By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
1, 2Platform, Unknown PleasuresFar below the radar, in a dusty pocket of inland China that lends new meaning to "Middle Earth," another trilogy was taking shape. Beginning with 1997's Xiao Wu, Jia Zhangke has mapped the effects of post-Mao convulsions on powerless individuals and perfected an exalted precision realism that owes as much to Robert Bresson as Hou Hsiao-hsien. Platform (2000), an '80s generational anthem by turns joyful and crushing, belatedly landed in a single theater last spring, followed by the new Unknown Pleasures, a pensive portrait of desultory teens adrift in the abandoned public spaces of a moribund coal-mining town. Only 33 himself, Jia gravitates toward the young and the dispossessedunderdogs caught in seismic upheavals, muddling through with an inchoate mix of nervous hope and fatalist dread, clinging to the talisman of a favorite pop song. Kudos to New Yorker Films for taking the year's most important distribution gamble.
photo: Palm Pictures
4Millennium Mambo Hou Hsiao-hsien finally gets a New York release (December 31, Cinema Village), thanks to Palm Pictures, which also brought you demonlover. This techno-throbbing slow burn derives its narrative rhythms from its raver heroine's serotonin levelsa cycle of Ecstasy highs and hangovers. The opening tracking shot, a neon nova of voice-over melancholy with Hou (out-)doing Wong Kar-wai, is endlessly rewatchablethe DVD will be essential.
5In My SkinGrimly relentless and mordantly funny, Marina de Van's tour de force of dermatological horror is the gutsiest debut in recent memoryand a typically bold acquisition for distributors Wellspring.
6Elephant Where Douglas Coupland's delicately empathic Hey, Nostradamus! spiraled outward into the painful aftermath of a fictionalized Columbine, Gus Van Sant's ethereal meditation zeroes in on the hallucinatory tranquillity of the final countdown, literally circling around the foregone conclusion. The provocative "explanations" are, of course, red herringsnullified, along with everything else, in the apocalyptic and decisively inexplicable closing moments.
7School of RockThe year's funniest, loveliest studio movie is an improbable triumph in the impossible genre of the classroom mutual learnfest. In the hands of Richard Linklater (who charitably nudges Jack Black to new heights of narcissistic muggery), the anti-authoritarian sentiments are not just a posethey actually impel a considered exploration of the necessity and the limits of passion.
8Cowards Bend the Knee Guy Maddin has been on a sensational tear since defibrillating The Heart of the World, and this mock-autobiographical peephole marvel, installed at last May's Tribeca Film Festival (Zeitgeist has since acquired it in a no-knee-bend-required feature form), makes a great companion piece to the director's recently published journalsa feverish, hilarious exercise in self-flagellating mythomania.
9The Son Olivier Gourmet gives a tersely eloquent performance in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's economical dramaor rather, the back of his head does, opaquely inviting the audience to contemplate what this stoic, bereft carpenter could possibly be thinking (what with Elephant's Steadicam shadowings, this was quite a year for the nape-cam). Withholding and in the end boundlessly humane, it's a film that appears more radical with each viewing.
10The Slaughter RuleAnchored by David Morse's monumental portrait of impacted masculinity, Alex and Andrew Smith's feature debut is a high-plains, alt-country Beau Travaila testosterone-bathed tone poem about the ritualistic bonds and oedipal frictions between sons and father figures.
11-20, in order:Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary, An Injury to One (Travis Wilkerson), 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle), X2 (Bryan Singer), Bus 174, Japón, Stuck on You (Bobby and Peter Farrelly), Ten, Suddenly (Diego Lerman), Kill Bill Vol. 1