Was it a good year, or a bad one? Sometimes that assessment just depends on what I saw last. Sometimes the majority of the holiday/awards movies can be dispiriting, but then sometimes the summer movies can be very exciting. One thing I have discovered is that after a few years go by, some of my most passionate picks tend to fade away in favor of other movies that just keeping hanging on. For example, at the end of 2004, I selected Martin Scorsese's The Aviator as one of the best films of the year, but I have never been struck by the urge to see it again. Two other films that did not make my list, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 and Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead have since risen in stature and have given me many more hours of enjoyment.
This is generally how I choose my list of favorites, with one eye on the future, even if there's no way to be sure. One of my favorite small movies this year, Jane Campion's Bright Star, will live on my heart. I even managed to see it twice. I usually hate costume movies, but I found this one uncommonly low-key and passionate and poetic. I often like to see the films of Claire Denis more than once, and I have not yet had that pleasure with her great 35 Shots of Rum. Agnes Varda's The Beaches of Agnes was the year's best documentary, and a fascinating personal project, but it has not been calling to me for a second viewing. And Nina Paley's fascinating animated/musical/essay film Sita Sings the Blues is also something that I may revisit. The year's best film, Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, will be a permanent addition to my DVD collection.
Some of the world's greatest veteran filmmakers made small films this year. I was one of the few fans of Woody Allen's sweet and cynical Whatever Works. As for Francis Ford Coppola's Tetro, it's gorgeous but a little chilly. The same goes for Joel and Ethan Coen's A Serious Man; but it has a certain mystery and I can see myself wanting to look at it again in ten years. I loved John Woo's Red Cliff, which was the biggest and most expensive movie in China last year, but was released as a "small" movie here, in a shortened version. I really want to see the long version, and I can see this movie being part of my life for some time to come. I'd also love to see Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans again, mainly for its sheer craziness. But I'm most curious to see Jim Jarmusch's The Limits of Control again; I'm still intrigued by its overwhelmingly negative response and would like to explore it further.
Some much smaller films left an impression on me: Fernando Eimbcke's wonderful deadpan comedy Lake Tahoe, Andrew Bujalski's Beeswax, with its unique, lifelike flow; Ramin Bahrani's Goodbye Solo, with its well-drawn, mismatched characters; Kiyoshi Kurosawa's family melodrama Tokyo Sonata; Carlos Saura's gorgeous musical documentary Fados; James Gray's emotionally resonant romantic drama Two Lovers; Michael Keaton's bittersweet directorial debut The Merry Gentleman (a good Christmas movie); Duncan Jones' idea-rich sci-fi film Moon; Alexander Sokurov's The Sun, with its Chaplinesque portrayal of Emperor Hirohito; and Oren Moverman's The Messenger, a rare and good film about Iraq.
But there are three films that I can't wait to show to other people: So Yong Kim's Treeless Mountain, perhaps the best coming-of-age film in years; Roy Andersson's You, the Living, an ultra-deadpan Swedish comedy with stunning, oversized visuals; and Ti West's The House of the Devil, which may be the year's best horror film. Even if none of these other movies ever turn up in my DVD player again, that one will be a future Halloween movie in my house. Happy Holidays, all!