|Contrary to claims made by others, Filmbrain didn't find 2004 an outstanding year for film. In fact, when reviewing the list of new films he saw this past twelve months, many (by established directors) were either outright disappointments or simply sub-par (Mike Leigh, Jim Jarmusch, Wes Anderson, Lodge Kerrigan, Todd Solondz, Martin Scorsese, etc.) Still, there were seventeen films that made his shortlist, and cutting them down to ten proved to be too difficult a task, so what follows is his list of the eleven best films of the year.|
While compiling his list, Filmbrain began to notice a trend -- an overwhelming majority of the films he loved this year were about relationships -- but of the doomed, damaged, or dysfunctional kind. Films about adults who find themselves lost, broken, wanting, or simply not at peace with themselves and the people around them. Characters who are suffering from lack, and (in most cases) searching for fullfillment in all the wrong places. That's not to say that Filmbrain only cares for bleak, depressing tales, but he finds films about people who must accept a certain, often unpleasant truth far more interesting. Tales of redemption and sweet endings often exist solely to make the audience feel good, and Filmbrain just isn't interested in that type of manipulation. Still, some of his picks actually have happy endings -- sort of.
This realization goes a long way in explaining what is was he didn't like about Before Sunset -- a film that topped many "Best of..." lists. Linklater has made a fine film, and, yes, those final moments are touching, but the whole thing is a bit too precious. The desire to recapture, relive, or rekindle the past often turns out disastrous, as Hong Sang-soo shows us in Woman is the Future of Man, and it's this type of story that Filmbrain finds more appealing. After nine years and eighty minutes, Celine and Jesse's outcome seems almost too convenient. But hey, this whole list thing is intrinsically subjective anyway. . .
[NB: Dogville and Goodbye Dragon Inn, though released in the US in 2004, were both on Filmbrain's 2003 list thanks to festival screenings.]
In reverse order:
11. The Brown Bunny (Vincent Gallo, USA) This is the one that is going to make some eyes roll back. Yes, it's about as narcissistic as a film can get, and yes, the blowjob is unnecessary and excessive, but Gallo has created a road film richly steeped in 70's American cinema that is very personal, brave, and simply mesmerizing to look at.
10. Sideways (Alexander Payne, USA) A great screenplay, four wonderfully developed characters, and a star turn for Paul Giamatti. However, if one more person tells Filmbrain "Miles reminds me of you!", he may very well lose his mind.
9. Secret Things (Jean-Claude Brisseau, France) Though not as explicit as the work of his peers, Brisseau's film is a rare example of the kind of intelligent European art-core sex film his peers wish they could make. This over-the-top fable about sex and power is full of surprises, grabs you from the first moment, and somehow brilliantly manages to avoid turning into pretentious trash.
8. Oldboy (Park Chan-wook, Korea) Park's often brutal tale of vengeance, with influences ranging from Kubrick to David Fincher, is intelligent, stylish, and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Choi Min-sik is one of the greatest actors working today. If there's any justice in this world, the plans for an American remake will be scrapped.
7. Closer (Mike Nichols, USA) Four damaged characters damaging each other. A lot. As with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Angels in America, Nichols has once again successfully turned a stage play into something quite cinematic.
6. 2046 (Wong Kar Wai, Hong Kong) Love. Loss. Repeat. How can a film with so much heartbreak make you feel so warm? A dream of a film that can be viewed again and again.
5. Café Lumière (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Taiwan) Filled with longing, Hou's tribute to Ozu is quiet, poetic, and a love letter to Tokyo and its rail system.
4. We Don't Live Here Anymore (John Curran, USA) Like Closer, a film about four people hurting each other (and themselves), but in this case the stakes are higher. Though it may appear to be on the surface, this is not a film simply about adultery, but rather a painfully honest portrait of marriage, dissatisfaction, and denial -- the sex is more out of desperation than lust. Laura Dern turns in the greatest female performance of the year, by far. It's a shame so few noticed.
3. Woman Is The Future Of Man (Hong Sang-soo, Korea) How men are. Three characters searching for a future by dangerously looking to the past. Gets better and better on repeated viewings.
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, USA) Two people know in advance how their relationship ends. They proceed nonetheless. Kaufman at his most romantic, and probably one of the greatest endings of all time.
1. Last Life in the Universe (Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, Thailand) The one perfect film in 2004, and the one that had the greatest emotional impact on Filmbrain. The story of two characters who, with only a few words, speak volumes to each other. Christopher Doyle's cinematography alone is nothing short of magical, and all of the other pieces fall into place with sheer perfection. The entire experience was, for Filmbrain, the strongest reminder of why he loves the art of cinema so much.
Could have made the list: Birth, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, Saraband, The Infernal Affairs trilogy, Gozu, Time of the Wolf, Twentynine Palms.
FAR better than expected: Collateral, Napoleon Dynamite.
Worst films of the year: The Passion of the Christ, Million Dollar Baby, The Stepford Wives, Fear and Trembling.
Ten great discoveries (in no particular order):
Please feel free to leave your own best/worst lists below, as well as any comments.