Here it is. This may be my best list of the year. First things first, as Jonathan Rosenbaum points out, it is kind of ridiculous to place some movies over others when they are all excellent (see his top 100 American films in Movie Wars). But I don't want to remove the fun and pain of list-making by doing alphabetical order lists. So please remember that all of these are probably interchangable. I also can't remember if I saw things this year or last for some things, but I'll do the best I can. In addition, like Paco, I am not trying to sound awesome or obscure. These are really the best movies I watched this year, and many are actually embarassing that I am only now watching them. I should have watched most of these at least 6 years ago. Finally, I may be very brief on comments because of the length of this list. So without further ado...
TOP 37 NEW/OLD FILMS OF THE YEAR
1. Bande a Part (Band of Outsiders) by Jean-Luc Godard (1964). How does one rank out Godard films over each other? Here's how I do it. First, I have a huge crush on Anna Karina and she is at her most charming in Bande a Part. Plus, this is during my favorite era of Godard's career. He's always brilliant, but I enjoy his early 60's career the most.
2. Banshun (Late Spring) by Yasujira Ozu (1949). I enjoyed this departure from Ozu's usual negative focus on the generational gap. Here is a touching portrayal of generational love and self-sacrifice. Plus the interaction between Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara is completely beautiful.
3. Qianxi Manbo (Millenium Mambo) by Hou Hsiao-Hsien (2001). I had no idea how to rank Hsiao-Hsien's work (I only started watching him this year), and this may be the most arbitrary pick on the list over Hsiao-Hsien's other work. I love him so much because you can always recognize his voice in his films, but they are so diverse at the same time. I guess I picked this because it is a bit of a departure from his usual focus on Taiwan's changing culture in the 20th century and instead looks ahead at the dawn of a new millenium.
4. Sud Pralad (Tropical Malady) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2004). The only Weerasethakul films I have seen are this and Mysterious Object at Noon. In Tropical Malady, I felt like I was introduced to Weerasethakul's true voice in film-making. From a director's standpoint, the vision behind and compiling of Mysterious Object were ground-breaking and completely encapsule what I think film-making should be as an art. But if you take all that and add writing credit to Weerasethakul, you get the whole package in Tropical Malady.
5. L'Age d'Or (Age of Gold) by Luis Bunuel (1930). Although I seriously appreciate Chien Andalou, I really enjoy Bunuel's longer solo absurdist adventure.
6. Ni Neibian Jidian (What Time is it There?) by Ming-Liang Tsai (2001). Coming almost at the current midpoint of his career, I think this may be the most fascinating work Ming-Liang Tsai has done. Maybe not though, because the River also rules.
7. Bad Ma Ra Khahad Bord (The Wind Will Carry Us) by Abbas Kiarostami (1999). Unfortunately thus far I have only seen this and 10 by Kiarostami. The Wind stuck with me hard. I'm not really sure why, but I keep going back to it. Something about its quiet progression touches me in a major way.
8. Ikiru (To Live) by Akira Kurosawa (1952). I guess it makes me a Philistine, but I don't love a lot of Kirusawa's historical/fictional history films about the Japanese Empires. That is why this incredibly human exploration into "progress" is by far my favorite Kurosawa film.
9. Down by Law by Jim Jarmusch (1986). This was really fun to watch. As one of the first Jarmusch films I watched this year, it was a great introduction to his style, themes, and cinematic aesthetics.
10. Le Souffle au Couer (Murmur of the Heart) by Louis Malle (1971). Weird sex-with-mom-action and Godard-narrative-style-rip-off aside, I thought this was a great summation of the French New Wave coming basically at the end of the necessity of New Wave. I dig it.
11. Noi Albinoi (Noi) by Dagur Kari (2003). I have seen almost no Scandanavian films. But if this Icelandic jewel is any indication, I love Scandanavian films as much as I love Scandanavian music (a lot).
12. L'Enfant (The Child) by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (2005). Hey, French films are still really good and I think this is a good indication of the emotional depths French film can explore after the passing of the New Wave.
13. Yaju no Seishun (Youth of the Beast) by Seijun Suzuki (1963). This was kind of trippy, plus Suzuki got in trouble with Japanese movie industry execs, so I have to give him props on it. Plus Jo Shishido has awesome chipmunk cheeks, so he makes a really sweet gangster.
14. Une Femme est une Femme (A Woman is a Woman) by Jean-Luc Godard (1961). I wanted to see how long I could go before I listed another Godard film. 14 spots, that's how many. I can't love anyone else as much (especially French films), because I want them to be more like Godard.
15. Nanguo Zaijan, Nanguo (Goodbye South, Goodbye) by Hou Hsiao-Hsien (1996). Once again, this is kind of odd subject-matter for Hsiao-Hsien, but he manages to totally keep his genius style and concerns within the framework of a gangster film.
16. Bu San (Goodbye Dragon Inn) by Ming-Liang Tsi (2003). This film is the perfect metaphor for the current state of cinema in America. Plus it is both sad and beautiful. Kiyonobu Mitomura cracks me up. Soft-spoken eerie melodic times.
17. Dokfa Nai Meuman (Mysterious Object at Noon) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2000). You have to find the DVD of this and watch Weerasethakul explain his inspiration for this film. I'd share, but I'll just mess it up. This film's setup and exploration adequately display Weerasethakul as a modern artistic genius of film.
