Yes, it’s that time again; critics everywhere shift through the movies of the past 12 months and give you a quick list of their favorites.
And, hey, I’m no exception. I missed most of the Oscar-bait movies that came out this year, but nevertheless, here’s my year in film in alphabetical order, just to keep things fair.
The Best of Youth (2005)
Originally made for Italian television in 2003, ‘Youth’ tells the story of the Carati family; it’s an intimate epic that spans 40 years with our protagonist’s lives crisscrossing with notable historic events. The primary focus remains on Nicola (Luigi Lo Cascio) and Matteo (Alessio Boni), brothers who, like all good young people, want to make the world better. Don’t let the length (6 hours) intimidate you. Make the time, and you’ll enjoy a moving portrait of how youthful idealism can break a spirit or make a youth into a man. This year or any other, it’s not to be missed.
The City of Lost Children (1995)
A basic fairy tale gets a star treatment from directors Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet; the Salvador Dali-on-crack mise en scene, plus the stellar performances from Judith Vittet, a girl searching for a family, and Daniel Emilfork, a Frankenstein monster looking for a soul, and an endless supply of imagination make a so-so idea of a movie into a living piece of art. Like all good stories, it will haunt you.
The Departed (2006)
Is this famed director Martin Scorsese’s best picture? Probably not. Worth your time; definitely. Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio give the performances of their careers as two sons trying to carry on their adopted fathers’ legacies. Sure, the final unfunny shot almost ruins the good that came before, but the intense and emotional story about the personal cost of betrayal rises above it.
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind’s book becomes, on film, a concise telling of the rise and fall of Enron. For someone who couldn’t make it through an entire article during the scandal, the film deftly captures the horror of greed gone unchecked. From beginning to end, Enron’s leaders were only interested in making money, and they did just that, at the cost of everything, and everyone, else. Be prepared for retroactive anger.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
One of my favorite literary series’ has ended, but Potter fans have two more movies to look forward to, and if they’re anything like ‘Phoenix,’ Harry’s fifth and darkest year at Hogwarts, I’ll be happy. The longest book ended up as the shortest movie and with Daniel Radcliffe showing off his vastly improved acting skills, and newcomer Evanna Lynch’s star turn as Luna Lovegood, plus the performances from Britain’s elite, it’s the best one yet. Director David Yates has signed on for ‘Half-Blood Prince,’ and I can’t wait to see it. The books keep getting darker, and Yates has proven that he has the right touch to make the movies more than mindless blockbusters.
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
Peter Weir’s haunting tale of the disappearances of three school girls and their guardian is really a movie without a plot, but the execution is so gripping that I’m willing to overlook it. It’s a captivating story, and the ambiguous ending echoes real-life mysteries that are never cleared up. That Weir and screenwriter Cliff Green manage to keep the material fresh is a minor miracle; that a story of sexual repression and the pains of liberation still shines through the stuffy surroundings is an achievement to be applauded.
Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
Ingmar Bergman (R.I.P.) does comedy! One of my favorite directors goes against his now trademark-type and directs this delightful little romp about three couples swapping partners in order to end up with their one-true-loves; in 1955, Bergman’s signature style hadn’t been cemented on the world, but the trademark shots and the dark side of humanity are all here, baked in with the farce. In just two years, he would show the world the immortal “The Seventh Seal,” but the world took notice of him with ‘Smiles’ and never looked away. What a way to begin.
Stranger Than Fiction (2006) / Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
I’ve been a big fan of Will Ferrell since his “Saturday Night Live” days (Go Spartans!), and I must admit, I didn’t think he had a serious performance in him. But, along comes Harold Crick and Ferrell proves that he is a gifted actor, not just a comedian, in a soulful turn as a man discovering that life is more than a series of numbers. And while I relish Ferrell’s serious side, the man is damn funny, and no more so than in Anchorman, a surreal and absurd odyssey of a man’s quest for love. Keep ’em coming, Will.
This charmer of a summer movie is somewhat overshadowed by the senseless murder of director/writer/star Adrienne Shelly. Did that affect my interpretation? Probably, but I’m not going to let that bother me. It’s a sweet ode to finding happiness and love from unexpected places, and features some great performances from Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion and Jeremy Sisto. It’s a joy to watch and, just this once, that’s enough.
Biggest surprise: Documentaries!
To my ignorance, I’ve never been one to seek out and watch documentaries, except this year, when I periodically went on binge viewings of nonfiction films. Here’s a list of the highlights:
Deliver Us from Evil (2006)
The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005)
Grizzly Man (2005)
Jesus Camp (2006)
The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair (2006)
Touching the Void (2003)
I know I’m just scratching the surface of the goodies out there, but what a way to start things off. Happy New Year!