By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
No such luck for Curtis Hanson’s elegantly literaryWonder Boys, which proved so resolutely uncommercial it had to be re-released by Paramount, doubtless more to jog the memories of critics and the Academy than out of any hope for a larger audience. Consolation may be at hand should Michael Douglas win the Oscar he deserves for once, for his wonderfully saggy performance as a professor in full midlife meltdown, or Robert Downey Jr. (given current events, I wouldn’t bet on it), for his witty turn as Douglas’ editor, or Frances McDormand, for her deadpan serenity as a high-achieving woman past 40 who is actually loved by her lover.
Even on the map of U.S.-distributed foreign films, which arguably has been whittled down to chipper tales of English-speaking proletarians dancing their way from poverty to the stars, there are glimmers of taste. First Look Pictures had the guts, if not the business acumen, to pick up Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher, an exquisitely made slice of Scottish miserabilism if ever there was one, about a sensitive Glasgow tenement lad who scrabbles his way through guilt and garbage to a provisional happiness. Sony Pictures Classics released Terence Davies’ The House of Mirth, an operatic beauty of an Edith Wharton adaptation, which you should see — not least for Gillian Anderson’s outstanding performance and magisterial hair — before it tanks, as I very much fear it will, for lack of an audience that can handle the movie’s tortoise pacing and absence of uplift. Or maybe not: Taiwan ese director Edward Yang’s meditative three-hour drama Yi Yi, about a family unraveling in small but significant ways, has hung in there, as well this masterpiece of humanistic filmmaking should. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is making a fortune in limited release. And Julian Schnabel’s vibrant Before Night Falls, about the fate of art under Cuban Stalinism, is snapping up attention for Javier Bardem’s splendidly jittery rendering of the novelist and poet Reinaldo Arenas.
For my money, though, the jewel in this year’s movie crown is a lone work of genius that came and went as difficult films with subtitles do — in a heartbeat. Aside from the abiding beauty of its images, Raul Ruiz’s free adaptation of Marcel Proust’s last novel, Time Regained, has the brilliant audacity to offer an almost purely visual account of the workings of a literary imagination. Passing from one snooty belle époque Parisian salon to another, Proust is also passing through the echo chambers of his own memory, sorting, embroidering and reinventing as he goes, until the world’s most facilitating cookie, the madeleine, releases a monumental artistic voice from the prison of a body racked by illness. Ruiz’s best film, and it’s the top of the world.
Honorable mentions: Kippur (Amos Gitai, Israel); You Can Count on Me (Kenneth Lonergan, USA); Croupier (Mike Hodges, U.K.); Chicken Run (Nick Park and Peter Lord, U.K.); Two-Family House (Raymond De Felitta, USA); Dark Days (Mark Singer, USA); Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier, Denmark); Shadow of the Vampire (E. Elias Merhige, USA); The Decalogue (out for the first time in the USA on video, courtesy of Facets Video); Girl on the Bridge (Patrice Leconte, France); Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport (Mark Jonathan Harris, USA); Aimée & Jaguar (Max Färberböck, Germany); My Best Fiend (Werner Herzog, Germany); Place Vendôme (Nicole Garcia, France); Beau Travail (Claire Denis, France); Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, USA); Suzhou River (Lou Ye, People’s Republic of China); and Getting To Know You, a little unreleased gem by Lisanne Skyler.
The House of Mirth
Photo by Jaap Buitendijk
Hazel-Dawn Dumpert’s Best Movies of the Year (in no order after the first).The Color of Paradise (Majid Majidi, Iran): a film about faith that, for all its visual splendor, argues that life’s greatest beauty lies in what can’t be seen. The Ballad of Ramblin’ Jack (Aiyana Elliott, USA): Beneath the surface of a straight documentary about her folk-singer father, Elliott explores the specifically American opportunity for altering one’s identity, and the price that’s paid in unending, single-minded maintenance. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, Taiwan): a mesmerizing old-fashioned epic from a director with 21st-century global perspective. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (Jim Jarmusch, USA): Jarmusch continues his explorations of the American unconscious, and draws a tremendously moving performance from Forest Whitaker as the film’s outpost sentinel. Judy Berlin (Eric Mendelsohn, USA): a heartbreaking work about love and optimism among ordinary folk, anchored by two extraordinary performances from Edie Falco and the great Madeline Kahn. Love & Basketball (Gina Prince-Bythewood, USA): an unapologetic love story that’s both culturally specific and thoroughly free of stereotype.
The Next Best.American Psycho (Mary Harron, USA); Before Night Falls (Julian Schnabel, USA); Chicken Run(Nick Park and Peter Lord, U.K.); Committed (Lisa Krueger, USA); The House of Mirth (Terence Davies, U.K.); Suzhou River (Lou Ye, People’s Republic of China); Yi Yi (A One and a Two) (Edward Yang, Taiwan); You Can Count on Me (Kenneth Lonergan, USA).