December 30, 2009 the finish line (pt. 9)


The Wrestler

Flight of the Red Balloon

A Christmas Tale

Encounters at the End of the World

Let the Right One In

In the City of Sylvia



Dark Knight

Synecdoche, NY

10. Cloverfield (4)

9. In the City of Sylvia (5)

8. Silent Light (n/a)

7. The Wrestler (10)

6. The Good, The Bad, The Weird (n/a)

5. Let the Right One In (6)

4. Hunger (3)

3. Martyrs (n/a)

2. The Dark Knight (2)

1. Synecdoche, NY (1)

Farewell to the lovely Flight of the Red Balloon, A Christmas Tale, and Encounters at the End of the World to be replaced on the 2008 list by the stunning Martyrs, the gorgeous Silent Light, and Kim Ji-Woon’s awesome Leone redux The Good, The Bad, and The Weird. Two of these never had an official American release, of course, meaning basically that according to the terms of these lists, they don’t exist. For me, though, starting in earnest in 2008, the way that we see films becomes firmly fixed, as they say, in sand. Netflix becomes a major player in how films that no one thinks to distribute are seen – eBay, too, as films released international receive high-quality subtitles and official releases from comparable distribution houses overseas. Kim’s also-awesome A Bittersweet Life for instance, is only available through alternative sources – meaning essentially that if you want to see some of the best movies in the world, you need to be creative. All of that’s not to say that you need to be really creative. With digital streaming the near-future of all media, we’re up against a situation in 2009 where something like five of the top twenty movies I saw, I saw outside of the theater. That number’s only going to go up as critic screenings decline, public screenings blip out altogether, and studios get wise to the notion that just as critics have centralized, so too can publicity.

Anyway – Martyrs is astonishing stuff, a torture porn flick from the country that reconstitutes American entertainments through the prism of deconstruction and critical theory. Then Carlos Reygadas’ Silent Light that works for me better than the also-great Battle in Heaven; and then the balls-out Kim flick with three of the biggest stars in South Korea taking over for Eastwood, Van Cleef, and Wallach while adding a dash of distinctively Asian flair. Hunger, which many critics have placed on their 2009 lists, falls a slot to accommodate Martyrs while In the City of Sylvia and Cloverfield slide several spaces, in part so that The Wrestler can slide up. Let the Right One In grows while The Dark Knight and Synecdoche continue to give 2008 an impressive 1-2. Now to the mothersite in the next couple of days for the best of 2009 and then back here for the fanfare-conclusion of the best of the aughties.

Phew. Breaking a sweat, here.

December 29, 2009 the finish line (pt. 8)




Sweeney Todd

Syndromes and a Century


The Assassination of Jesse James

28 Weeks Later

The Darjeeling Limited

There Will Be Blood

No Country for Old Men

10. Syndromes and a Century (7)

9. Eastern Promises (n/a)

8. Sweeney Todd (8)

7. Youth Without Youth (n/a)

6. Ratatouille (6)

5. 28 Weeks Later (4)

4. The Darjeeling Limited (3)

3. The Assassination of Jesse James (5)

2. There Will Be Blood (2)

1. No Country for Old Men (1)

Time and Paprika slide off the end of the list – I’ll miss Time more but as with Paprika, realize that my affection for it may have more to do with a virtuoso sequence or three than necessarily a uniform presentation. An odd thing that of Kim Ki-Duk's pictures, the one that I like the most with the passage of time is what I initially saw as the least of them: 3-Iron. That being said, both have a sprung, nutsoid quality to them that make them firm candidates for revisit. They stay fresh long past the sell-by date. In their place find the remarkable Youth Without Youth, step one in a comeback for Francis Ford Coppola that continues into 2009 with the exceptionally strange Tetro. I love this film for its beauty and textures; for its ambition – its desire to speak of issues of how we first begin to communicate. Gorgeous, rich, a classic alongside Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises that I severely underestimated at the time, given the way that it’s lodged itself in my craw the last couple of years. The Assassination of Jesse James moves up a couple of slots to #3 – it would have moved up to the number one position in many other years, frankly, but in 2007 we get a pair of films in No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood that should by rights be called American masterpieces in any decade. The rest of the list stays, not surprisingly, static given our proximity to it.

