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For the first time in ages, only one splashy holiday movie, and that with reservations, makes my 10 list. Unless you count children’s movies, no less than three of which show up (with a little sleight of hand) on my list, there’s been precious little studio output to write home about this year. But it’s been a banner year for foreign film in general (six, if you count a Canadian) and Asian film in particular (three), for nonfiction film (see Honorable Mentions) and, above all, for acting (see Great Performances). Arbitrary, arguable and unranked, here are my Top 10, er, 13 movies of the year:1. A History of Violence. If you’re going to take
potshots at the United States’ love affair with killing and mayhem (take that,
Lars von Trier!), A History of Violence is as intricately elaborated as
it gets, a beautifully ugly movie that suggests violence is so thoroughly, so
carnally burned into the American body and soul, it’s fundamental to our collective
nature.
2. Cheat alert! Chicken Little aside, there hasn’t
been a year in recent memory when it’s been as much fun to take a child to the
movies: Howl’s Moving Castle, another gorgeously handmade treasure
from the house of Miyazaki, in which a shy young girl grows old and gnarly in
order to learn the meaning of courage; Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the
Were-Rabbit
, so very Yorkshire, yet so very everywhere, its gentle wit
shows to perfection that you can engage kids without shrieking at them; Carroll
Ballard’s heart-stoppingly beautiful Duma, about a cheetah teaching
a boy that nature must be left to itself. I’ll grant you Harry Potter and
the Goblet of Fire
was an extremely well-made movie, but my judgment was
colored by the 7-year-old sobbing with terror in my lap from start to finish,
and by the fact that I’ve never made it through more than 10 enervatingly eventful
pages of a J.K. Rowling tome. And while we’re with the kids, Finnish director
Pirjo Honkasalo’s The 3 Rooms of Melancholia, which I saw at Sundance
last year and which you must not miss if and when it screens here in 2006, is
a lyrically horrifying meditation on the vulnerability of children of war — in
this case, Chechnya.
3. Crash. 2005’s most misunderstood American movie,
at least by critics who deemed it racist and crude. Though I can’t agree with
director Paul Haggis that it’s not about race (of course it is, it’s about Los
Angeles), this furious rant is also the funniest, most serious and most bizarrely
hopeful evocation I’ve seen of how prejudice functions as the expression of Angeleno
anger at being choked to death by traffic, and by the loneliness of the crowd
in a city where the closest thing to direct public communication is road rage.
4. Kings & Queen. French writer-director Arnaud
Desplechin never shuts up, but the logorrheic ramblings of his baffled characters
are delivered with such urbane panache and periodic profundity, you can’t help
but warm to this hefty, 150-minute disquisition on the underground anxieties that
bubble up in a seemingly orderly bourgeois life.
5. The Beat That My Heart Skipped. Sticking with
les très French films, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Jacques Audiard’s
brilliant remake of James Toback’s Fingers, reminds us, as so few movies
do these days, that in the right hands, film editing is as powerful an emotional
language as dialogue. That, and a masterful turn by Romain Duris as a young hood
torn between thuggery and art.
6. Brokeback Mountain. A lot of gay males hate
it, but though Brokeback Mountain doesn’t represent Ang Lee’s best filmmaking
by a long chalk, it’s not hard to understand why it swept the critics’ awards
and may yet carry off Best Picture come February. Heath Ledger’s introverted performance
makes you see that this is not so much a movie about gay oppression as it is a
wonderfully broody elegy for possibilities forgone and the failure of romantic
courage. Now let’s see how it plays in Wyoming.
7,8,9. I’m grouping together Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046,
Jia Zhang Ke’s The World and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical
Malady
not just because they represent the vibrancy of Asian film, but
because each in its different but equally lyrical way meditates soulfully on the
loss of love, memory and community — and because they all made me weep uncontrollably
into my stir-fry.
10. Junebug. Along with David Gordon Green’s George
Washington
, Phil Morrison’s languid, intimately observed movie about a family
falling apart and (maybe) coming together is the least condescending movie about
Southern character I’ve ever seen. Morrison gets the very best out of a gifted
cast, notably Amy Adams, Celia Weston and Scott Wilson.

HONORABLE MENTION
Features: Head-On; Capote; Good Night, and Good Luck; Ushpizin; Best of Youth; Walk on Water; Last Days; My Summer of Love; Look at Me; Tony Takitani; Nina’s Tragedies; Saraband; Dolls; Down to the Bone; Kontroll; Me and You and Everyone We Know; Bee Season; Walk the Line; Schultze Gets the Blues; Nobody Knows; Almost Peaceful; Assisted Living; Caché; The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; The Constant Gardener; Corpse Bride; Syriana; The Talent Given Us; Everything Is Illuminated; The Upside of Anger.Nonfiction: Another Road Home; Ballets Russes; Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room; Romantico; Tell Them Who You Are; No Direction Home: Bob Dylan. And — I guess — Grizzly Man, whose subject is hardly worth the adroit filmmaking that went into memorializing him.
DISHONORABLE DISCHARGE
Sin City: Skillful. Stupid. Hateful.
GREAT PERFORMANCES
Jeff Daniels in The Squid and the Whale; Daniel Auteuil in Caché;
Naomi Watts in Ellie Parker and King Kong; Joan Allen and Kevin
Costner in The Upside of Anger; Charlize Theron and Richard Jenkins in
North Country; Natalie Press in My Summer of Love; Matt Dillon and
Terrence Howard in Crash; Vera Farmiga in Down to the Bone; Emmanuelle
Devos in Kings & Queen; Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener in
Capote; David Strathairn and Frank Langella in Good Night, and Good
Luck
; Michael Lonsdale in Munich; Felicity Huffman in Transamerica;
Cillian Murphy in Breakfast on Pluto; Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams
in Brokeback Mountain; Joseph Gordon Levitt in Mysterious Skin;
Tom Wilkinson in Separate Lies; Richard Gere in Bee Season; Georgie
Henley in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe;
Lior Ashkenazi in Walk on Water; Sibel Kekilli in Head-On; Maria
Bello in A History of Violence; Lisa Kudrow in Happy Endings; and,
of course, Gromit — dear, kind, strong, silent Gromit, unassuming hero of a world
far better than the one we live in. Gromit for President!
MOVIE MOMENTS TO CHERISH
Naomi Watts, juggling first for her life, then for the love of a great ape in King Kong.Super-goy James Bond (Daniel Craig), coming on all Yiddish in Munich: “It’s a shanda for the goyim!”Two desolate penguin parents keening over the loss of their baby in March of the Penguins. Anthropomorphic? Maybe, but grief is grief even if you waddle on two flippers.

LA Weekly