January 27, 2006

My favorite movies of 2005

Stéphane, 2005 was not one of the best vintage years in my long career of moviegoer. Relatively few films that I screened in the Chicago area theaters were outstanding masterpieces. And when I traveled to Paris, I did not get my usual fix of exciting new European films. Fortunately, NETFLIX was called to the rescue and I rented a few stimulating movies from that source. Here is the list of my 10 favorite 2005 films. Some of them were screened in theaters in the Chicago area and I saw the others in their DVD rental version. In that case the film title will be followed by an * 1. The World by Jia Shang-Ke (you can also rent in DVD his very interesting epic about young people during the cultural revolution , ''Platform'', but I would recommend starting with his most beautiful early film and easier to watch: ''Unknown Pleasures'') ''The World'' was one of the most innovative and dreamily beautiful feature film from China I've seen in a long time. This director, who for many years was prohibited by his government to export and sometimes shoot his films on location, is truly the best and most creative film maker of the non-official ''Chinese New Wave''. This very realistic and at the same time ''romantic'' tale about the effects of the new capitalist evolution in the major cities of China on various types of working people, takes place in a huge amusement park outside of Beijing. Its a pure visual feast and the soundtrack is also exciting. Not to be missed. 2. A history of violence by David Cronenberg I always considered this Canadian director (''Crash'', ''Spider'', ''Naked Lunch'',and others..) as one of the most original North-American filmmakers. This very powerful drama with Vigo Mortensen and the beautiful Maria Bello, and very strong performances by William Hurt and Ed Harris, takes place in a typically ''bushian'' small American town were the secret past of the main character is progressively discovered by his wife and the local sheriff. And the violence of this dark story of revenge, lie and deception, is much more than a depiction of the actual ''physical'' violence practiced by some of the characters. It is a reflexion on one of the most serious diseases of contemporary American society. As usual with Cronenberg the directing is very precise and efficient, and each shot is masterfully controlled. No need for useless artsy framing. Every technical aspect of the film, script, editing, cinematography, sound, acting, is perfectly integrated in a real artistic way of filming. 3. Good Bye Dragon Inn by Tsai Ming Liang * This Taiwanese director born in Malaysia is one my favorite Asian film makers. He was clearly influenced by some of the film-makers of the French New Wave, and even partially shot one his film, '' What time is it over there?'' in Paris with a few French actors. If you have an opportunity to see some of his earlier and most recent film like ''Rebels of Neon God'', ''The Hole'', ''The River'' or ''Vive L'amour'', do not hesitate and see them or rent them on Netflix. They are all available in DVD. As it is often the case in this director's films , the rhythm of this one is very slow, there is not much apparent action taking place, and the mood of most of the characters is very subjective and reflective. But the beauty and the architecture of the shots is totally out of the ordinary. The (limited in scope) story revolves around the interaction between the few remaining employees and some isolated patrons during the last show of an old movie theater about to go out of business. It is, to me, a quite moving and fascinating film. 4. 2046 by Wong Kar Wai. * Another of my favorite Asian directors, this very talented man from Hong-Konk, but born in Shanghai, had probably, so far, the most successful commercial career of the non-chinese Asian directors along with the Japanese T. Kitano, that I like a lot too. He made the very stylish ''Chungking Express'', many years back, but some of his most beautiful features are'' Happy Together'', ''Fallen Angels'' and especially ''In the Mood for Love'', with Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung, who are among the best Hong Kong-based actors. Maggie Cheung is married to the very good French film director, Olivier Assayas, and was the star of his beautiful ''Irma Vep'' some years back . Hong Kar Wai has been lucky to benefit since Chungking Express, from the collaboration of a very gifted Australian cinematographer from Hong Kong, Christopher Doyle, who developed for him an incredibly lyric but contemporary visual style. 2046 in some way is a sequel to ''In the mood for love'' and is played by the same two actors who try to communicate and give a sense to their life. It is stunningly beautiful and full of enigmatic metaphors, the meaning of the number itself remaining a semi-mystery. Many scenes were shot on location in China and Macao. 5. Saraband by Ingmar Bergman * This is the painful story of a long-time ago divorced and now aging couple, that already was the subject of Bergman's made- for- T.V hit '' Scenes from a Marriage''. The two main characters are played by the same two great actors, Liv Ulmann, who was the leading lady in many Bergman's films and was his partner in life for many years, and Erland Josephson, also a Bergman veteran. They reunite in the old man's country house for a short time many years later. He is a wealthy retired author and she is a still active lawyer. They try to reconnect and she shares the problems of the daughter of the widowed and depressed adult son of her former husband who live with her dad in a small guest house on the property. The daughter is a talented young cellist whose life and playing style is totally controlled by her father. All this is shot masterfully in digital video by the old 85 years old Swedish