A2P Cinema's 200 Favorite Films
of the 21st Century
** Go here to share your picks for the Best Films of the 21st Century **

Directed by: Terrence Malick (1st of 3 films on list)
United States

The Tree of Life is a spiritual experience. It is one that is less concerned with specific devotion or worship, but rather more on the universal wonderment that lies beyond human control. It is this vast scale that makes Terrence Malick's filmmaking so remarkable - and so fitting in that conventional narrative is typically driven by the very sense of human control which Malick is defying. The Tree of Life is a film that reflects upon the duration and the collective memories of a life - through birth, childhood, the radiance of joy, the reality of pain, the hatred of abuse, the destruction of bitterness, the beauty of forgiveness, and the peacefulness of death. The Tree of Life evokes a spiritual and hopeful awareness to the wonder and inspiration of life's experiences with a remarkably moving sense of mystery and appreciation. Ultimately The Tree of Life feels like a swan song of Malick's defining spiritual expression - finding and accepting love... all things... grace!


Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson (1st of 5 films on list)
United States

"For once, for once in life, I've finally felt, That someone needed me, Because, He needs me he needs me, He needs me he needs me". These lyrics from the great Paul Thomas Anderson's 2002 masterpiece Punch-Drunk Love (itself directly taken from Robert Altman's 1980 film Popeye) could easily fit in any of his films. While the tone is playful and fitting in Punch-Drunk Love the lyrics may be an even better fit in Phantom Thread, which flawlessly shapes Anderson's career-long emotions of loneliness and the need for someone else to provide purpose. This resonates in all his films but never more essentially then here, and never with such unusual empathy and hope. It has the touch of a mature master filmmaker in full understanding of his personal vision. For all that, Phantom Thread may be the defining masterpiece of Anderson's career and truly one of the significant films of the decade. The performances are perfect and will likely grow in depth over time. Anderson's dialogue is fantastic - finding poetry and mystery in silence between the characters, as Phantom Thread frequently defies our expectations with such quiet expertise which is incomparable mastery in contemporary cinema.


Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson (2nd of 5 films on list)
United States

I'll keep my thoughts on this film simple, by saying there is no question Punch-Drunk Love is one of my favorite films of all-time!! There is so much I take from this perfect little film, but I guess essentially Punch-Drunk Love displays the power and joy of finding freedom and falling in love against a society of pressures and of conformity (all while being made in a filmmaking style and expressionism that embraces the beauty, joy, artistry and magic of films). Through love, Barry finds redemption and strength to break through the repressed emotional and physical “window” he has been trapped into. Love gives him the strength to break out of this “window” and we see this towards the end as he walks out of The Mattress Man building by “breaking” through the front doors, which (like the rest of the building and Barry's own office) is made of glass. Next Barry must find Lena, redeem the mileage, play the harmonium, and “so here we go….”

>>> Because of Anderson's visionary expression within each visual detail as well as each emotional and physical state of his characters, the film becomes a breathtaking experience that could be analyzed (or simply admired) for years - and I have attempted to do so at a website I created in 2004: SoHereWeGo


Directed by: Olivier Assayas (1st of 3 films on list)

Fresh off the globalized B-movie genre film Boarding Gate (which was released in the United States in early 2008), Olivier Assayas would seem a strange fit for this simplistic three generations family ensemble. Yet Summer Hours is very much the definitive Assayas film and it may very well be his greatest masterwork. In many ways it might be his greatest film because it seems to be a reflection on all of his films and it is made with the touch of a seasoned master with its skillfully simplistic touch, channeling the minimalist style of his influences (notably Hou Hsiao-Hsien, whom Assayas made a documentary about in 1997). Like Hou, Summer Hours finds an eternal truth through its simplicity, but the beauty is that the film is undoubtedly Assayas' right to the lovely final shot. Surprisingly recalling some of his previous film, Assayas here presents us with the global family as a reflection of a passing time. Summer Hours is a film about life and death, memories and heritage. I can't say I've seen a film more perfect then this in 2008 and I would rate Summer Hours among the greatest French films in years or really among the greatest films I have EVER seen!!


Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan (1st of 2 films on list)
United States

"This is not an opera!" Kenneth Lonergan shot this film back in 2005 but it was held back because he failed to keep the film under 150 minutes (as required in the contract). The film has finally been released at 149 minutes and it's messy and wild and unraveled and a masterpiece! Margaret is a gripping film so full of ideas and imagination, all through the point-of-view of a self-absorbed teenage girl - incredibly performed by Anna Paquin. This is a remarkably genuine character so full of life and compound feelings, anxiety and emotions. Conflict, compromise, worry, hate, alienation arise in the face of tragedy and Margaret relentlessly and intelligently understands the nature of daily living, observing with a splendor that is transcendent cinema.


Directed by: Wong Kar Wai (1st of 2 films on list)
Hong Kong / China

"It is a restless moment. She has kept her head lowered to give him a chance to come closer but he could not, for lack of courage. She turns and walks away.".... and so begins what I believe is one of the greatest films ever made!! Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood For Love is a beautifully poetic, artistic, thoughtful, and emotionally involving film that takes nothing for granted as it gradually builds to get the viewer "in the mood" of it's ill-fated relationship. The film brilliantly examines the emotions of the relationship between two lost souls, their everyday lives and events, the longing and connection that ties them together, as well as societies restraints which keep them apart. In the Mood for Love's cinematography is nothing short of remarkable. Every shot is beautifully framed and gorgeously composed of strong colors blended with dark portions to add both meaning and the claustrophobic feel of 1960's Hong Kong. The images convey both a beauty and symbolic metaphor for the film (be it mirrors, curtains, outfits, etc) and the frame is often detailed in tight, compact shots to heighten the claustrophobia, and also express the emotional state of it's characters (who hold secrets within). The film is also very much a political one as both the characters hidden secrets and the story draw metaphoric parallels to Hong Kon and China politics. In many ways, In the Mood For Love is a very personal reflection for it's filmmaker who consciously detailed the period and even such metaphors as the hotel room number 2046 (which marks the last year of the 50-year period that China would allow Hong Kong on it's own). In a very symbolic way, In the Mood For Love represents both personal and emotional secrets and memories for Wong as well as the films characters. Notice even the way the "rehearse" or "perform" as they even hide their own feelings from each other. Of course to simply define the relationship as a metaphoric one would be completely overlooking what is a deeply emotional story of connection and longing. Despite limited dialogue, Tony Leung and the radiant Maggie Cheung give (as usual) extraordinary performances through their delicate body language and isolated facial expressions. Not to go without mentioning is the excellent, repeated use of the film's breathtaking violin music and soundtrack, which gracefully flows throughout and adds depth to both the visual and emotional atmosphere. In the Mood For Love is a film that recalls the beauty of the French New Wave and of old-fashioned Hollywood filmmaking (the color and composition style and social complexity of Douglas Sirk certainly comes to mind), as it ultimately represents the joy and wonder of filmmaking and cinema in it's purest artistic form: capturing feelings and emotions through expressive imagery and sound! Like great art, Wong undoubtedly leaves much to think about here, as very much of the film is left open (the husband and wife; the intimacy of the relationship; Su Li-zhen's child; the ending). Few films truly capture fate, destiny, connection, isolation, and above all the longing for love better then this stylish, poetic Wong masterpiece. In many ways this is the brilliant Hong Kong filmmaker's greatest achievement. I truly believe this to be one of the most perfect films ever made and any praise can still not justify it's transcendent and poetic beauty. This is a film to experience and to cherish.


Directed by: Clint Eastwood (1st of 2 films on list)
United States

The strength of Million Dollar Baby lies within it's characters and its noirish atmosphere. The film opens to the sounds of Clint Eastwood's tender musical score, the Warner Brothers and Lakeshore logos are shown in black and white, further expressing the noirish atmosphere and tone of the film. Even though the film is simply (and even begins commonly) told, and the depth or knowledge of their past are limited within the narrative, you will deeply sympathize and truly care for these characters. They are human in every way, but Eastwood is not presenting his film as real life, yet rather through a cinematic world of dark doomed fate. There are also moments of humor and touching beauty, as Million Dollar Baby is a love story of two souls, that have been abandoned by both family and religion, who's relationship is connected through redemption. That's the key, and their redemption comes through tragedy!! The film is gracefully told as a reflection by the seemingly ghostlike narrator (Scrap-Iron, played brilliantly by Morgan Freeman), and is focused on the relationship of boxing gym owner Frankie Dunn, and Maggie Fitzgerald a desperate and persistent female boxer. They are both played to absolute perfection by Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank who give the best best performances of thier careers. There are many depths and layers within the film, but ultimately I believe Million Dollar Baby to be (above all) an emotional journey with the characters which transcends any of it's themes. Million Dollar Baby is simply flawless in all aspects of filmmaking, acting, and writing. Absorbing, touching, and painful, this is a film you will not forget. Unforgiven may be Eastwood's quintessential film, Bird his most passionate, Mystic River his most haunting, but Million Dollar Baby is his most heartbreaking and to me his greatest accomplishment and among the very best American films ever made.


Directed by: Abbas Kiarostami (1st of 1 films on list)
France / Italy / Iran

"Forget the original and get a good copy." After several experimental films that examined the very essence or importance of the filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami's latest (his first film made outside his home country of Iran) may be one of his most conventional narratives to date - at least on the surface. With this film the master looks into ideas of artistic originality and imitation - centered around the story of an English writer (played by British opera singer William Shimell) who while promoting his book spends a day walking, talking and driving around Italy with a French woman (played by Juliette Binoche). There is much more going on then such a simple description would indicate, as the film is filled with such lush imagination and curiosity, as well as moments of lyrical beauty and humor. As suggested in the subtle title, Certified Copy is a reflection of the book the writer describes - which is itself of reflection and of performance and of love and or art. The setting is Tuscany and Kiarostami is specific in using it as a world that looks and feels both artificial and real, using space and time with a passing and metaphorical expression. Each frame and movement is skillfully composed within this world, heightening the rich layers at work. There is such magical skill to this film. Both in the masterful layers Kiarostami expresses with an effortless approach, as well as the naturalistic performance of Binoche, a legendary actress that might very well be at her career best here. Certified Copy is a marvelous film that I would consider in the class of The Wind Will Carry Us or Through the Olive Trees among Kiarostami's finest achievements. Thoughtful and tender, the film is one completely of its own.


Directed by: Jim Sheridan (1st of 1 films on list)
Ireland / United Kingdom / United States

In America is a film that moves me beyond descriptive words. It is a film I find difficult to describe because it is a magical and spiritual experience and an achievement that is truly intimate and passionate. I it overly sentimental or symbolic? I don't know, maybe. Is it effective? Absolutely!! This film will surely move even the most cynic of hearts. A film full of heart. It's nice to see a film believe in magical realism as the film does right from the very opening moments to its heartfelt ending. This is Jim Sheridan's most personal film and he should be applauded for it. From the very opening narration, it's a wonderfully touching tale of recovery, memory, and forgiveness. It is also a spiritual film and one that beautifully expresses the feeling of spiritual connection - and it is here that the film really transcends into a lovely masterwork. The performances are all outstanding. It is incredible to witness the performances of the young sisters played by Sarah and Emma Bolger (they are sisters in real life as well). They capture the truth, imagination, and innocence of childhood with such perfection. Djimon Hounsou is also very good as Mateo an important character that gives the film it's heart. Through several visual and emotional references Mateo represents the spiritual hope and life for this Irish immigrant family who's looking for a change after the tragic death of their son. Expressing this pain with subtle depth and beauty is the typically remarkable Samantha Morton and Paddy Considine. In America is a lovely, poetic and tender film that transcends both time and place to become universal.


Directed by: Jeong Jae-eun (1st of 1 films on list)
South Korea

What a beautiful and perfect film this is! Take Care of My Cat opens with a group of five young friends celebrating their graduation. Within a moment we are taken out of this joyful celebration of youth and into the world of early adulthood. A world that grows far more complex and ultimately begins to divide friendship. Take Care of My Cat is an emotionally captivating film that takes on many layers despite being made with a master touch of simplicity. What could have been forceful or melodrama, becomes something beautiful and natural through the minimalist approach by Korean filmmaker Jeong Jae-eun, in his debut feature film. The emotions, expressions, and layers of the film are not explained, but rather they speak for themselves in a way that recalls the mastery of Yasujiro Ozu. The film is simplistic in that it does not rely on plot, yet there is a complexly structured depth to the film that allows the viewer to reflect upon and appreciate afterwards. We understand these characters experiences and we share in their humanity. The performances by the five women are each excellent, but it is Bae Doo-Na that is especially great. As Tae-hee, Bae finds herself alone and alienated from love and from family, always drifting into private thought. It is her friends that give her the connection and support she needs and Tae-hee struggles to reunite two of the friends that are drifting from each other (Hae-joo, an ambitious career-woman who’s moved to Seoul and Ji-young, a depressed orphan living in a broken down shack with her grandparents). Within the lives of these five woman is the cat Tee Tee who was found in an alley by Ji-young. Tee Tee moves through the hands of each character, becoming a reflection of their lives. Another minimalist expression of the film is the recurring use of cell phones and text messages, which serve to attempt to connect the friendship as it slowly drifts further apart. The cinematography of Take Care of My Cat is extraordinary, specifically in the way (without being forcefully “pretty”) it captures beauty and sadness in the most authentic manner. Take Care of My Cat is just a lovely film. I can not praise it enough except to say it is perfect and one of my favorite films!


Directed by: Terrence Malick (2nd of 3 films on list)
United States

"Come spirit. Help us sing the story of our land. You are the mother, we are the field of corn. We rise from out of the soul of you." One of the great aspects of cinema's power is feeling and I simply love the way Terrence Malick's films feel. They transcend the time, the setting, and the place of the story (even when based on history- as his films are). The New World is no exception and feels like a poetic dream. This is one of the most spiritual films I've ever seen and every image leaves a hallucinating memory that is unforgettable. Of course not to go without mentioning is the powerful presence of newcomer Q'Orianka Kilcher, who as Pocahontas (or Princess/Rebecca as she's referred in the film) perfectly captures the seductive and humanistic expression of Malick's heavenly world (which is contrasted by it's imagery of hell- a thematic trademark for Malick). The New World is a love story, but it is more a spiritual love story of Pocahontas and her mother earth. John Smith (played by Colin Farrell) loves her, but above all he loves the world she symbolizes. It is John Rolfe (played by Christian Bale) that offers her the true love. The New World captures Malick's definitive style (including poetic use of voice-overs, minimal dialogue, alternating editing, as well as repetitive images of nature including trees/birds/fire/water). Like his previous work, The New World is a film in which everything lives and breaths equally and this is represented by Pocahontas' translation of the water, the wind, the sun, and the sky. The New World is a spiritual connection of nature and humanity as told by Malick through the story of colonization as well as mans unwise battle to recreate civilization and nature. Days of Heaven may be my favorite Terrence Malick film, but The New World is close and it might be his most ambitious, and most quintessential work. His style of editing and compositions are poetic, and even if occasionally sporadic there is an incredibly meaningful detail and expression within each and every shot and cut. Perhaps most remarkable is the way Malick tells the emotions and story simply through imagery and sounds. Malick's films are always beautiful on a visual level, but above all the film is an experience in that the sounds and music become an essential connection of the imagery. The use of sound in this film is among the very greatest in the history of filmmaking. The New World is cinema at it's most artistic and transcendent. It is above all, a poem on film from one of the greatest filmmakers. This may not be for everyone, but I know how I feel when I experience the emotions and beauty of this masterpiece… and it is a spiritual feeling I hope always remains with me!


Directed by: Hou Hsiao-Hsien (1st of 5 films on list)
France / Taiwan

Three Times is a masterpiece of filmmaking and I believe rates among Hou Hsiao-hsien's very greatest cinematic achievements. In many ways, Three Times is like a collection of Hou's previous work. The film is structured as three unlinking stories featuring the same two actors (Chang Chen and the lovely Shu Qi) during three different time periods of Taiwan (1966, 1911, 2005). Each segment is not connected in terms of narrative, but each share similar linking themes of romantic relationships. Each segment stands brilliant and as a whole the film is a masterwork, but to me it is the first segment ("A Time for Love"- 1966) that is truly brilliant. Through simplistic and minimal techniques, Hou recalls his early work of young love and everyday living. There is also a sense of nostalgia, longing and atmosphere that transcend the film into one of feeling and is undeniably reminiscent of Wong Kar Wai's romantic longing. The second segment ("A Time for Freedom"- 1911) is presented as a silent film (moody music, titles cards and all!) and very much recalls Hou's 1998 film Flowers of Shanghai in that it takes place within a brothel. This is a daring and effective approach by Hou, who respectfully isn't attempting to remake a silent film, but rather uses the emotional power silent cinema creates. The claustrophobic visuals and sexual and political themes also recall Hou's earlier film. The final segment ("A Time for Youth"- 2005) captures a combination of Hou's Goodbye South, Goodbye (including the motorcycle rides through the city) and Millennium Mambo (including the endless smoking from Shu Qi) in examining the disconnected and alienated modern day youth. Through un-communicating relationships and loneliness, Hou is essentially detailing a poetic view of modern-day Taiwan in contrast to a time that is lost and needs to be held onto. Three Times is an important film from a very important filmmaker. Hou has created a deeply moving and thought-provoking film that examinations important issues of Taiwan and it's history, as well as human relationships and connection (or disconnection). Three Times is a film to cherish, to revisit, and to remember.


Directed by: Claire Denis (1st of 3 films on list)
France / Germany / Japan

With a masterful career of films noted for their eroticism and meditative use of colors, sounds, textures, it is perhaps surprising that Trouble Every Day might be the most defining of its filmmaker. Here Denis adopts genre elements to find her trademark cinematic expressions of the human flesh and of blending or contrasting the brutally wicked with the hopefully joyous. The result is one of the most seductive, disturbing and hypnotic films of the last 20 years. It has gone on to be recognized as one of the early films of the New French Extremity, but that is hardly Denis' aim, making this part of the reason its such a fascinating achievement. Above all Trouble Every Day succeeds as a spiritual meditation on the damage of lust and the chaos stimulated by sexual feelings - all made with the slow poetic touch of a master filmmaker.


Directed by: Sofia Coppola (1st of 2 films on list)
United States / France / Japan

Marie Antoinette is very representative of Sofia Coppola’s cinematic style and themes. This is her third film and each of them have equally dealt with young woman trapped in a foreign world of isolation, loneliness, and boredom. While her other features were (at least to me) self-conscious and somewhat dull attempts of recreating Michelangelo Antonioni or Wong Kar-Wai, Marie Antoinette is a wonderful personal expression of an artist. Here Coppola captures the poetic expression of her imagery and sounds in a spirit that evokes the groundbreaking American pioneers of the 1970s (such as her father Francis Ford Coppola, or more specifically Terrence Malick). While not breaking cinematic grounds with this film, Coppola isn’t conforming within any boundaries either, and the result is an epic film of artistic achievement with a free and personal vision. Really to my surprise, I loved this film in every way. I think because above all, it is one of feeling. Coppola is less interested in ideas (be it political, historical, or psychological). Her interest is in mood, in gestures, tones, themes, and sensibilities. Those looking for intellectual or historic depth may be left disappointed, because this is a film at its best when playful and silly. That is not to say the film is without meaning and importance (or focus). The film distances the viewer from the past and period drama through modern effects (such as the unexpectedly non-distracting new wave music, or the removing of language and accents), Coppola ultimately captures an emotional truth. At its core this modernized approach expresses the playful spirit of a young woman’s emotional and physical state. A dreamlike world of being entrapped into an unfamiliar environment of loneliness, and the longing for teenage freedom and possession (as well as rebellion). Often dialogue is never needed here. Through dazzling visuals, set designs, costumes, and makeup Marie Antoinette pitch-perfectly evokes this emotional expression (of which is clearly very personal to Coppola as a filmmaker, who can certainly make some parallels). Based on a sympathetic biography of Maria Antoinette, Coppola is deeply compassionate towards her. Ultimately this is a film of Coppola’s key expression, which is that of a lonely, imprisoned girl who retreats to her own private world of imagination but is destroyed by the uncontrollable desires within (being a young woman). Essentially Coppola is presenting this film as a dreamlike fantasy world through Marie Antoinette’s own imagination as she grows from a teenager to a woman. This is why Coppola films the final moments of Maria Antoinette as she does. While on a narrative level it may be flawed, I find her ending perfectly fitting and the final shot a beautifully expressive and essential image that defines the emotional and physical state the character. See this film - turn it up loud and let the cinematic expirence take you away!!


Directed by: Henry Selick (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

While all the animated and Disney films getting released seem to be using this new 3D technology as a moneymaking gimmick it is refreshing to see 3D used this beautifully and masterfully. Coraline doesn't rely on gimmicks but rather visual and character-driven storytelling. This is an animated film for adults first and kids second. There are psychological subtexts and artistry that make the film far more worthy then just a charming “kids cartoon”. Coraline is masterfully directed by Henry Selick proving Nightmare Before Christmas was more then just Tim Burton’s vision. The imagination and wonder of this film (both for its realism and fantasy) establishes Selick among the very top of stop-animation filmmaking, and one of the great visionaries of contemporary cinema. Selick takes a simple, formulaic fairy-tale story into imaginative and hallucinatory cinematic depths. It is the feeling of this film that makes it such a joy to experience. Selick has a great understanding of fairy-tale storytelling and nightmarish atmosphere through the eyes of a child. It is difficult to describe the feelings this film evokes without sounding like an overexcited fanboy, but that it what this film does for me. I can not praise this film enough except to say that it is perfect in its own methods. This is the artistic peak of stop-animation filmmaking and really must be seen at a theater in 3D!


Directed by: Jun Ichikawa (1st of 3 films on list)

"I'm not that lonely. I kind of like being by myself." Tokyo Marigold is a beautifully understated film. Loosely based off a novel by the great Mariko Hayashi (“One Year Later”) this film is written and directed by Jun Ichikawa, who’s films always contain a complexity underneath the quiet and subtle style and narrative. Tokyo Marigold is a film that just works. To me it is near perfection. I love how the richness of the emotions or more specifically of the character emerge from the simplicity. The film is centered around Eriko, a lonely self-absorbed woman living without direction through a life in which she seeks happiness an meaning. Perhaps persuaded by expectations or the pressure of conformity, Eriko discovers the emotions of falling in love and disappointment. Ichikawa uses the metaphor of the marigold as an emotional backdrop or connection to the story, as it is a flower that blooms only during the season before an inevitable decay. Ichikawa never forces the issue with the film and as we look closer it becomes apparent that the essence of both the film and the characters is what is hidden. This realization comes to Eriko in a fitting ending as she watches herself on a TV commercial. Tokyo Marigold is a film of such rich complexity, most of which lies within the character of Eriko. Eriko is wonderfully played by Rena Tanaka. Tanaka gives an endearing performance that flawlessly works with the understated beauty of Ichikawa’s direction. Told with a quiet simplicity, and shot with radiant color patterns, Tokyo Marigold has the stylish tone of a lyrical dream.


Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson (3rd of 5 films on list)
United States

I have seen Inherent Vice many many times now and I find each viewing unique to another - where a moment is funny one viewing, it is suddenly touching another time or the other way around. The great Paul Thomas Anderson has made (with his 7th feature) a true film experience - one that takes you into its world. I absolutely adore the dreamlike rhythm of this film and I love how it grows with repeat viewings. Blurring the line between fantasy and reality, Anderson has masterfully adapted the complex depth of Thomas Pynchon's literature. Anderson is the first filmmaker to boldly attempt an adaptation of Pynchon's interweaving experimentation. Inherent Vice is a film that masterfully captures a time, a place, and a way of living with a force few filmmakers can achieve with the mastery Anderson does. The set design and visuals heighten the intimate expressions of guilt and fear and of loss - which Anderson ultimately makes the emotional core of this film. The entire cast is simply flawless and the desolate atmosphere is equally frightening and funny. The film will inevitably be compared to the masters that have helped shaped Anderson's cinematic form (Robert Altman and Stanley Kubrick), yet Anderson has accomplished something remarkable with this film, which I will never stop returning to watch!!


Directed by: Sarah Polley (1st of 1 films on list)
Canada / United Kingdom / United States

Written and directed by actress Sarah Polley in her debut, who adapted the film from a short story by Alice Munro ("The Bear Came Over the Mountain"), Away From Her is a heartrending film of memory, and of marriage. The film is beautifully structured like a poem, drifting in a non-linear journey of the past and present. The film opens with a series of shots that are poignantly rendered, as we subtly observe three different perspectives of a couple cross-country skiing (together, on separate paths, and then together again). Polley effectively plays with time, skillfully heightening the films treatment of memory- much in a similar style of the films co-producer Atom Egoyan (who directed Polley in his 1997 masterpiece The Sweet Hereafter). Only 28 years old, Polley shows the grace and wisdom of a filmmaker far ahead of her age in the way she finds the perfect little details of a 44-year old marriage. A love that after 44-years has grown stronger through memory. So what happens when Fiona (played by Julie Christie in a career-defining performance) suffers Alzheimer's disease? Can their love persevere? When Fiona tells her husband Grant that she "is beginning to disappear", she agrees to be submitted to Meadowlake Nursing Home, a place that seems destined to erase memories of the past, even a 44-year marriage. By Meadowlakes policy (which as a nurse states is probably more convenient for the staff), Grant must be away from Fiona for 30 days. The films title seems to reflect both husband and wife, as they are taken away (he from her, and her from herself) from the loss of shared memory. Carrying the emotional weight of the film without an ounce of sentiment is the incredible performance from the always reliable Julie Christie. As Fiona, Christie is heart-wrenching, but in a way that is perfectly subtle and underplayed. Away From Her is an incredibly moving film. It is heartbreakingly sad, but ultimately hopeful in its graceful observation of acceptance, and of selfless love.


Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki (1st of 1 films on list)

Watching legendary Japanese animation filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki's unique, wondrous and highly imaginative Spirited Away is an incredible experience. The film takes the viewer on an Alice in Wonderland-type adventure world of fascinating visuals and wonderful characters. Spirited Away also contains smart moral messages ranging from greed to environmental protection. It’s also a film of life: through imagination, belief, and experience. Ultimatly however the beauty of the film lies in Miyazaki's animation which as the title suggest takes you away on a magical an unforgettable journey. The attention to detail and elegant shading of colors within every frame is absolute genius artistry (including the imagery throughout the closing credits- a Miyazaki trademark). Simply put, Miyazaki is a master of animation filmmaking and storytelling. His films are amazing, and to me, Spirited Away rates as his one or two greatest masterpieces (alongside Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds and My Neighbor Totoro). I absolutely love this film and repeat viewings only add to the pleasures this film brings to both cinema and life. I can’t justify my love for this film in words as I certainly rate it among the very greatest ever made (animation or otherwise). To me, this is absolutely one of the most perfect films ever made. Spirited Away is a rare film experience of creativity, imagination, thought-provoking storytelling, spiritual connection, and above all: art! To see this film is to experience it, and to experience it is to cherish it. Ok so I'm repeating myself and probably not giving any thoughtful insight or justice to the film, but that it what it does - turns me into an obsessive fan. This is a film I will continue to revisit throughout my lifetime and in fact since 2003 I begin every year by making Spirited Away the first film I watch.


Directed by: Debra Granik (1st of 2 films on list)
United States

Debra Granik's Winter's Bone is that rare film that finds a spiritual sense of inspiration while being both brutal and sensitive. The films lyrical form is masterful, even indirectly echoing shades of the great Yasujiro Ozu or more distinctly the gritty masterpieces of the 1970s. It's great strength is the lack of self-awareness instead focused on it's poetic tone, realist humanism, and bleak landscapes (of which the culture and characters of the film are reflected upon). Of course the core of the film is that of it's inspirational heroine Ree Dolly - flawlessly performed by Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence delivers a complex truth in the way she balances Ree's vulnerability with moments of courage and at times brutality. She is self-sacrificing of personal desire and determined - as she follows her decisions against all pain or struggles with profound internal strength and resilience. Winter's Bone is a beautifully layered film that grows with repeat viewings.


Directed by: Jeff Nichols (1st of 3 films on list)
United States

With Take Shelter talented filmmaker Jeff Nichols (who's debut was the highly under-appreciated 2007 gem Shotgun Stories) subtly expresses the lingering sense of anxiety which is reflective of our current global economy. Of course this anxiety is also deeply internal and intimate and all this is beautifully and hauntingly expressed in this masterful film. The performances by the married couple at the core of the film (Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain) are nothing sort of incredible and each shot and sequence within this film are so perfectly and precisely constructed and detailed, all with an effortless touch. Nichols blends the visuals to match the building atmosphere to create a deeper sense of nightmarish doom (much like the building of a giant storm). The ending might be ambiguous but I think (especially in contrast to the films opening) it perfectly completes the film in that Curtis can "take shelter" with his family who are clearly with him in love and acceptance.


Directed by: Richard Linklater (1st of 3 films on list)
United States

As brilliant as 1995's Before Sunrise is (and I believe it to be an absolute masterpiece) Before Sunset is equal- if not better- in every way! I love these films! Much like the first film, it's such a simplistic approach yet reaches depths and complexities of endless philosophical and romantic themes. Ultimately everything centers around the connection or longing of two human souls. While together both films are wonderful, Before Sunset is really a sequel that stands on it's own. What this film does is it takes a second chance at fate and gives us a thoughtful and lyrical look at the very progression of life. Whether intended or not, Before Sunset is indeed a very spiritual film. Richard Linklater's direction is fabulous. Once again he features long, elaborate tracking shots as the couple move throughout the backdrop of the city (this time the location is beautiful Paris, which captures an absorbing and breathtaking atmosphere). The film has the look and feel of a dream. I think the camera is floating through the Paris air!!! Ethan Hawke and especially the radiant Julie Delpy deserve equal credit to Linklater, not only for the wonderful recreation of the characters (Jesse and Celine 9 years later), but also for co-writing the brilliant dialogue. They each inhabit their roles to such perfection it's truly a joy to watch. Their conversations are full of energy as it displays both humor and heartache in reflecting upon the past 9 years. Time has passed, their lives have changed, even their perspective of life of changed (perhaps more cynical and less hopefully romantic while more reflective and spiritually connected), yet the true feelings and longing within their soul remains and it is equally painful and beautiful. This is particularly expressed in one of the films most revealing and unforgettable sequences on the car ride back to Celine's house. Every moment of Before Sunset works, as it arrives to its emotional (and again, very open) ending. There are several interpretations as to what will happen with Jesse and Celine, but much of it relates to an early sequence at Jesse's book signing in which he compared the cynic to the romantic. However you see the film at it's conclusion it's a very thought-provoking and brilliant ending that carries a variety of human emotions: sadness, regret, anger, excitement, and remembrance (highlighted by the wonderful Nina Simone singing 'Just In Time'). I love this film so much and will continue to rewatch it over and over everytime feeling differently or perhaps breathtakingly curious about what continues after the fade to black over Nina Simone singing… and I love that the curiosity will never go away!!!


Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson (4th of 5 films on list)
United States

Underscored by a haunting musical composition by Jonny Greenwood, Paul Thomas Anderson's film opens on a vista landscape of a wide-open, and uninhabited land. Then a cut to black and we are literally emerged into darkness. A dark hole actually, where a menacing figure is seen digging through this hole, which he soon strikes silver. Through darkness and grueling labor this man is driven. Driven (by greed) to never return to a hole and to claim his fortune of the land. Over the course of the stunning opening 20 minutes there are no words- just gestures and sounds (grunts, cries, and music). It is here the tone is immediately set, and after a transition to years later, dialogue arises "Ladies and gentlemen". And so it is the start of a masterpiece tale of greed, religion, family, deception, power, and self-interest. With his fifth feature, Paul Thomas Anderson has done something he has never done in his career, loosely adapting Upton Sinclair's novel (Oil!). Yet the film is distinctly his, and you are aware of this at every turn because of the precise handling of the grand epic. This is a classic American film in the vein of Orson Welles, DW Griffith, John Huston, or Stanley Kubrick, but Anderson boldly gives it his usual unconventional touch. Essentially There Will Be Blood is a battle of two forces, capitalism and religion, portrayed through two characters (the oil man Daniel Plainview and the preacher Eli Sunday). Not to go without credit is the remarkable lead performance by Daniel-Day Lewis. Under Anderson's direction, Lewis has created one of the most memorable characters in American film- Daniel Plainview, a monstrous presence who's humanity comes only from his unrelenting determination. Duality is a prominent motif of the film and this is most expressed through the twin brothers Eli and Paul Sunday (both played by Paul Dano). In Eli Sunday, Daniel (who "sees the worst in people") initially finds a conflict in what he sees as a false prophet, much in the way he is a false family man. As the title subtly hints, kinship also lies at the core of the film, most notably the blood kinship with Daniel: his adopted son H.W., who he profits off of prior to his accident; his brother Henry, who is also not of the same blood and who Daniel openly confides in; and of course Eli, the preacher who refers to him as Brother Daniel. When the film reaches its mind-blowing climax, its perfectly brought to a crashing battle of survival (not only physically but also psychologically and spiritually as well). Daniel loses H.W. in his marriage to Eli's sister. Eli, who has lost to brother Paul as a true prophet, is left only with Daniel. Having lost thier family, they essentially (as competition) only have each other and the stronger survives ("I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!"). In the end Daniel (now in a mansion) ultimately finds himself back alone in a hole like he started in the films opening. Completely assured of the rhythm and narrative, Paul Thomas Anderson has achieved a bold masterwork of technical expertise. "I'm finished!"


Directed by: Todd Haynes (1st of 2 films on list)
United States / France

Todd Haynes 2002 film, Far From Heaven, is bold and involving. There is no question about the influences here: the 1950s Technicolor melodramas by Douglas Sirk (most notably All That Heaven Allows). Sirk is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers so it is a joy watching one of my current favorite filmmakers reimagine Sirk's vision. Aside from capturing the look, emotions, sounds, feelings, and period details of the era, Haynes is essentially making the film has if it were the 1950s. What results is a work that that is not only deeply respectful of it's inspirations, but also gives more complex examination and in many ways is perhaps more authentic and more socially important. Todd Haynes has made a 1950s film without holding back the restrictions those films did at the time. Julianne Moore's performance is amazing. It's as if Moore (and the viewer) lose themselves in the character. Everything we see becomes and feels real. The supporting cast is equally wonderful, lead by the always reliable Dennis Quaid and Patricia Clarkson. This is a film of human feelings and behavior. It is a love story of two lost souls who relationship is doomed by a society and behavior of ignorance and hatred. The films greatest strength lies in the beautiful photography. The colors are so refreshing and it's as if they help tell the story without feeling staged. From the opening crane shot through the fall leaves, Far From Heaven is a flawless film of visual imagery. Every detail is finely designs from colors, locations, sets, and costumes. But above all this is a film of masterful compositions, which (like the themes of the film) hold endless layers and depth beneath the surface. There is such richness and patterned texture within every frame of the composition, which captured the expression of the film (often without the need of dialogue). This is filmmaking at it's most visually complex and artistic. The emotional style may seem a bit to melodramatic and dated to some viewers, which sadly discredits the bold intellect of the filmmaking here. Those that appreciate the glorious cinematography, fine detailed sets and costumes, haunting score, and flawless directing and acting, will see it for what it is: A completely respectful, authentic and sometimes painful look at what life was really like back in "the good old days" that in so many ways really weren't all that great! Bottom line: a masterpiece film that will hit on all visual and emotion levels.


Directed by: Hirokazu Koreeda (1st of 3 films on list)

Hirokazu Kore-eda is a master filmmaker mostly in the simplistic ways he captures the little moments. This is probably Kore-eda's best film since his 1998 masterwork After Life, which I'd consider among my all-time favorite films. Still Walking understands the dynamics of the family, removing the layers to reveal lingering grief and regrets caused from unresolved differences and bitterness. The film is a personal reflection for Kore-eda yet the universal qualities make it so touching, funny, and honest. Still Walking could very well be a title for most of Kore-edas films as this reflects on death and the souls that are still living (and grieving). Still Walking takes place over the course of a day during a family reunion for the death of the eldest child. The film is an honest depiction of family relationships between elderly parents and their children, both for its painful and its tender moments. Kore-eda finds the drama in the moments of anticipation as well as their affect - the very essence of human feelings. The presence or existence of death and life is deeply felt here, particularly in the lovely Yokohama exterior sequences by the gravesite. The beauty of Still Walking is how remarkably moving and thoughtful it is with the effortless touch of its filmmaker. The tone is maybe a little more sentimental (and perhaps more angry) then Yasujiro Ozu or Mikio Naruse, but this belongs mention in that class, for the gentle and subtle approach that few filmmakers can master with such effortlessness.


Directed by: Jonathan Demme (1st of 2 films on list)
United States

Set to the background sounds of a band rehearsing a wedding song, the opening titles of this film are slightly off center and messy. It is subtle details like this that make Rachel Getting Married such a wonderful film, which is kind of perfect mostly for its imperfections and the seemingly unscripted ease and beauty in which it flows. There may not be an American filmmaker alive today better then Jonathan Demme in capturing humanity at its most hopeful. The script is from first time writer Jenny Lumet (daughter of legendary Sidney Lumet) but this really shines in those moments that feel unscripted. Through the direction of Demme, Rachel Getting Married echoes the work of the great Robert Altman (a filmmaker Demme admired and even thanked at the end credits). This film reminds us of the rich understanding Demme brought to the American life in his wonderful early films. Of course this ensemble cast is outstanding with Anne Hathaway giving a career-defining performance. She is truly incredible here in a layered and deeply tender performance that grows as deeper as the film progresses. Hathaway, Rosemarie Dewitt (sister), Bill Irwin (father), and Debra Winger (mother) all share a great chemistry and connection of tense and loving family emotions which linger throughout the film. Perhaps some pains will never heal and instead of a resolution comes an acceptance of the moment and where the moment will lead. This is where Rachel Getting Married emerges as a celebration and reflection of humanity (and all of its cultures) at its most hopeful.


Directed by: Jame Campion (1st of 1 films on list)
United Kingdom / Australia / France

It has been awhile but its nice to see New Zealand-born filmmaker Jane Campion making great films again. Master of the innovative and cinematic language-defining films Sweetie (1989) and An Angel at My Table (1990), Campion gives the period costume formula a rare sense of feeling. Above all this is a film that you can feel (be it in moments of beauty, of heartbreak, of romance or of humor). The production values (sets, costumes and most especially the cinematography) are extraordinary and the performances are strong (notably a career-defining role from Abbie Cornish who is already well acclaimed in her native Australia for performances in Somersault and Candy). Telling the story of a love affair between a young Romantic poet John Keats played by Ben Whishaw and his next-door neighbor Fanny (played by Cornish), Bright Star is a film that requires the lyrical touch of a gentle and detailed artist with a great understanding of feelings and mood. In addition, one of the unique qualities that sets this film apart from the standard period drama is Campion's trademark visual camera framing and storytelling. There is no doubt Campion can frame a shot and her manner of storytelling gives the typical period romance a refreshing and quiet beauty.


Directed by: Joe Wright (1st of 2 films on list)
United Kingdom / France / United States

"Come back. Come back to me." Joe Wright's Atonement opens to the sounds of a typewriter and a detailed image which pans past a model of a mansion and toy set, towards a young girl typing. Through images and sound (which flawlessly works as one with the score) the essence of the film is defined. With inspiring direction, performances, and musical score Atonement is a romantic tragedy which is self-reflective in mysteries of the creative process. The filmmaking is on an epic scale, but I think to simply label this film as an epic would be greatly undermining it's impact. On an emotional level, this is a very intimate and small film. As he did with his first feature (Pride and Prejudice), Wright gives the film a vibrantly visual work of mastery achievement (highlighted by an elaborate tracking shot through the Dunkirk beach that will be revered throughout film history). The real strength of his work is the way Wright reinvents the period convention into a study of self-aware literature. The performances throughout this film are nothing short of remarkable. Echoing stars of old, James McAvoy proves his leading man talents and under Wright's direction again Keira Knightley is stunning (especially breathtaking in her scenes wearing the green dress!!). The heart of the film however is in Briony Tallis and she is stirringly played by Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, and Vanessa Redgrave. Each of these actresses perfectly captures the mystery of this character. The performances or filmmakers do not judge the character instead leaving Briony ambiguous. In the young Ronan we see Briony observe (like playing with an insect) the flirtations between Celia and Robbie. In Garai we see Briony haunted and trying to make amends. Then in the eldest Redgrave we see the ambiguity of a writer who through her creation has attempted to make herself less morally responsible. Atonement is structured in three-parts and most of the second half is learned to be a literary recreation by the eldest Briony. She has re-written the story to diminish her guilt and in her mind make good on her past mistake. The ambiguity lies in whether you believe she is doing good or if it is simply the act of a deceitful ego. Viewed either way, Briony fails to recognize differences between the fiction she imagines and the result those imaginations have on reality. These are the complex and ambiguous levels Atonement is working on, and as a filmmaking achievement it is remarkable. Sweeping direction and lovely performances, Atonement is a hauntingly tragic romance that modifies the conventions of a period piece.


Directed by: Steven Spielberg (1st of 2 films on list)
United States

In 1982 Stanley Kubrick purchased the rights to Brian Aldiss’s short story Super-Toys Last All Summer Long. After finishing Full Metal Jacket Kubrick began to work on Artificial Intelligence A.I. as his next film. Kubrick was not satisfied with the initial script he was working on with Bob Shaw and Ian Watson. In 1994, he completed a partial script (with Chris Baker’s drawings) and began on the pre-production. However, Kubrick decided to postpone A.I. in hopes computer technology would improve. In 1995 he then began working on Eyes Wide Shut with A.I. to be his next film. After his death in 1999, Steven Spielberg wrote his own version based on much of Kubrick and Baker’s existing material. This particular film is Spielberg's (as he changed much of the script- notably with the Gigilo Joe character), but ultimately it is just as much a Stanley Kubrick film. Would it have been better had Kubrick directed it? That question will forever remain unknown, but it's really not that important. However, what is known is the work that has been made, and to me it is a masterpiece collaboration of both Kubrick's and Spielberg's visions (which is surprising considering it deals mostly with Kubrick-esque dark and disturbing examinations of the differences between human and non-human). I personally believe it stands among the very greatest films ever made and both Kubrick and Spielberg deserve equal praise.Though influences are evident, in many ways these two filmmakers have contrasting styles which, when combined, seem to really work within the themes of this film. I think A.I. was a very personal and important film to Kubrick, and he even thought much of it was more suitable for Spielberg. I believe Spielberg was very respectful of Kubrick's idea, and yet he still managed to express his own personal vision into the film. What results if a masterpiece of cinema that will stand the test of time and be recognized among the great achievements of filmmaking. Spielberg handles the subject matter perfectly. From the opening narration (one of many Kubrick homages?), the viewer is presented with a dark and chilling mood of a (artificially) secure futuristic atmosphere. It's an extremely intense and rare film that dares to be bold. We are shown humanity as a minor piece of something greater, life is simply a state of mind. Among other questions, AI asks: What makes the human race the ultimate value of emotions and awareness? If it's humans who create these computer programs and robots to act and react as humans, what determines the difference amongst them? Originally I thought the ending was a sappy cop-out, but have come to understand it's brilliance. It's perfect! Sure it's sentimental at it's surface, but yet underneath remains a dark, haunting, and meaningful depth. It is really very sad. Like Pinocchio, David has a dream. The dream comes true, but not from the world which created him. The ending also represents technology as humans savior (humans create mechas, now mechas create humans). David is the key to human savior; a mecha that is human. AI is a masterfully crafted, emotionally engaging, visually stunning, and ultimately thought-provoking film experience that will stay in the viewers mind long after watching. It will surely be recognized, discussed, and praised as a classic over time. "I am. I was."


Directed by: Mamoru Hosoda (1st of 2 films on list)

Several Studio Ghibli protégés, including director Mamoru Hosoda, collaborated on this beautiful film from Mad House animation. This story, written by Yasutaka Tsutsui, has been told in several different formats. What Hosoda and screenwriter Satoko Okudera do with this film is re-imagine the story as sequel while maintaining the heart and themes of the original story. At the core of the film is inspirational messages about taking chances and grabbing hold of opportunity. The animation and style of the film is made rather simply, The Girl Who Lept Through Time has an incredibly complex structure to it. There are many subplots that emerge through the simplicity of the story and the filmmakers do an effective job at seamlessly blending the serious moments with the lighthearted and humorous ones. There are echoes of Jane Austen's Emma at least in the way the initial concept begins (a young girl realizes she has the power to go back in time and change and she starts off by doing good deeds for herself and those around her), but this film becomes a more painful growth experience. The film's greatest strength is it's characterization notable that of it's teenage friendship. The Girl Who Lept Through Time is an emotionally touching and beautifully conceived film.


Directed by: James Gray (1st of 4 films on list)
United States / France

Two Lovers is masterful in the way it is directed and performed. A talented young filmmaker, James Gray has made his first great film - one that is personal, detailed and original in its own way. Joaquin Phoenix perfectly taps into the loneliness, obsession and longing of his character giving what I would say is the best performance of his career (and whether or not it is his final appearance is yet to be known, but after seeing how terrific he is here I certainly hope he is not done with acting). We are immersed into the emotion from the gloomy opening sequence, in which Phoenix’s character (Leonard) considers a suicide. What transcends the performance is the authentic execution, avoiding the easy route of self-absorbed young man longing for love. This film is more complex, and the complexities emerge from the layered performance of Phoenix. With his character (like James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause or Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain for examples), there is an inner-struggle that is exteriorly masked and only evident in subtle moments. Take for instance a scene when Leonard is to meet Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow) and her lover/married-man Ronald (Elias Koteas). Leonard is sitting alone waiting for them in an expensive New York restaurant. This is a world completely foreign to him. He is lonely and lost yet externally he tries to appear as though he fits in (by checking his cell phone as if he has calls and ordering a high-class drink Michelle told him about earlier). It is the performance of Phoenix and the subtle gestures which takes you emotionally into the moment and the character. The film concludes with a brilliantly thought-provoking final scenes (which I will not reveal for those yet to see the film). The complex emotions give Two Lovers an ambiguity that can be seen as sad, bittersweet or hopeful all at once.


Directed by: Tsai Ming-liang (1st of 2 films on list)
Taiwan / France

Tsai Ming-liang's 2001, What Time Is It There? is as original, exciting, and beautiful a film can possibly get. As with all of Tsai's films the camera consists of long, extended takes and isolated framing to enhance the alienation of the characters as well as create a claustrophobic atmosphere. There are also many moments of dialogue free silence and long takes (the film opens to a static shot which last nearly four minutes without a cut: A man alone - in the middle of the frame - in his kitchen prepares a meal). Tsai wants the viewer to absorb the film, to participate in it, and emphasize with the characters situations and emotions. It truly creates a challenging and thus a deeply rewarding cinematic experience. There are so many levels, meanings, and recurring themes ranging from separation, loss, loneliness, but it's ultimately about humanities connection and coincidence both with each other and between the living and dead. It's a calm, sometimes humorous, and always poetic film of the human soul's longing for love. The lovely (and mysterious) ending quietly arrives as the three main characters are shown sleeping and alone after having just failed to emotionally or sexually communicate. The final shot can be interpreted several different ways, but ultimately represents one of the films themes (the connection of the dead and living). To me, this film is unbelievably powerful and haunting. It's images beautiful and few films capture loneliness more effectively. Tsai is truly a gifted filmmaker, and this is to me his finest masterpiece.


VOLVER (2006)
Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar (1st of 3 films on list)

"There are so many widows". Volver opens with a stunning shot of a cemetery where we see women cleaning the graves of their husbands. Such is the world of this film, and such is the world of Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar. Almodovar is one of the most beloved filmmakers in all the world. He has been making films for over 30 years, but he is currently at the peak of his artistry and he stands as one of the most consistently reliable filmmakers in contemporary cinema. The opening moment is reflective of the entire film, which is essentially about the connection of life and of death. Volver translates as "to return" and Almodovar expresses this theme through visuals, surrealism, and characterization. Using metaphoric imagery of windmills that embrace the towns chaotic winds, Almodovar's visuals emphasize the theme of cycles (both of the dead and the undead). Volver is a film of womanhood and the importance and the need to for women to stay close emotionally, physically and spiritually. Even against the harshest winds and their own personal disagreements these women need each other. Of course, Almodovar handles them each with such care, compassion, and complexity that you easily fall in love with these women, who are in a world seemingly absent of men. The entire cast is exceptional, including Almodovar's trademark muses (Carmen Maura, Penelope Cruz, and Chus Lampreave). Cruz is especially brilliant in the role and performance of her career. She embraces the depth and inner essence of Raimunda with a performance that is captivating, funny, and strong yet fragile. Almodovar has such a mastery over the actresses and the visual details of the film that Volver becomes a cinematic blend of dark humor, and melodrama. His inventive storytelling is so dazzling that Almodovar magically transport the viewer into its vibrant combination of surrealism, neo-realism, and melodrama. The filmmaking is so alive and fresh with cinematic intelligence and creativity, and the characters and performance are so loveable. Volver is a masterful display of women's beauty, strength, spirit, growth, sensitivity, and togetherness. To me this is Almodovar's best film!


Directed by: Tran Anh Hung (1st of 1 films on list)
Vietnam / France / Germany

The Vertical Ray of the Sun is the third film by Vietnamese filmmaker Tran Ang Hung. In just three films Tran has captured a similar vision of two of cinemas greatest masters (Robert Bresson and Yasujiro Ozu). Though little plot or even character details are revealed throughout most of this film, The Vertical Ray of the Sun stands as a flawless portrayal of art and by the time the film reaches its end the viewer is left blown away by the experience. Ultimately The Vertical Ray of the Sun is a poetic cinematic experience of feeling. The audience must participate and feel the emotions of the film through its imagery and sound. Rather then being told, we are shown, as it is a film of tone and mood. The images here are absolutely breathtaking to behold and when combined with the simplistic narrative the result is a mysterious yet beautiful film. The story focuses on three sisters (lead by Tran's gorgeous wife Nu Yen-Khe Tran, who has starred in all of his films) living separately in modern-day Vietnam. Within their lives Tran captures a beautiful display of images, colors (notably the various uses of greens!), and perhaps most importantly sounds (which are reminiscent of Bresson's mastery with sound). Quickly establishing the films key use of sounds we hear birds and an alarm clock buzzing as the opening image is a static shot of a man laying down on a bed. He rolls up and out of bed and awakes his sister sleeping in a nearby bed (the beautiful Velvet Underground song 'Pale Blue Eyes' is playing in the background). The film concludes with an elegant moment of beauty (captured by a lovely closing song). The Vertical Ray of the Sun is poetic art through cinematic images and sound, which is so affecting you can actually feel the film as if it is physically touching you.


UP (2009)
Directed by: Pete Docter / Bob Peterson (1st of 2 films on list)
United States

Profound… There are really few words to describe how beautifully moving and heartwarming this film is (from it's masterful opening montage to it's lovely closing shot) Pixar has reached a Hayao Miyazaki level of animation cinema! Perhaps more then any other Pixar film its philosophy is not told, rather it is shown through concentrated, precise and poetic images and sounds. As great of an achievement their previous film (Wall E) is I think Up is superior because there are no contrived elements to it (something that I think Wall E slightly falls into in the second half). There is so much detail and beauty to love about this film be it's simple and unforced messages or its dazzling animation or its wonderful characters- including a lead character that is literally drawn with a "boxed-in" physical presence, as well as the lovable Dug who perfectly captures the very essence of man's best friend, brilliantly voiced by co-director Bob Peterson). While Brad Bird is perhaps Pixar’s auteur, John Lasseter its founder, and Andrew Stanton its crowd-pleaser, Pete Docter is probably the best fit and most defining of the studios directors. Up very well might be Pixar Studio's masterpiece.


