I've hardly written about films this year at all. In fact, I only wrote about my favorite movie this year, and only informally. So this is a banged-out, more informal approach to a top ten. Hopefully less permanent, less serious, less self-serving. Screw everyone else, I thought it was another great year for movies. For me. Here are the ten that had the biggest impact on me, from ten to one.

Werner Herzog takes his eternal questions of man and nature to the most remote place on earth: Antarctica. He interviews the people working at the south pole, wondering who these characters are and what forces brought them here to this desolate, surreal landscape. The results, as is always the case with Herzog, are humorous, bizarre, fascinating. And in some cases, extremely poignant. A movie that made me look at life differently after leaving the theater, after such a journey into the unknown.

The first movie by Harmony Korine that I really connected with. And definitely a departure for a director who has seemingly become so stereotyped. Diego Luna is Michael Jackson impersonator and Samantha Morton is a Marilyn Monroe in a dreamlike fantasy of a film in the spirit of Fellini. It's a beautiful and organic tribute to the search for individuality and acceptance; It's a very personal movie about feeling on the outside of the world, trying on different selves, and finding other people in the same boat. And running off with them to a utopian castle in Scotland and feeling for a little while like you could live forever. It's not perfect, but it defined what I loved in movies this year: speaking to something within me personally that I just couldn't shake.

Kelly Reichardt's beautiful followup to OLD JOY is short and sparse, a seemingly short story about a young woman who loses her dog and almost loses everything. But that doesn't make it any less a great film. Actually, a whole lot about the daily struggles we experience in life can be found in this deceptively simple tale. Michelle Williams is incredible here, and the minimal style is right up my alley. Plus, at 75 minutes, you can't beat that running time. After two films I'm confident that Reichardt will emerge as one of the most talented American filmmakers of her generation.

A movie that just seemed to be written from life. Too rarely, small independent films, original screenplays like this, come along and really feel true-- to the nature of family dynamics, to the unique individuality of couples... Music lover Jonathan Demme really uses music every chance he gets to breathe authenticity into the scenario; Some say the dinner, reception, and Rachel's wedding overall goes on too long, but I loved how it makes you feel like you're there, with real people, watching a real couple who really loves each other, and a real family whose issues, secrets and traumas are as real as it gets.

The most misunderstood movie of the year. First, I hoped American moviegoers would be on board for the Wachowski brothers psychedelic, pop-art rollercoaster-- a live-action anime mismarketed as a Hollywood kids movie. People called the plot convoluted (it's not) and the running time too long (it's shorter than tons of movies including this year's biggest one). Surely a movie like this -- the biggest acid-trip of a movie Hollywood has produced this century-- would go over well in Japan. Nope, it tanked there too. Now it's just me and a growing legion of secrets fans, enjoying for ourselves the wonder of this fantastic and imaginative motion picture-- a dark and archetypal story of loss, brotherhood, and the little guy taking down the system (you can trace Star Wars right over it)--- and a movie that continues to push the boundaries of film language, treating the screen as a canvas of abstract color and every cut as an opportunity to move us *through* the movie rather than pulling us alongside it.

What can I say about the biggest movie since TITANIC that hasn't already been said? First, that the stupid sonar sequence has got to go. Secondly, that Gary Oldman is the man. And lastly, that I told you Heath Ledger would get an Oscar nomination for The Joker before the movie even started shooting. Now I'm just waiting to watch him win it.

Where the vampire movie meets the GDSM (the Goddamn Sam Movie). Set in the snowy suburbs of Sweeden-- a Chris-Van-Alsburg two-tone town where the sun is always down and no one is around-- two children meet. One is an outsider, ridden with angst. The other appears to him as a both an angel and a demon, trapped in death, defined by lonliness. Adolescence, as this list will reveal, interests me almost more than anything else in movies. This one says more about the lonliness of growing up than it does about being a vampire, but as a vampire movie its just as haunting. Great deaths, the most beautiful score I've heard in years, and a perfect ending. Huge jump up to the top three from here.

The best Pixar movie since their debut. The pinnacle of contemporary animation. A quasi-silent film that rediscovers and celebrates the power of storytelling with action, movement, and pure cinema. The most romantic robot love story of them all-- and an interesting study of the masculine and the feminine, or relationships in general. A childrens film that is already considered a classic. And a post-apocalyptic cautionary tale with the most refreshing and endearing sense of hope for humankind. In a way, the quintessential movie of our time. I didn't see it at first, and then I saw the light. This is the best movie of the year. There are just two others that, personally, hit me just ever so slightly deeper.

The directorial debut of the genius Charlie Kaufman. I had to remind anyone interested that this movie was even playing, and that's without telling them that this is a movie that Ebert himself admitted one must see twice to have even seen it at all. This time, Kaufman's meta-mentality takes a theater director (a career-defining performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman) who's obsessed with death and bestows upon him the notion to create the ultimate work of theater that encompasses life itself. There is nothing in life, or death, that is not somehow addressed by this movie. Nor is there anything in the experience of love, loss, relationships, and the passing of time that is not somehow addressed in Kaufman's dream. It is a Jungian treatise, a celebration of the female muse (where Samantha Morton radiates as Kaufman's idea of the indie Bardot), and a soul-searching work of pure, personal philosophy; few movies I've ever seen have made me look at my short, fleeting, beautiful and meloncholy life in such a new, inspired way. A true work of art that must be seen and studied multiple times to truly appreciate.

