidence of small-town adultery, and in particular on the faces of the three involved parties. On these canvases we see the disconsolateness of the two women – the wife as she learns of her perfect firefighter husband’s infidelity and his mistress as she discovers that he does not remember their first night together – and the enigmatic expressivity of the male. In this way, Grisebach reverses the conventional structure of filmic desire, which she likewise accomplishes (most spectacularly) in his impassioned dance to a Robbie Williams ballad.

6. Climates (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/France)
With a preternatural color palette and seemingly infinite depth – spectacularly rendered in the snowflakes that fall a hair in front of his DV lens – Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest easily bests his excellent Distant (2002). Here, the director co-stars with real-life wife Ebru Ceylan in his tale of marital disintegration. Nonetheless, Climates is fictional auto-biography, a Turkish Voyage in Italy (1953, Roberto Rossellini) less that masterpiece’s concluding miracle. For Ceylan, relationships never last, even if his has.

7. Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang Soo, South Korea)
Continuing the director's strategy of inscribing character subjectivity through seemingly objective, two-part structures, Woman on the Beach, easily one of the filmmaker's funniest films to date, offers a distant variation on the great Vertigo - with Madeleine and Judy coexisting and competing for the attention of Scottie. Woman on the Beach also provides one of the screen's least flattering self-portraits this side of Recollections of the Yellow House. Hong latest instantly emerges as a new co-career peak (with Power of Kangwon Province) for South Korea's leading art-house auteur.

8. Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa, Portugal/France/Switzerland)
A film endeavoring to reinvent the language of cinema with every fiber of its singular being, Pedro Costa's epic Colossal Youth was in some distant recess of the cinematic universe the film of the year. Establishing a new standard for modernist-inflected film minimalism, Costa's opus offers a multi-valent riff on the act of limitation, whether it is a narrative in which, in a traditional sense, nothing happens or more significantly, in the director's ever static, exceedingly tightly framed mise-en-scène. As aesthetically exhilarating as it is conventionally boring.

9. Kodak (Tacita Dean, United Kingdom/France/United States)
The year’s most striking exposure of celluloid, Kodak makes an argument for her 16mm medium’s specificity and superiority over digital technologies in its registration of sensuous tones (saffrons, royal blues, turquoise and sea-greens and pink-tinted purples) in exceedingly low light. Dean’s spare lighting often adorns empty corridors, thus drawing attention to film’s post-human character – that is as an indexical medium. However, it is a format that is disappearing: Kodak in fact depicts the last European 16mm manufacturer on the final day of production.

10. Les signes (Eugène Green, France)
At a microscopic thirty minutes, Eugène Green has created one of the fullest expressions of his art – the most anachronistic and one of the most singular in the French cinema of the twenty-first century. Les signes is an archetypal example of the director's stories of absent male paternity, devotional subjects, and of the baroque style of declaiming (directly into the camera) that all distinguish the Brooklyn-born French director's one-of-a-kind work.

2006: Lisa K. Broad

Inland Empire
1. Still Life (Jia Zhangke, China/Hong Kong)
2. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/
France/Austria)
3. I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan/France/
Austria)
4. Climates (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/France)
5. Longing (Valeska Grisebach, Germany)
6. Inland Empire (David Lynch, United States/France/Poland)
7. Exiled (Johnnie To, Hong Kong)
8. Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)
9. Private Fears in Public Places (Alain Resnais, France/Italy)
10. Summer '04 (Stefan Krohmer, Germany)

2006: Michelle Orange

Volver
10. The Queen (Stephen Frears)
9. The Science of Sleep (Michel Gondry)
8. Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck)
7. Deliver Us From Evil (Amy Berg)
6. The Departed (Martin Scorsese)
5. Notes on a Scandal (Richard Eyre)
4. Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell)
3. Fateless (Lajos Koltai, 2005)
2. Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón)
1. Volver (Pedro Almodóvar)

Michelle writes for IFC News and The Village Voice.

2006: Vicente Rodriguez-Ortega

1. Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro)
2. Inside Man (Spike Lee)
3. The Proposition (John Hillcoat, 2005)
4. Miami Vice (Michael Mann)
5. Volver (Pedro Almodóvar)
6. The Departed (Martin Scorsese)
7. Boys of Baraka (Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, 2005)
8. The Secret Life of Words (Isabel Coixet, 2005)
9. Why We Fight (Eugene Jarecki, 2005)
10. Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt)

Vicente is pursuing his PhD in Cinema Studies at New York University.

