My Picks of the Year
(in alphabetical order)
This gloriously busy and surprisingly intimate French romance works thanks to the star-making turn by Audrey Tautou. She is a cinematic delight, a beautiful, unforgettable face. Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a masterful visionary; not unlike the Zucker brothers in the Airplane! days, he knows how to keep the frames busy. Virtually every shot is a treasure, and the story, while slight, is certainly a charmer.
This is one kinky, twisted little movie, and I mean that in the most refreshing way. Donnie Darko cannot fit into one genre; it contains elements of teenage angst, time travel, sexual perversity, domestic horror, and mental illness – sometimes all in one scene. Jake Gyllenhaal, a discovery if there was one, is highly effective as a passive-aggressive high school student who tries to make sense of his fate. The story is extremely unconventional – the script does not spoon-feed the audience – therefore creating a very unique, challenging film, filled with surprises and rewards.
I’m a sucker for time travel movies, the kind of mindbenders that deal with the past and alters the future, distorting the line of reality. Back to the Future trilogy was the best of the kind, of course. This one is disguised as an old-fashioned New York love story. Marisa Tomei shines brightly as a neurotic single woman sick of dating freaks. In comes Vincent D’Onofrio, who charms and woos Tomei out of her freak streak…until he reveals that he is a time traveler from the year 2430. Writer-director Brad Anderson assembled a brilliant script, loaded with mind-opening ideas and unabashed romanticism. Whether or not you’re a science-fiction fan, you’ll find D’Onofrio and his tales charming, convincing and extremely delightful.
In the Bedroom
Powerful and elegiac, ranking up there with The Sweet Hereafter and The Ice Storm, In the Bedroom is a drama of a family marred by a horrific tragedy. Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkenson and Marisa Tomei are equally devastating as a trio of loved ones who lost aspiring architect Nick Stahl. My favorite scene: Wilkenson and Spacek are verbally duking it out with one another (Wilkenson whispers, “You’re bitter, Ruth,” reverberating quite loudly), only to be interrupted by a little girl selling chocolates. It is a priceless scene in a wrenching film.
One of the most goose-bumpiest thrillers in recent years, Joy Ride is a delicious nail-biter so well-crafted by master of contemporary noir director, John Dahl. Paul Walker and Leelee Sobieski do just fine as teenagers in peril chased by a menacing truck driver, but it’s Steve Zahn who all but steals the show as Walker’s jailbait brother. He delivers the laughs, as expected, but when he’s scared, we’re scared with him. Even better – we’re terrified.
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
It’s the most visual, ambitious, adventurous film of the year. It is literally a great sprawling novel come to life, and it was done so confidently that is not only inspiring but it reminds us all just precisely why we love the movies so much. Great special effects aside, it proves to us that story comes first in all elements of moviemaking. The characters come alive through the course of the adventure, and in the superb extended version on DVD, they are fleshed out and as multi-dimensional as they come. Two more magnificent episodes followed, creating one of the greatest trilogies of all time.
A truly exciting and adorable children’s film brought to life by lively colorful animation, charming voice performances by Billy Crystal and John Goodman, and energetic camera work and effects by Pixar. The final chase scene is as rousing as anything I’ve seen all year. This one ranks among the best of all works from Pixar.
Moulin Rouge is neither a film nor a movie — it’s an experience. Baz Luhrmann dazzles us by juggling a simple, old-fashioned love story (the reason it is cliched is because it works), wall-to-wall contemporary pop songs, a historical setting, breathless cutting and hyperkinetic camera work — and delivers a boldly original party mix. Take his exuberantly euphoric Strictly Ballroom and mesh it with his wacky, heart-thumping romance, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, and you’ll get an idea of what he’s capable of. Nicole Kidman has seriously never been better, but it’s Ewan McGregor who will floor you. An absolute blast.
Confounding, yes, but this David Lynch masterpiece is an absorbing and fascinating piece of work. Every scene works on its own as a short film, and astonishingly enough, they are aesthetically and emotionally clear and beautiful. As a whole, does it matter? It’s actually pretty easy to follow all the way up to the final reel. Even then, it’s an eerie juxtaposition of images, sounds and feelings. And, hey, if it looks like a dream, and it sounds like a dream, then….
Ultra-hip and incredibly smooth, this Steven Soderbergh caper is a rousing good time. Not only do all of the stars do brilliantly by looking hot and exuding charm, but the story is fun to follow and Soderbergh’s camera is a thrill to behold. One of the final shots in the film — with the fountain in the background and the silhouettes of our Rat Pack walking away – is pure cinematic pornography.
Jack Nicholson is really one of our greats. He delivers one of his all-time best performances as Jerry Black, a retired cop who thinks his last case on the job closed too easily. The story, refreshingly, is not about the ongoing murder mystery of the little girl in the red dress. This is a film about Jerry Black, a man who simply cannot let go. Sean Penn surehandedly directs this meandering, almost lyrical, drama that is peppered by a cast of greats, old and new. The standout is Aaron Eckhart, who provides an original spin to the cliched character of a cocky, arrogant, younger partner. The Pledge also featured a finale that kept me guessing, though I should have known that what happened was completely inevitable.
Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures
This stunning documentary is among the best of its kind; a thorough, revealing perspective on one of the most reclusive movie artists of our time. And that’s what so refreshing – Kubrick isn’t exactly a recluse; he’s a methodical, loving man with a deep appreciation for life, his family and film. His brother-in-law, Jan Harlan, made A Life in Pictures and with his inside look at the real Kubrick, the public can view this and admire not only the films but also the individual.
Some loved it. Most hated it. I really admired this remake of the brilliant, near-perfect Spanish thriller, Open Your Eyes. Tom Cruise bares his soul in his best performance since his days from Born on the 4th of July and Rain Man. Cameron Crowe’s spin on the story, which involves the fusion of pop culture music and images, alternate realities, and true romance, is a Hollywood remake done well. Even if it does slightly pale in comparison with Alejandro Amenabar’s vision, which is darker, ambiguous, and much sexier (Penelope in her own tongue is how Penelope should be), Vanilla Sky certainly stands on its own merits as an invigorating piece of work.