But one movie-- SYNECDOCHE too, but these three are really all up here together-- had such a personal impact on me that I can't put any other movie above it. Its been years since a movie made me feel the way Gus Van Sant's PARANOID PARK made me feel. GVS reigned in his experimental side that I've so enjoyed watching bloom over the years, taking a young adult novel with a compelling plot and merging the two into a pure dream of youth. What David Lynch did for dreams GVS does here for memory-- taking us into memory itself as a teenager remembers and retraces a traumatic event that will define his grownup self. As Alex remembers, we journey into Alex's soul. It takes Alex a couple of loops through what happened before he can process it and find closure, and through incredible editing and beautiful camerawork from Christopher Doyle we explore this process with him. No other movie has ever captured my experience of being a teenager-- that inward voice of the self-- the way Van Sant has. By exploring the process of trauma, GVS captures something about the experience of growing up itself. One of my favorite films I've ever seen.



Worst of the year: Easily THE HAPPENING, but SEVEN POUNDS, THE X-FILES and INDIANA JONES-- for sheer dissapointment-- come close.

Tons I still haven't seen yet, but mostly stuff no one's ever heard of: BALLAST, HUNGER, STILL LIFE, THE BAND'S VISIT and IN THE CITY OF SYLVIA to name a few.

Favorite performances of the year: Philip Seymour Hoffman in SYNECDOCHE and its entire female ensemble (Samantha Morton, Catherine Keener, Michelle Williams, Dianne Wiest, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Emily Watson, and Hope Davis), Lina Leandersson and Kare Hildebrant in LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, Gabe Nevins in PARANOID PARK, Meryl Streep in DOUBT and MAMMA MIA, Kate and Leo in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, Frank Langella, Sean Penn, and Mickey Rourke in FROST/NIXON, MILK and WRESTLER, and the performance of the year, Heath Ledger in THE DARK KNIGHT.

Since I'm a geek who listens to film scores as much as any other kind of music, the best scores of the year: Thomas Newman's WALL-E, Johan Soderqvist's LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, Jon Brion's SYNECDOCHE, James Newton Howard and Hanz Zimmer's DARK KNIGHT, and Alexandre Desplat's BENJAMIN BUTTON.

Ten movies I'm most looking forward to next year.... aka proof that I am a child.

1. PONYO ON THE CLIFF BY THE SEA, the new film from Japanese master Hayao Miyzazki
2. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE - Spike Jonze filmed this Sendak adaptation with giant puppet suits in New Zealand. These top two movies are among the most anticipated of my life.
3. UP - New Pixar, about an old man who goes on a safari via a flying house in honor of his late wife.
4. THE ROAD - John Hillcoat's film of Cormac McCarthy's novel hits screens this year with Viggo Mortensen.
5. BRUNO - Sacha Baron Cohen returns to wreak more havok. I just realized I don't know how to spell either wreak or havok.
6. INGLOURIOUS BASTARDS - New Tarantino war epic.
7. THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSUS - New Terry Gilliam, with Heath Ledger, promised by Gilliam to be as good as the best films of his career.
8. THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX - Wes Anderson with stop-motion-animator Henry Selick...
9. TWO LOVERS - Joaquin Phoenix's "last" performance before "retiring," Gwenyth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw (the hooker in Eyes Wide Shut), a remake of the 1957 Visconti/Mastroianni/Doetoyevsky "Le Notti Bianche." GDSM.
10. THE SOLOIST - Trailer for this Robert Downey Jr / Jamie Foxx weepie looks cheesy, but after Pride and Prejudice and Atonement I'll follow director Joe Wright to the ends of the Eath.

and if they come out this year, new movies from Terrence Malick, Woody Allen, the Coen Brothers, Scorsese, Ang Lee, Jim Jarmusch, Miranda July, Mike Judge, Steven Soderbergh, Michael Mann, David Gordon Green, Pedro Almodovar, Jean Pierre Jeunet, and Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Bonus treat for those still reading: my favorite albums of the year. I hardly listened to any other than these, and I don't feel like ranking them, so here they are in alpha order.

Coldplay - Viva la Vida. Yeah that's right.
Eef Barzelay - Lose Big
Explorers Club - Freedom Wind
Gabe Dixon Band - s/t
The Happy Perscriptions - The Enter Sign
MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges
Paper Hats - Deseret Canyon
Portishead - Third
Sigur Ros - Med sud I eyrum vid spilum endalaust
Vampire Weekend - s/t
The Walkmen - You & Me

Thanks for reading.


Evan said...

Yes! I've been waiting for this...

jeff said...

Man, i have so much to say about these choices. I could go on and on about some of them, but i'll concise it up with: I would agree with the films you listed, of those that i've seen that is...which is about half.

The disappointing ones...you got four out of five with me. (i, sadly, tossed Hancock in as well) I was just commenting today to Malissa how two of my biggest letdows were Will Smith movies, and that it was a little sad to say that because i've liked a most of his films.

You had some good music choices as well. I keep forgetting about Portishead and Sigur Ros coming out this year...and i *liked* those! Geez.

Sam Smith said...

Thanks Jeff, and hey, feel free to go on and on, I'll listen!

I'm so glad to have you on the Speed Racer bandwagon though. You get major points in my book for that.

Hancock was a great character, but a crappy movie.

Michelle LaBanca said...

Several people I know didn't like Mister Lonely, and I really and truly loved it.

As for Wall-E, man...what brilliance. I was moved, inspired, angered, bewildered and then inspired again.

mythopolis said...

Well, I can only boast of seeing two of these...and both because of your strong encouragement...Paranoid Park and Synecdoche, New York.....both were very powerful! As for Synecdoche, I think when that is out on DVD, I am going to have to watch it at least 6 more times!

Anonymous said...

I love movies!

Anonymous said...

Cool "O8" design... Sam...long time waiting for your comments...its always fun to hear what you are diggin'