2005: Lisa K. Broad

Regular Lovers
1. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, United States)
2. The Sun (Aleksandr Sokurov, Russia/France/Italy/Switzerland)
3. The New World (Terrence Malick, United States)
4. Caché (Michael Haneke, France/Austria/Germany/Italy)
5. The Beat that My Heart Skipped (Jacques Audiard, France)
6. Oxhide (Liu Jiayin, China)
7. Regular Lovers (Philippe Garrel, France)
8. Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan)
9. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, Romania)
10. Election (Johnnie To, Hong Kong)

Ten Best Films of 2005

1. The New World (Terrence Malick, United States)
Though it initially alluded this writer, as it seems to have many, The New World represents another major work by America's most singular latter-day auteur. (Perhaps the 135 min. re-cut helped my belated appreciation.) Malick's poetic idiom is perfectly suited to this presentation of the first contact between English settlers and Virginia area "naturals," with the absence of experiential precedence articulated on both sides. As with Badlands (1973), The New World marks a truly moving expression of a first, under-age love; as with Days of Heaven (1978) this is landscape filmmaking at its very best, thanks to a series of 'golden hour' compositions; and as with The Thin Red Line (1998), Malick's subjective voice-over shifts between multiple protagonists. History will decide if the hyper-romantic The New World is their equal, but clearly it is quite close indeed.

2. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, United States)
No other contemporary Anglo director has as fastidiously examined the mysterious depths of human personality as has Canadian master David Cronenberg -- which certainly becomes all the more startling when once considers his propensity to engage psychological extremum. A History of Violence is no exception to this rule, even if it represents his most universal applicability: we have in this tale of salt-of-the-earth everyman Tom -- or is it Joey? -- a genuine inquiry into the nature of the human self that is singular in the contemporary cinema, let alone unique in Hollywood. To be sure, Cronenberg does address the more politically-seductive topic inherent in his title -- the nature of violence and our capacity to enjoy it is depiction -- but his conclusions may not warm everyone to whom a film like this would seem to speak: violence, he supposes, is inextricably within us (the impulses of Tom's son confer the very universality that Cronenberg's human curios often tend to mitigate). Yet in praising the ambitions of his message, it is important not to overlook the elegance of his very classical technique, which nevertheless he is quick to refashion when his narrative would seem to dictate that he do so -- as with the film's masterful opening sequence. A History of Violence is by quite a large margin the best English language release of 2005.

3. The Sun (Aleksandr Sokurov, Russia/France/Italy/Switzerland)
Russian maestro Aleksandr Sokurov's The Sun (Solntse) looks and feels like nothing else released during the past year, which of course could be said of any of the director's films. Then again, there is a particular bizarreness to The Sun's texture that reflects the film's alchemic combination of Sokurov's long-held preoccupations -- the mortal fate of a dictator, the passing of an imperial culture, Japanese aesthetics -- with a filmmaking technique that favors long takes, transgressions of the 180 degree rule, largely unaccountable manipulations of the visual track and a collection of sounds that trades heavily on the eerie and menacing. Likewise, the film's subject, Emperor Hirohito on the occasion of his renunciation of divinity following his nation's defeat, offers a splendidly mystical container for the Russian's favored examinations of the permeable boundary between life and death. All of this is to say that The Sun functions as something of a signature, revealing the vast sea of the director's aesthetic in a single, mesmerizing work.

4. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, Romania)
Cristi Puiu's second feature, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, reaches the upper-most of artistic stratas on the basis of its rigorous formal conveyance of content: long takes inscribe the indifference of Dante Lazarescu's physicians and tower block neighbors as they sluggishly aid the infirmed widower; on occasion, Lazarescu actually disappears from the frame, problematically, as his helpers persist about their business without even a hint of urgency -- while that is time continues to pass unabated. This assures that the film's prolonged duration confers not only a feeling of exacerbation -- equal to that of Dante's paramedic companion -- but further, that it determines the inevitability of the protagonist's expiration. Whether it comments purely on Romanian mores or serves instead as a broader statement on the human condition, the director displays a coherent philosophy in his inverted ER -- after all, even Lazarescu's mangy cats lie around unmoved by his plight. That Puiu imbues such minor details with discursive significance confirms his artistic stature, as does his masterful use of color: he invents separate swatches for each of the five Bucharest emergency rooms that Dante tours, harmoniously composing the spaces in these varied hues. In this way, Puiu's previous vocation, painting, adorns what is otherwise a profoundly cinematic work.

5. Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan)
By a matter of degree, Hou Hsiao-hesien's finest since the 1990s -- though by no means the equal of his sublime Flowers of Shanghai (1998) -- Three Times is also the ultimate stretch for the Taiwanese master: a genuine crowd-pleaser. Even so, the director is not exactly new to gratifying diversions (A Summer at Grandpa's [1984] falls neatly within this category) nor is Three Times a visceral pleasure in the Hollywood blockbuster mode. Rather, it is that which might be best classified as cerebral entertainment, made accessible by a structure that provides the spectator easy critical entry. To this end, Three Times is constructed in three segments, all featuring the same couple in separate variations on the same love story. Situated in the 1960s, the first mines territory similar to his supreme The Time to Live and the Time to Die (1985), though its closest precursor would seem to be Wong Kar-wai's Days of Being Wild (1991) -- with Hou casting a spell no less than his esteemed colleague. The second, set in the 1910s, references Flowers of Shanghai, replete with the silent technique (and intertitles) that that film appropriate lacks. And the neon-saturated third part, returning to a post-modern world where sex can be shown on-screen, seems to suggest the near future of Millennium Mambo (2001). These riffs on Hou classics suggests nothing so much as a 'best of' compendium, constructing film in a manner commensurate with pop music -- even as its disparate structure seems aware of the reality of DVD connoiseurship.

6. Caché (Michael Haneke, France/Austria/Germany/Italy)
No 2005 release benefited more from the chaos in Paris' suburbs than Michael Haneke's Caché, an astute divination of the wages of French complicity in producing a permanent underclass of racially-other North Africans. To be sure, this is subtext -- but of such substantial and timely insight that it cannot help but confer upon the film a degree of brilliance. The ostensible focus of Caché is the manipulation of subject by an invisible contriver: not exactly a new topic for Haneke. Yet, from its Benny's Video surveillance conceit, Caché extends into new territory for the director -- namely, footage of the impossible, of a distant past and of the internal -- suggesting that it may just be Haneke himself whom we are to regard as the originator of the video tapes that the protagonist couple receive. This is to say that Caché allegorizes Haneke's relationship to his medium, which is particularly evident in the filmmaker's refusal to distinguish the surveillance footage from present-tense depictions. Indeed, given Haneke's complex interweaving of these distinct narrative modes, Caché is that moment when maturity becomes mastery.

7. L'Enfant (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France)
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's L'Enfant (The Child), the Belgian brothers' second Cannes Palme d'Or winner, inverts the calculus of their previous masterwork, The Son (2002), to showcase the life of the sinner rather than the saint -- leading the pair into somewhat messier terrain narratologically. As with this earlier stunner, the sin committed veers toward the unforgivable: here, a new father -- the titular "child," in actuality -- sells his infant son for profit, leaving the boy's out-of-wedlock, teenage mother virtually catatonic. Presumably stricken by the workings of conscience, the young man seeks to right this transgression, only to lapse once again through a characteristic expression of his operative egoism (or in the parlence of the film, his childishness). Surely, the Dardenne brothers' exacting description of play likewise extends the analogy and recommends the film on another level -- the truth of its observations. Indeed, it is in such near-wordless passages that L'Enfant discloses its true genre -- the action film -- where the works enacting by the allegorical cipher lead him unevenly toward a Bressonian grace.

8. Oxhide (Liu Jiayin, China)
It is Liu's emphasis on off-camera space, procured through an exceptional reduction of the on-camera visual field that foremost marks Oxhide's contribution to contemporary minimalist art film practice. Considered as an aesthetic intervention, Liu's strategies shift the core of realist filmmaking from unaltered visual reproduction to the registration and indeed creation of space through primarily auditory means. At the same time, Liu's Oxhide methods no less indicate a filmmaker who has invented a style out of practical necessity: namely, that in shifting the emphasis from the visual to the auditory by means of reducing the scope of what is seen and what is brought into view through the film's exclusive use of a very limited natural lighting, Liu in effect masks the poverty of her micro-budgeted production. Oxhide's exceedingly restricted frame accordingly proves a polyvalent metaphor for the film's - and Liu clan's - comparable modesty. Oxhide indeed offers a template for the creation of comparably viable work under the most profound of restrictions.

