Michael Haneke may be one of the best directors on planet Earth; Caché may be his masterpiece. With a story disturbingly prescient of the racially-charged riots that recently swept France, Haneke gradually uncovers the wounds of class division, subverting cinematic conventions to reevaluate our comfortable notions of seeing, and understanding.
Say what you will about the inevitable decision to place a Hou Hsiao-Hsien effort on a “Best Of” list, but Café Lumiere is stellar and deserves to be here. I don’t make the following statement to be a wise-ass — along with The Warriors, this is one of the greatest films ever made about public transportation.
In the year of the Herzog hat trick, Grizzly Man displayed the legendary filmmaker/adventurer/self-aggrandizer in top form. Creating more of an essay film than a documentary, Herzog employs Tim Treadwell’s morbidly fascinating footage he shot of his life amongst bears to offer another disturbing rumination on stubborn human drive amidst nature’s indiscriminate refusal.
What exactly Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s Innocence is isn’t exactly clear. A lush, nearly tangible fairytale replete with dreamlike tableaux representing the labyrinth of female pre-adolescence? A Buñuelian tale about the irrationality of authority and desire? A feminist allegory of budding sexuality’s commodifcation, with recuperative coda? If only all films were as richly mysterious, both thematically and visually.
L’intrus (The Intruder)
Maybe this one shouldn’t count, as it still hasn’t been commercially distributed in the U.S., but it doesn’t look like it will be anytime soon anyway. This is about as difficult and elusive as narrative cinema gets, but Claire Denis rewards those who place their trust in her with brutal, striking imagery to complement a brutal, striking fable.
Land of Plenty
In his best fiction film in ages, Wim Wenders asks us: do post-9/11, state of the nation films have to be as traumatic as that event and its aftermath? Answer: not necessarily, although Land of Plenty certainly doesn’t avoid issues — Wenders just gauges them through his own brand of uncynical inquisitiveness.
Obsolete topic-wise or unsatisfactory film-wise for most moviegoers ( so 1994 for the mainstream, so watered-down Bela Tarr for the art-house crowd), Last Days had few supporters this year. A shame, because Gus Van Sant’s Cobain anti-bio-pic is at once abrasive, impenetrable prank and haunting elegy. In other words, a beautiful disaster.
In the best man v. nature fiction film of ‘05, Weerasethakul fulfills the promise of Blissfully Yours by going even deeper into that earlier film’s calm territory of quotidian transcendence. Part unassuming love story, part ghostly folklore, and pushing every conceivable artistic boundary, Tropical Malady is cinema as sensorial fever dream.
The Squid and the Whale
In a generally positive review, one critic described family divorce memoir The Squid and the Whale (and love letter to Park Slope) as “visually unremarkable.” But I’ll take Baumbach’s self-effacing naturalism over producer Wes Anderson’s anal-retentive showiness any day. Despite certain tics Noah Baumbach picked up from his recent collaborator, The Squid unromantically portrays adolescence in rare and devastating truthfulness.
A ridiculously strong year for Asian art cinema (in one that had Wong Kar-Wai delivering a baffling career overview), and there we proved he could retain artistic integrity and vision with a loftier budget. In fact, The World indicts globalization in even more despairing fashion than Unknown Pleasures.