I haven't, one presumes, had the time to grow up.

December 28, 2009 the finish line (pt. 7)


The Descent


Miami Vice

The Departed

Superman Returns

Children of Men

United 93

Letters from Iwo Jima

The Fountain

Pan’s Labyrinth

10. United 93 (4)

9. The Departed (7)

8. Letters from Iwo Jima (3)

7. Tideland (9)

6. Perfume (n/a)

5. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (n/a)

4. Children of Men (5)

3. Superman Returns (6)

2. The Fountain (2)

1. Pan’s Labyrinth (1)

I’ll miss the muscularity of Michael Mann’s Miami Vice and the gynecological horror of Neil Marshall’s The Descent , but just had to find room for Tom Tykwer’s impossible adaptation of Perfume and Cristi Puiu amazingly good The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. The only two new additions to the list, also find that Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns has crept up into the top three – a film that never fails to make me cry because, no doubt, I’m a dork – ditto Alfonso Cuaron’s pop-art elegy Children of Men which has my vote for the most “Wasteland” of the current crop of end-of-times flicks. Not the least for its beautiful, awful Modernism. Letters from Iwo Jima remains my favorite Eastwood film of the millennia, Gilliam’s Tideland seems even more novel post-Parnassas and United 93 doesn’t seem to have a shelf life for all its vivid, lean intention. I love that The Fountain and Pan’s Labyrinth retain their power – a recent viewing/seminar of Pan’s Labyrinth, in fact, revealed itself to be even tighter than first thought. A brilliant work, maturing with age.

December 27, 2009 the finish line (pt. 6)


Forty Shades of Blue

A History of Violence

Last Days


Grizzly Man

Nobody Knows


The New World



10. Tropical Malady (n/a)

9. Grizzly Man (6)

8. Cache (2)

7. Oldboy (n/a)

6. 3-Iron (4)

5. Nobody Knows (5)

4. Head-On (7)

3. A History of Violence (9)

2. Keane (1)

1. The New World (3)

I still love Ira Sachs’ Forty Shades of Blue but needed space for both the wondrous, sensuous, rich Tropical Malady and Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy and while it was easy to relocate Van Sant’s Last Days to runner-up-ville as without the weight of immediacy, it was considerably tougher to lose Sachs’ flick and Dina Korzun’s performance therein. Fuel to the fire of our decade-end conversation, consider that Oldboy was released in its native South Korea a full two years before finding footing on North American shores. I confess that I was completely ignorant of its charms, and those of director Park, until that time as well causing one to wonder how many gems are never brought to the United States at all. There’s something irretrievably broken about a system that has Slumdog Millionaire playing on thousands of screens while 800 native-made Indian films aren’t granted any kind of North American distribution whatsoever. Easy to say just stream it on the Internet – but without subtitles…

And into that conversation comes sideways a chat about films like Precious and The Blind Side where one says that sure this might represent one facet of Black life in the United States – but where are the other 359 degrees? Without them, you’d be left thinking that all our own industry cares to do with this minority is create the same kind of poverty porn as Slumdog. Drop trou, lotion up the palm, and let’s sit in the dark with our socio-economic brethren before the cavitation of the lower classes. We used to call it feeding Christians to lions – way to turn the tables, ruling class.

Grizzly Man loses ground though it loses nothing in delight upon repeat viewings and Haneke’s Cache slides a few slots as I become more familiar with the auteur’s tricks. Cronenberg’s A History of Violence gains several slots as it grows in my estimation and the remarkable Keane, remarkable still, is nonetheless less remarkable than Malick’s incandescently brilliant The New World. Fatih Akin’s visceral Head-On is just so cool from start to finish it had to move up and the list as it is at this moment begins to take on this real sense of perverse, romantic ennui.

Another great year, another tough list.