9. Regular Lovers (Philippe Garrel, France)
"Winner of the of the coveted Louis Delluc Prize for Best French Film and the Silver Lion for Best Director at the 2005 Venice International Film Festival, art-house breakthrough Regular Lovers introduced the under-the-radar auteur, Philippe Garrel , to a new generation of cinephiles. Set in Paris in 1968 and 1969, the film follows twenty-year-old François—played by the director’s son, Louis Garrel—a poet, draft-dodger, and would-be revolutionary who falls in love with Lilie, a beautiful young sculptor. Drifting aimlessly between parties, protests and philosophical conversations, François and Lilie attempt to keep their romance intact as their ideals and ambitions pull them it different directions. A stylized, contemplative response to Bernardo Bertolucci’s ostentatious youth-culture reverie, The Dreamers, Garrel’s autobiographical long-take epic effortlessly captures the exhilaration, anxiety, and boredom of coming-of-age in a time of radical uncertainty." (Lisa K. Broad)

10. Linda Linda Linda (Nobuhiro Yamashita, Japan)
Nobuhiro Yamashita's Linda Linda Linda begins by asking whether one loses part of their personality when one becomes an adult. Yamashita's film proceeds to involve these same spectators in its high school narrative, which ultimately concludes with a performance of the titular song during a high school assembly (by a a trio of Japanese students and their Korean foreign exchange student front-woman). Following this penultimate sequence, Yamashita films a series of empty corridors and classrooms, thereby reminding the older spectator what he or she has lost. At this moment, Linda Linda Linda becomes Fast Times at Ridgemont High meets L'Eclisse. However, lest this makes Yamashita's picture sound anything but pleasurable, Linda Linda Linda operates on the basis of the Blue Heart's post-punk classic, achieving the same effect narratively as its rousing chorus. The universal Linda Linda Linda is one of the most purely entertaining films of 2005.

2004: Lisa K. Broad

The Taste of Tea
1. Kings and Queen (Arnaud Desplechin, France)
2. Los Muertos (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina/France/Netherlands/Switzerland)
3. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/France/Germany/Italy)
4. The Taste of Tea (Katsuhito Ishii, Japan)
5. Innocence (Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Belgium/France/United Kingdom)
6. 2046 (Wong Kar-wai, China/France/Germany/Hong Kong)
7. The World (Jia Zhangke, China/Japan/France)
8. Collateral (Michael Mann, United States)
9. Primer (Shane Carruth, United States)
10. The Five Obstructions (Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth,
Denmark/Switzerland/Belgium/France)

Ten Best Films of 2004

1. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/
France/Germany/Italy)
The 34 year-old Thai auteur's third feature to garner significant international attention, Tropical Malady exceeds its recondite predecessors in virtually every respect, showcasing a form that provides a potential new direction for art cinema worldwide. Apichatpong splits the narrative of Tropical Malady into two parts: the first is a same-sex romance focusing upon a soldier and a small-town young man, while the second is a fable concerning another soldier's hunt for a shaman with the power of transforming himself into animal form. While this cursory description might make it sound as if Tropical Malady depicts two discordant short stories, the fact is that the folkloric second half serves to underscore the paucity of the oblique opening salvo, which in spite of its transparent form, offers a vision of society that is shown to be lacking. Indeed, Tropical Malady is, among other things, a critique of contemporary Asian art cinema, articulating a second way amid echoes of the traditional folk arts. After all, the default objectivity of part one obscures reality no less than the proto-cinematic fable of part two illuminates the same.

2. Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood, United States)
Given the high degree of political acrimony surrounding Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby and its supposed advocacy of euthanasia, it might be difficult to consider the Oscar-winning best picture in terms other than these. Still, it is absolutely necessary in order to get at Eastwood's bigger purpose in Million Dollar Baby: to refocus his viewer's attention on the imperative of faith. That he and writer Paul Haggis frame this politically contentious issue in terms of the male lead's deficient religious belief suggests that it is less the moral implications of the narrative that interest them, than it is the spiritual health of Eastwood's character. In this way then, it is not only the boxing genre that acts as a framework for the picture's deeper thematic interests, but the euthanasia narrative itself. Moreover, it is necessary to isolate a second discursive level that pertains not to the director's intellection but rather to his anxieties. This additional interpretative plane manifests itself not only in the protagonist's spiritual want, but also in his estrangement from his daughter (a theme similarly picked up in the director's 1999 film, True Crime). Thus, it becomes possible to see the film as Eastwood's act of contrition and plea for forgiveness for his own paternal failures. While the narrative offers Eastwood's character a provisional redemption through his assumption of the role of surrogate father to Hillary Swank's fatherless boxer, his own reconciliation with his fictional daughter appropriately remains unsettled.

