However many times you hear it, the song remains the same: It’s been the piss-poorest year for movies since 1929, and even the masterpieces revealed sedimentary streaks of mediocrity. So much for trends. There’s never been a louder industrial argument to be made for the necessity of retro art houses—or video outfits like Kino, New Yorker, Milestone, and WinStar: 105 years of movies are happening right now, despite how small you’re told the relevancy window is on E!. This year’s contribution to the Xanadu warehouse is minor, but the collection is ours.
1. ‘Yi Yi’
Superb, novelistic, grown-up, and wise: Movies this generously conceived and sublimely executed should be a staple in our diet. Instead, Edward Yang fashions what is virtually the year’s only full-course meal.
2. ‘The Wind Will Carry Us’
The heretofore perfect balance between irony and human fleshiness has tipped a little toward the cool country, but this is, typically, a movie without concessions. Kiarostami’s version of Band of Outsiders, if it weren’t so Meshes of the Afternoon-like and still so quintessentially Kiarostamian.
The year’s best film about childhood, and maybe the best Scottish film ever.
4. ‘The House of Mirth’
Gillian Anderson brings the house down, but the lion’s share of credit might just go to Wharton.
5. ‘Wonder Boys’
The only Hollywood film worth watching this year, and one that cuts like butter.
Enragingly abstruse, this scalding cannonball works both as questioning metaphor and ultra-naturalistic existentialism, just not as a conventional movie. Good for Bruno.
7. ‘Shadow of the Vampire’
A cinephiliac game of jacks, complete with laudanum, dress-up hootenanny, and in-jokes.
8. ‘Suzhou River’
Dreamy, dreary Vertigo-ism that flows like a muck-clogged waterway. The year’s best whiplash ending.
9. ‘Dancer in the Dark’
The year’s Three Mile Island, if more for critics than audiences. Stunning how many haven’t noticed that its ur-melodramatics are intended as genre surgery. As C.S. Lewis said, “In real life, as in a story, something must happen. That is just the trouble.” Lars agrees, and his love lies bleeding.
Three man-wrecked sisters in the London catacombs, and Michael Winterbottom shoots them with uncompromising toughness.
Kippur (Amos Gitai, Israel), It All Starts Today (Bertrand Tavernier, France), Pola X, Almost Famous, Requiem for a Dream, Chuck & Buck, Time Code (Mike Figgis, U.S.), Treasure Island (Scott King, U.S.), The Yards (James Gray, U.S.), Beau Travail, The Bridge (Gérard Depardieu/Fred Auburtin, France), Chunhyang (Im Kwon Taek, Korea), The Terrorist (Santosh Sivan, India)