TRUE GRIT (2010)
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen (1st of 2 films on list)
United States

Following up one of their most original and perhaps personal films to date (2009's brilliant dark comedy A Serious Man), the Coen brothers remake Henry Hathaway's 1969 film, which won John Wayne his first and only Academy Award. It is rather straightforward adaptation most notably because both films are adapted from a Charles Portis novel. The differences lie in the tone as film feels a bit grittier and most especially more effectively spiritual - and of course the Coens also do a fine job of adapting the dialogue with a witty flair for period. There are some striking images here, though visually the film is actually less atmospheric then the 1969 film in regards to expressing the exterior landscapes. Jeff Bridges wisely avoids imitating Wayne's iconic performance but the heart and soul of these films lies in the character that is essentially a reflection of Rooster Cogburn - 14-year-old Mattie Ross, who here is played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. Steinfeld really brings a great confidence and force to the role. Matt Damon is also very strong here, making a vast improvement over the 1969 La Boeuf (previously played by Glen Campbell). The Coen Brothers offer nothing new with this film but it is a remake that is at least as good with a more fitting ending which beautifully and lyrically connects the characters. On repeat viewings I would say both films stand on their own, bit the Coens film is superior for its brilliant dialogue and the lovely way in which it spiritually connects the three primary characters.


Directed by: Ang Lee (1st of 1 films on list)
United States / Canada

Brokeback Mountain is film as equally heartbreaking as it is sincere. It is one of the great love stories of American film, but it is also one of social relevance in its exploration of tolerance. Brokeback Mountain is a socially conscious film, but one that is never preachy and as a result deeply moving. There are complex layers of emotions and social environments in that the film captures a love story that is destroyed by a society of intolerance and expectations. The tragedy of the film is that the relationship is doomed because of social environment. In a society supposedly created for equality, freedom, and compassion, the film expresses the heartbreaking contradiction of a relationship that could have been together forever, but ultimately is separated and destroyed. The film captures an internal struggle of a man (Ennis) who is fighting against his own true feelings because of a self-inflicted “embarrassment” caused by a society of conformity (it is only at his own “private” brokeback mountain where his feelings are open). The film is at it’s most powerful when detailing this internal struggle against society and it is heightened by an incredible performance from Heath Ledger. It is particularly effective in the final moments of the film when Ennis realizes his deepest feelings for Jack (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), only now he is alone (as captured in the beautiful final shot- which peers out of Ennis trailer window to a lonely world). Brokeback Mountain is a collaborative masterpiece. Everyone involved, be it Ang Lee’s compassionate direction of Diana Ossana and James Schamus’ script, Rodrigo Prieto’s breathtaking John Ford-esque use of scenery and landscapes, Gustavo Santaolalla’s emotionally inspiring musical score, and the outstanding performances by the entire cast. The love story here is sadly divided amongst audiences who simply view it as a “gay cowboy movie”. In its essence Brokeback Mountain is an incredibly universal story of love, as well as our own buried feelings amongst the conformity of society. We all have our own personal “brokeback mountain” and that is what makes this such a heartbreaking film.


Directed by: David Cronenberg (1st of 2 films on list)
United States / Germany / Canada

"There's no such thing as monsters. You were just having a bad dream." David Cronenberg's A History of Violence is a masterpiece of filmmaking. A complex film dealing with complex issues, that are heightened by Cronenberg's masterful intelligence and skill with the audience. Here Cronenberg is playing with the audiences conventions and expectations, resulting in a film that is truly thought-provoking and compelling. Even though the film plays with conventions and expectations it still manages to be a film unlike almost anything else in terms of tone and atmosphere. In many ways, A History of Violence is a rarity: an art film posing itself as a genre thriller (as opposed to the more commonly made conventional thriller posing as an art film). Cronenberg is using all the cliches of the action/noir/thriller genres, as well as the wholesome small-town and tough big-city cliches to his advantage. He uses all of the standard genre expectations of violence, as well as the general emotional response to the violence, and blends them into a film that questions the violence in a way that is deeply thought-provoking. Through locations, visuals, emotions and characters, A History of Violence is a film that is always contrasting itself (violence and pacifism, small town and big city, Tom Stall and Joey Cusak)- all captured flawlessly in two opposing sex scenes of the film. Ultimately Cronenberg is leaving uncertainties to the overall response while examining that things should not be viewed or placed in simple terms of black and white. From the opening shot over the titles you know the film is unique and visual and oddly funny. Then the film becomes violent and like a nightmare before quickly cutting to a young girl awaking from a nightmare in which she envisioned "monsters". The film ends with a moving and strangely hopeful un-concluding closing shot of the Stall family. Not to go without mentioning is the terrific performances by the cast, notably Ed Harris, Maria Bello and especially Viggo Mortensen who is perfectly casted as he portrays the leading man (husband, father, hero) with a mysterious and haunting past. A History of Violence is a masterpiece of filmmaking on all levels. A film to ponder and observe our own reactions to it as it blends with conventions, yet recreating itself at the same time. This film is above all visual one that holds more and more layers underneath it's surface. Through Cronenberg's vision the film becomes an artistic and multiple layered examination on both the audience and filmmaking- much like Alfred Hitchcock mastered with Rear Window. A History of Violence is a rare cinematic experience, and perhaps the very best film Cronenberg has ever made!


Directed by: Terrence Malick (3rd of 3 films on list)
United States

I realize and respect many may disagree with my appreciation of this film, but Terrence Malick is probably my favorite living filmmaker. I think between The Tree of Life and To The Wonder, Malick has fully developed his approach to filmmaking - which is more about expressive rhythm then narrative. Malick has plenty of detractors, but to me he is visionary in the way he creates such limitless boundaries… and incredibly has managed to do so within relatively mainstream Hollywood filmmaking.


Directed by: Tomas Alfredson (1st of 1 films on list)

A rarity: a delicate, tender and poetic horror film! Like George Romero blended with Michelangelo Antonioni and a touch of Terrence Malick, this poetic Swedish masterwork from director Tomas Alfredson is a heartwarming re-imagining of the vampire horror genre. It is a moving teen love story on loneliness, alienation and friendship as well as being both a victim and a victimizer. From the stunning opening shot of snow falling down on the bleak night, Let the Right One In establishes its carefully composed cinematography, expressive camera framing and moody musical score. The film has the touch of a visionary master in the way it is perfectly composed. There is a fairy-tale like setting to this film and its gorgeous visuals. The location (a dreary, snow-covered suburb of Stockholm) sets both the visual and emotional tone of the film and the lead performances by the young actors (Kare Hedebrant as Oskar the bullied lonely boy, and Lina Leandersson as his blood-loving friend Eli) are outstanding. Let the Right One In is a beautiful and deeply touching coming-of-age tale of friendship and love.


Directed by: David Gordon Green (1st of 2 films on list)
United States

David Gordon Green's second film, All the Real Girls, is a wonderfully simple and poetic work of art. I love how this film makes me feel, and what it represents, emotionally and artistically. Much like Green's brilliant debut film, George Washington, All The Real Girls is reminiscent of the breathtaking films of the great Terrence Malick at least on the level of the dreamlike feeling it evokes. The viewer is quietly absorbed in the lives and atmosphere of these truly fascinating characters. The film is a quiet, dreamlike examination of the human souls emotional happiness and sadness that go with falling in love. It's a poetic and honest film that avoids many screenwriting clichés that tend to follow similar films. All the Real Girls never cheats either the audience or it's characters, and ultimately never cheats the true emotions and feeling of falling in love. The performances are tremendous, particularly by Zooey Deschanel, who's completely charming and lovable! All The Real Girls is a film that cherishes both life and cinema. Absolutely a rare and deeply honest film of youth, love, and human nature from a gifted filmmaker. Like the influences of the 1970s (Walkabout, The Last Picture Show, and Malick's Days of Heaven or Badlands) Green captures emotions and feelings through atmosphere and mood more so then plot. There's such a timeless and placeless quality within his films. From the wonderful song over the opening credits to the first word of dialogue ("I'm looking at that rusty bucket over there, and I'm thinking, I like you. I like you because I can say what's on my mind."), All the way through the breathtaking final shot and into the song over the closing credits, All the Real Girls is an incredibly absorbing and unforgettable experience. David Gordon Green is the poetic master of his generation. A filmmaker that redefines the boundaries of cinema with artistic work of feeling and of sensitive human emotions, and of compassion, and of friendship, and of love, and of humor, and of hope. All is beautiful and equal in the cinematic world of Green's films. It's really difficult to describe how brilliant I believe this film is, but I know that anything I have or will say does not do it any justice. It leaves me breathless with joy and hope. "You have my heart…"


Directed by: Mike Leigh (1st of 2 films on list)
United Kingdom

"'A Road To Reality', I don't want to be going there." Known for his bleak films, the great British filmmaker Mike Leigh gives us something completely different with Happy-Go-Lucky, a cheery film led by a lead character that is always optimistic and tries to inspire others to see life that way as well, by simply always being that way herself. The character is Poppy and she is played with brilliant charm and complexity by Sally Hawkins, a veteran collaborator of Leigh that should finally get the praise she deserves for this wonderful performance. Through Hawkins portrayal Poppy and those she meets (including the contrasting driver instructor, excellently played by a bitter Eddie Marsan) Happy-Go-Lucky observes and questions happiness and whether or not it is found or forced. The beauty here (as with all Leigh's films) is that these characters are not used as metaphors, but rather they exist on themselves. Any broad metaphors or philosophy that emerge, comes from the characters who represent themselves. Like Robert Altman, Yasujiro Ozu, or Jean Renoir this is what makes Leigh one of the great humanist filmmakers. His films always leave us with great characters and now we have the unforgettable, life-affirming Poppy, who is definitively living life in the moment.


Directed by: David Fincher (1st of 2 films on list)
United States

David Fincher is a very talented filmmaker who's films I've respected but never truly adored (at least on the level many others have - with the possible exception of his superbly crafted 2007 film Zodiac). However, I think he has made his best film. The Social Network takes basic storytelling ideas from classic American films like The Treasure of Sierra Madre and Citizen Kane, blended with the fast and sharp dialogue rooted in the classic Hollywood screwball comedies, all within a concept and ideas that are incredibly relevant today. The result is a film that is certain to be widely celebrated as a modern American classic of it's own. The Social Network wins you over immediately with a pitch-perfect, tone setting opening sequence where Mark Zuckerberg (brilliantly played by Jesse Eisenberg) and his very soon-to-be ex-girlfriend Erica (Rooney Mara) engage in a His Girl Friday-esque fast-paced, out-of-synch conversation to which Erica at one point fittingly says "Sometimes, Mark, seriously, you say two things at once and I'm not sure which one I'm supposed to be aiming at.... It's exhausting. Going out with you is like dating a Stairmaster." After getting dumped the film follows Mark in a masterful title sequence as he walks through the campus to his dorm (reflecting both his emotional state but also that of his physical alienation to the social world that surrounds him. His reality is only when he returns home to his computer and codes.) These opening sequences establish the story, characterizations and tone of the entire film (which is essentially a concept created from a genius loner with a brokenheart), and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin smartly returns to Erica's character a few more times throughout the film.


35 SHOTS OF RUM (2009)
Directed by: Claire Denis (2nd of 3 films on list)
France / Germany

The excellent French filmmaker Claire Denis has acknowledged 35 Shots of Rum to be a poetic tribute to the Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu. Suggesting Ozu's An Autumn Afternoon or Late Spring, this family drama quietly explores the relationship between a widowed father and his daughter. However the beauty of the film is that it is not a forced similarity to Ozu. Instead Denis has created a film that is her own and thus it emerges as a contemporary successor to Ozu's incomparable genius, in the way it captures feelings and the essence of life with a delicate and expected simplicity. To express a sadness without forced dramatic elements, Denis beautifully blends her trademark poetic realism to create a film that is soulful, tender and harrowing. Gorgeously shot by the great cinematographer Agnes Godard, with a wonderful soundtrack and outstanding performances (by Alex Descas as the lonely train conductor father and Mati Diop as his pretty university-student daughter). 35 Shots of Rum is a lovely film, existing on a clam reality which results in something deeply moving and significant.


Directed by: Name (1st of 3 films on list)
United States / United Kingdom / Canada

Like the great horror master Mario Bava, Rob Zombie has a superb understanding of visual composition and color design. There is some remarkable imagery to this film, but it's greatness is in the mature and subtle nature of Zombie's filmmaking. He is not solely concerned with cool shots or quick scares - instead like the best horror films, The Lords of Salem is chilling for the way in builds atmosphere, feeling, and tone through it's expressive visuals and sounds. Zombie respects his influences while creating his own distinct and original style. However where Zombie truly excels (and often does not get enough credit) is his understanding of melodrama. Don't be folloed by expectations of what Zombie's films are supposed to be - This film at it's core is a psychedelic melodrama and Zombie at his filmmaking core best with melodrama.


TOMBOY (2011)
Directed by: Céline Sciamma (1st of 1 films on list)

Tomboy opens to an expressive shot of a girl being held up by her father as they drive. Seemingly free from the conformity of the world in this moment, as sounds of the wind are evident in the backdrop. The girl is quickly returned to society but this moments lingers throughout this remarkably touching and heartfelt masterpiece. Tomboy is that rare film that evokes layered human depth all with a seemingly effortless touch. So many thoughts and ideas are evoked but they seem to be raised through the simplicity and naturalism of the filmmaking here. Celine Sciamma's directs the film with a delicate compassion that transcends any direct messages it may provoke. This of course is heightened by the incredible performances, mostly notably from the two young girls Zoe Heran (playing Laura) and Malon Leavanna as her younger sister. The moments these two share together on screen are simply magical.


2046 (2004)
Directed by: Wong Kar Wai (2nd of 2 films on list)
Hong Kong / China / France / Italy / Germany

"All memories are traces of tears." 2046 is a cinematic love letter to old fashioned cinema. It is also like a collection of Wong Kar-Wai's previous films. Characters, dialogue, even images are recalled yet revisioned into a fascinating new world. 2046 is a masterpiece work of art from a truly genius visionary filmmaker. It captures Wong's style and themes with such poetic grace and beauty. While it's not a requirement, those familiar with Wong's previous work will probably greater appreciate 2046. Wong's trademark cinematic techniques (quick cuts, atmospheric and repetitive imagery / music, neon lightning, beautiful compositions, mirrored images, fast and slow motion, freeze frame, etc), nonlinear structure, stunning cinematography (by the great Christopher Doyle) and elegant multi-themed musical score, both absorb and challenge the viewer. Ultimately, 2046 is a film of love, memories, and longing- the longing to get back the past, and get back lost love. It's also a film about a man who wants to change and forget the past, yet as he does, memories resurface. The film is told (as Wong said) "like a diary", with nonlinear intersecting storylines. It's a partial follow-up to Wong's previous film (2000's masterpiece In The Mood For Love) in that Tony Leung reprises his role as Chow Mo Wan. Now several years later, Chow is back in Hong Kong (he left for Singapore and Cambodia at the end of In the Mood For Love). Chow is still a writer who's working on a new novel, which is set in 2046. The film follows the present (1960's) and 2046, an imaginary place of memory (it was the hotel room number which Chow would meet Su Li-zhen Chan in the 2000 film). In the present, Chow comes across a hotel number 2046 and wants to move in. Instead he is given room 2047 and that's where he begins to write the novel. We observe Chow flirt with several women and then leave them when they want to be loved. This is quite a contrast from the Chow from In the Mood For Love, but now he is a man who has given up on love. He loved a woman once and his secret remains buried under mud in the Buddhist temple of Cambodia. Featuring a phenomenal star-studded cast, 2046's performances are all outstanding. Leung is once again incredible, and the beautiful Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li, and Faye Wong are equally wonderful (also Carina Lau returns as Lulu from Days of Being Wild and Maggie Cheung evens makes an archived cameo performance as Su Li-zhen. They each convey an energetic expression and emotional longing with body movements, language, postures. Zhang is especially terrific in the most complex and ultimately best performance of her career. 2046 captures cinema as Wong Kar-Wai masters: with poetic and artistic beauty and joy. While not Wong's all-time greatest masterpiece (that would be In the Mood For Love, and Days of Being Wild), it remains among his best work and a flawless film in all aspects of filmmaking- be it visually, stylistically, or emotionally. It's a lovely collection of Wong's transcendent vision (poetic, romantic longing) and skills and a film those familiar with his work will truly admire.


Directed by: James Gray (2nd of 4 films on list)
United States

James Gray echoes the silent era with this masterfully crafted period piece, starring the profound Marion Cotillard as a Polish immigrant left to survive for herself in early 1920s New York after she's separated from her sister at Ellis Island. Rounded out by a terrific supporting cast with Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner, the performances perfectly express the emotional and spiritual depth of this sweeping film. Its design is beautiful and Gray brings a naturalism that transcends this film to a stunning level. With 2009's Two Lovers and The Immigrant, Gray has established himself among the very best filmmakers in current American cinema.

Directed by: Lars von Trier (1st of 2 films on list)
Denmark / Germany / Netherlands / Italy / several others

The impact of Dancer in the Dark can not easily (or fairly) be described with words. I do know, that the first viewing of the film was an emotional experience of sadness, joy, and heartbreak never to be forgotten for me. Here is a rare film that boldly and respectfully combines the musical genre with bleak melodrama. The results are a captivating and glorious cinematic achievement. Dancer In The Dark is one of the most emotionally moving films you'll ever experience. Shot in handheld digital video, Lars Von Trier uses multiple camera angles and quick cuts, which may frustrate some viewers. However, this film is more about emotional impact then it is about it's filmmaking (not that the filmmaking is poor, but rather the emotional impact is huge). The force of the film comes from the performance of Selma, played by the incomparable Bjork. Through this amazing performance, we see how much pain she manages to hide during the spectacular musical sequences, and how much joy she manages to hide during the pain of her situation. Already a brilliant musical artist, here Bjork displays a passionate and embracing versatility. A truly heartbreaking film that will pull you in emotionally to the point you feel involved in the movie. Like all Von Trier's work, this may not be for everyone and it can be a challenging if not difficult experience, but it rates among my personal favorites films ever made and I will continuously cherish the phenomenal and determined performance from Bjork, as well as her unforgettable 'Selma Songs'.


PULSE (2001)
Directed by: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (1st of 3 films on list)

Perhaps not as relevant as when it was released, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse remains one of the centuries great horror masterworks. A completely unnerving and landmark achievement of force, Pulse is a haunting appeal of despair to the growth of internet culture. Kurosawa's use of compositions, tonal lighting, shadows, and focus shifts leave a compelling, and thought provoking portrait of disconnection, loneliness, and the detached nature of technology (as early as the opening image of a lonely boat drifting along the limitless ocean water). This film features some of the most striking horror images in film history.


Directed by: Debra Granik (2nd of 2 films on list)
United States

"Want or need?" Debra Granik's third feature film continues to prove she is among the very best filmmakers of contemporary cinema. Leave No Trace emotional core centers around the intimacy people share with one another - that finding true genuine connection is beyond material possessions or things. Like a perfect spiderweb the lead father-daughter characters (masterfully performed by Ben Foster and newcomer Thomasin McKenzie) share a bond that is both equally beautiful and delicate. Yet much like Granik's previous film (Winter's Bone), what makes this so heartfelt is the lack of self-awareness. The films lyrical and spiritual tone find just the right blend of harshness and compassion. Granik is a rare talent and this is another great film!


Directed by: Sofia Coppola (2nd of 2 films on list)
United States / United Kingdom /Italy / Japan

With her last two features (Marie Antoinette and now Somewhere) Sofia Coppola has mastered minimalism and the art of expressionistic feeling - creating a mood of elegant reflection and the sense of loneliness and anxiety that lingers under the surface - all with a simplistic and leisurely touch. There is a truly rich depth and beauty to this film but it is more expressed then it is revealed. In a way Coppola has evolved into a filmmaker like Wong Kar-Wai, a master of cinematic feeling through poetically expressive images and sounds. She has done so without a deliberate intention but a unique artistic voice of her own. Opening with a significant shot of a lone car speeding around in circles (before a man steps out and stares forward) and closing with a car moving forward down a road before pulling over and having the man hopefully running ahead, Somewhere uses a familiar narrative evolution - yet its design and structure is completely original, and Coppola's use of sound, settings, compositions and music are trademark (and as with Coppola's previous film it is masterfully subtle in its expression). With minimal dialogue Stephen Dorff gives a excellent lead performance as a character who seems to echo the bored and tormented souls of Coppola's previous films. There are moments that really burst with touching warmth and beauty (notably those shared with Dorff and an equally wonderful Elle Fanning as his daughter). I love this film and look forward to revisiting it many more times!


Directed by: Hou Hsiao-Hsien (2nd of 5 films on list)
Taiwan / China / Hong Kong

Hou Hsiao-hsien may be the worlds greatest living filmmaker (at least to me in the conversation with Terrence Malick). Hou's 2015 film The Assassin is his first release since 2007 and it didn't disappoint. An inspiring achievement with the touch of a subtle master, The Assassin is a remarkably subtle, even puzzling yet undeniably splendid film that carries you into its world. There is such detail and richness to this film visually and it lingers in a way you don't expect from a film within this "genre". The films beauty and innovation lies in the way Hou executes his emotions with subtle, unforced expression. Its quite a unique and even bold achievement.


Directed by: Olivier Assayas (2nd of 3 films on list)
France / Germany / Czech Republic / Belgium

After starring in Olivier Assayas 2014’s Clouds of Sils Maria, Kristen Stewart follows it up with this "vehicle" of sorts. She gives a spellbinding performance here. Assayas stages scenes in dark open spaces to effectively work with conventions of suspense and horror, but this film is working on so many deeper layers beyond the surface of convention. The films haunting resonance and disconnection emerges from the joining of protagonist two worlds of spiritualism and the upscale model lifestyle. It is a film on grief and mourning but Personal Shopper is also a masterful meditation on disconnection.


Directed by: George Miller (1st of 1 films on list)
Australia / United States

Imaginative filmmaker George Miller revises his own Mad Max franchise after a 30 year hiatus and the result is something marvelous and breathtaking! This splendid film that carries you into its world from the opening frame (a shot that immediately recaptures the feel of the old films). Here Miller's restoration is a captivating work of inventive and visionary filmmaking - flawlessly blending Hollywood extravaganza with the touch of a cinematic poet. This is pure heart-pounding fun full of such imagination and wonder. In a year and an era dominated by sequels, reboots, reimaginations, Mad Max: Fury Road emerged as the very best.


Directed by: Tony Gilroy (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

Michael Clayton opens with a stylish, tone-setting montage of images in an empty law office with accompanying voice-over. The film is rooted in the kind of intelligent, psychological, socially-charged work that Hollywood consistently made during the 1970s. This is a multi-layered character film, one that reveals itself and its characters as it develops. It rewards attentive audiences. It builds a tension and a sense of moral ambiguity. Outside of the opening montage, the focus is almost solely on the performances. This is a quintessential actor film and it has the performances to match. Right from his star-entrance to his final closeup in the taxi, George Clooney really shines in a role that is perfectly suited for his stardom. He captures the subdued heart and excellence of the film, and Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton give the film its emotional force. The essence of Michael Clayton is a loss of focus when faced with the pressure of corporate and big business decision. The shining moment comes in a visually metaphoric moment (which is played in early in the film and then continued after revealing the moments leading toward it) when Clooney discovers a subconsciously recognizable image of horses roaming atop a hill. It is at this moment he finally sees in focus and it ultimately saves his life (both from death and from moral conflict). Michael Clayton is a highly absorbing character-driven thriller and it is encouraging to see films like this still being made in Hollywood studios.


Directed by: Myriam Aziza (1st of 1 films on list)

Myriam Aziza's The Evening Dress is a film about 12-year old Juliette (played with transcendent naturalism by Alba Gaia Bellugi), who is drawn to the beauty of her school teacher Madame Solenska (played by Portuguese singer Lio). It is easy to fall for her (as many of her students do) - she is a confident, seductive woman comfortable with her beauty and attention. She also encourages Juliette's adolescent sexual curiosities. The entire film is through the child's perspective and we painfully observe the longing turn to obsession and her dreams to nightmares. This film is a rare portrait that has an honest sadness of youth through emotional anxieties, pain and sexual confusion. The film is a coming-of-age story comparable to Francois Truffaut's beloved 1959 classic The 400 Blows (only here the film is from the female sensibility). Through it all stands an awe-inspiring performance from Alba Gaia Bellugi. The Evening Dress is a beautiful, instinctive, honest and truly remarkable film.


Directed by: Edgar Wright (1st of 2 films on list)
United States / United Kingdom / Canada / Japan

In filmmaker Edgar Wright's world (Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead), characters are fueled by their own pop culture influence and fantasy. Their reality is bound by it. Never is this more evident then in Wright's latest genre-homage/parody blender Scott Pilgrim vs the World, a film mix-mashing influences of video games, comic books, kung fu films, romantic comedies, musicals as well as some splashes of other cinematic roots. With his typically masterful skill of editing and comic timing, Wright creates a wonderfully eccentric dream-like film of energetic tricks. The beauty is how intelligently sentimental and unforced it all feels. The playful visuals and vibrant style of the film keep it incredibly lighthearted and fun, yet the film is rather insightful in its view of pop culture's impact on our everyday realities. It's playful and light nature also does not keep the film from being a rather sweet and humane film, metaphorically centered around a battling for and of love and finding oneself. I've adored Wright's previous features but this is his definitive achievement to date, from the clever video-game Universal logo opening to its anticipated showdown finale. Scott Pilgrim vs the World is a bright (both visually and intellectually) and lovely film to embrace and celebrate!


Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow (1st of 2 films on list)
United States

It is possible that Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq-war based film The Hurt Locker evokes the old fashioned Hollywood studio filmmaking perhaps with more assurance then any American film released in the past decade. Long underrated as a gifted filmmaker, lets hope this film earns Bigelow the recognition she so fully deserves. Bigelow has made some fine films but with The Hurt Locker she is at her artistic peak – particularly because of the complete control she possesses over the filmmaking. She places emphasis of aesthetics over politics or messages. She finds the sensibilities few war films capture, notably in honest characterization. Above all, this is the characters of the film – not what they do in the face of battle and pressure, but how they do it. It is this understanding that considers Bigelow a modern Howard Hawks – a master not only of narrative rhythm, but also of character and of action, and most specifically a master of showing without telling. Hawks and Bigelow have the awareness not to lose sight of the narrative flow or of the characters. One of Bigelow’s long occurring themes as filmmaker has been men placed in the face of high-pressure situations. As Sergeant William James, actor Jeremy Renner perfectly defines the essential Hawksian hero who is at his best when doing his job. His courage comes from a calm acceptance and understanding of fear and pressure. It is how he does his job that will define whether or not he lives or dies and this is where Bigelow’s interest lies. It is the suggestive scene in which we observe William away from severe duties (at home in the supermarket) that we see him perplexed to make decisions. His place is in the “kill zone” for as the films opening quotation observes: “The rush of battle is often a lethal and potent addiction, for war is a drug.” As a film The Hurt Locker is a simply a flawless and original achievement in tense action cinema. It is a full experience of senses both for its stillness and its harrowingly intense ferocity. It is truly a joy to see films like this still being made today.


Directed by: Richard Linklater (2nd of 3 films on list)
United States

“Its gonna be a really tough project, you're gonna have to use your head, your brain and your mind too.” School of Rock is a joyous film so full of energy and humor it's impossible to resist. While the script is rather formulaic, it still manages to be incredibly clever, fresh, and highly effective! Above all, the humanity of the film is what makes it such a wonderful masterpiece. There's alot to find within the films themes (whether it's about finding yourself, following your dreams, or simply "sticking it to the man!"), but ultimately is just a joy to experience. The strength of the film lies in the wonderful characters. School of Rock shows both originality and compassion for each of its characters, and the performances are all fantastic. The young kids, who are all real musicians, are deeply charming, but Jack Black and Joan Cusak really shine. Cusak is a great comedic actress that is often overlooked and this is one of her finest roles and performances (“I've just been informed that all your children are missing”). Of course it is Black who is the particular standout performance of the film. He gives one of the most energetic and hilarious comedic performances I have ever seen in a film. Black is absolutely brilliant and perfectly casted as a man who has an undeniable belief and passion for the art form of Rock and Roll music, and he wants to spread the joys to others. Black's performance will have the viewer in tears with laughter, not so much for what he says and does, but how he does it. There are so many memorable moments and dialogue in this film, which I often find myself consistently quoting. Richard Linklater is one of contemporary American cinemas great filmmakers. An artist who can work successfully both inside and outside mainstream Hollywood studios. Here he has teamed with writer Mike White (who also co-stars) to create a highly entertaining mainstream film, without compromising a personal expression of the artist. The ending may be predictable, but that never discredits how incredibly effective it is. It will surely tug at your heart, and leave you smiling at the same time. Really, all 108 minutes of School of Rock will have you smiling. Clearly Linklater understands the power of music and uses this films formulaic premise as a source for this expression. And it is done so with an intelligent, subtle, and compassionate style of filmmaking resulting in a film that is equally charming and fresh. A great and memorable film for all to enjoy. It Rocks!


Directed by: Pedro Costa (1st of 1 films on list)
Portugal / Germany / Switzerland

The cinema of Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Costa's is unique and challenging and passionate. In Vanda's Room is perhaps his most challenging film and it also may be the quintessential achievement of his visionary filmmaking. Noted for the long static compositions and skillful lighting and color details as well as nonprofessional actors essentially playing themselves. We are taken into the lives of these characters and their everyday fragmented rituals through Costa calm and practical direction, vividly detailing an otherwise forgotten world.


Directed by: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (1st of 1 films on list)

Intimate, gentle and wonderfully human, Ryusuke Hamaguchi's epic film is such a patient and understanding masterpiece that will understandably be compared with Yasujiro Ozu. There is relevance in the comparison but I was also reminded of the richness of another personal favorite, Robert Altman. Comparisons aside Happy Hour is film that both feels familiar yet is somehow deeply mysterious at once.


Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson (5th of 5 films on list)
United States

In all of the great Paul Thomas Anderson's films lies an idea of capturing the American dream and finding your place in the society (many times through family). But the past and memories can not escape and this comes to it's bleakest form in his sixth feature The Master. Featuring some of the most skillfully designed moving and still images of his masterful career, Anderson's 2012 film is a beautiful achievement. It's a fitting follow-up to his extraordinary 2007 film There Will Be Blood - notably in the way the film expresses dueling forces. Here those forces are much more internal and the film concludes with a sense of doom that makes this such an unforgettable and yet unnerving film. It is definitely Anderson's darkest and most challenging work.


SHARA (2003)
Directed by: Naomi Kawase (1st of 1 films on list)

Naomi Kawase's astonishing 2003 film Shara is a truly great cinematic experience. Indeed to see this film is experience it - both in the way that it is detached yet intimate all at once. The film features a prominent use of handheld camera work and long handheld tracking shots as early as the visually atmospheric opening scene. These long lingering shots and camera movements heighten the atmosphere and feeling of the film to give it a rare energy that the narrative can not provide. Kawase has a very unique and personal approach to filmmaking often blending autobiography, documentary and fiction as one. Shara is set in Kawase's hometown of Nara (Japan's capital city in the 8th and 9th centuries) tells the story of family loss when a twin brother suddenly disappears one summer day. This film is one of grieving. The healing arrives in a devastating nearly 10-minute dance sequence that seems both improvised yet carefully composed. Either way it is full of energy and carries with it a touching emotion despite its simplicity. Kawase has created a marvelously unforgettable moment of cinematic rhythm and emotion. Shara, like many of Kawase's films, rings emotional and stylistic truth. While I would say there is an experimentalist approach, this is not a film made out of a plot or a genre, but rather one of people and emotions.


Directed by: Ti West (1st of 2 films on list)
United States

The House of the Devil is unquestionably a throwback re-imagining of 1970s and 80s horror cinema. The genius of the film lies in its execution, notably the way the film avoids conscious effort of its influence and instead establishes a distinct and yet truly faithful contemporary vision of its own - a vision that ultimately not only embraces the joy of horror filmmaking but also rethinks it. Following up impressive entries into the genre with The Roost and Trigger Man, this film puts filmmaker Ti West to one leaders in contemporary horror cinema. By avoiding typical and cheap scare tactics or overused techniques West skillfully understands that tension and fear can be evoked through a sense of mood and feeling as well as the visual composition (all without any showy wink of the eye tactics or gimmickry). The House of the Devil has a perfectly retro feel and captures the sense of period detail with such wonderfully spot-on beauty all while maintaining its weirdly unsettling doom underneath the lively surface of which is supported by outstanding performances from a lovely Jocelin Donahue (who has the trademark look of a throwback horror heroine) as well as a lively and quintessentially 80s Greta Gerwig, playing her friend with energetic appeal. West favorite Tom Noonan also gives a great performance with the just right touch of creepiness and dark humor. The House of the Dead is simply a masterwork of horror filmmaking from it's fun opening credits to its satisfyingly horrifying conclusion.


Directed by: Mamoru Hosoda (2nd of 2 films on list)

Mamoru Hosoda follows up his 2006 masterpiece The Girl Who Leapt Through Time with this equally energetic film full of imagination and ideas. There are moments of beauty and heartbreak and the film is wondrous throughout - be it in virtual world (Oz, an online network that has fully incorporated into society) or the real world (the lovely city of Ueda). While the film flawlessly blends the worlds of tradition and futuristic technology, ultimately this is a compassionate story of family and connection. Summer Wars is a film that finds value in community and human relations - not in the device but rather in connection itself. Full of visual detail, intelligence, heart, and hope, Summer Wars is a joyous filmmaking achievement.


Directed by: Jason Reitman (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

Screenwriter Diablo Cody re-teams with director Jason Reitman (they previously made the enjoyable 2007 comedy Juno together). This seems to be deeply personal for Cody and on repeat viewings I found the film strangely comparable to Stephen King's The Shining. Mavis Gary is not exactly an axe-murderer but she is a writer and she could be something out of a horror film. Young Adult is bold, unflinching and even poetic in its single-minded ambition. Charlize Theron may have won an Oscar for her powerful portrayal in Monster, but this is without question her finest performance - a monster of a different kind, she is extraordinary here - bringing a depth that you can understand and even oddly relate with (and ability Cody has excelled at with her films). As is Patton Oswalt who gives a complex and heartbreaking performance. Cody and Reitman have proven to be a good match for each other and their understanding of contemporary culture and suburbia blends here to make a film that is an incredibly rich and unrelenting dark comedy. This film will earn greater appreciation over time.


Directed by: Jun Ichikawa (2nd of 3 films on list)

So how could a simple little film about a couple of teenage school girls and their cell phones be one of the best films of the year? Well for starters it is made with the touch of a Zen-like master, whose brilliance of execution lies not in the spirituality but in the simplistic honesty. The film rings a universal truth that speaks on transcendent levels, and it does so effortlessly in the hands of talented filmmaker Jun Ichikawa. Ichikawa’s trademark minimalist style is again evident here but the film never wavers in its thoughtful and emotional force. The performances are excellent from the entire cast but the core of the film is the two young women (Atsuko Maeda, and Riko Narumi who is especially good). Ichikawa’s films rarely fail for me and I’d put this among my favorite (or at least equal to Tokyo Marigold and Tokyo Siblings).


Directed by: David Lynch (1st of 1 films on list)
France / Poland / United States

Inland Empire marks David Lynch’s first digital video feature and it very well may be his most experimental film since his masterful 1977 debut Eraserhead. At an uncompromising three hours long and without a conventional plot, Lynch’s surrealistic epic will undoubtedly divide audiences. However, fans of the director or those aware of what to expect will appreciate what appears to be a definitive Lynch film as a reflection of his art. The film goes beyond rational interpretation instead becoming a bizarre journey into a subconscious dreamworld of vast possibilities to interrupt. These possibilities are more to be experienced then they are interpreted. Inland Empire rejects a single or even a cohesive narrative, instead overlapping several timeframes and narratives. At once Inland Empire is a film within a dream within a film, reflecting on a woman’s role in Hollywood, a murder mystery, an underground world, and several love affairs. Ultimately the film becomes a meditative exploration deep into the psyche and confused subconscious of its character. Playing an actress, an abused wife, and a prostitute Laura Dern gives an unforgettable performance that honestly belongs mention among the very greatest. Dern is brilliantly working on various levels as she intensely pushes through the complicated and terrifying hallucinations and dreams (or nightmares) of Lynch’s vision and of her own mind. Stylistically, Lynch expresses the film through his trademark use of scattered sounds and visuals (notably the expressionistic use of lighting, the obscure close-ups, and the carefully positioned color patterns). Heightened by Dern’s sweeping performance, Inland Empire is a surrealistic film that challenges and struggles with you. So much so that in the end all you are left is admiration, and the one thought that is perfectly captured in the final shot (before a wonderfully strange closing credit group dance sequence to Nina Simone's Sinnerman)… sweet indeed!!


Directed by: Lee Chang-dong (1st of 2 films on list)
South Korea

One of the beautiful aspects of Secret Sunshine is what it reveals emotionally, making it both a difficult film to describe with words, but also one worth resisting too much to reveal a first time viewer of this powerful film. This is a film with layers of emotions but it is portrayed with the touch of simplicity, instead masking the deepest feelings with a greater sense of denial. It is a denial to face tragedy with grief and loss. However, this denial is not truly revealed until later in the film when tragedy strikes again. Secret Sunshine is fourth feature from talented South Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-dong. With a simplistic cinematic style, Lee centers this film around the lead performance of Jeon Do-yeon, who is nothing short of brilliant. Under Lee's direction, Jeon gives an astonishingly powerful performance that perfectly works with the complex emotions at work in the film and her character. Her range of emotions are expressed through a performance that is both restrained and melodramatic. Lee finds the honesty in the character and as the unpredictable developments occur, the results are the essence of being human. Powerful and raw, Secret Sunshine is an emotionally wrenching film with an unforgettable lead performance.


Directed by: Pete Docter / Bob Peterson (2nd of 2 films on list)
United States

Monsters Inc is brilliant on all levels of cinema. Sure Pixar Studios has generated some wonderful films, but to me, none are more creative or charming then this (though I admit Up is probally my alltime favorite Pixar film). It's the type of film I love watching over and over again because it leaves a smile on my face throughout it's entire 92 glorious minutes. Every scene and moment is relevant, emotional, and entertaining all at once. More importantly the film deals with real life issues of childhood, growing up, opening your mind, etc without ever getting preachy or heavy-handed. It's brilliant both artistically and commercially. Monsters Inc is a film so full of depth that the very mysteries of life essence (whatever they may be) can likely be found somewhere in this films world and characters. Not to go without mentioning is the character of Boo, who is the absolute definition of adorable. But Boo is more then just cute. She represents a real child, with real feelings, fears, and personality. The final shot of the film is extremely touching and among all-time great final shots in film history as far as I'm concerned!! Monsters Inc is a flawless, heart warming, comical, and emotionally touching masterpiece that could positively change your perspective of living; It's that good!


Directed by: Joe Wright (2nd of 2 films on list)
France / United Kingdom / United States

The latest version of Pride & Prejudice is the very best cinematic adaptation to date (even if not the most faithful of its source). Joe Wright's adaptation of Jane Austen's superb classic novel is as rich in cinematic style and detail as it is in themes and emotions. It's such an entertaining film about (as the title would suggest) personal pride and prejudice. However, this is also a story of social issues (including the role of the woman and class divisions), of family, and of course of love. The cast (lead by a vibrant, career-best performance from Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett and a subtle Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennett) is outstanding and each character is full of depth. It is the opening few shots (highlighted by a dazzling tracking shot through the Bennett household) that set the tone and mood. In his debut feature talented British filmmaker Joe Wright brings the film alive with radiant period details and elegant camera work (including a heavy use of sweeping crane and tracking shots, as well as an elaborate use of focus changes). While perhaps in a different tone, this does sort of remind me of a way Robert Altman might have adapted Jane Austen's lovely novel. Through long tracking shots, Wright takes us beneath the surface and behind the corridors, and makes us apart of the Bennett family. An endlessly endearing film for all audiences. Pride and Prejudice is a film I have seen this film many times and I will continue to revisit as it warms my heart with joy. I love every little detail of this story and these characters, and the way Wright and his cast brings it alive through a dazzlingly stylish and energetic cinematic style. The filmmaking is masterful, the performances lovely, and the story enriching and romantic. A perfect adaptation of classic literature to film!

Side Note: There is an American-version of the film which adds a rather poorly written scene to the end of the film. This scene was not in the original British release of the film. Maybe the British version ends abruptly but something about the dialogue in the ending of the American version does not feel right in the spirit of the film or Jane Austen. Either way it is not enough to ruin the film, but it's just worth mentioning.


Directed by: Woody Allen (1st of 1 films on list)
United Kingdom / Ireland / Luxembourg

Match Point opens with a shot of a tennis ball going over the net and we hear a voice over narration: “The man who said "I'd rather be lucky than good" saw deeply into life. People are often afraid to realize how much of an impact luck plays. There are moments in a tennis match where the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second, remains in mid-air. With a little luck, the ball goes over, and you win. Or maybe it doesn't, and you lose.” The philosophy of this opening is prominently examined throughout the film and the open shot is again reflected towards the end except that it is a shot of a ring that stands as critical evidence in a murder/burglary case. What Woody Allen does with this development is fascinatingly clever and adds another dimension to the complex philosophy of this film. I’ve seen this film quite a few times and must say it belongs mention among Annie Hall, Husbands and Wives, Purple Rose of Cairo and Hannah and Her Sisters as Allen’s best work. The tone here is much more serious (and British) then Allen is known for, making Match Point at the surface unlike anything he has ever done. While it is a different, Match Point still evokes Allen auteur themes and style. Much of this recalls Crimes and Misdemeanors, as well as nods to George Stevens 1951 A Place in the Sun. However, this is a film that surpasses both of those because of the metaphysical depth as well as the sheer mastery of narrative plotting. Blending suspense and sexy eroticism, Match Point is flawlessly made in the traditions of classic genre filmmaking (easily recalling the best of the Hitchcockian style). The performances by the entire ensemble (Scarlett Johansson, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode, Brian Cox) is top notch and Allen’s films never lack great cinematography and music. There is certainly a cynical tone, yet Allen absorbs us into the philosophical layers of the themes and characters as well as the elegant and sophisticated atmosphere.


Directed by: Akihiko Shiota (1st of 1 films on list)

Akihiko Shiota's 2001 film Harmful Insect is a bold achievement of filmmaking carried by a phenomenal lead performance from Aoi Miyazaki. The film is a painfully emotional experience which offers great insight into teenage thoughts and feelings. This is the kind of the film best left un-described because the emotions it's generates when watching far surpasses anything words can justify. The film is certainly a bleak one made and performed with subtlety in that nothing is overly explained or forced - this tone and expression is evident as early as the opening sequences, particularly a startling moment of hidden emotional layered shared between mother and daughter (Sachiko, played by Miyazaki). There is simply a great honest and understanding of psychology and feelings to this film. Sachiko is depressed and isolated from the world (be it her friends or her own mother). Through Miyazaki's minimal performances the film flawless expresses itself in tone and thought. Harmful Insect is a heartbreaking journey from beginning to end heightened by an unforgettable and remarkably powerful lead performance.


Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

Those who saw Lisa Cholodenko's excellent 1998 debut feature (High Art) probably agree that she has terrific gifts in finding truth in the characters and the performances. With this film (Cholodenko's fourth feature), there is a particular beauty in the way the film truthfully handles the characters and the family dynamic as well as the ease in which this engrossing narrative flows. Bold, funny, messy but always honest, this is a film that develops narrative around the characters as opposed to the other way around. Aiding this are flawless performances and chemistry from the entire cast - with standouts being Julianne Moore (in pitch-perfect comedic timing mode) and Mia Wasikowska as the young daughter who is trying to find herself sexually, living in a gay family while also growing a relationship with her mothers sperm donor and preparing to leave home for college. Her beautifully compassionate, fragile and subtle performance seems to be the emotional core of the film - and as we leave her the film closes with a lovely final shot of hope.


Directed by: Hong Sang-soo (1st of 1 films on list)
South Korea

There is nothing all that new or inventive from anything else Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo has done in the past (here with his seventh feature), but Woman on the Beach gives a inspirational perspective on his earlier work. Perhaps more then anything he’s done, this film offers some hope. The tone is a cynical one, and the mood of isolation is expressed through the somber landscape (an isolated beach in the off season). Yet Hong offers hope and possibility through spiritual and psychological self-revelation. At least that is the way I took it. Honestly like much of Hong’s work, he leaves you with reflective thoughts and ideas through the minimal cinematic techniques and naturalistic style. Even through the simplicity, his films are always left mysterious and repeat viewings are helpful in understanding the emotional layers. Woman on the Beach has all the Hong trademarks: a dual love triangle narrative, loveless sex, drunk behavior, and his usual dose of zoom in and outs. In narrative approach, and style Hong appears to be at his most accessible and certainly most humorous with this film. It also has a very personal feel (even more so then his other work) and this is captured most expressively in the moment we see the director jotting down notes on his own psychology of obsession. This is a very intimate moment from Hong who seems to be reflecting his own obsessions with images and creation. Ultimately, Woman on the Beach is an exploration into this theme of obsession, and of self-identity, but perhaps mostly of careless and repetitive behavior in human relationships. Through his most conventionally structured and funniest film, Hong has made a deeply expressive and sad yet thoughtfully promising work (which is captured most beautifully in the final moments of revelation for both the man and the woman- after he calls her, we see her drive away on the beach). I’ve always found Hong’s films to be interesting. Here, with what may be his most accessible work, I believe he has made possibly his most exciting film to date.


Directed by: Greg Mclean (1st of 1 films on list)

Wolf Creek is probably not a film that will appeal to all audiences but die-hard or even moderate horror fans will definitely love this. As far as modern horror goes, this is as good as it gets. Wolf Creek is exceptionally made genre filmmaking. It does what the best horror films do: build atmosphere, play with rhythm, and above all terrify. Using a true story and an alienated Australian setting, producer-writer-director Greg McLean (in his feature film debut) exploits and recreates the conventions of the genre narrative. The result is a film that is graphic and horrifying, which is most effective because it’s ultimately relies on the viewers imagination (a method that always proves to be more impacting then anything shown on screen). Wolf Creek utilizes the seemingly overused torture sequences which evokes many of the modern-day horror (as well as the film primary influence Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Brutal or not, Wolf Creek is scary. What makes it a great film to me is the atmosphere the film captures through it’s setting and photography. There is an expressive, poetic, and haunting sense that to this film that is established in its very opening moments and later recalled in the final image.


Directed by: Guillermo del Toro (1st of 2 films on list)
Spain / Mexico

"What is a ghost? A tragedy doomed to repeat itself time and again?" So begins The Devil's Backbone, a haunting ghost story set among the horrific backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. The centerpiece of these two is the haunting image of a bomb that lies unexploded on the grounds of the orphanage. This image stands as a reminder of the presence of both the war (which they can not escape) and of the death of boy (which stands as the guilt they can not escape). Essentially they are find themselves as flawed ghosts in some way and they must find a way to come together in the face of horror. When the film reaches its climax Guillermo del Toro details that the war is not over because of the aftermath it has left, yet a small hope lies in the final image of the boys walking together toward an unknown future. Del Toro has made a beautifully memorable film which blends genres and feelings of shock, terror, dark humor, and compassion.


Directed by: Hou Hsiao-Hsien (3rd of 5 films on list)
Taiwan / France

Taiwan master Hou Hsiao-Hsien's 2001 Millennium Mambo is a beautifully compelling and compassionate. From the very opening (and intriguing) voice-over narration, the film lures the viewer into its emotions and images, but it does so at a distance from the viewer which leaves for a unique experience. The film follows a nonlinear narrative and is made rather simplistically. However, like many of Hou's films, Millennium Mambo is one that contains many layers, meanings and depths. Millennium Mambo is a look into the youth of modern-day Taiwan, yet remains a deeply universal examination of the fateful circumstances of a young girls life. Hou captures the emotions through a dazzling visual atmosphere. Techno-music, video games, television, cell phones are always present on screen to capture the "quick-access" way of modern-day living. The cinematography is stunningly composed of bright neon colors. Shu Qi is a dream as Vicky!! Aside from being in every scene (usually smoking many, many cigarettes) she gives the character a sympathetic connection with the viewer. There are many themes and mysteries to the film that are quite wonderful to experience. On an emotional level, I felt more detached watching this then I have with any other Hou film, but he brings you in through the visuals and the loveliness of Shu Qi, and ultimatly the dettachment of the filmmaking is what makes this effective as a haunting reflection of time. This is indeed transcendent cinema!


Directed by: Brian De Palma (1st of 1 films on list)
France / Switzerland

My attention is easily grabbed from the very opening of Femme Fatale. The film begins with a TV Screen playing a scene from Billy Wilder's classic 1944 noir Double Indemnity (one of my all-time favorite films and easily one of the greatest films ever made by a Hollywood studio) as the reflection of a viewer engulfs the screen. From that very moment I knew this was something special. You can see the woman's admiration in her eyes watching Barbara Stanwyck's chilling performance as Phyllis Dietrichson (the ultimate "femme fatale"). But this film didn't end with that simple scene. Not when Brian De Palma directing. An enormous, and ambitious heist scene follows (at the Cannes Film Festival no less!!) and sets the stage for a sexy thrill ride of style, eroticism, twists, unpredictability, and a whole lot of fun. De Palma is never one to shy away from style, and that's what makes this film so great (featuring his usual tracking and overhead shots, split screens). Plot is ignored and if the viewer is able to sit back and simply embrace the pleasures this film has to offer, it's really exciting and intriguing. Like the great Alfred Hitchcock, De Palma's main concern is playing with the audiences emotions and expectations rather then he is concerned with continuity. Why waste time explaining and disrupting the pace, when you can trust the audience to use their imagination as De Palma does here with his typically visionary gaze. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos may not be a great actress, but she remains a great choice for the role. Obviously she's very sexy... and she uses that to portray a character that is (to use her own words) "A bad girl. Real bad." In many ways, Femme Fatale works like a collection of every film De Palma has made, recalling many of his trademark themes of techniques, while also being a personal expression or reflection of his own obsessions and artistry. The viewer is always left guessing and on the edge of their seat with anticipation. Femme Fatale truly has an absorbing spell over its viewer. Sexy, erotic, stylish, thrilling, exciting, romantic, and above all the celebration of the pure joy and fun cinema can offer! Using all forms of technique, and style, this is a film of cinematic bliss and one film buffs can easily appreciate. I think this may be De Palma's finest film (or at least in the class of Blow Out, Carrie and Dressed To Kill).


Directed by: Tsai Ming-liang (2nd of 2 films on list)

"Do you know this theater is haunted?"... This is the first spoken word of dialogue and it comes 45 minutes into the film. While perhaps not a film for everyone, I believe Goodbye Dragon Inn to be a brilliant masterpiece. Maybe I just love Tsai Ming-liang too much, but I find it's simplistic filmmaking approach to be a genius work of art. What's amazing is that even as simple as it is, Goodbye Dragon Inn contains many layers, depths, and meanings (all of which Tsai excels with): loneliness, boredom, romantic longing, coincidence, connection, death, the past. All at once it's a homage to King Hu's groundbreaking 1966 martial arts film Dragon Inn, a love story, a ghost story, a place of gay meetings, and the state of cinema and watching films. It's all this, and is beautifully, poetically, humorously, hauntingly, and unforgettably executed respectfully and naturally. Tsai uses the 1966 film Dragon Inn as a metaphor and backdrop in which sounds and dialogue are used directly from the film. We gradually see the theater (which contains a few of Dragon Inn's original actors) diminish as the atmosphere builds and absorbs the viewer into it's unusual and eerie feel. People in the audience move around, crack watermelon seeds within the theater, while outside the limping ticket booth lady frequently checks in on the projectionist but never see him, and men casually appear from the dark. Tsai's fascinating style is fully evident: minimal camera movement and dialogue, extremely long one shots, unique compositions and framing, deadpan humor (like that of a silent film), and of course water or in this case a rain storm outside the theater. Goodbye Dragon Inn is such a mysterious, intriguing film film that captivates and haunts the mind and emotions of the viewer. A absorbingly beautiful, comic, poetic, and sadly romantic, Goodbye Dragon Inn is truly an incredible cinematic homage and achievement. A film which captures the pureness of cinema as an art form!