3. 2046 (Wong Kar-wai, China/France/Germany/Hong Kong)
A film consumed by the memory of Wong's In the Mood for Love (2000), 2046 is more than mere sequel (to a film that itself was the follow-up to Days of Being Wild [1991]) - it is a dissection of the feelings which prompted the earlier masterwork. In fact, 2046 is the very substance of the words spoken into the stone wall by the Tony Leung character (who reprises his role here) at the conclusion of In the Mood for Love: it is the director's reflection upon the relationship between his life and his art. Indeed, the lead's vocation as a writer and the picture's science fiction genre both underscore its reflexivity - that is, each portends the process of producing fiction from the substance of reality. With that said, 2046 retains a number of the director's principle preoccupations, from the evanescence of time to the related persistence of memory: in keeping with the matrix of his earlier film, 2046 is marked by characters living with the weight of the past. It is a film scarred with regret, where "love is a matter of timing" and where "it is no good meeting the right person too early or too late." In this sense 2046 is also a piece with the earlier work in that each are very much documents of a mid-life moment, no less than Chungking Express (1994) and Fallen Angels (1995) inscribe the feeling of being twenty-something.

4. Collateral (Michael Mann, United States)
Like Richard Linklater's fine Before Sunset (also 2004), Michael Mann's Collateral calls attention to its own endpoint: whereas the former film will end "before sunset," as its title surmises, Collateral will conclude prior to sunrise. While both films use a departing flight to narratively justify this conclusion, Mann's film is more dependent upon stylistic logic to reach his finale. In the end, the meaning of Collateral is discernible less through its plot than in the subject of Mann's high-definition digital video camera: the post-modern Los Angeles cityscape at night. Indeed, even when the presentation of this space is not narratively-motivated, Mann finds cause to show the neon glow of the depopulated center of America's second largest city. In this way, Collateral reminds its viewers that film is fundamentally a visual art form. Then again, there still remain novelistic congruences between the subject of this mise-en-scene and the behavior of the characters: Tom Cruise's charming hit man demonstrates a moral relativism that is at home in the postmodern universe inscribed in the architecture of the cityscape. Surely, it is this level of organic integration between style and content that sets Collateral apart from most contemporary works of its genre. At the same, Mann's film lacks for nothing in terms of visceral pleasure, which is often connected to the humor, romance, and pathos of Jamie Foxx's cab driver and even the combination of soundtrack and urban settings that Mann so carefully combines -- but even here, it should be noted that his musical selections signify the characters that they introduce, furthering Mann's multi-cultural program.

5. Los Muertos (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina/France/
Netherlands/Switzerland)
One of the best films of an exceptionally rich moment in Argentine filmmaking, Lisandro Alonso's feature harkens back to the simplicity of Vittorio De Sica and Cesare Zavattini (The Bicycle Thief [1948], Umberto  D. [1952]) without succumbing to the melodrama that likewise characterized their 'male weepies.' From the outset, Alonso is concerned with the most quotidian of moments (like shaving or washing his dishes) as a late middle aged man prepares from his departure from prison. Yet, it is not simply that Alonso acknowledges these banal, transitional moments, but that he reproduces them in a simulation of their actual duration, thereby providing an unflinching portrait of a lead who like the rest of us, leads a routine, fairly boring life. Of course, this is also a man with a past: his crime (he committed homicide) is presented in an impressionistic, out-of-focus prologue situated in a sunny grove, which in tandem with the subsequent un-embellished mise-en-scene invites a subjective reading. Second, there is the matter of his daughter, whom he sets off to see upon his release from prison. Still, this is not a film about their reunion at all, but about his journey upriver to see the grown woman; and even then, Los Muertos is not a film about psychological growth or coming to terms with his past, but about the protagonist experiencing life (often in its most quotidian form) in the meantime. It is precisely the sort of work that compels its viewer to observe their own daily routine more keenly, to think about life in aesthetic terms. It is, in other words, a film about life - because it is a life filmed. For Alonso, like so many of his neo-realist progenitors, people are more similar than they are different.

