My list-ified top ten is available elsewhere at indieWIRE, but it’s really my three favorite films that I’d like to discuss in this space, because, frankly, it’s these three movies that are the ones that mattered to me on a more personal and cinematic level. The rest, while good, could have been ranked randomly, and I will do so below.
1) ” Life During Wartime”
I believe I’m the only critic in America to place Todd Solondz’s film at #1, so allow me a brief defense. The movie has stayed with me more than any other. As I have written in the past, “Life During Wartime” may be the most thorough, penetrating and profound accounting of post-9/11 America and the nation’s utter and dysfunctional lack of compassion. Every frame suffuses a sense of melancholy and regret. And still lingering with me are the ghostly faces of Paul Reubens, Ciaran Hinds and Charlotte Rampling; the darkly sardonic line “Nothing will get inside you ever”; and that mysterious culminating shot, full of sadness and the yearning of a young boy who wants his father back, no matter his crimes.
2) “Red Riding Trilogy”
All set in the same murky, neo-noir environs of Yorkshire, England, the three features that make up this nifty, interlocking cinematic hat-trick may have their uneven parts, but I love the powerful, paranoiac mood that envelopes the proceedings. If Kieślowski’s “Decalogue” series inspired age-old questions about whether spiritual forces or free will determines the course of our lives, the “Red Riding Trilogy” uses its multiple, labyrinthine narratives to build an ominous framework where interrelated powers on the ground—the police, the wealthy, the government, religious authority—exert a deadly control over our lives
3) “Exit Through the Gift Shop”
The amazing thing about “Exit” is that all of the questions surrounding its veracity or fallacies are so brilliantly weaved into the very fabric of its narrative that it’s stupid to criticize it on such grounds. What emerges is a film that cleverly critiques such absolutes, and above all, how we value truth, in life and in art. And it’s pretty darn funny, too.
The rest: “Winter’s Bone,” “Everyone Else,” “The Ghost Writer,” “Greenberg,” “Black Swan,” “A Prophet,” “The Social Network,” and one more: While doing all this top-ten listing over the last few weeks, I had not known that Lee Chang Dong’s “Secret Sunshine” was going to be opening during the final weeks of the year. Had I known, it surely would have ranked pretty high on my list. Here’s my summation of the film from Cannes 2007:
After moving from Seoul to the town of Miryang, where her late husband was born, a young widow Shin-ae (Jeon Do-yeon) tries to fit into her new small town surroundings. But an unexpected event throws her life into further turmoil.”The Host‘s” Song Kang-ho co-stars as Kim Jong-chan, a mechanic who patiently waits for her to come around, and their pas-de-deux helps lighten the heavy proceedings (“you’re more comedy than melodrama,” jokes one friend to Song’s character). But the film ultimately belongs to Jeon, whose blistering performance shows a woman in search of consolation, and the desperate attempts she takes to alleviate her pain.