LADY BIRD (2017)
Directed by: Greta Gerwig (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

Actress Greta Gerwig, who began as one of the early stars of the "mumblecore movement" co-wrote two films with Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha and Mistress America) which helped shape her feature debut as writer-director into the wonderful achievement it is. Gerwig brings such splendid empathy to this film and its world, which is full of so many wonderful ideas. Credit the cast for bring such humanism to this, led by Saoirse Ronan's unflinching portrayal of the complicated, sensitive title protagonist. Gerwig makes this as much about her home town of Sacramento- filling in as another character. Under Gerwig's seemingly casual direction Lady Bird emerges as a film of ordinary, everyday living: the complexities, desires, fears, depressions, joys, flaws, and philosophies of living. Then at the center of living the films finds details on relationships, sexuality, and religion.


BOYHOOD (2014)
Directed by: Richard Linklater (3rd of 3 films on list)
United States

Boyhood seems to be the film Richard Linklater was born to make, and I guess in some ways its a film he's been working on since he started. Ok not quite but Boyhood has been periodically filming for over 11 years. Its a fiction film such an ambitious and passionate project from Linklater, who has tinkered with similar ideas before (notably in what he's done with the Before Sunrise series). At its core the films connects or parallels the relationships of the boys mother (beautifully performed by Patricia Arquette) and the boy himself. Quiet and highly insightful as one would expect from Linklater, Boyhood is a touching and enduring film.


Directed by: James Gray (3rd of 4 films on list)
United States

Terrific filmmaker James Gary creates his most vast film - based on the nonfiction book by David Grann. The Lost City of Z is a gripping historical epic follows English explorer Percy Fawcett on a quest to a mythical Amazonian city. There are duel conflicts happening here (with the exploration and also at home) and Gray seamlessly blends this in into the narrative flow. This is an epic for sure and a remarkably successful epic achievement but what I admire is how Gray is also focused on the actual environment itself, just as much as it is with the characters of the environment. It is the environment that is a reflection of the characters and the emotional significance is an expression of the psychological state of mind of the characters. This has become one of his great skills as a filmmaker and it is again evident here in such a larger scale film.


Directed by: Hirokazu Koreeda (2nd of 3 films on list)

Nobody Knows is a wonderful and undeniably touching film that captures the beauty of cinema, of childhood, and of living. This film is pretty simple, yet it moved me to endless emotional depths. Nobody Knows is the 5th feature film from the brilliant Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda, and it marks yet another extraordinary film. Koreeda's direction is fascinating. Using a somber and patient approach, the film quietly absorbs the viewer with it's emotions and imagery. Kore-eda incorporates some stunning photography to set the mood, including a heavy use of close-ups. Telling a real-life story, Nobody Knows has a deeply authentic look and feel. The performances are outstanding by the actors, most notably by the young 14 year old Yuya Ygira, as Akira the oldest of four who is forced to take care of his siblings in their apartment. The film is heart-wrenching more and more with each scene until it reaches a painfully tragic moment that is masterfully expressed by Kore-eda simply through a close-up of hands. Ultimately the film examines the essence of childhood and what they do in a world of their own. The title works as a metaphor for these children who live alone and in a world without adults. It respects the characters with true humanity and compassion, and the viewer will both emotionally connect and relate with them. It's a film that will definitely touch those who experience it, and won't be forgotten. Nobody Knows is an equally haunting and beautiful film from a master filmmaker.


Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

Where Larry Clark's exploitation films of troubled kids fails, is where this one succeeds to me. Both go for a sense of realism but what transcends Thirteen is expressed in the small quiet moments behind the "shock". The film finds a truth in the way it details the young girls possession of their own body, as well as the mothers struggle to find the balance between being a best friend or a mother. All this comes to a powerful conclusion in the films heartfelt final moments shared with mother and daughter, finally finding the deep connection needed (through a simple gesture of just holding one another). Credit to the films outstanding performances: Holly Hunter (as the mother), Evan Rachel Wood as the daughter, and Nikki Reed (who co-wrote the film when she was 13 years old) as the friend. Thirteen is an honest film that expresses alot of internal emotions (capped off beautifully in a final freeze frame shot that recalls the way Francois Truffaut masterfully expressed the adolescent of the young male in the classic 400 Blows). A great film!


Directed by: Asghar Farhadi (1st of 1 films on list)

A Separation deals on multiple levels and takes on many layered ideas and avoids taking easy predictable turns. There is as much an internal struggle as their is with Iranian society. I think this has mass audience appeal and American audiences unfamiliar with Iranian cinema would be pleasantly surprised with just how universal the film's characters and emotions are here. Looking past the countries government policies, Iranian cinema has for a long time proven the compassionate and complex beautiful of their people and culture. The performances are superb (notably by Peyman Maadi as the husband/father) and the film is as suspenseful as it is dramatic. Hopefully A Separation is a film that will reach wide audiences here in the United States, because this is a highly accessible and deeply profound film.


Directed by: Manoel de Oliveira (1st of 1 films on list)
France / Portugal

Manoel de Oliveira’s I’m Going Home is a masterpiece achievement. The story is done in such a new and unique from what is to be expected. A famous French actor (who we see at work in the opening) learns that his wife, his daughter, and his son-in-law have all died tragically in an auto accident. He is left to care for his grandson. Rather then relying on the conventions of sorrow or a heart-warming relationship, Oliveira shifts the tone and focus to one that is much simpler and gentler. Ultimately Oliveira makes this a deeply personal film portrait of an artist who is nearing the end of his life and who suppresses grief by continuing with his everyday routines. The film is beautiful shot using lovely Paris locations. Oliveira has been making films since the silent ear and his mastery of visual storytelling is evident throughout the composition and spacing of the film. As with his other films that I saw, Oliveira uses long patent takes sometimes in which the camera does not even move. Personal studies of culture and art as well as the aging process seems to be at the heart of Oliveira later films and this may be the most definitive and accessible example.


FUNNY HA HA (2002)
Directed by: Andrew Bujalski (1st of 2 films on list)
United States

Cassavetes lives!! Sharing the style and spirit of filmmakers like pioneer independent filmmaker John Cassavetes as well as a dose of Britain's Mike Leigh France's Eric Rohmer and a modern touch of Richard Linklater, Andrew Bujalski's Funny Ha Ha becomes a rare cinematic experience that is incredibly appealing. There is something so irresistibly attractive about this film. To me, it's strangely a perfect film. Using a minimal budget, natural lighting, improvisational dialogue, and a non-professional cast of actors, Funny Ha Ha recalls the improv realism of its influences while reinventing itself into a whole new generation-defining form. Bujalski (who also plays a supporting role in the cast) captures a generation in the purest of ways, detailing the relationships, misunderstandings, conversations, and awkward meetings of a "slacker" generation. The characters are so well developed they become intoxicating. The cast is great, but of course it is Kate Dollenmayer who is the soul of this film as Marnie. In the most unassuming manner, Dollenmayer is so incredibly lovable and charming here that the film ultimately becomes a joy from beginning to it's sudden and ambitious end. Dollenmayer's performance makes this a special film, but Bujalski really does have a strong sense of direction and visual composition, even if the overall look and feel of the film authentic. His skills as a storyteller (even if unconventional) are rare and truly original in that they express the definitive essence of indie filmmaking. Stripped of plot and techniques emerges a light-hearted and lively film that absorbs us into a world that oddly seems both familiar and other-worldly at the same time. Probably not a film for everyone, Funny Ha Ha works for me in so many lovely ways.


Directed by: Todd Field (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

Todd Field acclaimed 2001 drama, In the Bedroom, is moving on many levels (both in terms of filmmaking and emotional impact) and leaves the viewer with much to ponder and remember. Field presents the film in a mysterious emotional way through rhythmic pace and symbolic imagery. What it ultimately effects is the final moments which raises thought-provoking ideas upon the entire film (while also completely shifting the tone of the film without an ounce of forced melodrama). There are moments that are calm and quiet, while exhilarating within a flash. In the Bedroom is essentially divided into a multiple character-study and the deteriorating grief of tragedy they are living with. This is the rhythmic flow that Field has so excellently created with this film. Of course one of the keys of the dramatic force is undeniably in the reliance of the performances, which are top-notch all the way. Field's background began in acting and his sensible understanding of the dramatic performance is evident when watching him director these actors (Tom Wilkinson is particularly outstanding, especially in the previous mentioned conclusion of the film). This is the type of film that leaves a greater impact with more thought and with repeat viewings. I like the enigmatic sense of direction Field gives this otherwise straight-forward drama (which examines depths of tragic loss, grief, and anger). In the Bedroom is a powerful film and a great feature filmmaking debut.


Directed by: Ti West (2nd of 2 films on list)
United States

Ti West has such a masterful command of the camera movement, framing and spacing in this brilliantly absorbing horror film. As evidence by his brilliant 2009 film The House of the Devil, West understands the horror genre perhaps better then any other young filmmaker in contemporary cinema. The Innkeepers is evidence of that and another great achievement of masterful genre filmmaking.


Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow (2nd of 2 films on list)
United States

Kathryn Bigelow's 2009 film The Hurt Locker was among the best films of the previous decade and her follow-up Zero Dark Thirty is another brilliant achievement in filmmaking. Bigelow has such control of the film and its focus lies solely of it's craft - both in the technique and the honest characterization. With a phenomenal lead performance from Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty has a perfect narrative rhythm of character and action. This is what made The Hurt Locker so successful and here the lead performance is even more notable. Zero Dark Thirty is gripping without forcing the issue or telling its audience how to react and feel. This is old-fashioned filmmaking at its best.


Directed by: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (2nd of 3 films on list)
Japan / Netherlands / Hong Kong

Mostly known for his atmospheric horror films, the great Japanese filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa re-imagines Yasujiro Ozu's dissolution of the Japanese family through his own unique vision. The result is an equally terrifying and emotionally thought-provoking film of a family's collapse and tentative restructure. Kurosawa directs the film with a masterful visual sense of spacing and staging. Like Kurosawa's greatest films (Bright Future, Charisma) this is a challenging and unsettling atmospheric film. As in Bright Future Kurosawa leaves a feeling of survival and hope moving forward to the unknown future. This is simply a masterful display of expressionistic filmmaking and possibly Kurosawa's greatest achievement.


4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS (2008)
Directed by: Cristian Mungiu (1st of 1 films on list)
Romania / Belgium

The emergence of Romania cinema continues with this unforgettable film from Cristian Mungiu. This is a gripping film, more concerned with politics as metaphor then with abortion issues, yet the historic, cultural, and political importance of both the time and place lingers throughout the atmosphere of this film. The world of this films does not revolve around its lead protagonist, instead it simply inhabits them. Watching Anamaria Marinca in a wordless scene at her boyfriends parents reaches a level beyond performance. 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a film that you feel, and you hold your breath throughout, only exhaling when its over.


Directed by: Paul Feig (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

Bridesmaids offers a depth, understanding and even a dark complexity that is truly rare. I wouldn't exactly consider this definitive or ground-breaking "feminist cinema", but there is a freethinking-spirit that makes it refreshing, and the real joy is that there is some rather insightful and complex humanity to the characterizations underneath the surface of the films routine (and very effective) screwball and gross-out humor… further proof that the Judd Apatow (who serves as the films producer) formula is universal of genders. The entire cast is superb, but the standout is Melissa McCarthy - who as Megan is hilarious but also genuine and compassionate. Director Paul Feig understands the comic strengths of each of these actresses (particularily McCarthy) and he allows them each to shine here. An instant classic comedy!


Directed by: Mia Hansen-Løve (1st of 1 films on list)
France / Germany

The legendary actress Isabelle Huppert had a remarkable year with two of the finest performances. In this gentle, reflective film she seems the perfect fit to work with talented young filmmaker Mia Hansen Love. Completely absorbing, Things To Come is a delicate portrait of a woman set on discovering the world - even as the world seems resolved to move on from her.


THE WITCH (2016)
Directed by: Robert Eggers (1st of 1 films on list)
United States / United Kingdom / Canada / Brazil

Atmospheric in every way, The Witch is a masterful achievement in quiet yet deeply moody horror filmmaking. There is a dual-layered richness to this film that makes it so engrossing. For his feature filmmaking debut writer-director Robert Eggers did incredible research in capturing the historic dialogue which further heightens the atmosphere of the film. The film makes perfect use of its woodland location and it expressively uses colors and sounds. Introduced as a "New England folk tale", The Witch is a film that lingers with you long after watching.


Directed by: Hirokazu Koreeda (3rd of 3 films on list)

Among the many great films of Hirokazu Koreeda's work, Distance (his 3rd feature) seems to be the most overlooked or forgotten. Personally I would consider Koreeda among the top four or five living filmmakers of contemporary cinema so perhaps I'm biased. Koreeda originally wanted to become a writer, but after graduating from college he worked as an assistant director. Koreeda then began making documentary short films and this is represented in his fictional features, which very often blend fiction and nonfiction together in the same film. As with his previous films (1995's Maborosi and 1998's After Life) Distance is a film that expresses themes of loss, grief, death, and memory. As reflected in the films title Distance is also one of isolation, both physically and emotionally. The film is one of emotional and psychical distance and this separation is also evident in the films narrative and emotional tone. Koreeda does this all with such an effortless approach and his films attain an equally haunting yet beautiful dreamlike world. I admire the way Koreeda's films are ultimately hopeful and compassionate even in the most heartbreaking of moments. Distance is Koreedas most hauntingly atmospheric film.

Directed by: Rob Zombie (2nd of 3 films on list)
United States / Germany

Rock musician Rob Zombie made his feature-directing debut with House of 1000 Corpses (2003), a film that paid tribute to 1970s horror exploitation movies. The film is good but with this sequel Zombie has settled into a more mature filmmaker. He effortlessly is able to capture cold brutality the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (one of the very great horror films of film history). Here Zombie finds a flawless mix of drama and dark comedy and there is much better understanding of imagery and landscape.


SPIDER (2002)
Directed by: David Cronenberg (2nd of 2 films on list)
Canada / United Kingdom / France

Spider is a film of complex and thought-provoking depth, yet it ultimately made with an almost effortless cinematic approach by David Cronenberg. Cronenberg's films are rather difficult to describe. It's strange and perhaps that is what makes his films so likeable. It's as if he creates his own genre. Cronenberg uses cliches of other genres and well as his source material (generally novels) and revision them into something unquie. Through Cronenberg’s vision the film becomes one of tone and atmosphere. The visuals are stunning and flawlessly capture the dark and cold world of it’s subject, a mentally-disturbed man named Spider (who is played to absolute perfection by Ralph Finnes). Cronenberg masterfully handles the non-linear structure which ensembles together memories of the past in what plays out like a cinematic hallucinogen or dream. Really the film is structured in a narrative like a spider’s web, as Spider must deal with distinguishing the past and present as well as his own hallucinations and reality. Cronenberg is a filmmaker that explores for meanings in his films but never finds the definitive answers to his questions, rather relying on the viewer to ponder what they see and make their own interpretations. Because he is associated with making horror genre films, Cronenberg often gets overlooked among the great filmmakers of today. However, time will prove he is a true artistic visionary and his complex and thought-provoking films with be observed and studied for years afterward. Spider is a difficult and dark film that is tough to forget and demands repeat viewings.


Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan (2nd of 2 films on list)
United States

"Why do they always put braces on teenage girls at the exact moment they are most self-conscious about their appearance?", says a wife to her husband as they are driving at night. It is the simple and quiet little moment that opens the film, which we can immediately identify with the truth and intelligence it has to offer. Despite being such a small and simple film, it's amazing how truly powerful and effective You Can Count On Me is. The script is an absolute work of brilliance! Writer-Director Kenneth Lonergan (in his directorial debut) has found the depth and truth of human experience as few films can capture. The pains, sadness, joy, guilt, and hope that makeup the realities of living. Not once does Lonergan disrespect the audience or the films characters with unmotivated actions. You Can Count On Me is also a film of morals. The films title essentially represents the brother and sister relation of the main characters. But who's it related to: Sammy? Terry? Probably both, as each needs each other. The performances are not to go without mentioning, because they're truly special by all involved in the film. But particularly the leads Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, who's portrayal of brother and sister is flawless an deeply involving to the emotional core of the film. You Can Count On Me is a smart and touching film with a script and characters audiences can relate to.


YI YI (2000)
Directed by: Edward Yang (1st of 1 films on list)
Taiwan / Japan

Edward Yang's epic Yi Yi is a film that equally examines and celebrates life. In many ways, the film simply observes every day living and is more focused on happenings then it is on plot. Recalling the work of his idol (the master Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu) Yang flawlessly captures everyday living while often questioning it's meaning through the lives of a family in Taipei (Taiwan). Despite it's focus of the complexities of a families everyday life in Taiwan, the films themes are universal and can be cherished all over the world. Even with it's simplicity, Yi Yi is a film full of depth and this is captured best through Yang's epic narrative which follows three generations of the family. Also Yang captures the reflective atmosphere of the film by showing much of the action through windows as if we are peeking in at this family. The running time is almost three hours, yet not a moment is wasted and the film really never gets boring. Yang uses a cast of non-professional actors, yet they all are convincing (especially Wu Nien-jen as the father of the family). Yi Yi is a highly recommended film for all audiences. It is a life-affirming film to celebrate and cherish.


Directed by: Michel Gondry (1st of 2 films on list)
France / Italy

The Science of Sleep is such a bizarre film that some audiences may be easily turned off. The film is a wondrous joy of endless imagination and romantic fantasy. This is Gondry's first film as the sole writer-director (his previous collaborations were with acclaim screenwriter Charlie Kaufman). I found this film so charming and full of imagination that it won me every way step of the way. The two leads are absolutely outstanding and when on screen together the films sparkles with appeal. There has never been a question that Gael Garcia Bernal is a brilliant actor, but Charlotte Gainsbourg is a revelation here. Gainsbourg radiates energy and charm as Stephanie, Bernal's neighbor and love interest. The film is magical in its portrayal of dreams and reality, as well as the combination of the two. Narrative speaking The Science of Sleep is fairly simple but Gondry (expanding on a basic premise from one of his own early short films) gives it such an appealing and extravagantly mind-blowing touch that is (like dreams and perhaps even reality) equally messy and charming. Gondry's influence roots stem from the French poetic fantasy realism of the 1930s, and ultimately The Science of Sleep is a romantic fantasy about innocence, longing, imagination, as well as an inner struggle with life and love. The film is certainly surreal, but with a tone of light-heartedness. The joys and wondrous imagination grew even stronger with repeat viewings, such as these two souls (fittingly names Stephane and Stephanie) share what Bernal's character calls them "Parallel Synchronized Randomness". I really can't overstate how lovely these lead performances are. Bernal continually proves to be one of the most interesting actors of modern cinema, and Gainsbourg is an absolute charmer. It is not so much the romantic chemistry amongst the two, because there really isn't much of a romantic connection. It is more a chemistry of two people's chaotic mix of emotions and sensitivities that make relationships so complicated and complex. Through Gondry's vision the film captures this beautifully with a sense of innocence, longing, and doubt, as well as hope and letdown. Anyone who has seen Gondry's music videos from Bjork knows his imaginative vision, but this film proves him to be a unique talent.


Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen (2nd of 2 films on list)
United States

"When the truth is found, to be lies. And all the joy, within you dies… What then?" A Serious Man opens to a strange prologue set in 19th century Eastern European village (I think?), in which a married couple invite an old man into their home who may or may not be a dybbuk (evil spirit). This seemingly has no connection to the film which follows - as it cuts to black we then literally emerge in a tunnel through the brain and out of an earpiece which is blaring the classic sound of Jefferson's Airplane's "Somebody To Love", a song that essentially becomes the beating pulse of this deeply existential film. At the heart lies the idea to "accept the mystery" as Larry Gopnik (brilliantly played by Michael Stuhlbarg in a career-defining performance) is told. He is a character that (like the audience) is searching for answers. Above all the film itself is a question: When are consequences the actions of God, or are they the result of people fearfully overreacting to God's actions? What does it mean? Who knows, but perhaps we should "accept the mystery". A Serious Man is pure Coen brothers dark humor and sympathetic scorn. It is their very best film this decade and to me their most original and deeply artistic film since their greatest masterpiece (The Big Lebowski).


Directed by: Judy Irving (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

"When I was thinking about consciousness, I was only thinking about human beings… All life is one whole, it really is." The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is one of the most beautiful, touching, and compassionate documentaries ever made. A film that is charming, inspirational, and ultimately a spiritual one. This is a film that transcends itself beyond the simplicity into depths that very well express the essence of life, of humanity, of nature, of community, of communication, of love, of spirituality, and of hope. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is a gentle film that captures the connection of nature, humanity, and environment. It captures these three aspects both together and individually. What emerges is an unforgettable experience. This is a film so beautiful, complex, caring, and above all peaceful. There is a tranquility to this film that is truly a lovely and rare feeling. The story centers around Mark Bittner, a lonely man who found a meaning and purpose in his life by opening his eyes and discovering nature. It is through this discovery that he grew a transcendent connection with the wild birds of San Francisco's Telegraph Hill. First-time feature filmmaker Judy Irving shoots the film with a calm and enchanting touch of beauty. San Francisco and it's people play as a critical backdrop to the film in both visuals and emotional themes, as the film is essentially a portrait of Bittner, the parrots, and the city. Equally touching, compassionate, heartbreaking, and funny The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is a magical and un-exploiting documentary of incredible depths and beauty. To see this film is to cherish the emotional and spiritual journey it takes you on.


Directed by: Gus Van Sant (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

One of the truest definitions of cinema as an art form is capturing emotions through images. With the two feature films, Gerry released in 2002, and even more so with this film, Gus Van Sant has represented the truth and beauty of cinema. Elephant is a deeply emotional and thought-provoking experience. Particularly in it's approach. Van Sant doesn't focus on the motivations or reason for the killings, but instead leaves for interpretation. Ultimately the film, through its symbolic images and sound, is a film asking why no one prepared or expected such a horrific tragedy, such as this, to happen. It's much easier to point blame, but Elephant is a film that is willing to listen, understand, and discover. Much like Van Sant's idol, Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr's 1994 eight-hour epic Satantango, Elephant is structured in a unique, multi-layered narrative that consistently follows several characters and times (sometimes overlapping). What results is a flawlessly executed and involving connection as we witness the lives and fate of the characters. Using a mostly improvised script and all non-professional actors,the film perfectly portrays an authentic High School environment and attitude. Also, the mood is captivating and rather creepy. Through Van Sant's long takes and free flowing camera, there's a haunting undertone of doom within the films atmosphere. Also adding to the mood is the brilliant use of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (which is one of the most moving pieces of music ever created). Elephant is a deeply emotional, sad, and important film of undeniable power.


Directed by: Jonathan Demme (2nd of 2 films on list)
United States

Neil Young: Heart of Gold is a special film. Like he did with the wonderful 1984 film Stop Making Sense as well as the 1998 film Storefront Hitchcock, Jonathan Demme transcends the genre of "concert films" to become something emotionally profound, and beautiful. This is above all a performance film and it's a memorable experience. Demme structures the film in the same way he did with his previous performance films, focusing on simplistic techniques and almost solely on the stage. After some brief opening comments from Neil Young and the band, Demme dollies in and just lets the performance take over, and the result is magical and even emotionally personal. Making the film even more impacting is the story within, as we see Neil Young performing his latest album (Prairie Wind- which he recorded just weeks before a brain aneurysm operation) to an audience for the first time in his dream location (Nashville's Ryman Auditorium). The passion of the music and a reflection of his life become evident through Young's performance and lyrics, all wonderfully captured through Demme's intimate camera. Young also sings some of his older favorites, many of which equally reflect on his life and aging (while now being performed by a much older man). The first ten songs are all from the Prairie Wind release and then the film finishes with ten more of his older songs, closing with the entire band performing 'One of These Days' (the film then perfectly ends with Young singing 'The Old Laughing Lady' to an empty audience over the credits). Neil Young: Heart of Gold was shot over two nights of performances, but Demme limits the techniques and cuts to keep the film more involving. This is also captured through the masterful use of lighting and background that change within the mood of the songs. Everything about this film just works. Young's music is so personal, and his (as well as his group) performance is so passionate that this becomes such a beautiful emotional journey of music and imagery on film. Demme has mastered the art of this filmmaking and the film rates among his greatest achievements.


Directed by: Greg Mottola (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

The Judd Aptow trains keeps on rolling. Here as producer, Superbad is an instant geeration classic. Much of it is familiar territory, and this features many of the funny and warm-heartedness that made the Aptow directed Knocked Up so likeable. The film is hilarious in its dialogue (co-written by stars Bill Hadar and Seth Rogen) but its at its best when dealing with the complications of three high schoolers (Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse) mission to get beer and in-turn get laid at a party. Superbad becomes a genuinely funny teen-raunchy comedy, with incredible heart, depth and insight. The films real highlight is its last shot, a symbolically expressive detail of their growth from adolescent to a world of adulthood.


GRAVITY (2013)
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón (1st of 3 films on list)
United Kingdom / United States

Gravity is a dazzling cinematic experience. One that seamlessly blends its special effects into its artistry in a way that is poetic and masterful. Alfonso Cuarón is a master filmmaker and Gravity puts all his vast talents on full display. The film is best experienced in its intended 3D format. Are there narrative problems here? Perhaps but this is such an engaging achievement on a cinematic level. The film pulls you into its world and you feel its world. It offers some touching spiritual and hopeful expressions.


