January 07, 2005

Best of 2004

By Martin Tsai

1. Distant Traveling the paths of Michelangelo Antonioni and Andrei Tarkovsky, Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan measures the magnitude of urban alienation with this intimately melancholy and wittily observant allegory about the unraveling relationship between an urban-dwelling loner and his country-mouse cousin.

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Charlie Kaufman finally transcends his automatic writing-esque stunts and thinks up an ingenious and heartfelt romance. Despite a fragmented, time-jumping, brain-teasing narrative, he and Michel Gondry envisage the crazy little thing called love with all its fleeting joys, sorrows, insecurities and impulses.

3. Kinsey Uncompromisingly recounting the life of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, Bill Condon crafts a socially and politically relevant film that is controversial and thought provoking. Advocating diversity and tolerance through his work, Kinsey’s story is an indispensable reminder of the importance of progress.

4. The Fog of War In a sea of election-year documentaries, Errol Morris’s cautionary tale remains the most chilling. Former U.S. defense secretary Robert McNamara’s lessons on the Vietnam War are urgently essential. But they fell on Dubya’s deaf ears, and history tragically repeated itself in Iraq.

5. In This World Michael Winterbottom’s verité follows the journey of two Pashtun youths braving bumpy truck rides, dark sweatshops, shady handlers and untimely deaths from Afghanistan to England. Its eye-opening and harrowing depiction of their plight cogently challenges preconceived notions about illegal immigration.

6. Baadasssss! Mario Van Peebles’s loving and mythicizing account of his father Melvin’s making of the groundbreaking Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is monumental in its own right. This passionate tribute to blaxploitation and independent filmmaking also has Boogie Nights-like style to burn.

7. Dogville Lars von Trier treads the familiar theme of martyrdom, but this time with a different set of self-imposed “obstructions” – filming on a bare soundstage with few props. The product is an unsettling parable about failed Christianity that’s especially applicable to modern-day America.

8. The Saddest Music in the World Harmonizing parts of vaudeville, German expressionism, early talkies, newsreels and even 1970s’ David Lynch, Guy Maddin orchestrates a bizarre and wicked Depression-era musical melodrama. While most Canadian filmmakers drone in discord, Maddin fine-tunes his virtuosity without compromise.

9. Before Sunset The reunion of Céline and Jesse nine years after Before Sunrise results in a little treasure that’s sharply intelligent and hopelessly romantic. Richard Linklater guides the pair through a wide range of emotions and philosophies while serenading them in a sparkling air of magic.

10. Sideways Distilling the pleasures and pains shared by two middle-aged friends torn between latching onto their impractical aspirations and succumbing to oft-disappointing reality, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor once again encapsulate that exquisite bittersweet poignancy and seal their auteur status.

Second 10: The Story of the Weeping Camel (Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni), Control Room (Jehane Noujaim), Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring (Kim Ki-duk), The Return (Andrei Zvyagintsev), Super Size Me (Morgan Spurlock), Bon Voyage (Jean-Paul Rappeneau), I Heart Huckabees (David O. Russell), The Take (Avi Lewis), The Mother (Roger Michell), Ray (Taylor Hackford)

Note: The list is based on at least one full week of public screenings in Vancouver during 2004.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.