master, who is far from senile. It is a pure cinematic and emotional trip. An uneasy but most satisfying film. The cello-based soundtrack is quite atmospheric too. 6. Kings and Queen, by Arnaud Desplechin A. Desplechin is one of the most gifted members of the new generation of French film makers. This film was very controversial in France since he obviously used some episodes of his own private life with a relatively famous French actresss to create the character of a woman(the very talented Emanuelle Devos) who has some problems to adjust to the demands of her entourage and the psychological peculiarities of her ex-lover (funny Mathieu Amalric) who is probably less lunatic that he seems but is nevertheless subjected to all kinds of psychiatric treatments. Some scenes with his parents, and his hospital psychiatrist (stunning Catherine Deneuve) are hilarious. But it is far from being a comedy... and when you leave the theater, you keep asking yourself lots of questions about this film... and about yourself too. 7. Tropical Malady, by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. This strangely passionate but serene and very ''different'' film was one of the few real revelations at the Cannes film festival last year. It is the third film by this, until now, relatively unknown Thai author-director who received part of his artistic education at the School of the art Institute in Chicago. The film in fact contains two distinct parts and tells the story of a Thai soldier who becomes enamoured with a simple but seductive village boy. In the second part, full of ritualistic and mystic allegories, local legends, talking monkeys and a mysterious tiger that is in fact the spirit of his young lover, the soldier tracks the boy (or the tiger) in a jungle-type forest full of fascinating lights and sounds. But sometimes the hunter is in fact, without realizing it, tracked by his prey. Totally fascinating and very creative cinematically speaking. The soundtrack is superb. 8. Capote, by Bennett Miller If you want at the same time a very good narrative process, a stunning actor's performance, and a no-nonsense film direction, this is your film. Phillip Seymour Hoffman (already so good in ''Magnolia'' some years ago) literally inhabits the famous self-destructive, very conflicted, super-bright, but manipulative American author. It is even scary that he can be so good at recreating a believable physical reality (voice and mannerisms included) for Truman Capote, that we totally forget that he is only an actor doing a superb creation and not the real person. My only regret is that the film is almost entirely devoted to the story behind ''In cold blood'' and neglects so many other fascinating aspects and complexities of Capote's persona. 9. The beat that my heart skipped, By Jacques Audiard You should try and rent two of the earlier films (only 5 features so far) made by this talented French director, who himself is the son of a famous script and dialogs writer: The very entertaining ''A self-made hero' and the atmospheric and thrilling ''Read my lips''. This film, brillantly adapted from James Toback's ''Fingers'' tells the story of a small-time gangster (played intelligently by the seductive Romain Duris that you might have seen in ''l'auberge espagnole'') , the son of a criminal real-estate whealer dealer, who decides to get back to the piano playing that his mother, a former concert pianist, had taught him and to become a concert pianist himself. He partially succeeds to redeem his life with the help of a beautiful and mysterious chinese pianist who does not speak a word of French but manages to transform him in many ways. But his past eventually gets back to him. Very efficient directing. Great sense of rhythm, very elegant cinematography and great acting, with interesting supporting actors. Even though it doesn't try to be a cinematic masterpiece, this film shows a very precise knowledge of cinematic craft. 10. (tie) Mondovino, by Jonathan Nossiter To fully appreciate the intricacies and socio-political meanings of this stimulating documentary on, as the title implies, the world of wine, you better know a little something about the different types of wine, how they are produced, and have a vague idea of what coutries are the main sources of this precious liquid. Nossiter, a Canadian journalist living in France, has put together a hugely entertaining investigation about the evolution of wine making and wine selling in various parts of the world. He interviewed, on location in Italy, France, California, Chile, etc. various actors of this not so ''clean'' business: Traditional small growers, big multinational corporations executives, influential consultants, a famous wine writer (Parker), wholesalers and merchants, etc. The result is a often hilarious, but in the end very serious, analysis of the trends, fortunes and misfortunes, lots of B.S., and nostalgias of lost traditions, found in that strange world. No fancy camera movements or soundtracks. But a very efficient and entertaining way of telling a story The last days, by Gus Van Sant To me, along Abel Ferrara, Gus van Sant is one of the most original American directors. If you never had a chance of seing '' Elephant'' (which won the ''Palme d'or'' top prize at the Cannes Festival in 2003), and '' Gerry'', you should rent these vey important films some day. Even though this film, depicting in a very eerie and hauntingly beautiful way the last lonely and very depressing moments of the life of a very successful but unconventional rock star, whom everybody guessed was based on Kurt Cobain's own tragic end, is not as impressive as his two above mentioned great pieces, it is indeed a very interesting exercise in filming style. Good viewings... Alain

1 comment:

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