Directed by: Li Yoon-ki (1st of 1 films on list)
South Korea

This Korean film is wonderfully smart and charming for its compassionate manner. Jeon Do-yean follows up her powerful Cannes winning performance from 2007's Secret Sunshine with another excellent performance sharing pitch perfect chemistry with a rather charming Ha Jung-woo. There is a sophisticated wit to the humor and the details that give this film an old-fashioned appeal (aided by the occasional jazz score and pitch-perfect chemistry). There is some hilarious moments of humor to the film as well as some insightful subtexts without ever being forced or overdone in any way. Lee Yoon-ki's previous film (Ad Lib Night) took a similar approach but even for its gentle nature it was a film that felt emotionless and un-involving at times. Effortlessly structured over the period of a day, My Dear Enemy is greatly involving as it takes you along with its terrific lead characters.

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro (2nd of 2 films on list)
United States / Canada

Crimson Peak's towering strength lies in its breathtaking production design which recalls imagery throughout film history (as vast ranging as Stanley Kubrick's The Shining and Mario Bava's Kill Baby Kill). The film is directed by Guillermo del Toro who returns to the gothic art filmmaking style that made him among the most acclaimed and beloved directors of the generation (specifically Pan's Labyrinth and The Devil's Backbone). In many ways Crimson Peak is the essential Del Toro film. One he seems born to have made.


Directed by: Sion Sono (1st of 1 films on list)

Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono has always been a filmmaker willing to explore both his own boundaries as well as boundaries within the conventional narrative and genre elements. He is daring for his bizarre innovation as a filmmaker. Epic in it's four hour length, Love Exposure is anything but a typical epic. The film is a bizarre trip centering around a strange love triangle, Catholicism, obsession, guilt and upskirt photography (just to name a few of the films ideas). The film flows with such ease and never bores despite its running time. The beauty of the film is the way it meshes all these ideas (both deep and simple ideas) with a cinematic style that is unusual and yet at its core very simple and profound all at once. Love Exposure is basically structured in two parts with the first centered around the relationship of a young man and father (a strict Catholic Priest). Things really start to get complicated in the second haff with a cult group known as "Church Zero". The energy and oddness of it make Love Exposure impossible to ever want to look away. There is such a conventional and simple love story at the surface of the film yet you marvel at the rare innovation, making this truly a joyous and hypnotic film to experience.


Directed by: Neil LaBute (1st of 1 films on list)
United States / France / United Kingdom

I have seen The Shape of Things several times and it remains as emotionally effective with each viewing, but nothing quite like seeing it for the first time and knowing nothing about it (so for those who have not seen the film, may not want to read any further)… Directed by Neil LaBute, this works like a double-billing with his 1997 film In the Company of Men. Both are equally insightful and powerful and are completely focused on character through dialogue and performances. The difference between the two is the sex, as The Shape of Things is like the female answer to In the Company of Men. Both films are incredibly powerful in way that is both disturbing and terrifying. Cruel films that leave an unforgettable impact. What most amazing is that they do not contain any direct violence, suspense, or horror, The Shape of Things is a film that haunts the inner emotions of the human soul and the result is a sad and disturbing yet unforgettable film experience. LaBute's minimal style (transitions of scenes begin with music and a camera pan) is incredibly effective because he strips the film down to dialogue and performances which makes the overall emotional involvement connect and a deeper and more intimate level. Like Aaron Eckhart's In the Company of Men performance, Rachel Weisz is absolutely brilliant here as the heartless art student who's motives are strictly a form of her own artistic expression. The film leaves much to think about in terms of art, and human relationships and morality. The Shape of Things is an emotionally unsettling yet interesting and thought-provoking experience that certainly leaves its mark through the most simplistic of cinematic techniques.


Directed by: Rob Zombie (3rd of 3 films on list)
United States

As a big fan of Rob Zombie's first two films I was a little disappointed with his remake of John Carpenter's classic original Halloween. Part of the problem was that Zombie seemed a bit obligated to honor the original film when it was clear he wanted to take it in his own direction. With this sequel Zombie is given that freedom and what we get is a film that is now distinctly his and a worthy entry into the franchise as a film that can stand on its own (even if not as masterful or as iconic as Carpenter's film). The film opens in a similar way to the previous Halloween sequel yet Zombie's primary focus here is on the psychological state of its lead character - Laurie Strode played by Scout Taylor-Compton. I really admire what Zombie does with this film and while its filled with trademark horror visuals and gore, Zombie further displays his underrated gift with melodramatic expression as well. Its a "sequel" and its a "remake" of a classic franchise so this film will very likely be overlooked.


Directed by: Andrew Bujalski (2nd of 2 films on list)
United States

"I would like to say whatever I want. I mean I would like to talk about real things with you… Reality would be nice to talk about, its just that we never get to that point really." This is a revealing moment of dialogue in writer-director Andrew Bujalski's sophomore feature film Mutual Appreciation. It is dialogue tat seems to embody the spirit of Bujalski's filmmaking and most important the spirit of this film and its characters. Characters who endlessly talk about seemingly meaningful conversation that is ultimately dancing around the root of its intentions (with the only exception coming from the source of truth, which is getting drunk). As in his previous gem (Funny Ha Ha), Bujalski's features an improvisational and plotless style which through characters and dialogue examines how we express (or do not express) ourselves. There is a pitch-perfect combination of humor and charm, but there is also an awkward and even frustrating feeling as we observe these characters hide or disguise there feelings from one another. There is always something lurking or hanging in the background which creates a mood of suspenseful tension and chemistry with the characters. Also like Bujalski debut Mutual Appreciation evokes a sense of reality yet is also distance and very understanding that it is a film. These characters are both like and very unlike us and this gives the film its charm as well as a timelessness. Bujalski's again features a cast of what seems to be his close friends (including Funny Ha Ha's lovely Kate Dollenmayer, who makes a brief but memorable scene-stealing appearance here). The film is full of highlights (of course the Dollenmayer scene is especially wonderful) right up to its abrupt and open-ended conclusion. Mutual Appreciation is a genuinely sweet and awkward romantic comedy from a filmmaker who has emerged as a contemporary John Cassavetes of filmmaking. Funny Ha Ha is a masterpiece, and Bujalski's has followed it up with an equally brilliant feature. Maybe it is an acquired taste for some, but I love his work and will continually revisit and cherish these films! "Group hug!"


Directed by: Claire Denis (3rd of 3 films on list)
France / Germany

Claire Denis has such a way with filmmaking. It's difficult to describe but it's profound to experience. Like her influence Yasujiro Ozu (to me the greatest director of all-time) Denis has a unique way of bringing you into the world of her film. Bastards is no exception - it's a moody noirish film that withholds much from its audience yet lingers with such a powerful imagery and haunting tone long afterwards. It's a film you quickly want to revisit and another example of the mastery of it's filmmaker - truly one of the premier's artists of her generation!


Directed by: Jennifer Kent (1st of 1 films on list)
Australia / Canada

Not a perfect film but The Babadook is a film that I absolutely adore. Its stunning visuals are filled with influences early cinema and classic fairy tales. You are never really sure what is real here and the film never gives direct answers. Like the greatest horror films, The Babadook is carried by its chilling atmosphere but there are also some terrific psychological performances by the mother and son protagonists (played by Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman.


Directed by: Lars von Trier (2nd of 2 films on list)
Netherlands / Denmark / United Kingdom / France / others

Lars von Trier's Dogville is not for everyone. Like most Von Trier films, the experimental"Dogme" style filmmaking requires some patience and is unique from anything else in cinema. However, for those who connect with Von Trier's approach will certainly be engaged. The screenplay is masterful in exploring complex political, intellectual and moral issues, all while using limiting techniques (filmed entirely on stage, with NO walls- only white boarders representing them- and very few props) to generate a deeply emotional experience and connection. What's truly great about Dogville is the way it challenges the viewer. It's a film that can be interpreted in many different views (be it religiously, politically, socially, etc), but is ultimately about human behavior. There is no definitive answers, but the importance and impact lies in the thought-provoking questions that are raised. Nicole Kidman's performance is astonishing, and further proof of both her screen presence and wide range of acting abilities. Through facial expressions and posture alone, she completely engrosses the role. Kidman is aided by a highly talented supporting cast including the wonderful Patricia Clarkson as well as another strong performance from Von Trier regular Stellan Skarsgard. Dogville is a masterful cinematic accomplishment. An ambitious, complex experience that is both intellectually and emotionally powerful and thought-provoking.


Directed by: Mike Flanagan (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

Absentia is an independent horror film that is truly an engrossing experience. Writer-director Mike Flanagan flawlessly builds tension and mystery as the film is concerned with that which is hidden of which includes psychological emotions (in this case lingering sadness of grief and loss). There is a depth to this film, heightened by both the atmospheric visuals as well as the engaging sister dynamic (beautifully performed by Katie Parker and Courtney Bell).


Directed by: Wes Anderson (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

The concept of this fairy-tale period piece reminded me of an adolescent version of Ingmar Bergman's Summer with Monika - though (as evidence by the trademark production design and visual details) there is no mistaken Moonrise Kingdom is a definitive Wes Anderson film. This is just an adorable film and it works on a deeper level then anything else Anderson has done before or after because its style and imagination are effortlessly grown from the characters. Nothing ever feels forced here. As such Moonrise Kingdom is probably Wes Anderson's most touching, precious, and heartfelt film.


Directed by: Mike Leigh (2nd of 2 films on list)
United Kingdom

The great British filmmaker Mike Leigh follows up what I think may be his best film (2008's Happy-Go-Lucky) with Another Year, which examines similar ideas of contrasting two different kinds of lives - those who are lonely and those who are at peace and are graced with a long and loving relationship. As typical of Leigh's films Another Year naturally brings us into the world of these characters with a realism that is void of any plot devices. The ensemble performances terrifically capture this realism as Leigh again features many of his regulars - lead by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen who play a warm and loving couple that welcome their home to emotionally troubled longtime friends played by Lesley Manville and Peter Wight. Leigh's recent films seem to reflect an idea that happiness is not something you obtain, but rather it is an understanding from within. Another Year is a painfully touching yet beautifully compassionate film from a great filmmaker.


Directed by: James Wan (1st of 1 films on list)
United States / Canada

James Wan is clearly a film historian and fan of classic horror. Its extremely high-praise to call him a modern day Val Lewton or Jacques Tourneur, but much like those masters, Wan understands design and details of horror visuals and atmosphere. Insidious nails the small details and Wan seems to have made an art out of the usually ineffective "jump scares". Here they are finely crafted and effective. The film pulls you in from its opening moments and never lets up in its dreamy conclusion. Insidious is pure joy for horror buffs. Its got the touches of a classic throwback yet it is done so with such an inventive and modernist style from a filmmaker with a vision.


Directed by: Clint Eastwood (2nd of 2 films on list)
United States

Many have said this might be Clint Eastwood's swan song as an actor and Gran Torino does work like a reflection on both his work/persona as an actor and director. As a bitter racist Korean War vet Walt Kowalski, Eastwood gives a memorable performance and as a director he gives the film a masterful sense of his visual expression and skill. Walt is prejudice, but he is not a bad person. He is of a different generation and Grab Torino does a fine job in dealing with notions of racial, cultural, and generation differences by breaking them down and confronting them. Gran Torino deals with issues of cultural differences, of life and death, of forgiveness but it also recalls some of the themes expressed in Million Dollar Baby (still Eastwood's very greatest film!) in the way the film finds redemption. Feeling abandoned or distant from his family, Walt finds redemption not through his own bloodline, but through his new found "family". Gran Torino delivers a powerful message of self-sacrifice while reflecting on many of Eastwood's previous films as both director and actor. Beautifully touching, humorous and tragic.


Directed by: David Robert Mitchell (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

There is very little doubt writer-director David Robert Mitchell is channeling the great John Carpenter with his 2015 throwback film It Follows. But is that really so bad? Especially when the result is as impressively controlled as this. Mitchell is far more self conscious then Carpenter but It Follows has a great vibe to it, heightened by its wide-screen compositions, minimalist score, and genuine suburban American locations. It is not ground breaking by any means and it will divide audiences (even horror buffs for its obvious homages or some might say ripoffs), yet I still love the ideas this has to offer and even on its own the film is so much fun to watch!


CREED (2015)
Directed by: Ryan Coogler (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

I am a fan of all of the Rocky films and think each one stands on its own and is successful on some level. Creed (directed by talented young filmmaker Ryan Coogler) is a reminagination or restoration of the franchise here with the lead character of Rocky in the secondary role. To my surprise this film is beautiful, poetic, heartfelt, touching and perhaps the greatest achievement in the entire series. In many ways this is the spiritual soul of the entire Rocky franchise, as it perfectly reflects on the history of the previous characters while introducing us to its new lead, Adonis Johnson, the son of Rocky's late friend and former rival Apollo Creed - brilliantly performed with absolute star-making appeal by Michael B. Jordan. Not to be forgotten Sylvester Stallone gives the most heartfelt and powerful performance of his career. Truly a joyous and touching film full of care Creed is a winner!


Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar (2nd of 3 films on list)

"It's as if the films were talking about us." Following up his excellent films All About My Mother, and Talk To Her, Pedro Almodovar continues to show he's become a truly master filmmaker as he ages. While I think Volver is his best film, Bad Education is in many ways the quintessential Almodovar film! It's seems his most personal film, as it details in-depth relationships of childhood, religion, sexual abuse, gender chaos, and filmmaking. In all his films, Almodovar has always shown a love and care of filmmaking and cinema, and Bad Education further represents his passion (be it in his direct visual and verbal approach or his evident sense of awareness and respect). From the fascinating opening credit sequence (a possible homage to the great Saul Bass' work for Alfred Hitchcock) to the emotionally moving final moments, Bad Education brilliantly blends Almodovar's inventive visual style, and ambitious non-linear narrative (featuring fantasy, reality, flashbacks, and re-enactments all intertwined and spanning over three decades of time). All at once, Bad Education is a film noir, a mystery, a thriller, and a surreal slapstick comedy. The result is a deeply absorbing and fun cinematic experience which primarily examines themes of deception, and revenge. It's also a film of films and the creative process of art. Gael Garcia Bernal gives an incredibly brilliant and bold performance that I'd rate as his career best. Not to go without mentioning is the creepy performance of Daniel Gimenez as Father Manolo. Bad Education is masterful in every way. It's a film for film fans, and particularly for fans of Almodovar.


Directed by: Hou Hsiao-hsien (4th of 5 films on list)
France / Taiwan

Taiwan's Hou Hsiao-hsien Flight of the Red Balloon is both a lovely tribute and a subtly reflective film of memories and sensations. Hou continues to explore both the boundaries of the globe and his own cinema. As he did in Japan with his 2003 homage to Yasujiro Ozu (Cafe Lumiere), Hou approaches France from the eye of a foreigner using Song Fang as the protagonist and Albert Lamorisse's classic 1956 original (The Red Balloon) as the backdrop. Yet the film is viewed from the eye of the adult reflection of childhood memories. Juliette Binoche gives a stunningly energetic performance with some moments that really soar under Hou's trademark long camera takes. A beautiful film that I imagine I will enjoy even more over time.


Directed by: Jeff Nichols (2nd of 3 films on list)
United Kingdom / United States

Jeff Nichols debut feature films shares the same tones and emotions as David Gordon Green, who is listed in the credits as co-producer. In a strange way the film builds a sense of lingering doom and a tense revenge shoot-out that you'd almost think it was a western. However Shotgun Stories avoids formulaic genre instead opting for slowly paced poetic realism. The film centers around the relationship of three brothers that were abandon by their father who went on to find religion and a new family. Tension and an inevitable sense of tragedy amongst the families emerge at the fathers funeral. As Son, Boy and Kid the three brothers carry the emotional weight of the film with Michael Shannon leading the way. The film says alot in its images notably the beautifully poetic opening and closing shots.


CAST AWAY (2000)
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

Cast Away is a rare film with a concept almost unseen in Hollywood: one man, stranded on an island, with very little dialogue for an hour and a half. No sharks, pirates, or mysterious beauties, just one man and alot of time. The concept works brilliantly because of a smart director, strong script, and strong lead performance by Tom Hanks. Hanks gives the best performance of his acclaimed career. Cast Away masterfully contrasts our society's obsession of time by showing Hanks hectic daily schedule, to his new location, which never changes and time becomes irrelevant. The poetic notion of this theme as well as love and survival is expressed through FedEx packages that keep him alive, as well as the one package he is determined to deliver. Cast Away also contains some heartbreaking melodrama as well. The ending is a nice touch and leaves several interesting and ironic interpretations without definitive closure. Cast Away is a bold, absorbing, moving and ultimately fascinating look at loss and human survival from a filmmaker who is a great storyteller.


Directed by: Lou Ye (1st of 1 films on list)
Germany / China / France

Through mood and atmosphere, Chinese filmmaker Lou Ye's debut, Suzhou River has an intriguing narrative in which the narrator is seen but never shown and we often get a perspective from his point of view. He begins telling the love story of himself and a nightclub dancer Meimei, before changing the story into a flashback/fairy-tale of a motorcycle courier (Mardar) who's girlfriend Moudan jumped off a bridge and mysteriously disappeared in the Suzhou River. After Mardar is released from prison he is determined to find Moudan and when he meets Meimei (who looks identical- and both are played by Xun Zhou) he is convinced it is her. Eventually the two stories intertwine and while it would seem to be a complicated mess, it is actually quite effective and engaging without ever becoming confusing. The key lies in the atmospheric mood of the film, which flawlessly captures the romantic longing and mysterious fairy-tale aspects of the story and the emotions (the Suzhou River of Shanghai is also effectively used to express the overall sense of mystery to the film). The comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo are inevitable and justified as both stylishly examine a similar romantic obsession. Lou takes element of Hitchcock as well as film noir and blends the spirit of Wong Kar-Wai (notably the longing of Chungking Express) to create a film that is equally exciting, bizarre, seductive, and stylish.


Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón (2nd of 3 films on list)

Y tu mama tambien is a truly enjoyable film that speaks of universal themes. It's such fun, fresh, exciting, stylish, and highly original filmmaking despite dealing with issues and narrative that has been used countless ties. Their acting, directing, and cinematography are all tremendous, but it's the films energy and brilliant script that set it apart. The film doesn't shy from finding the truth within it's characters. In many ways, Y tu mama tambien can be viewed as a modern reimaginations of Francois Truffaut's Jules and Jim, with this film much less bashful (and ultimately more truthful) in it's sexuality. There's also a beautiful use of voice narration, which draws comparison to the work of Jean-Luc Godard. However, comparisons are unfair, because Y tu mama tambien is a wonderfully original film. From the very opening frame (a couple having sex underneath a Harold and Maude film poster!!) it's obvious this film is a rare and exciting experience. Aside from it's touching and heartbreaking examines and difficulties of youth and friendship, the film also has an intelligent political undertone throughout (all beit calm in it's approach). Y tu mama tambien is fascinating and authentic filmmaking which connects on all levels of cinema. It's a film audiences will relate to and never forget it's impact or pleasures.


I'M NOT THERE. (2007)
Directed by: Todd Haynes (2nd of 2 films on list)
Germany / Canada / United States

I'm Not There left me at a loss for words to justly describe it and I'm still needing another viewing before comfortably expressing my thoughts, but here is at least my initial reaction... I'm Not There opens with a long shot of a motorcycle followed by a poetic series of shots that seem to reflect that of a death, and within a cut, and immediate rebirth into seclusion. Is this representative of Bob Dylan's life? Perhaps, but Todd Haynes is not necessarily as interested in representing the coherent moments and events of Dylan's life, or even the conventional structures of narrative filmmaking. Instead Haynes presents a metaphorical representation of uneven identities within a society. This has always been at the heart of Haynes work and certainly I'm Not There is in this mold. Ultimately this film is a poem structured in concepts and metaphors and while seemingly in-cohesive there remains a connected thematic that makes this whole (as such recalling the work of French innovator Jean Luc Godard). Like Godard, I’m Not There is intellectually challenging and seemingly uneven yet cohesively structured. It is also incredibly fun and engeretic. I guess in all this, I'm Not There can be like the experiencing of listening to Dylan's music. The film is organized in somewhat intertwining segments which I think emerge as a full circle in the Richard Gere segments. At the center and ultimately the heart and energy of the film is Cate Blanchett who in full mimmick-mode undeniably gives the films finest and most memorable performance. It is in her moments that the really really comes to life (in full Fellini-esque beauty). Of course that is not to deny what it a great ensemble effort from this remarkable cast (Heath Ledger, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Ben Whishaw, Marcus Carl Franklin, Julianne Moore, and Michelle Williams). I'm Not There is a bold achievement and one that I think is most admirable in both of unconventional recreation of the biopic and it's distinct vision. Ultimately I think Haynes has made a film that is his and I think this is a film that is ahead of its time, as it will take further reflection before its fully appreciate as the achievement that it is. I know I still need to see this one again, and again, and again....


Directed by: Alexander Payne (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

"What about me? I wanna camp" This touching but quiet moment seems to express the emotional layers this film is working on. Grief absorbs every frame of the film and the films title seems to subtly reflect the rich family dynamics - of which are so perfectly portrayed by this incredible cast. George Clooney gives a career performance and the film finds a beautiful parental tone in his relationship with his two daughters (excellently played by Amara Miller and Shailene Woodley- especially great). This is Alexander Payne at his most restrained and mature. It's been seven years since his critically acclaimed film Sideways, and for me The Descendants is his best work.


Directed by: Sean Durkin (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a film that is surrounded by a sense of dread and its shifting narrative in time slowly builds the overall looming doom, which reaches it's internal peak in the films ambiguous final shot - one that seems to suggest Martha's psychological pain and paranoia is incurable in "normal" society. I was reminded of the best of Brian DePalma the way the film concludes on the lingering (and haunting) memory. This debut feature from Sean Durkin shows the potential of a gifted filmmaker as well as a strong performance from Elizabeth Olsen. There are some incredible moments (John Hawke's singing 'Marcy's Song' certainly stands out!) and Jody Lee Lipes cinematography is typically brilliant.


Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón (3rd of 3 films on list)
United States / United Kingdom / Japan

With his sixth feature, Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron has ascended to the level of a master. Cuaron continues to prove his vast visionary skills with a variety of versatile films. Cuaron makes genre films that thrive creatively when working against genre conventions. Children of Men is a remarkable achievement in filmmaking, right from the very opening frame (a gritty shot of shocked and sadden faces looking up at a TV screen). Just a few shots later, a lengthy tracking shot (one of many) leads to a shocking explosion. In these opening moments, Cuaron has quickly established an intense tone, a dazzling visual style, and a bleak futuristic atmosphere. The setting is England 2027, and we see a world that has collapsed in chaos. Humanity is in danger of being extinct and the violence extends throughout the entire globe (transcending race, class, religion, and even nationality). Children of Men presents this futuristic world with richly textured details, and without overtly explaining everything that is happening. Cuaron trusts the viewer and trusts in imagination, and this is where his visual creativity becomes most expressive. Cuaron’s control over composition and space is breathtaking. There are shots that simply develop into perfect compositions as Cuaron’s long tracking shots reveal expressive framing. Some of the shots in this film seem impossible (the SUV terrorist scene, giving birth, finding the crying baby, and of course the moving shot of Clive Owen and Claire-Hope Ashitey carrying the baby through a group of war-torn soldiers that become frozen in a brief moment of hope and humanity). Cuaron keeps the significance of technology as the backdrop, but always makes it’s existence evident (including it’s evolution, which has seemingly progressed despite the demise of the world around it). If the film has any weak moment it is perhaps the battle scenes in the last act, but more so because it lacks the richness and imagination of the previous moments. Either way, the technical craftsmanship of these scenes are no less remarkable. Cuaron has made a masterpiece of art and mainstream filmmaking. There are multiple layers at work in this sc-fi world of realism. The film is formed with ideas and images that are not so far from reflecting contemporary society. By transcending genre standards, Cuaron has made a thought-provoking creation of a potential nightmare of the 21st century. He does this intelligently and without force, while leaving a compassionate hope for humanity and the future (look at the name of the boat in the end and hope is also expressed through the sound over the end credits). Children of Men is a powerful film, but above all you have to admire the visual presence in the filmmaking. I still think Y Tu Mama Tambein is my favorite Cuaron film, but this is his most remarkably heart-pounding and breathtaking.


Directed by: David Fincher (2nd of 2 films on list)
United States

David Fincher's adaptation of the beloved international novel is (to me) vastly superior to the mediocre Swedish adaptations. Both films are held down by the source material's heavy plot, but Fincher masterfully crafts the film into something that fittingly looks and feels like his films (which in many ways works as a nice companion piece to his previous film The Social Network). Fincher gives this film more humor and a much more alluring atmosphere overall - starting as early the awesome opening title sequence! Rooney Mara (a scene stealer in The Social Network) is given a juicy role here, and she delivers with a powerful performance that is both fragile and tough. The films master touch, is its ending, and Mara deserves much of the credit... It is a heartbreaking ending and a defining emotional portrayal of Lisbeth Salander.


Directed by: Quentin Tarantino (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

I have a few issues but there are moments that absolutely soar maybe beyond anything else Quentin Tarantino has ever done. With Inglourious Basterds Tarantino embraces his love of films more then ever by showing the magic and influence of them. Like all his films this is free of filmmaking rules and here he even seems to reflect on his own tendencies for violence and revenge with a film that is essentially about films. Through masterful dialogue Tarantino creates the film as a series of set pieces in which he has full control over. The initial cinematic influence is undoubtedly in the vein of Sergio Leone but there are endless film influences and film references throughout Inglourious Basterds (with the most directly obvious being German and French cinema). Tarantino's strengths have always been in dialogue, music/sound, staging and casting. The beauty of this film is that the cast is terrific and essentially one of the underlying themes of the film is that they are each battling one another for top billing. As Colonel Hans Landa Christopher Waltz finds the perfect pitch of charming and brutal. The films most memorable and profound moments come from a massacre survivor out for vengeance Shosanna (played by the always radiant Melanie Laurent) - highlighted by a brilliantly tense scene with Hans sharing a apple strudel with Shosanna ("wait for the cream"). Also the films most striking images come Shosanna's face projected over a burning screen. Above all Inglourious Basterds is pure entertainment from a filmmaker that embraces his won obsessions, flaws and influences more, capped with a perversely humorous and bold self-statement in the films finals shot.


