Coming up with my top 100 films of the decade was an assignment I agreed to for an all staff tally on In Review Online (of which was posted last week.) The task was daunting and exciting, and way too much fun not to share it. I dole them out in groups of 20, not because I think there is any suspense, but 20 is much more manageable for me, the poster, and hopefully you, the reader. It's not just a list, but random thoughts or tidy capsules that I probably wrote for the InRO project. I'll post the remaining parts as time allows.
Just a couple bookkeeping notes: I'm using the date of theatrical premiere that usually coincides with the release in their home country, and to keep myself honest, I've included where I saw the film. I import quite a few DVDs but I also catch many in the communal spaces with my fellow film fans, and I think the list reflects this. If there is anything that looks interesting, ask me; I probably own it. Enjoy!
80. Exiled (2006) Johnny To [Hong Kong]
Johnny To's prolific work habits, making two to three films a year since the mid-80s, have earned him undeniable fame at home and a cult following around the world. But recently, with his panache for craft and his flair for artistry, he has become the Hong Kong darling of the festival circuit. With his hat firmly tipped towards a style that earn him Cannes invitations, To returns to spirit of his popular anti-action action film, The Mission (1999), for a reboot. Using much of the same cast, Exiled is as much a fan's guilty pleasure as it is an engaging thriller built on the strength of character.
81. Beaufort (2007) Joseph Cedar [Israel]
Telling the story of the Israeli Army's retreat from Lebanon, Beaufort plays out more like a horror film than a war film. Claustrophobic spaces are made even more haunting by the ambivalent politics that hover over the heads of the weary soldiers.
82. The Beaches of Agnes (2008) Agnes Varda [France]
Read my review here.
Screened: Walker Art Center
83. Chop Shop (2007) Ramin Bahrani [USA]
Below the lights of Shea Stadium and beyond the din of LaGuardia is a pocket of scrap yards where American neo-neorealism comes to life in Ramin Bahrani’s second feature. Pinned to the pains of sustenance living but animated by the irrepressible energy and hope of a 12-year-old boy, Chop Shop rolls out the devastating components of the mythical American Dream with a subdued efficiency and honed craft that domestic features rarely display. The film, much like its tenacious young hero, refuses to play the melodramatic card to solicit pity and it’s all the more moving because of it. Alejandro’s joy and anger feel as real as the unfettered images and the unadorned soundtrack. The acts put to screen by Bahrani are no less pure than his Italian Neorealist forefathers, allowing the audience to revel in, as André Bazin put it, “the sudden dazzling revelations of their meaning.”
Screened: At the Parkway Theater in an empty house.
84. Unknown Pleasures (2002) Jia Zhang Ke [China]
85. Memories of Murder (2003) Bong Joon-ho [South Korea]
South Korea's has slowed from the take-no-prisoners ingenuity that it seemed to exhibit 10 years ago (which may or may not have to do with the change in the quota policy) but there are still many small miracles and monumental masterpieces. Memories of Murder would be one of the later. Wound tighter than a drum, it's a murder mystery that has no intention on satisfying the audience with a solution (a fact that homeland audiences knew walking through the door, given the film was based on very well known real events.) The spiral of events and human emotion will leave you spinning long after the lights come up.
86. The Case of the Grinning Cat (2004) Chris Marker [France]
Officially, this is not really a feature film, but who cares. This is my list. It was made for TV in France but then release as a feature documentary here in the US. Chris Marker never fails to make the keenest of observations in the most poetic ways. How are images of a grinning cat and contemporary politics connected? Chris Marker will tell you.
87. Blood and Bones (2004) Yoichi Sai [Japan]
Beat Takashi's role in this period drama is undeniably one of the most brutal and one of his best. Blood and Bones is a gut wrenching ride that I haven't had been brave enough to bare more than once.
88. Flight of the Red Balloon (2007) Hou Hsiao-hsien [France]
Screened: Lagoon Theater
89. Kings and Queen (2004) Arnaud Desplechin [France]
90. The Intruder (2004) Claire Denis [France]
91. Springtime in a Small Town (2002) Tian Zhuangzhuang [China]
92. Fat Girl (2001) Catherine Breillat [France]
Screened: Uptown Theater
Simply calling Catherine Breillat a provocateur cuts too clean a swath in which to navigate her films. It is much easier to process a film like Fat Girl as an affront than to admit recognition in what we see on the screen. But the pain of adolescence—and, to be more specific, female adolescence—is too transparent to brush off as a mere device. Although the English title deceptively refers to a single protagonist, the central figure, best described in the French title, is the complex relationship between two sisters: plump Anaïs, 13, and attractive Elena, 15. Between the two of them, nature and nurture have created a maelstrom of burgeoning emotions and intellect wielded with both innocence and guile. In their shared coming of age, Elena exploits her ability to explore the sins of the flesh and Anaïs retreats to gluttony. The paired down aesthetic adds an unsympathetic reality to their clumsy navigation of the sexual world, uncomfortably emphasized in Elena’s deflowering. Their mother, an abstract portion of the family feminine triangle, only takes note of her daughters with curt ambivalence. Striped of judgment and sentimentality, Fat Girl is nonetheless loaded with gender politics and social tropes that beg for resolution, but are instead only left wagging in the face of a brutal tabloid worthy ending.
93. Michael Clayton (2007) Tony Gilroy [USA]
94. Tokyo Sonata (2008) Kiyoshi Kurosawa [Japan]
Kiyoshi Kurosawa, a director known for offering skewed takes on genre, squares up and throws a fierce dramatic punch. Masquerading as a middling family melodrama, Tokyo Sonata is an unconventional, and often times bizarre, social examination of the disintegration of the family unit. Topically Japanese yet internationally relevant, Kurosawa turns a surreal lens on the economic instability and emotional depravity of an unsympathetic patriarch and his oppressed, yet no less deceptive, subjects. The performances of the entire cast are a study in understated power, especially from the lead trio: Teruyuki Kagawa as the father, Kyoko Koizumi as the mother and Kai Inowaki as the music obsessed young son. Chaos reigns domestically in the closing movement as Kurosawa churns out a signature allegro that unleashes the demons of self-induced isolation. Tokyo Sonata’s final and lasting statement of hope, however, comes in the form of a poetic suite delivered by a young boy irreverently embracing his right-brain ethos.
95. Distant (2002) Nuri Bilge Ceylan [Turkey]
96. Café Lumière (2003) Hou Hsiao Hsien [Taiwan]
An homage to Ozu, this was Hou Hsiao Hsien's first film shot outside of Japan.
97. Encounters at the End of the World (2007) Werner Herzog [USA]
Herzog's documentary about the 'professional dreamers' who live near the end of the world at the South Pole. His deadpan narration is full of lively descriptions such as the one that he had for McMurdo Station which he couldn't wait to leave because it was full of "abominations such as an aerobics studio and yoga classes."
98. Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (2000) Hong Sang-soo [South Korea]
99. Durian Durian (2000) Fruit Chan [Hong Kong]
Screened: Walker Art Center
100. Synecdoche, New York (2008) Charlie Kaufman [USA]
I've seen this movie three times and it gets better everytime I watch it.
Screened: Uptown Theater