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.
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. 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.
8. 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.
I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (Tsai Ming-liang, Malaysia/Taiwan/
Comprised of ravishing static sequence-shots that mark discontinuous sections of narrative and culminate in visual punch lines, I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone ideally instantiates director Tsai’s inimitable film idiom. Situating a film for the first time in his native Malaysia, I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone nevertheless signals a restoration rather than a departure: returning after The Wayward Cloud’s (2005) post-modern diversion, Tsai’s latest figures the subject of unconsummated romance around a single, ultimately under-utilized mattress.
10. Opera Jawa (Garin Nugroho, Indonesia/Austria)
Commissioned along with Syndromes and a Century and I Don't Want to Sleep Alone for the 'New Crowned Hope festival,' Opera Jawa combines Mozartian opera and indigenous Javanese art forms to forge one of the year’s most memorable works. This all-singing adaptation of the Ramayana continually highlights the gaps its presents between its local signifiers and the signified universals. As such, director Nugroho offers a point of entry into his folk art cinema: namely, in the Western viewer's cognizance of its poetic construction.