While each year, Disney and Pixar churn out animated film with hi-tech animation featuring the best innovations in animation technology, Persepolis showed that you don't need all of that to tell a truly compelling story and have it look beautiful. Filmed almost exclusively in black and white, much of Persepolis looks like a charcoal drawing come to life. The film is based on Marjane Satrapi's autobiographical novels and details her childhood being brought up amid the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and beyond. Satrapi's life is one we never could have lived, and could hardly imagine, but somehow, it's extremely relatable and it's easy to identify with little Marji through our own experiences. And to top it off, it's incredibly funny too. When it was over, I wished there was another hour more to watch. Simply the best theater-going experience in a long, long time.
2. No Country For Old Men
Oddly enough, while they have their devoted fans, I've never been a very big Coen Brothers fan before this film. Sure, I've liked some, but I've never developed the passion that so many have for their films. But this one was fantastic. Javier Bardem created one of the creepiest characters since Hannibal Lecter, and I'm so happy that he has an Oscar for the role. But beyond just the praise for Bardem, I have to say that this is probably also my favorite performance ever from Tommy Lee Jones. And Josh Brolin gives an excellent performance as well. I can't recommend this one highly enough.
For me, it was easily the most charming film of the year, filled with great songs, not to mention nice performances, from Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. It's one of those films that just sticks with you after you leave, especially if you left the theater and immediately downloaded the soundtrack, which has remained on heavy rotation on the ol' Ipod ever since. It's the story of two musicians: One, an Irishman who plays his lovelorn heart out on his acoustic guitar in the streets of downtown Dublin. The other, a Czech immigrant who left her husband behind to find a better life in Ireland for herself, her mother, and her daughter, but in exchange has had to let go of her musical aspirations and nowsells flowers and magazines in the city. They meet and an instant connection is made, as the two bond, discuss and eventually play music together. It's just a nice, simple story, but one that left me with a big smile on my face after I left. And if "Falling Slowly" doesn't move you, I don't think this movie's for you (... because you're dead inside). Just kidding... kind of.
4. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
Thank god for the blossoming Romanian film industry. While I've only seen a handful (and I'm sure that these shores are only getting the best of what's being offered), it's exciting to think of yet another culture that is overflowing with ideas, much of which has been so repressed for so long. Even though the iron curtain fell long ago, it seems we are finally getting so many interesting stories from that country. This one takes place in 1987 under the communist regime, and centers around a young college student who is helping her roommate obtain an illegal abortion. I think the strengths in this film lie in its ability to really place you into the characters' heads: hoping for the best, but dreading the worst. But you really feel like you are living the experience alongside the characters. Scarier than anything else to me though is that, in a political climate where so many seem to be hellbent on overturning Roe vs. Wade, this could soon be OUR reality. Yet again, the Cannes Film Festival awarded yet another deserving Palme D'Or. This isn't for everyone, but to those willing to take the journey, it'll ultimately be a rewarding one.
It seems as though this was a big hit, yet somehow along the way a backlash developed against this one, so I'm fortunate enough that I managed to catch this about a month before it went into release, so I was free to just enjoy the film, free from the burden of expectations. And I laughed my ass off. The entire cast does wonders with their roles, and even if Diablo Cody's screenplay gets a little too clever for its own good at times, the cast still pulls it off. But really, it's very rare that a comedy can genuinely make me laugh, and it happened with this one. So backlash be damned, I still love the hell out of it.
This is a documentary that I found absolutely astounding. It's about the great works of art littered throughout Europe and what happened to them in WWII, and many of these stories are just as fascinating as the art themselves. As it turns out, Adolph Hitler fancied himself an artist and a great appreciator of art. Of course, the art had to conform to his standards of what was considered art. He kept long lists of the artwork he wanted to have for the SS, and much of that art was taken from private collectors or from museums in cities they invaded. They catalogued the whereabouts of many of these pieces, and took what they wanted at will, while also destroying many of the works that Hitler deemed trash. Many other works, on the eve of invasion were secretly taken and hidden away at secret, remote locations so as to keep them out of the Nazi's hands, often at great risk. And while much of this artwork has been reclaimed, many more are still unaccounted for, and new works are being discovered everyday at auctions or hanging in the living rooms of the unsuspecting, who didn't realize that the family heirloom that has been hanging on their wall all of their lives was actually looted from a bombed out museum. So there remain many great mysteries about the fate of some of these works, and many battles between the families of Holocaust victims and their respective governments to reclaim possession of their family's art. It's really a meticulously researched and well told documentary told on a grand scale.
I just found a lot I could identify with in this story about a brother and sister who aren't particularly close and between whom lies some unresolved conflicts as they are forced to come together to deal with their estranged father who is now slipping into the throes of dementia. It's not without a sense of humor along the way, but I could identify with a lot from being a child and watching my parents deal with a similar situation with my maternal grandparents, and what my siblings and I may face to deal with as our parents get older. Phillip Seymour Hoffman does a great job, in what I think was the best of his many roles this year, and while Laura Linney could play this role in her sleep by now, there's a reason why she is the go-to actress for this type of role, and the writing here is sharp but very firmly grounded in reality.
This is the story of a young military officer who got out of the service and joined a peace keeping mission in the Sudan, only to watch the beginnings of what became the crisis in Darfur unfold before his eyes. And this documentary is about his experiences and the photos he took in an attempt to return to the United States to show people what was truly happening over in that region. I'll warn you - just as the picture above his pretty shocking, this documentary is filled with images like this that sear into your brain and aren't easily forgotten. but really that's the point. To make you sit up and take notice about what is happening. And this one certainly got my attention. And while I think most people are aware by now that there is a genocide going on in Darfur, this one does a pretty respectable job at explaining it: it's beginnings, the reasons, what is perpetuating it, and sadly, what the results have been so far and what they'll continue to be until more people sit up and take notice.
Another documentary about the art world lands in my top 10, but this is a vastly different story than The Rape of Europa. This one instead focuses on little Marla Olmstead, a 4-year old girl who may be one of the most well known figures in contemporary modern art. She's sold many paintings, had gallery showings, but then the question gets raised: Did Marla really paint these? The documentarian also has some doubts that he needs to put to rest, and what you see does make you a bit skeptical, while also testing your cynicism a bit. But beyond just Marla and her paintings, it looks at modern art in a broader sense as well: Is this legitimate art or all just a big ruse?
This is an ambitious film, and one that on paper, surely isn't an easy sell: a nearly three hour movie about an oilman who is driven to extremes to crush his competition at all costs. But Paul Thomas Anderson is a very gifted filmmaker, and he makes it all work somehow. Daniel Day-Lewis does a great job here, but what was really fascinating to me here though was the Day-Lewis is an actor who loves to chew on scenery, sometimes to the point of distraction (see: Gangs of New York), but somehow the role of Daniel Plainview was tailored for him to play to his strengths without making it seem hopelessly over the top. He meets his nemesis in a young preacher, played by Paul Dano, who becomes a thorn in Plainview's side and stands in the way of everything he hopes to accomplish. I know some people are more passionate about the film than I, while many others detest it to its core. I suppose I can see why people love the film so much to have ranked it so high, and mostly agree with them, while I also see the faults that keep me from thinking of it as the great American masterpiece others view it to be. A great film, but one I don't think I could ever sit through again.