Without doubt, this was the film-year for me, although I was not able to see as much films as I intended to. My target was an astounding 200 movies this year, but I finished somewhere around 170 movies. But, I am more than satisfied and the quality of films was nothing short than amazing. I covered more or less all the directors that I wanted to watch and I will cover others (Werner Herzog, Douglous Sirk, Roberto Rossellini, Alain Resnais, Fritz lang, Mikio Naruse) shortly. Now I want to take on a much more difficult task, to compile a list of ten best movies, I saw this year. Also I will like to thank my friend Alok for guiding me in my movie choices. This type of guidance is very essential when you are just starting out.
This list will also be the list of my all-time favorite films as I came in touch of most of the excellent cinema this year only. One more thing, these types of lists are very dynamic, films keep falling off the list and some new ones push hard to secure a place, but I feel quite sure that most of the films in this list have a very stable place and some are extremely difficult to move. Lastly, as a usual customary, I am taking only one film per director. Here the list goes.
10. In the Mood for Love
In the Mood for love is a masterpiece in several ways. First and foremost, it creates a mood which only few films can aspire for and probably a fewer can even attain. Secondly, it touches the most dear theme of Wong Kar-wai, love-longing-and-lingering pain, in a way that is visually/thematically opposite of his other fast-paced films like Chungking Express and Fallen Angels. While Chunking express shakes on the music of California dreamin', In the Mood for Love just amorously sighs at every passing musical note. Thirdly, In the Mood for Love is an extremely big achievement when we talk of style in movies, and this style is so unique that even Kar-wai will flinch with a thought of copying it. This is one of those films that I would like to watch on big screen and allow myself to flow into that mood all over again.
9. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant
I am not putting this film here because there should be one by Fassbinder, there are other profound reasons for that. Bitter Tears breaks clichés while its characters speaks them. While the characters fake love, loyalty and friendship, each and every nobler emotion is let bare in all its harrowing nakedness and the insult inflicted to these emotions by the people who practice them and invariably use (or misuse) them. Stylistically this film is a marvel of film making, set in a claustrophobic apartment of a fashion designer, Fassbinder looks for a made-up world in every nook and corner, revealing the ugliness in all its beauty.
8. Naked Lunch
Cronenberg's Naked Lunch is a meditation on insanity we live in and live by. We need it and at the same time we abhor it. Naked Lunch struck the right note when it went over my head and started questioning my rationality. While the characters are drawn from one mystery to other, and put in 'bizarrest' of situations and commit same horrible mistakes again to get into unending cycles, at a point the film seemed to suggest that sanity is overrated, human rationality is cannot cope with its irrationality when put in such situations. In a true Cronenbergian style, without going over the top, the film invites you to a horrible world, which is probably the world we live in.
7. A Taste of Cherry
Earlier I was fan of Abbas Kiarostami's Close-up, which is an excellent movie, but after seeing A Taste of Cherry, and after contemplation of both the movies, I got hooked up to the later more. It might be the theme of the movie that drew me closer to it. A Taste of Cherry talks about life and death, but unlike a Bergman film, here all the philosophy comes out quite naturally though common man uttering the words of wisdom. As always, Kiarostami reduces all the style and acting tricks, the films focuses on a man's journey to search for a helping hand to put some soil on his grave. His interactions with people from different strata of society, although don't reveal much about the man in question but they give profound insights on how people view life and death and that's where it gets a big nod from me.
6. Winter Light
When we think of a filmmaker busy with god, arguing about his absence and the suffering of people due to that, we picture Ingmar Bergman instantly. Bergman, who had a strict religious upbringing, became more skeptical about god as he grew up. Winter Light, thus seems to be his story of struggle with god and faith. This film, perhaps the best outcome of Bergman's tussle with god, almost perfectly explores the man-god relationship. It lacks the sweet optimism of Wild Strawberries, the grand set up of The Seventh Seal, the easy solution (Love is God and God is Love) of otherwise brilliant Through a Glass Darkly or the modernism of Persona, but Winter Light stands on its own where its characters look at each other with desperation and help and Bergman scrutinizes them. According to Bergman, his best, Winter Light, is masterfully crafted film with a stark black and white set up which brings out coldness of emotional isolation and distances between his characters and god.
The final film by the Polish master contains all the thematic and stylistic flourishes he is known for, and works wonders as a final chapter. When I talk of optimism and goodness and how they both are essential to existence, I think of Red. Red talks about optimism in a very dark way, here optimistic outcomes are just a matter of probability, a coincidence, your goodness probably don't play a role in you being happy. But it may play a role in you being content. So its not that you can expect that things will go right if you are, but if you are good, you might feel satisfied that things probably will not go wrong because of you. Actually its complex to determine the reason for we being good and helping but what Kieslowski wants to say is that this complexity of life should not deter us from being good and helping to others. This is a theme which can fall in the mushy category by even a single mistake, but Kieslowski deftly brings the point of human connectedness and life's unexpectedness so tangentially that we see a rather cliched ending with awe and wonder.
4. Blue Velvet
Blue Velvet kicked out my long-time favorite movie, American Beauty off the list. Though based on similar themes, Blue velvet explores the subject matter much more deftly and darkly where evil lurks in everything which is possibly harmless and the Lynch-patented red curtains swing sonorously to the sound of Blue velvet, creating a hysterical atmosphere where anything dark is possible. All this surrealistic set up bring out the vast realm of unknown and the hidden and break apart the mush and goodness that the films shows in its fairy tale starting and the ending. Blue Velvet creates a everyday mystery of moral rot which is as shocking as it can get.
3. Nights of Cabiria
Fellini's direction, Masina's acting and a sublime climax makes Nights of Cabiria a ultimate experience for any cinephile. It was one of the films that takes you to character and hold you here and in the end makes you smile through tears as the character do. In a way Nights of Cabiria brings together two of Felini's other masterpieces together, it looks to be set up in the world near that of La Dolce Vita's with Cabiria in foreground, who might be thought of as the lost elder sister of La Strada's Gelsomina. This films has a very special place for me for some unexplainable reasons, it has that magic that penetrates the soul.
2. Breaking the Waves
A deeply depressing fairy tale is what it is, it shakes your faith and bends your idea of love and sacrifice to the limit that even seem illogical. Although I watched Breaking the Waves long time back, I only realized how great a film it is quite later when I saw its mastery of cold dissection of idea of love, romance, sacrifice and faith that the viewer is almost baffled in the end whether Lars von Trier is for or against these concepts. The last scene of bell ringing irritated me first since it bought a element of unknown spirituality in the film, but later I released the vast idea of that scene, which can be understood the either way, to believe in cause for which Bess sacrificed her life or just a mockery of the idea of eternal romance by a mortal. Breaking the waves, by no means is an easy watch and not particularly entertaining but everything is paid off when this masterpiece provide you transcendent moments and undiluted food for thought that you can chew long after last reels have rolled off.
1. Tokyo Story
Ozu's Tokyo story is the best film I watched this year, and I am quite sure it will remain so in years to come. I have watched Tokyo story five times this year and every time I watched it I found it deeply profound with all emotions understated and always pointing to the universal truth in the simplest of ways. At times this films looks like a preservation of past moments without the overabundance of sentimentality, at times it directs to the fact that everything is bound to change and at other times it shows the vicious cycle in which we are locked in. Every time we come close to Tokyo story we see the mastery of simple compositions where even the smallest of details is exactly right, generation break down with Ozu's extreme compassion to all his characters and small thoughtful moments, all done without any pretense or preaching. At this point I would like to go to the extreme to say that if you want to watch only one film in your lifetime, let it be Tokyo Story, others will surely follow.