6. Innocence (Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Belgium/France/United Kingdom)
2004's best first feature - and perhaps French language cinema's best debut in some time - Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Innocence sets to allegorize the experience of female adolescence in the place of a boarding school where the young girls arrive in coffins and wear bold-colored bows coded on the basis of age. As this cursory description makes it sound, Innocence presents a world determined entirely by the shape of the film's allegorical content, but one which nevertheless displays a rare graphic sensibility - particularly for Hadzihalilovic striking utilization of contrasting colors - as well as for her eye for the surreal, as in the case of the electric street lights which illuminate the forest. Her evocation of the surreal however does not connote subjectivity but instead a world composed of the unreal, which at the same time shows itself to be rigorously measured to the size of this experience. While the film may make some uneasy for its depiction of pre-pubescent and pubescent girls shirtless, its female director's treatment of the material reinforces rather than belies the title. This is a film about the innocence of girlhood which shows itself to be deeply ambivalent to the specter of womanhood. A truly singular cinematic experience.

7. The World (Jia Zhangke, China/Japan/France)
Continuing to chronicle China's ongoing integration into the global economic community, The World finds an analogy for China's approach in the place of an Epcot-style amusement park, glibly named "The World." Here, national exhibits featuring such famed landmarks as the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the Twin Towers ostensibly present China's bourgeoisie with the possibility of "seeing the world, without ever leaving Beijing." In reality, what 'The World' portends is less a large-scale educational venture than a cheap imitation of global culture trading on the economic rewards inherent in the co-option of the West. If The World signifies an abnegation of traditional Chinese culture (the subject of his 2000 masterwork Platform), this is met with ambivalence by China's increasingly Western, though alienated twenty-something's, who are themselves being weaned to think only of their own radical self-interest. At the same, China's aimless young are often unsuccessful in finding their place in the larger global order, just as China's integration remains tenuous. In this way The World stands as a piece with Jia's previous Unknown Pleasures (2002). However, as that film is constructed according to a spatial logic wherein the viewer is continually reminded of a distinct off-camera space for which the character's pine, here the world beyond the frame - the world beyond 'The World' - is China itself. As such, the allegorical dimensions of the narrative are brought back into a slightly different focus: 'The World' is an inauthentic space in contrast to the reality outside its boundaries.

8. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, United States)
In Linklater’s film, the picture's preordained endpoint becomes its subject, both in terms of Before Sunset's content and also by virtue of its form. This certainty of duration refocuses the drama on how the film’s newly reunited couple will spend their brief and passing moment together (though never straying too far from the question of whether or nor the pair will end up with one another). In formal terms, the specificity of the film’s time is presented in a facsimile of its actual duration, which reaffirms the immutability of time’s passage and thereby confers upon the picture its particular gravity. Before Sunset matches its masterful prequel and emerges as one of 2004's best American films along with Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby and Mann's similarly themed Collateral.

9. Kings and Queen (Arnaud Desplechin, France)
As is true of his 1996 opus My Sex Life... Or How I Got into an Argument, the first quality of Arnaud Desplechin's neo-Hellenic epic that comes into focus is its startling ambition - from an opening quotation that situates the film within the sphere of Greek drama, Desplechin seems intent upon colliding the categories of comedy and drama into a film that finally contains not only these but also musical numbers, flashbacks, fantasy sequences and every other narratalogical variation that strikes the director's fancy. It is in a word a "free" film, finding its overstuffed shape in the accumulation of forms rather than in their pairing down. For this reason, it might be easy to ignore Desplechin's accomplishment, alongside the year's many other, tighter masterworks. Yet, to do so would be to deny one of 2004's most visceral successes and one of the year's finest Francophonic works; in a lesser year, Godard's strong Notre Musique or Rohmer's corpus-defining Triple Agent would have been easy choices for a top ten. Yet next to Desplechin's fleet-footed giant, they seem almost slight by comparison. This is certain to be remembered as one of his greater works.