Directed by: François Ozon (1st of 1 films on list)
France / Japan

Francois Ozon's Under The Sand begins simply, showing the faithful and loving relationship of Marie, a literature professor, and her husband Jean. One day while enjoying a book and some rest on the beach, Jean decided to take a swim. Several hours pass before it's evident he's disappeared. However, Marie refuses to acknowledge what happened, and she continues to speak of her husband in present tense. Under The Sand is a gripping examination of the psychological mourning of a missing loved one, and the spiritual connection within a faithful relationship; the one who outlives the other is suffering. While the film has some flaws, it's carried by an extraordinary lead performance from Charlotte Rampling. With little dialogue, you can feel the psychology and grief revealing itself simply through Rampling's eyes and movements. She completely inhabits the role and gives one of cinema's finest performances. Overall, Under The Sand is not perfect, but it's a sexy, stylish, thought-provoking poetic psychological drama with an outstanding actress, wonderful music (love the instrumental use of Portishead), and an ending that will remain on the viewer's mind long after watching.


Directed by: Robert Altman (1st of 3 films on list)
United States

A Prairie Home Companion is such a joy and one of the most entertaining of the year to me. This is the kind of film that takes on a different film going experience with each viewing, but every time remains a treat. Robert Altman's films (and this one is no exception) take on different levels in repeat viewings because all the small little hidden details (as well as what he refers to as the "happy mistakes") are revealed. A Prairie Home Companion is another film full of detail. With Altman, the camera is always moving (or zooming) and here he fills the frame with details in every movement (this is even heighten by a sense of 360 degree space through the many mirrors and reflections throughout the film). A Prairie Home Companion is a film full of metaphors and maybe even the use of reflections could be viewed as a metaphor for life (or a radio shows) reflection. Ultimately this is a film of death or dying but it is presented in a way that is deeply personal and positive. Death can be something to celebrate when life has been long and fulfilled. A Prairie Home Companion celebrates this and celebrates the joy of living a full life. This may not be the most important or artistic film Altman has made, but he seems the perfect fit to collaborate with Garrison Keillor, who shows a strong screen presence. The cast works beautifully within the Altman-esque style with the most notable being Altman regular Lily Tomlin. Even in themes of death and dying, A Prairie Home Companion is Altman in lighthearted mode. A joy of a film that leaves a smile on my face from beginning to end. Of course the film in many ways seems to represent Altman's swan-song and perhaps it is the perfect film to end his career. We all are lucky that Altman's life (like a reflection of this films themes) was a long one. There are so many memorable films to cherish and keep his memory alive. It is sad to see him pass, because (much like the radio show of this film), Altman simply made films like no other contemporary artist in filmmaking. He truly is one of the greatest filmmakers to ever live, and A Prairie Home Companion stands as a fitting tribute to his outstanding career.


Directed by: Jia Zhang ke (1st of 2 films on list)
China / Hong Kong

Perhaps the best and most important Chinese filmmaker of his generation, Jia Zhang-ke's fifth feature seems to be a further shift away from the focus on alienated youth, which defined his earlier masterpieces (Platform, Unknown Pleasures). Much in the way his previous film (The World) Still Life is a reflective of a changing world. Through symbolic imagery, Jia presents a mysterious film that expresses both political and human depths (particularly in the way he contrasts people and landscapes, recalling a trademark of Michelangelo Antonioni). The landscapes become a character in itself and the photography is the catalyst of the film expression. The film is a significant one for it's reflection of a changing world, and thus in turn gives the films title (Still Life) an irony. The significance of Jia as an artist is evident as ever here. He truly is an important filmmaker in world cinema.


[REC] (2008)
Directed by: Jaume Balaguero / Paco Plaza (1st of 1 films on list)

Nothing groundbreaking here but [Rec] is an instant classic of the horror genre and among the scariest films ever made. In its mix of zombie horror, quarantine/illness, and found footage, [Rec] is most effective in the way its shot, creating a perfectly effective claustrophobic feel. Moments of quiet become quickly chaotic. [Rec] is scary and the film absorbs you into its intensity. This film is not for the easily scared!


Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn (1st of 1 films on list)
Denmark / France / United States / United Kingdom

Danish-born filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn has always made "interesting" films and for me The Neon Demon is his best. This colorful, stylish, darkly funny and even campy horror journey into beauty and the LA fashion world is one that lingers with its profound imagery, colors, and sounds. Like beauty itself, you can't look away.


Directed by: Satoshi Kon (1st of 1 films on list)

Satoshi Kon's second feature film, Millennium Actress, is a brilliant display of animation, storytelling, and filmmaking. Really it's difficult to describe the depths of this film. It's truly original and exciting filmmaking. While Kon's wonderful sense of suspense and dazzling visual animation is evident, the strength of Millennium Actress lies in it' sympathy and heart. What results is a film that is caring, dramatic, romantic, tense, comic, and thrilling all at once. The narrative is incredibly unique as it blends memories, past/present, fiction/nonfiction, and film within a film, yet it's all crafted so skillfully that the viewer is fully engaged and never lost. In many ways, Millennium Actress is a reflection. Not only a reflection on it's central character (Chiyoko Fujiwara, a former star actress - said to be loosely based off the great Setsuko Hara who suddenly left acting and the public while still in the peak of her career in the mid-1960s), but also on Japanese history as well as on cinema (notice for example the references to Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, or Godzilla, or other anime films). Millennium Actress captures the power, joy, and beauty of storytelling, filmmaking, and above all imagination. It's wonderful watching the documentary filmmakers (Genya and his cameraman) transport themselves into Chiyoko's memories, even to the point where they become parts in them. Millennium Actress is an ambitious and engaging film of artistic beauty and creativity. I'm blown away by the originality of this film, and consider it among the very greatest anime films ever made.


Directed by: Kelly Reichardt (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

Kelly Reichardt follows up her excellent 2006 film Old Joy with this beautiful and heartbreaking film that shares much of the same minimalist style and social reflections. With Wendy and Lucy, Reichardt takes us in even closer emotionally and it is amazing how much she achieves with such a simplistic touch. Simple yet carefully made the film makes great use of its location (Pacific Northwest) and its parallel tracking shots (which contrast each other in the opening and closing of the film). Michelle Williams is nothing short of superb as a vulnerable woman caught in the devastating realities of poverty in American society. To see Williams and witness her joy, hope, sadness, fears, and uncertainty effortlessly converge without sentiment in the final moments is truly a masterful performance. Wally Dalton gives a touching performance as the security guard who befriends Wendy, and of course it is also a pleasure to see Old Joy collaborators Will Oldham and Lucy the dog (played by Reichardt's own dog) return, as well as an effectively creepy cameo by cult horror director Larry Fessenden. Wendy and Lucy is a simplistic film with real unforced texture. I found it beautiful and heartbreaking!


Directed by: Nobuhiro Yamashita (1st of 1 films on list)

"Don't let anyone tell us that when we're no longer kids, we grow up. When we grow up, we won't quit being kids. Where are the real we? Should the real we be here. We've only got a little more time to be the real us. 2004, Shiba High Holly Festival." This opens the film and it is a shot of a young woman looking into the camera as she is making a documentary for the high schools music festival. After enthusiastically yelling cut the director seems unsure what do to next before finally having her repeat the last line in a closeup. After a loud "cut!" Linda Linda Linda title card appears with the entrance of lively music as the image fades into a wonderful opening tracking shot that introduces the characters of the film, starting with Bae Doo-Na's parallel tracking shot through the school hallway. Linda Linda Linda is a joy of a film. One that is irresistibly sweet and silly and inspiring. Simple and full of energy, the film is driven by it's moments between the narrative. The setting is a high school and the story centers around an all-girl rock band that wants to perform at the schools local rock festival. When the lead singer leaves the band, they get a shy Korean exchange student as a replacement. Predictable or simple as the story is, it is an absolute gem.You know where it's going, but the pleasure is the moments within. You connect with these characters and the awkward gestures and conversations they share. The performances are wonderful, but it is Bae Doo-Na that is the standout. One of the very best actresses of her generation, Bae always commands attention on screen the way she boldly captures the essence of her characters. Here she is so warmly loveable as the Korean exchange student. The other character of the film is the music. Linda Linda Linda finds the core of music as a function of spirit and soul and of togetherness. Here it defines the punk- rock inspirations and speaks of individuality. When the ending arrives, it connects on a universal level. It takes over the human soul and encourages you to jump up and sing along: "Linda Linda … Linda Linda Lindadddaaaaa!!!" It's irresistible and you will be unable to get it out of your head long afterwards. Linda Linda Linda is funny and quirky. It is a film that you watch and admire for it's humanity and energy.


Directed by: Steven Spielberg (2nd of 2 films on list)
United States

Steven Spielberg's adaptation of HG Welles classic novel, War of the Worlds, is a film that will very likely be under appreciated. Through Spielberg's vision, the film becomes more a story of human-beings and most of all a film of family. Spielberg is working with an enormous budget and with it he creates some dazzling visuals effects, and technical mastery. Yet no matter what the budget or ambition of the film, Spielberg is always about capturing the emotional core of the family. Being a big star (and tabloid machine) Tom Cruise often gets overlooked as a great actor. I think he gives an outstanding performance here and the emotional center of the film really relies on him to be convincing.


Directed by: Eli Roth (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

There is no doubt Eli Roth's feature debut Cabin Fever gets compared to the films of Sam Raimi and Wes Craven and it is understandable as those filmmakers are clearly echoed and recognize here. But that should not discredit what is an original and truly clever achievement here.


Directed by: Celine Sciamma (1st of 1 films on list)

Lead by a gripping performance from Léa Seydoux, Dear Prudence quietly observes a lonely soul dealing with the pain and confusion of loss and adolescence. First time writer/director Rebecca Zlotowski brings a raw and subtly expressive style which leaves a powerful and lingering tone.


2 DAYS IN PARIS (2007)
Directed by: Julie Delpy (1st of 1 films on list)
France / Germany

Working off the influence learned in Richard Linklater's Before Sunset, which she cowrote and starred in, Julia Delpy's first solo feature is a wonderfully self-confident work. She clearly has a skillful handle with this material and while inferior to Before Sunset (to me one of the greatest films of cinema), 2 Days in Paris has such an appealing quality, particularly the way it perfectly captures the sensibilities of the young couple (played by Delpy and Adam Goldberg). They are playing a New York couple returning from a vacation in Venice, first stopping by her parents in Paris (played by Delpy's real life parents). With a satirical yet laid-back approach, Delpy perfectly defines the various social workings at play. 2 Days in Paris has a lot of heart, and its thoughtful understanding and excellent lead performances and chemistry make it a charming film.


Directed by: Amy Seimetz (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

Amy Seimetz's eerie feature debut, Sun Don't Shine is excellent in the way it absorbs through it's mood and tone. There are moments both menacing and tender. Most of the emotional tension and panic is bottled and building. The central performances deserve much of the credit for how effective this is, with Kate Lyn Sheil especially terrific - in both her quiet expressions and emotional rage.


Directed by: Craig Brewer (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

In his third feature, Craig Brewer finely controls the narrative, disguising a sentimental story of two souls in need of each others help under the surface of a stylized exploitation film. Christina Ricci is very good, Samuel L. Jackson gives a career-best performance, and the effective atmospheric filmmaking (alongside some terrific music) make this a very absorbing, expressive, and provocative achievement. Don't let the title or the marketing of this fool you, it is an emotionally touching film.


GOOD TIME (2017)
Directed by: Benny and Josh Safdie (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

I love the rhythm of this film. Heightened by fast-paced camerawork, jump cut editing, and haunting electronic score Good Time has an absorbing atmosphere and rhythm that never lets up. The film takes place mostly over the course of one night and Robert Pattinson gives a career-defining performance. For this film to be so engaging is a credit to Pattinson and writer-directors Josh and Benny Safdie.


Directed by: Lee Chang-dong (2nd of 2 films on list)
South Korea / Japan

Lee Chang-dong's second feature Peppermint Candy is that rare film that dares to challenge an audience with it's scope and emotional force. It's thought-provoking, and intense from its' opening images - of a man screaming at on oncoming train. From here the film goes in reverse structure. However, the technique is not done for the sake of being a new gimmick and its not the only strength of the film. Ultimately it makes everything more compelling and heart-wrenching (and unpredictable). Peppermint Candy is a great film, not only because of it's unique structure, but also because it's so daring. It's a film you'll want to quickly discuss and see again soon afterwards.


Directed by: Isao Takahata (1st of 1 films on list)

This latest from Studio Ghibli master Isao Takahata was under production for seven years. It completed when Takahata (who co-founded Ghibli with beloved filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki) was 79 years old. It is no surprise The Tale of Princess Kaguya is filled with such beautiful artistry and animation. Takahata has such eye for detail and this is classic storytelling based off the beloved Japanese "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter" tale. Sadly this will be the last film of Takahata's career but it stands as a beautiful work from a legendary filmmmaker.


RR (2008)
Directed by: James Benning (1st of 1 films on list)
United States / Germany

A lover of all things trains I could not help but be completely absorbed by this film experience. A meditative experience is exactly what this film is. The camera is always in a static position as we watch train enter and exit the frame. This is repeated over 40 times with various trains and American landscapes ending with a train (centered between a wind farm and old tires) coming to a stop. What would seem boring or repetitive, RR is one of the most breathtaking and majestic meditation.From the great experimental filmmaker James Benning, RR is richly photographed, beautifully framed and masterfully structured. Benning incorporates a soundtrack (such as Karen Carpenter singing for a Coca-Cola commercial, or Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land') to heightened the American reflection of the film. Ultimately there is not really any "meaning" in the shots but rather the film finds the essential roots of cinema as a form of watching and self-reflection or thought. This is cinema as pure as when the Lumiere Brothers featured their groundbreaking Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat to audiences in 1895.


Directed by: Hou Hsiao-hsien (5th of 5 films on list)
Japan / Taiwan

Cafe Lumiere was made in 2003 to commemorate the centenary of Yasujiro Ozu's birth. It was directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien for Ozu's longtime Shockiku Studio in Japan (the first film Hou made outside his native Taiwan). Of course Hou is a filmmaker that has often been compared to Ozu and he may be the worlds greatest living filmmaker. Yet the beauty of Cafe Lumiere is that it finds the differences between the two masters with greater clarity then their similarities. Ultimately the film is distinctly the work of Hou. Ozu's films hold a timeless emotional quality yet really they could never be made at any other time and Hou understands and expresses this with Cafe Lumiere. Hou also understands the unique style and mastery of Ozu and of a foreign Japan. After the initial Ozu-esque opening shots (the Shockiku logo - shot in Ozu's tradition ratio followed by the passing of a train) and with the exception of some notable and often subtle homages, Cafe Lumiere is a definitively Hou film, and though minor in comparisons to his most relevant achievements it is in its own way a lovely treasure - one that continues to prove Hou's ability to re-imagine himself as a filmmaker. Hou's filmmaking is naturally more distant then Ozu and this especially works in an experimental way with this film. Hou always explores the boundaries or situations within the distance of films and characters. Ultimately he explores this itself and re-invents the conventional expectations of narrative filmmaking. Cafe Lumiere captures this with as much assurance as any film Hou has ever made and this is mostly true because he draws comparable yet unique divides with Ozu's vision. In concept alone Cafe Lumiere is required viewing yet the real joy is the discovery of what the film offers!


Directed by: Michel Gondry (2nd of 2 films on list)
United States

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is heartbreakingly sad, yet wonderfully romantic and hopeful… and original. It's almost like a great modern-day French New Wave film that's never been made before (as obvious influences from Jean-Luc Godard or Alain Resnais are evident)! Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman has created some brilliant films but this is undoubtedly his finest. Director Michael Gondry's hyper-visual style and the all fantastic performances (particularly by Kate Winslet, who is a dream) are what give Kaufman's script it's core, strength, and beauty. Gondry perfectly captures the atmosphere through the use of fades, shifts of focus and handheld camera. What makes this film so special is the small little joyous details throughout (the irony of the young couple dancing over Joel as his love is being erased from his memories, Clementine's hair color change, each representing a stage in their relationship, etc, etc). There are so many endless depths and philosophical examinations to this film. However, ultimately I believe this a film of human emotions and feelings. Eternal Sunshine shows how we are the collection of our memories, and without them, we may no longer be ourselves (even if we don't realize it)! Discovering this is difficult at first for Joel and Clementine, however their deep human emotions and feelings can't escape them, and leads them back to what they tried to forget. Will they last? Maybe, maybe not. Or maybe it's simply the "journey" that's most irresistible. While the ending is left open for interpretation it couldn't be more perfect. Not even Lacuna Inc has enough power or technology to erase this film from my memories!! "Enjoy it"


THE WORLD (2004)
Directed by: Jia Zhang ke (2nd of 2 films on list)
China / Japan / France

The highly gifted Chinese filmmaker, Jia Zhang-ke's film The World once again establishes the central focus of disconnected modern youth. However, The World is more complex and ultimately a film of globalization and consumer culture. Using a large-scaled, epic amusement park as the primary metaphor to the films theme, the film is a sprawling visual achievement. This is Jia's fourth feature film, but the first of which is non-independent, as it's produced by both Shanghai and Hong Kong production companies. Jia has such a wonderful cinematic skill as the film gracefully flows with absolute beauty. The World examines how with the growth of globalization, comes the potential loss of identity and expression of human emotions. As in Hou Hsiao-Hsien's 2001 film, Millennium Mambo, we observe the characters as isolated from communication (with the exception of a "quick-access" way of modern living via cell phones, video games, etc). The World is such a glorious film to experience, and it's one the viewer will remember and ponder for quite some time afterwards. Through it's dazzlingly visual atmosphere, The World has an absorbing emotion effect. It's a film to reflect upon and think about, all while being mesmerized by the sheer creativity and brilliance of how it's made.


Directed by: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (3rd of 3 films on list)

Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa is an intriguing filmmaker. His films can be difficult in terms of plot, yet the visual style and energy created is mind-blowing. His 2003 film, Bright Future is no exception. Through long extended takes, split-screens, multiple narratives, Kurosawa creates a fascinating, surreal, dreamlike atmosphere of isolation. This visual atmosphere represents the main characters disconnection with the world. Kurosawa adds poetic symbolism's, unpredictability, and unique cinematic touches throughout. Bright Future can be most compared to Kurosawa's Charisma, which (as this film does with Jellyfish) features a "deadly creature" outside it's environment. The Jellyfish, much like the films characters, are searching their unknown environment, deeply navigating towards a brighter future. Ultimately, Bright Future is a film of survival and hope. The final shot displays the films theme as we see a group of young boys, walking with assurance, towards the future that lies ahead.


Directed by: Emanuele Crialese (1st of 1 films on list)
Italy / France / Argentina

Italian filmmaker Emmanuele Craiese's Golden Door is beautifully made in every sense. Through a powerfully effective control of mood and tone, the film fully emerges the viewer into the experience of an emigrants crossing into the new world, and all its folklore. The film is incredibly humane, yet its greatest strength is found in its aesthetic beauty. Most notably is the stunning cinematography (from the great Agnes Godard) and production design (by Carlos Conti) which flawlessly and ironically re-creates the ocean journey from Sicily to Ellis Island. With a cast that includes the always terrific Charlotte Gainsbourg, and a beautiful use of Nina Simone. Golden Door is, without an ounce of force, a powerful and masterful achievement of filmmaking.


ONCE (2007)
Directed by: John Carney (1st of 1 films on list)

"Take this sinking boat and point it home..." Once is a simple film, and it is in it's simplicity that it becomes sweet, lovely, and heartbreaking all at one time. The joy is to see the little details of the film and to embrace them like you would a great song. By little details I mean the gestures, the smiles, or even the sounds of a voice that define this beautiful film and it's wonderful characters. Once is very much a re-imagination of the Hollywood music, set towards realism. The narrative of this film is pretty simple, but the moments in-between or within the narrative is what transcends this film beyond simplicity. The film has the flow of a song, reaching a moment of pure gold when the Guy (Glen Hansard) and Girl (Marketa Irglova) take a quiet moment together to play a song. At every moment writer-director John Carney (who is a co-member of the band The Frames with Hansard) gives us such a sense of the settings and in this pivotal scene we are intimately taken into the characters as they connect through music (it is heighten by a terrific song - 'Falling Slowly'). The film later reaches it triumph peak in a beautifully composed one-shot take of Irglova walking home from a convenience store singing her lyrics to Hansard's music. Of course the films final moment is unforgettable, as the music and narrative come together in a bittersweet ending that captures the connection of music and love as a collective one. Not to be without mentioning is the lead performances from Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, both of whom are real life musicians and have worked together in the past (in 2006 they released The Swell Season). Hansard and Irglova are simply perfect onscreen together and easily define the heartfelt love and friendship of the film, one that is honest and even inspiring in its celebration of music and togetherness.


Directed by: John Sayles (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

John Sayles is a pioneer for American Independent filmmaking. For years he’s made his films, entirely the way he chooses. His films are often ambitious, thought-provoking, meaningful, multi-layered studies of people and or characters. He prefers people over plot, and respects his audience’s attention and intelligence. He is a deeply caring and liberal filmmaker. Sunshine State shares all of Sayles qualities as a filmmaker and is recommend to those who are or aren't familiar with his work. The entire ensemble cast is outstanding here and should be applauded (Bill Cobbs, Mary Alice, and Angela Bassett are particularly excellent). There are some complex and multi-leveled themes to Sunshine State, many of which are political but most are simply examinations of human nature. Sunshine State is not good people against bad people but rather human growth, as Sayles relies on a sympathetic and honest view of his characters. He finds a great understanding in humanity in this reflective film on capitalism, and the lingering presence of slavery in a small Florida community. There is such truth, heartbreak, and beauty to this film without ever being forceful or heavy-handed. This belongs mention among the best films of Sayles career (with City of Hope, Lone Star and Matewan).


TALK TO HER (2002)
Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar (3rd of 3 films on list)

Talk To Her's greatness lies in filmmaker Pedro Almodovar's brilliance in creativity, storytelling, colorful characters, and wonderful originality. There is such an energetic force behind his filmmaking as well as an obvious gift and love for making films. All this usually makes for an irresistible and truly unique experience. Through all the colorful and bizarre images and characters of Almodovar's films is a great strength for combining melodrama and comedy. Talk To Her is an emotionally moving and touching film, also full of heart and humor. The perfect use of flashbacks set the tone, and highlight some of the film's finest scenes. Almodovar's cinematic style and symbolic creativity also brings out the films memorable moments (dream and dance sequences; and of course the hilarious silent-film which almost had me in tears with laughter). To me, the strength of Talk To Her doesn't lie in it's ability to make you forgive the characters and their actions, but rather in Almodovar's humanity for people most would consider disgraceful. Also, the film raises some thought-provoking questions: Does the sound of a caring human voice benefit someone who is brain-dead? If we talk to our pets, or plants, why not someone in a coma? There are so many elements and themes to this film, from loneliness to sexuality, but I think it's ultimately about how a man learns to communicate with a woman: by getting inside her. This is a wonderful film, that I must be see several times, as the first viewing is more about emotional impact. There still much more about the characters you'll want to see and learn!


Directed by: Agnès Varda (1st of 1 films on list)

The Gleaners and I is a wonderful and poetic documentary from the uniquely talented French filmmaker Agnes Varda. Not only does Varda capture gleaners, but she is more focused on blending in those connected to gleaners, and even adds personal touches of aging, and cinema. What else would you expect from this imaginative and visionary French New Wave filmmaker! Varda takes the subject and manages to make this rather standard documentary something rare and important. Ultimately the film becomes more personal, and experimenting and even examinations the role of the filmmaker. The Gleaners and I also manages to be a film that speaks politically as it essentially represents personal individuality amongst a society of conformity and expectations. It's pretty amazing how many levels such a simple film like this has and Varda should be applauded. The Gleaners and I is equally moving, interesting, poetic, and fun.


GET OUT (2017)
Directed by: Jordan Peele (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

Jordan Peele's directorial debut borrows heavily from classic genre influences yet still manages to be a landmark of its own sorts for its social relevance and ideas. The film has such a great tone right from its engrossing opening scene and title sequence to its hopeful (maybe even heroic) ending. Get Out blends comedy and horror and Daniel Kaluuya gives a stellar lead performance.


Directed by: Robert Altman (2nd of 3 films on list)
United Kingdom / United States / Italy

Robert Altman's films have never been about plot. They're about characters. He takes a situation or idea and uses it as a background for the films characters. Gosford Park is a much about it's murder mystery as Nashville is with country music, MASH with the Korean War, The Player about movie producers, and so on. Sure, there is a murder mystery and it's somewhat intriguing, but the strength and focus of the film is the all people in it (another Altman master trait is the ensemble cast). Who they are, what they know, what they, want, etc. The opening shot symbolizes the film, as the audience is "peaking" into the lives and situations of these people. Gosford Park is an interesting, comical, and at times touching dramatic farce, commentary on the so-called "social ladder". It's pretty much a homage/remake of Jean Renior's French masterpiece Rules of the Game. It's a film that has many characters, layers, and meanings, and gets better on repeat viewings. It's not his best film by Gosford Park is classic Altman!


Directed by: James Gray (4th of 4 films on list)
United States

Taking a familiar story of brothers on the opposite side of the law We Own the Night transcends formula through the mastery of its filmmaker, the talented James Gray, here is his third feature film. We Own the Night establishes Gray as a mature master filmmaker who complex images are most profound in the quiet moments between the action. Featuring a stellar cast (highlighted by two of American films greatest actors Joaquin Phoenix and Robert Duvall) We Own the Night is an underrated gem of a film.