December 26, 2009 the finish line (pt. 5)


Before Sunset

The Aviator

Spring Summer Fall Winter and Spring/A Tale of Two Sisters

Ghost in the Shell 2/Incredibles

The Return/Mean Creek

Kill Bill 2


Last Life in the Universe

Crimson Gold

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

10. Gozu (n/a)

9. The Aviator (9)

8. Tale of Two Sisters (8)

7. The Incredibles (7)

6. The Return (6)

5. Last Life in the Universe (3)

4. Crimson Gold (2)

3. Birth (4)

2. Kill Bill 1 & 2 (5)

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

So Kill Bill as one film means that the one film is better than the two parts – you take away the tonal differences and… let’s say that treating the picture as one picture as originally intended makes this a five-hour masterpiece of schlock pulp, she-power. Gozu sneaks on the list as the one that got away in 2004; so transgressive and balls-out indecipherable in the most brilliant possible way. That makes two revisions for Miike who’s turning out to be a louder voice than originally suspected. That means we drop the lovely Before Sunset that leaves a golden afterglow, but has proven delible to me. Still a fan of Kim Ki-Duk, his seasons flick seems less vital somehow than his others now and though I still like Mean Creek, I wonder if I didn’t like it more because it made sense in 2004 than because it was something for eternity. Ghost in the Shell 2 is still vastly underrated; as is The Aviator – I was sad to lose one in the wash. Glad to be able to bump Birth up the list a slot; keep the terrifying/sensual A Tale of Two Sisters as still one of the scariest films of the aughties; the Incredibles as the best Marvel team-superhero film ever made (and the one most dying for a sequel); to see Crimson Gold as still a vibrant voice for Iran; all while maintaining Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in the top slot as one of those movies that I never miss a chance to reference in almost every conversation about films that burn themselves into your experience. So smart, so emotionally graceful, so technically sound.

It’s enough for me to feel like should I have another daughter, she should be named Clementine.

Autism/schizoid episodes done for now – no more authorial manipulations like lumping the Bills into one film – at least until we get to 2009. But for aesthetic reasons, remaining lists will be published sequentially: the list as published first followed by the list revised.

December 25, 2009 the finish line (pt. 4)


Finding Nemo 10. Hero (5)

In the Cut 9. Lost in Translation (n/a)

Rivers and Tides/Same River Twice 8. Finding Nemo (10)

All the Real Girls 7. All the Real Girls (7)

The Secret Lives of Dentists 6. Stevie (3)

Hero 5. Unknown Pleasures (n/a)

Kill Bill vol. 1 4. The Son (n/a)

Capturing the Friedmans/Stevie 3. Spider (2)

Spider 2. In the Cut (9)

Elephant 1. Elephant (1)

I’m good with not doing ties anymore, overestimated Hero a bit – particularly in light of Red Cliff’s tighter focus on philosophy and tactics - and underestimated the stickiness of Lost in Translation. I think I might just like John Woo more than Zhang Yimou; hate to say it but his opening ceremony for the last Summer Olympics have stained my appreciation for a lot of Zhang’s other work. I still do love Shanghai Triad, though. Jane Campion’s In the Cut increases in wisdom with a line drawn true to Lost in Translation, Elephant retains its slippery power as perhaps the only film in Van Sant’s “visionary” quartet that works the way it’s supposed to, while The Secret Lives of Dentists is still enjoyable and packed with superlative performances, but not better than these ten.

Jia Zhang Ke makes his debut on these lists with youth opus Unknown Pleasures, a precursor to pictures like Bright Future and contemporary of Millennium Mambo that see the Asian situation as one of listless lassitude as the events of history bear them senseless into the future. The Dardenne Bros’ examination of grace and forgiveness has proved a wonderful sop to the revenge-minded pictures of this decade, the last of their films to me that doesn't feel like a gimmick, and sensitive as well of the process of grieving necessary for evolved beings to experience on their way to enlightenment. Not to put too Buddhist a shine on it. Looking for Kill Bill? I’ve taken the liberty of lumping them together like Red Cliff – they’re really one film and should be taken as such. Look for the Kill Bill omnibus to appear in 2004. Talk about ripping up the rulebook, right?

Lots of great films this year as the decade picks up speed: we lose Rivers & Tides with great reluctance, but Capturing the Friedmans with less as the supplementary features have watered down the experience in my head in some ineffable way; yet Stevie stands tall as one of the most painful mea culpas captured on film to address the inability for altruism to salve our ills. Spider loses a slot to In the Cut, but Cronenberg apologists out there - of which I'm one - stay-tuned for a couple of corrections in the next couple of days... If I were doing a top twenty, this is the first year that there would be twenty strong choices for me.

Lots of room for debate in 2003.