Well the year is officially over, and since I had to make this list for another group, I figured I'd post it here. There's a good chance that nothing will alter my list, but there's probably a better chance that I'll see something within the next month or two that will make me reconsider my choices. Two of the films I've selected were made in 2004, but didn't have their premiere in Chicago until well into 2005. As usual American movies dominated, but well that's what we see the most of here in the US. Bad as they might be represented here, it's still better than in previous years.
1. Sin City (Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, Quintin Tarantino)
I'm amazed this film hasn't shown up on more critics top ten lists this year. I mean to me this set the bar so ridiculously high for comic book movies (and what can be done on a green screen) that I fear no film derived from graphic novel or comic origins can ever measure up. It is graphically violent noir with humor, sexuality, and just downright entertaining. Rodriguez who seemed a little lost in recent years more than makes up for any Shark Boy and Lava Girl with this masterful stroke of genius, and who knew Frank Miller could direct?
2. Serenity (Joss Whedon)
One almost has to see Firefly to truly appreciate this film. Without the series the movie is great, but with that nearly 14 hours of extra character development, you can really appreciate the evolution of the story. You can cheer River finding her own, you can lament the death of Wash, and you can relax that for once Simon acts like a man. This is a movie masterfully shot, and tragic at the same time, not so much for the character we lost, but for the end of the Firefly saga, one that should have lasted much longer. I can only hope that the DVD world will be kind to this, just as they have to Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer series. Arguably the best directing debut I've seen in a long time (Miller notwithstanding)
3. Crash (Paul Haggis)
Speaking of directorial debuts, Paul Haggis less than a month away from his Oscar win for the Million Dollar Baby script makes his own forray into feature films as a director. It is very tough to pull off the subgenre of the ensemble picture, and although Sin City was one of a much smaller nature, Crash is a sprawling world of entertwining lives and characters where nearly every story is brilliantly crafted. Haggis made a monumental film that somehow manages to be subtle.
4. Pride and Prejudice (Joe Wright)
Literary adaptations can always be tricky, and remakes are almost always frowned upon, but somehow a film that probably had no business being made wound up in my top five. Joe Wright directs Pride and Prejudice not like a Hollywood player, but as a European auteur. His camera never ceases to move, and his characters particularly Macfayden and Knightley manage to convey such a smoldering passion that you feel will explode at any moment. The romantic film of the year, the period picture of the year, and the best remake of the year.
5. The World (Jia Zhang-ke)
Since seeing this remarkable film I have been witness to two additional Zhang-ke films, and those two films may not be superior but they firmly remind me what a triumph The World is. A story of multiple people isolated and disillusioned in a nation rapidly losing it's identity. Again told with long takes and terrifically subtle acting, this film more than fulfills the prophecy of Zhang-ke being China's most important director working today.
6. Last Days (Gus Van Sant)
After leaving the nearly deserted theater I wondered if I really even enjoyed this film. Coming after the remarkably high mark of Elephant, I wasn't sure if Van Sant had topped himself, or merely repeated what he already accomplished. As I left and over the next few days I realized what a remarkable film this was. One that stayed with me, with indelible imagery, and moments that I will likely never forget. Michael Pitt is an actor I never would have believed in, but he manages to mumble his way to the best performance he's likely to ever give. The music as well is astonishing, in it's own very simple way. I only wish more people could have seen this, for I fear Van Sant may soon return to his career as a Hollywood hack.
7. Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch)
After nearly a decade of sparse production and forgettable films Jarmusch returns with his funniest and possibly best film with this. Bill Murray who seems to make one great film for every bad one, is in top form, and I can scarcely imagine any one else being half as good as him in this film. A modern road movie, with "A stalker in a Taurus". A joyful movie, that I found wonderful.
8. The Weeping Meadow (Theo Angelopoulus)
Well I had to wait a year to finally see this film, which had only a one week run in the city of Chicago. After seeing it I knew that Angelopoulus was quite possibly the best filmmaker in the world. I guess it's obvious that I'm a fan of long takes, especially involving intricate camera movments, but Angelopoulus takes that to a new form of art. From the opening shot you know this is classic, and the rest of the film is sprawling, ambitious, and truly emotional.
9. Nobody Knows (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
The first great film I saw this year, remains a particular favorite. A depressing tale, that more than matches the prophecy shown by Kore-eda in his previous two features. This man is leading the charge for Japanese cinema, and this film for all it's heartbreaking glory, is one that I'll cherish. Perhaps not as philosophically profound as After Life, but what this film lacks in it's thought provoking abilities it makes up for in emotional weight.
10. Fever Pitch (Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly)
This may not be one of the ten best films this year, but I had to include it, as I made a promise to myself. Fever Pitch seemed corny and far fetched after I left the theater. I enjoyed it, laughed at it, rooted for it, but generally thought it merely decent. But as you may remember this film came out in April, just as baseball was kicking up. I spent the next six months religiously devoted to Chicago's two professional teams, and at nearly every game attended or watched I recalled moments from this movie. And seeing my own White Sox win the world series, much in the way the Red Sox finally pulled through in this movie, it was all the more resonant. Perhaps in time people will be able to love this film as I have, but well there's a lot of hate for Drew Barrymore and more for Jimmy Fallon.
Also worth mentioning
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Kung Fu Hustle
The Squid and the Whale
History of Violence