10. 13 Lakes (James Benning, United States)
James Benning's 13 Lakes contains exactly what it promises: thirteen lakes. Each is filmed in an identical ten minute take, which Benning composes statically, with equal portions of sky and water filling the frame. As this is one of the lone aesthetic variables - at least visually - allowed by his minimalist matrix, it may be possible to judge the value of 13 Lakes by the considerable beauty and richly-evoked textures of these audio and visual landscapes. Then again, it is less for its sensory merits than for the didactic consequences of 13 Lakes that Benning's should be viewed as a major work of art. Indeed, few recent films have so fully elucidated Andre Bazin's thesis that the frame serves to mask reality rather than to simply give shape to a filmic proscenium. It is little wonder that Benning achieves an effect similar to that of the Lumière's L'Arrivée d'un train à la Ciotat (1895) for its creation of space exceeding the limits of the frame -- within which the camera exists.

2004-2009: Lisa K. Broad

The Five Obstructions
2004
1. Kings and Queen (Arnaud Desplechin, France)
2. Los Muertos (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina/France/Netherlands/Switzerland)
3. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/France/Germany/Italy)
4. The Taste of Tea (Katsuhito Ishii, Japan)
5. Innocence (Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Belgium/France/United Kingdom)
6. 2046 (Wong Kar-wai, China/France/Germany/Hong Kong)
7. The World (Jia Zhangke, China/Japan/France)
8. Collateral (Michael Mann, United States)
9. Primer (Shane Carruth, United States)
10. The Five Obstructions (Lars von Trier and Jørgen Leth, Denmark/Switzerland/Belgium/France)


A History of Violence
2005
1. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, United States)
2. The Sun (Aleksandr Sokurov, Russia/France/Italy/Switzerland)
3. The New World (Terrence Malick, United States)
4. Caché (Michael Haneke, France/Austria/Germany/Italy)
5. The Beat that My Heart Skipped (Jacques Audiard, France)
6. Regular Lovers (Philippe Garrel, France)
7. Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan)
8. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, Romania)
9. Election (Johnnie To, Hong Kong)
10. L'Enfant (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France)


Syndromes and a Century
2006
1. Still Life (Jia Zhangke, China/Hong Kong)
2. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/France/Austria)
3. I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan/France/
Austria)
4. Climates (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/France)
5. Longing (Valeska Grisebach, Germany)
6. Inland Empire (David Lynch, United States/France/Poland)
7. Exiled (Johnnie To, Hong Kong)
8. Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)
9. Private Fears in Public Places (Alain Resnais, France/Italy)
10. Summer '04 (Stefan Krohmer, Germany)

The Man from London
2007
1. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, United Kingdom/Canada/
United States)
2. The Man from London (Béla Tarr, Hungary/France/Germany)
3. Ratatouille (Brad Bird, United States)
4. The Duchess of Langeais (Jacques Rivette, France/Italy)
5. Zodiac (David Fincher, United States)
6. Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/France/Netherlands/
Germany)
7. Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien, France)
8. Adrift in Tokyo (Satoshi Miki, Japan)
9. A Girl Cut in Two (Claude Chabrol, France/Germany)
10. Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, United States)


Fine, Totally Fine
2008
1. Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan)
2. Two Lovers (James Gray, United States)
3. A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin, France)
4. The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina/France/
Italy/Spain)
5. Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, France)
6. Be Kind Rewind (Michel Gondry, United States)
7. Fine, Totally Fine (Yosuke Fujita, Japan)
8. Sparrow (Johnnie To, Hong Kong)
9. Redbelt (David Mamet, United States)
10. 35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis, France/Germany)

A Prophet
2009
1. Everyone Else (Maren Ade, Germany)
2. I Am Love (Luca Guadagnino, Italy)
3. The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch, United States/Japan)
4. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson, United States) 
5. Eccentricities of a Blonde Haired Girl (Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal/Spain/France)
6. A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, France/Italy)
7. Police, Adjective (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania)
8. Vengeance (Johnnie To, Hong Kong/France)
9. Antichrist (Lars von Trier, Denmark/Germany/France/
Sweden/Italy/Poland)
10. Bright Star (Jane Campion, United Kingdom/Australia/
France)


Ratatouille 
The Ten Best Films of the 2000s
1. Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr, 2000, Hungary)
2. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001, United States)
3. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006, Thailand/France/Austria)
4. Kings and Queen (Arnaud Desplechin, 2004, France)
5. Still Life (Jia Zhangke, 2006, China)
6. The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005, United States)
7. Ratatouille (Brad Bird, 2007, United States)
8. Russian Ark (Aleksandr Sokurov, 2002, Russia)
9. Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, 2007, Mexico)
10. Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2008, Japan)