Directed by: William Friedkin (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

William Friedkin is mostly known for his beloved films of the visionary period of 1970s American cinema (The French Connection, The Exorcist). Here Friedkin teams with writer Tracy Letts who adapts his own play. Killer Joe is a highly disturbing work centered around characters filled questionable morality. Its intense expression of sex and violence, is unsettling but the film is a challenging and highly engrossing work. Friedkin makes great use of mise-en-scene here. Killer Joe truly is unique. Its a challenging film and very memorable film.


YOU'RE NEXT (2013)
Directed by: Adam Wingard (1st of 2 films on list)
United States

You're Next is an intelligent and fun mix of home-invasion horror, slashers, and dysfunctional family drama. Director Adam Wingard casts many of his mumblecore friends and fellow filmmakers. There are some terrific set sequences as well as some narrative surprises. The film is especially fun for horror buffs, as there are some playful nods to classic slasher and exploitation films.


Directed by: Robert Altman (3rd of 3 films on list)
Germany / United States

The Company sets up as the perfect vehicle to showcase it's filmmaker, the great Robert Altman (to me one of the very greatest American filmmakers in film history). One of his greatest strengths as a filmmaker is the authentic moments he captures through his improvisational style. Altman has a trust and belief with his actors and he enjoys mistakes and flaws as an aspect of authentic behavior. No matter what the scale he's working with, Altman's films have a narrative style that is ambitious, messy, and overlapping. He blends plot lines, characters, camera moments, and even dialogue together in one chaotic moment. His films are without straight-forward flow or rhythm and this tends to divide some audiences, but the overall sense of authenticity for human interactions and behavior is undeniable. The Company seamlessly blends documentary and fiction take back and forth in front and behind the stage. Of course behind the stage is where Altman often excels and this feels a s fresh as ever in The Company.


Directed by: Brad Bird (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

Brad Bird gives each of his films a distinctive signature and mise-en-scene style rarely seen in animation. While entertaining for all ages, Bird's films can be even more appreciated by adults for the complex and artistic depth. His films intellectually connect with the viewer on an equal level. They have heart and his preference is on the importance of the characters. The thematic connection of each film centers around characterization, and most notably the perceived identity of the characters and the way in which such a perceived identity impacts the relationships of family and friends. These themes and the wonderful mise-en-scene direction reaches climatic heights in Ratatouille. Here Bird gives us a film that is incredibly imaginative, morally centered, cleverly ironic, and highly entertaining. Bird has the subtle touch of a poet and he gives his film both a dazzling visual depth, and a touching emotional heart that you can deeply feel. There is also some surreal and dreamlike qualities that make this a truly rare experience and one that can be equally enjoyed by children and adults (be it from the clever irony of the idea, the magical beauty of the animation, or the simplicity of the films messages). You can feel and more importantly smell this film and it's appreciation and importance of food. The voices and characters are all terrific, but it is Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O'Toole) that steals the show as the cynical food critic known as "The Grim Eater" (the moment when he bites into the food and returns to his childhood is a beautifully poetic and transcend moment of gold!).


Directed by: Marco Tullio Giordana (1st of 1 films on list)

Originally planned as a miniseries for Italian television, The Best of Youth is a six hour film chronicling over 40 years of two Italian brothers from their college years in the '60s through present day, interconnecting their family, their friends and their country and its own history. As you might expect from a six hour epic, there are many historical and political subtexts at work here yet the films beauty lies in its powerful observation of family. The focus on the family is never lost. This is simply extraordinary storytelling. Through pivotal moments of life as well as Italy's history and culture The Best of Youth becomes a reflective parallel of life, family and country (both the joyous moments and the suffering). There is a visual beauty to the film is not only captured in the Italian landscapes but also in the expressive performances of the actors often greatly heightened in closeups. Marco Tullio Giordana (directing the outstanding screenplay of Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli) has a great feel for the characters and their emotions. It is here where The Best of Youth excels to another level as a filmmaking achievement. It is an epic film but one that is deeply moving for its small and intimate moments. The Best of Youth is conventional narrative filmmaking at its very finest.


Directed by: Noah Baumbach (1st of 2 films on list)
United States

Margot at The Wedding is a film nearly without a plot and with characters that are unlikeable, yet there is something about this film and it's characters that make it fascinating. Perhaps it is the terrific performances of it's leads, notably the magical chemistry shared by Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh. As Pauline, Leigh is especially great and her laid back attitude seems the perfect counterpoint to Margot's (Kidman) unending nerves and bitterness. It is also Pauline's smallest glimmer of caring humanity that comes through the depressing tone of the film and the unsympathetic and moody nature of the adult characters. Margot at the Wedding is without a plot in that it captures moments of these characters lives. There are subplots involving some angry neighbors, a love affair, and confused children but ultimately nothing is ever "resolved". The symbol of the old tree that stands in the back yard and irritates the neighbors and needs to be taken down, represents a metaphor for the characters as well as the narrative structure of the film. In his fifth feature, Noah Baumbach takes the family relationships established in his previous film (The Squid and the Whale) to an even more selfish and bitter level. The film feels like a throw back to early Eric Rohmer or Woody Allen in the way it uses the communication and chemistry of actors as the core of the film. This film is by no means pleasant, but for some strange reason I sure had fun watching it.


Directed by: Jeff Nichols (3rd of 3 films on list)
United States

With his latest film Jeff Nichols is clearing echoing visual and emotional cues from classic 1970s/80s sci-fi films of John Carpenter (Starman) or Steven Spielberg (Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Nichols has such a terrific naturalistic style and he wisely layers the film with a gifted blend of intrigue and tension. It's not a flawless film but its filled with such grandeur and many recurring ideas that have become trademarks of Nichols work.


THE GUEST (2014)
Directed by: Adam Wingard (2nd of 2 films on list)
United States / United Kingdom

Not a film for everyone but those that like The Guest, will most likely love it. As he has with previous films, Adam Wingard brings all kinds of references and film homages to this low-budget horror comedy. The Guest is simply a cool film experience and features some truly remarkable visual and sound filmmaking.


Directed by: Olivier Assayas (3rd of 3 films on list)
France / Luxembourg

Olivier Assayas’ style often feels very improvised and high paced as most of his work is with hand-held cameras. He is brilliant with using sound (notably off-screen) and has a gifted ability at capturing an atmospheric or emotional mood. With Boarding Gate he steps further into B-movie genre conventions and lets the performance of Asia Argento carry the entire film. This is top notch genre filmmaking with an international flavor that further strengthens Assayas’ gifted ability with mood, notably in the way his films express disorientated alienation.


Directed by: Sam Raimi (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

Sam Raimi's gift as a filmmaker is his unique ability to understand how to effortlessly blend action, horror and humor as a collective one (very often within the same image). Almost with a Hitchockian ability, he knows how action, horror and humor can combine to create something both unexpected and funny. While shades of this are evident in Spiderman 2, it is Raimi's return to horror with Drag Me To Hell that evokes this ability with the most impact since his beloved classic Evil Dead films. Drag Me To Hell is carried by a concept alone that works as a great horror with a significant satirical comedic edge - as Raimi targets the banks with a destination toward hell. The strength of this film is Raimi's ability to turn this concept into something darkly humorous. Raimi doesn't single out Christine Brown (excellently played by a sweet and innocent looking Alison Lohman) for her mistake and the film is very sympathetic and understanding of her. But eternal damnation is coming and it is coming fast.


Directed by: Jun Ichikawa (3rd of 3 films on list)

Even at just 75 minutes, Tony Takitani is a touching film of complex and deep emotion levels. It is such a simple and quiet film that delves so deep into its character and ultimately becomes a very unique portrayal of loneliness. Most notably the film captures the loneliness and emotional state of it's title character (played by Issei Ogata). However, it also captures this sense of loneliness in the young woman he falls in love who's connection with life is her obsession to shop for clothes. It is when Tony falls in love with this woman that he realizes his loneliness prior and that losing her would put him into an isolated state he couldn't control. Tony Takitani is made at an elegant pace. Director Jun Ichikawa presents a very unique style that includes a voice-over narrator throughout with the characters occasionally narrating as the film is progressing. The film also features consistent profile and parallel tracking shots as transitions, close-up shots of feet/shoes, a dull almost black and white visual color, and a couple trademark Ozu-like shots (including smoke pipes, and low angle compositions from the top of a Japanese hill). Tony Takitani is a beautifully made, and heartbreaking film. It is a quiet film, but the emotional depths speak volumes.


Directed by: David Gordon Green (2nd of 2 films on list)
United States

"My friend George said that he was gonna live to be 100 years old. He said, He said that he was going to be the president of the United States. I wanted to see him lead a parade and wave a flag on the Fourth of July." The spirit of the 1970s American filmmakers lives! In his first feature film, filmmaker David Gordon Green wrote / directed the fascinating and artistic George Washington. It's a very creative and original vision, which draws inspiration from the masterful work of Terrence Malick, Robert Altman or even more notably that of Charles Burnett's 1977 masterpiece Killer of Sheep. Much like his influences, Green stretches the boundaries of plot and storytelling to create a unique quality, while remaining honest and respectful of the viewer and the films characters. The characters (and audience) never get cheated or manipulated. More so then plot, George Washington relies on a series of incidents to examine the minds and feelings of it's young characters (who ALL are perfect, despite absolutely NO acting experience). Despite the films minor plot, it still manages to be powerful and creates a mood and sense of humanity to keep viewers interest in it's study of poor kids in an adult world, which seems to be decaying around them. The impact and strength of the film can mostly be credited to the outstanding cinematography by Tim Orr (who Green respectfully shares the end credit with). The train tracks, junk-yards, pools, bathrooms, and homes which surround George Washington have an equal role to it's characters. Green and Orr brilliantly captured atmosphere and mood, and their work has such a timeless and placeless quality to it. Race, class, or even corporations are nonexistent in this films world. While George Washington may not be absolutely perfect, it's imperfections are part of the beauty of the film. Highly recommended to those who enjoy the artistic vision and poetic power of cinema.


Directed by: Karyn Kusama (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

Beautifully paced and building The Invitation is an intelligent and layered character ensemble. Karyn Kusama did well with Diablo Cody's script in the underrated genre-piece Jennifer's Body. Here she's working on another level and establishes herself as a significant artist. There is such an intensely building atmosphere of dread and its a thought provoking film that lingers.


Directed by: Tommy Le Jones (1st of 1 films on list)
United States / France

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is a film that is equally haunting, poetic, and funny. In his directorial debut Tommy Lee Jones skillfully uses standard genre cliches as well as his influences (most notably being Sam Peckinpah) to his advantage, resulting in a film that is oddly original and ironic as well as violent and political. It is also very funny (in a dark way), particularly because of the way Jones sort of morphs the western genre standards. Like writer Guillermo Arriaga's previous films, The Three of Melquiades Estrada is made with a non-linear structure and the primary focus is on three lead characters (none of whom would represent the everyday "hero" of the classic Westerns). The film takes with it a sense of redemption for each of these flawed characters but ultimately that is not the motivation. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is also a film of friendship, honor, masculinity, culture, and death. Above all the film is a journey to capture these themes as well as a journey for meaning and for the human body and souls connection with land and with death. This is a atmospheric film of feeling, and it's beautifully captured through Chris Menges' sweeping CinemaScope photography. Jones performance as the grief-stricken Pete Perkins is flawless, and probably the finest of his career. But it is his direction that is most unforgettable here. The Three Burials is a moving, haunting, humorous, and rather poetic film experience that takes the viewer on a memorable emotional journey.


Directed by: Park Chan-wook (1st of 1 films on list)
South Korea

Following Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, and the widely acclaimed hit Oldboy, Lady Vengeance is the final film of South Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park's "revenge trilogy". To it is the most complex and daring and essentially the best of the trilogy. I think Park tends to be a bit too clever sometimes and the issue gets forced, but with this film he seems much more in control as a filmmaker. Lady Vengeance certainly less then the previous films, but as equally disturbing and overall the more emotionally effective work. Park still manages to feature his trademark twisted dark humor and shocking moments as well, particularly within the last act. Though Park is at his expression peak, I'm not really sure how much of this is art, but as ambitious and disturbing filmmaking Lady Vengeance is incredibly engaging cinema. The film really gets more and more engaging as it progresses because Park seems to be re-imagining the ideas of the entire trilogy by reflecting on the very nature of redemption and the collective results of it. Park gives this film a more involving touch of melodrama and complex emotions. This complexity is aided by a dynamic lead performance from Lee Yeong-ae, who seeks revenge for spending thirteen years in prison for a murder she did not commit. Her twisted imagination and stylish edge is perfectly captured through Lee's remarkable and graceful presence. In many ways Park seems to be examining his own obsession with violence, vengeance, and this genre. Featuring a stunningly expressive use of precise color details, a riveting lead performance, and a blend of dark humor, violence, and melodrama Lady Vengeance is the definitive Chan-wook Park film, and one of the most exciting films to come out of the "extreme shock" Asian cinema movement.


Directed by: Apichatpong Weerasethakul (1st of 1 films on list)
Thailand / France / Germany / Italy

Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady is a film of absolute originality and an incredibly unique vision. It's a film with very little narrative, but endless depth and beauty. Tropical Malady is a poetic film that captures emotions and feelings through it's astounding imagery and sounds. There's such a mysterious and magical atmosphere captured that makes this an incredibly absorbing film. I can't say I understand all the films meanings but the sheer mystical power of the images left me breathless, and repeat viewings only heighten the impact. The film is split into two segments which are connected (through both images and themes). The first half is a sensitive love story, while the second half becomes more mysterious and spiritual in evoking that of a silent film. Ultimately these two segments are very much connected and I believe they represent a similar theme of the film: the hidden emotions of connection and relationship, as well as the indescribable nature of human instincts and feelings. It is upon discovering the connection of the two segments that really make the mysteries of the film engaging, haunting, and really exciting to experience. Like innovative filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard or Stanley Kubrick, Weerasethakul is extending the boundaries of narrative and creating a new cinematic language. Weerasethakul's experimental vision is a brilliant achievement and the film is a work of art. Tropical Malady is artistic filmmaking at it's most beautiful and unforgettable. A film of cultural and spiritual mystery, and poetic beauty.


28 DAYS LATER... (2002)
Directed by: Danny Boyle (1st of 1 films on list)
United Kingdom

Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later opens to a haunting scene with a young man roaming the lonely streets searching for someone to respond. This is a post-apocalyptic zombie in the traditions of George A. Romero, and like that innovative filmmaker Boyle effectively uses limited budget filmmaking to wonderful effect here.


WALL·E (2008)
Directed by: Andrew Stanton (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

At its heart WALL-E is a conventional and predictably sweet love story, but the film is daring in both the political issues it brings up and more importantly in the execution as the film is nearly dialogue-free. It is here where Pixar continues to push the bar in animation filmmaking. WALL-E recalls the comedic artistry of the great comic master Jacques Tati in the way they tell a story with visuals and sounds. This one is in the mold of Monsters Inc in that it is irresistibly cute, clever, and loveable. WALL-E might be the most widely appealing Pixar film to date… one that I imagine will earn praise from adults and children alike.


Directed by: Yoji Yamada (1st of 1 films on list)

After the completion of his samurai trilogy (which began with the high acclaimed 2002 Twilight Samurai and concluded in 2007 with Love and Honor) 77-year old Japanese filmmaker Yoji Yamada adapted this family drama set during early World War 2 (notably Japan's invasion in China). Kabei: Our Mother, based off the childhood memoirs of Teruyo Nogami, uses the war as backdrop to the films primary focus of its effect on the family. The film is powerfully emotional without sentiment. Yamada's film is deeply humanist, lead by delicate performances from the cast (Sayuri Yoshinaga as Kabei is especially great). I would place this alongside Distant Cry From Spring or Home From the Sea as my favorite Yamada film to date.


Directed by: James DeMonaco (1st of 1 films on list)
United States / France

2013's The Purge was a smart and effective low budget horror film that was weighed down by it's plot and focus on home invasion horror. James DeMonaco's sequel is superior as this film broadens the scale and takes the terror to the streets. The result is a far more tense film and also a bleaker tone with its depiction of class in a futuristic United States.


Directed by: Noah Bambach (2nd of 2 films on list)
United States

You get the feeling The Squid and the Whale is a very personal for talented writer/director Noah Baumbach, and different audiences will have likely different reactions. Those more familiar with the experiences of the film (the struggles of family divorce), will certainly react more complexly then those who aren't. However, as a film, this deals with such universal themes and human beings, that there is something everyone can relate to here. Ultimately The Squid and the Whale observes a separating father (beautifully played by Jeff Daniels) and a mother (Laura Linney) and the harmful results it causes on their two sons (played by Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline). The film also captures ways in which the parents openness towards matters such as sex and their sexual relations, effects or confuses the emotions of the boys. There is a real truth to this film that is both funny and heartbreaking, sometimes both within the same moment. The Squid and the Whale is a painful and even tragic film that is made with compassion, heart, humor, and honesty.


Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski (1st of 1 films on list)
United Kingdom

My Summer of Love is a rather typical coming of age story yet is so well made and acted that you easily absorb into the film. Telling the simple story of a spoiled girl on vacation (Tamsin), a tomboy (Mona), and her ex-con/born-again brother (Phil). The film focuses almost completely on these three characters and ultimately examines issues of sexuality, religion, and class. While on the surface, My Summer of Love is a story about a doomed romance between two opposites, it is essentially a film about discovery- personal and spiritual discovery. Nathalie Press and the wonderful Emily Blunt give remarkable performance as the two young women. Blunt is an actress destined for great success and this is her breakout performance. Pawel Pawlikowski's direction is focused and the film is beautifully shot. My Summer of Love has plenty of conventions, yet there is a warmth to this film that makes it unique.


TRAFFIC (2000)
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh (1st of 1 films on list)
United States / Germany

With this film, director Steven Soderbergh turns the art of filmmaking upside-down and changes the way storytelling is carried out. This kind of scope and depth should be duplicated from the Hollywood big budget studios. Traffic is composed of several storylines that don't necessarily intersect with each other, but they each represent the same problems and situations. What Traffic makes most clear is that the war on drugs is a war. A war with real casualties, and prisoners that spread beyond just those involved to touch everyone. Soderbergh (who's early career was as one of the leading filmmakers of independent cinema among his generation) is not afraid to use offbeat techniques to achieve the handheld camera, documentary-feel he wants. Storylines overlap storylines, yet they never confuse the viewer as different color settings are used for each story, which helps find a way to draw the film together. Also creating authenticity is the use of Spanish dialogue during Benicio Del Toro's scenes in Mexico. Stylistically, these techniques are never overdone and above all the film is never forceful and flashy in its approach. More so then a message of political position, Traffic is a film of characters. Characters who are caught up in the middle of a seemingly never ending war. The central character may be Del Toro's Javier Rodriguez, who seems to embody the essence of the film as a man who is mixed in-between good and evil, and ultimately a battle to survive. The film does end with a sense of hope, but certainly not with closure, as the war on drugs is a war that is long from being solved.


Directed by: Victor Salva (1st of 1 films on list)
Germany / United States

Jeepers Creepers is more of a throw back to the old-fashion style of genre filmmaking (which begins as early as the outstanding opening scene). Yes there are cliches, but it is a film that gets its scare by intelligently relying on the viewers imagination (particularly in the first half). It does an effective job of playing with rhythm (a requirement for good horror), and more importantly building a connection with the characters (a compassionate brother and a sister relationship). The films title is a bit cheesy but it does make sense as you watch and the title surprisingly works. It is really not all that graphic or violent of a film as the focus is wisely put on the emotional element of characters. Jeepers Creepers does what it should in that it keeps the viewer involved with a blends of thrills, chills, and compassion. The film ends on what is probably it’s most angry and twisted sequence.


Directed by: Scott Derrickson (1st of 1 films on list)
United States / United Kingdom

Sinister film uses light (and darkness) to great effect in creating the atmosphere and enhancing the overall low budget horror look and feel its intended to. Director and co-writer Scott Derrickson makes terrific use of space and cleverly blends in the use of 8mm film reels. Sinister is one of the most gripping and strange horror films from Hollywood in recent years.


Directed by: Michael Mann (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

Michael Mann is at his best when working in genre and creating feeling, and atmosphere through his use of location (generally the city at night). Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx and the talented supporting cast provide a strong screen presence - capturing a blend of energy, sexiness, and style that give Mann such a commanding atmospheric ability. The visual noir style (hand held cameras, close-ups, jumpy editing, scenes on rooftops) are also Mann trademarks that become evident. As are the characters: rebellious men working by their own rules, and the women who represent a chance of change and possibility for a “simpler” life (here played by Jada Pinkett Smith. All the elements that have defined Mann as a great filmmaker, become evident again here. Even if not his best film, Collateral represents many of the defining qualities of a master fully in control of every shot and sound.


Directed by: Spike Jonze (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

Adaptation is a brilliantly creative and original film beyond words. It is a very difficult film to describe because it's so unique and contains many different layers and meanings (think Barton Fink meets 8 1/2). On the surface, Adaptation is about the nature of writing and creativity, and how commercial business invades art. But ultimately, it's also about passion and how love for ourselves and for others help us adapt. Nicolas Cage gives incredible performances as both Charlie Kaufman (lonely, insecure, neurotic), and his twin brother Donald (outgoing, straight-forward, secure with himself). Adaptation is a film within a book within a film, within another film, and bounces back and forth between fact and fiction, while examining some interesting themes about love and self-respect. It's also hilarious as well, especially for film fans who may spot several jabs and references throughout. The ending has created some controversy and confusion, but those who truly appreciate this film will understand that it's perfect. In fact, it couldn't have ended any other way! Adaptation is truly a breathtakingly original and challenging film as rare and unique as an Orchid flower.


THE BOX (2009)
Directed by: Richard Kelly (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

What a trip this film is! Richard Kelly has struggled living up to the hype of his debut feature - the cult 2001 hit Donnie Darko. With The Box he has proven that original (all be it strange) filmmaking can still be produced by major Hollywood Studios. It is a challenging film for sure and those willing to accept the bold direction of this film will appreciate it for the daring visionary achievement that it is. The Box begins with a rather standard and simple setup and premise but what makes it such a unique experience is where the film goes from that point - which is on a weird and rather confusing Twilight-Zone journey. The real beauty of the film is that is also has a simplicity to the surface centering around a young couple and their son, with simple messages of selflessness and our responsibilities to others. All this mixed in with basic genre elements of science fiction, and corporate paranoia thrillers, as well a hallucinating sense of lingering doom. Even so The Box never forces any messages or ideas and it flows in a manner you never really expect it to. The Box will divide audiences for its daring nature blending genre formula with head-scratching ideas while remaining true to the basic story, characters and hopeful humanity. This is Richard Kelly's best film.


Directed by: Breck Eisner (1st of 1 films on list)
United States

Now THIS is a great remake! Dennis Iliadis surprised with a decent (though inferior) Hollywood remake of Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left. Now Breck Eisner does even better with a remake of George Romero's 1973 film The Crazies by actually making a superior film to the original. Granted the 1973 film is not among Romero's notable classics but this film does what great remakes should - respect the original source by creating a new vision, one that is relevant and reflective of current American society. Here they use the irony of Romero's original concept but also giving a greater understanding of the intimate human impact as well as a more effective style. This film is very skillfully made, fully embracing conventional genre filmmaking as a pitch-perfect form of terrifying horror, thrilling suspense and even emotion sympathy. This may not be a groundbreaking achievement of innovation or imagination, but it certainly is top-notch atmospheric and apocalyptic filmmaking worth admiring and applauding.


Directed by: Neil Marshall (1st of 1 films on list)
United Kingdom

The key to good horror filmmaking is the ability to capture atmosphere, and also the ability to play with rhythm. The Descent does an effective job at both, particularly with atmosphere. You really get the sense of a cold, dark, and trapped in world inside the caves. The rhythm is effective mostly in the first half when the psychological elements is built in the characters (notably the women who has just lost her husband and daughter in a tragic accident). The film is a thrilling one that really builds in tension and atmosphere. The ending is excellent, as it is left ambitious for viewers interpretation. I personally do think the film ends with an interpretation that can be viewed both hopeful and hopeless (spoiler warning: after waking from hallucinations, Sarah is doomed, but she has finally found closure in her daughters death). The Descent is a pretty crafty film. One that takes us into an unknown world of terror and fright, but it is also a film with characters at the center of this world.


Directed by: Edgar Wright (2nd of 2 films on list)
United Kingdom

The World's End is very much the conclusion of writers Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's loose trilogy. Much like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were an embracing spoof elements of Hollywood buddy/action/zombie flicks, The World's End concludes these ideas in perhaps the most finely crafted and mature film of the "trilogy". The film is very clever and Wright has a sharp and clever visual eye as well as comic timing with editing, making this a great comedy for both it's witty dialogue and visuals (notably the subtle mastery of the mise-en-scene direction). Wright has a terrific eye for visual comedy and this is evident in the way he frames and edits a shot sequence. The cast is lead by Shaun of the Dead leads Pegg and Nick Frost, and also features some acclaimed British actors as well as clever cameo performances. What elevates this (and really this teams previous two films) is that they are intelligent, funny and genuinely sincere. All three films are excellent but to me this is the best because of the skilled direction and visual comedy of the compositions have reached their most mature and skillful.

RAW (2017)
Directed by: Julia Ducournau (1st of 1 films on list)
France / Belgium / Italy

What elevates Raw is the unique manner it brings up so many ideas (be it socially, sexually, or psychologically). French filmmaker Julia Ducournau clearly is using this character and film as an erotic meditation on primal hungers. It is a gruesome work made with a stylish almost exploitative approach, Raw also has some wonderful richness and narrative surprises that make it a memorable and chilling film.


SU-KI-DA (2005)
Directed by: Hiroshi Ishikawa (1st of 1 films on list)

Su-ki-da (Japanese for “I Love You”). is a beautiful film that expresses its emotions through visuals (be it the staging, the compositions or simply the body language of the actors). There is not much dialogue but the film hits on many emotional layers. Hiroshi Ishikawa's direction is subtle and respectful. The performances are terrific by the cast - both young and adult versions of the characters - led by the great Aoi Miyazaki, here fresh off the breakout star performance in Nana), as they help define the humanity of the story with subtle emotions. Su-ki-da is a touching film that stays with long after viewing.