18. Tokyo Monogatari (Tokyo Story) by Yasujira Ozu (1953). I watched this right after I saw Late Spring, so it was weird to see Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara in a completely different type of relationship. I feel like this film is timeless given some of my own experiences this year.
19. Kohi Jiko (Cafe Lumiere) by Hou Hsiao-Hsien (2003). What's better than one of Taiwan's greatest modern directors paying homage to Japan's greatest film-maker ever? I don't know. That's why this is so good.
20. Jules et Jim (Jules and Jim) by Francois Truffaut (1962). I have a hard time with Truffaut. I love all the Doinel adventures bad, but outside of those 4 films, I don't really love his style and story-telling. But I place Jules and Jim here out of respect to an auteur. I have no place to criticize.
21. Dead Man by Jim Jarmusch (1995). I really love Jarmusch's style bad. Plus I have a man-crush on Johnny Depp. This film requires some serious reflection. I love.
22. Alphaville, Une Etrange Aventure de Lemmy Caution (Alphaville) by Jean-Luc Godard (1965). Godard plus Karina equals I love it. We already talked about that. The political commentary isn't very subtle, but I like it a lot more than Godard's explicitly political films (Carabiniers, Masculin Feminin, Le Petit Soldat, Tout va Bien)
23. Umberto D. by Vittorio de Sica (1952). I have a major love/hate relationship with de Sica's films. They are humble and earthy in such a wonderful way, but they also tend to leave me majorly depressed. Umberto D. is about as close to a happy ending de Sica was willing to give us. Plus Umberto's dog totally rules.
24. I Bambini ci Guardano (The Children are Watching Us) by Vittorio de Sica (1944). I get super-used to the way the French New Wave treats marital fidelity (super-loosely), so it is nice to know that Italians still thought sleeping around was not cool. Also, as sad as it is, the end of this film is absolutely perfect. Not quite there, but almost as good of an ending as the 400 blows.
25. La Ilusion Viaja en Tranvia (Illusion, Travels by Streetcar) by Luis Bunuel (1954). Most people don't like Bunuel's mexican period because he was a commercial whore. But he kept his flow. I like the mexican period, especially this one.
26. Viridiana by Luis Bunuel (1961). I know that as a Christian, Bunuel's disdain for the church and anything Jesus-related should bother me. At the same time, in growing up in the chaos of the Spanish war and the nature of the Catholic church in Spain, his criticism isn't necessarily of Jesus, but of the way Jesus was mis-used by the church. Here is what I think is one of his most pointed indictments against Christianity overall, but climaxing in the Last Supper of Fools and Drunkards. I was intrigued to the maximum. Plus Silvia Pinal is super-hot.
27. Hai Shang Hua (Flowers of Shanghai) by Hou Hsiao-Hsien (1998). Just like 2005 was the year of Wong Kar Wai for me, 2006 was the year of Hou Hsiao-Hsien. What is there to say? This film concerns what seems to be Hsiao-Hsien's fave time-period with some of his fave themes. Masterpiece.
28. Hsimeng Jensheng (Puppetmaster) by Hou Hsiao-Hsien (1993). Let's just wrap up all the Hsiao-Hsien with two in a row that begin at a table with a bunch of people hanging out. Super-duper pacing and dialogue for a movie whose english title makes it sound like a horror film.
29. Mystery Train by Jim Jarmusch (1989). Even though I don't like Elvis Presley at all, this film was still extremely accessible to me. I was also glad that Jun and Mitsuko got the most screentime.
30. 10 by Abbas Kiarostami (2002). I think I could have appreciated this more if I knew more about the Iranian cultural and political climate. However, I learned a lot and also developed a deeper appreciation for Kiarostami.
31. La Regle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game) by Jean Renoir (1939). This was really fun plus it raised some interesting class stuff that still applies based on socio-economic classification in our culture.
32. Tout va Bien (Everything is Fine) by Jean-Luc Godard (1972). This was wacky as hell. It also made me realize how ignorant I am of all the political and union crap that went on in France in the 20th century. Plus Jane Fonda is kind of hilarious (not intentionally).
33. Masculin Feminin: 15 Faits Precis (Masculine Feminine) by Jean-Luc Godard (1966). First, the "cul" (French for ass) play on words in the title that Godard points out a lot is fun. Chantal Goya is supposed to be the hottie, but she's kind of annoying. Paul should totally be with Elisabeth. Marlene Jobert is much more attractive and kind. It's also weird to see Jean-Pierre Leaud not playing Antoine Doinel. Plus his cigarette flipping trick is super cool. All of these things are positive.
34. Broken Flowers by Jim Jarmusch (2005). Yet another film with a brilliant ending. It is Jarmusch through and through.
35. Naked Lunch by David Cronenburg (1991). I know it makes me lame, but I hadn't read William S. Burroughs before watching this early this year. After reading the book, I grew in great appreciation for Cronenburg's ability to adapt such a sweet crazy mess of prose.
36. He Liu (The River) by Ming-Lian Tsai (1997). This kind of blew my mind. The mom-lusting-after-son action weirded me out, but it seemed like it was meant to. I also like films that explore the connectedness of things a lot.
37. Eraserhead by David Lynch (1977). I know I should have watched this so long ago, but I finally did. I can't decide, but I think I love that Lynch won't explain the film almost as much as I love the film.
CONGRATULATIONS! You made it through the whole thing. If obvious things are missing (like Wong Kar Wai and Ozu's Good Morning), that's because I didn't watch them this year. I watched them before. Thanks for reading this. It took me a long damn time.