The Year That Was ... Pretty Good

Even New Times critics liked what they saw

8. Grand Illusion: One of the greatest films ever made, Jean Renoir's 1937 antiwar masterpiece was re-released this year in a pristine new print. Set during the First World War, the movie is as much about the death of Europe's prevailing class-conscious social order as it is about the tragedy and futility of war.

9. The Legend of 1900: Mesmerizingly beautiful to look at, this first English-language picture from director Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso) contains the most exquisite cinematography and production design of any film this year. A dreamlike fable about the precariousness of life, the film is suffused with an almost tangible sense of longing and sadness. Read the full New Times review

10. Twin Falls Idaho: A modern-day Beauty and the Beast, this beautifully realized tale of love and intimacy marks the feature debut of acting/writing/directing twin brothers Mark and Michael Polish. The dramatic lighting, sense of composition, and use of rich colors give the film the feeling of an exquisite still photograph. Read the full New Times review -- Jean Oppenheimer

Yes, some even liked Tom and Nicole and Eyes Wide Shut
Yes, some even liked Tom and Nicole and Eyes Wide Shut

Luke's Top 10
My favorite movies of the year, in ascending order, are:

1. South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut: Director Trey Parker's obvious love of musicals made the film both a great musical in its own right and a dead-on parody of musical clichés. Even after repeat viewings, when the laughs are no longer original nor the profanity shocking, the story emerges as a surprisingly poignant tale of neglected children living in a knee-jerk society. Try naming one other movie that uses satire so effectively to take on the United States' arrogant attitude toward the United Nations, racism in the military, Japanese internment camps, gay rights, war propaganda, the gender and generation gaps, and our hypocritical national preference for violence over sex -- all with insanely catchy tunes that may get you into trouble if you're caught singing them.

2. Fight Club: Many folks missed the point of this film; many others got it and were repelled. Identity crisis ruled the day yet again in David Fincher's darkly comic masterpiece, which amalgamated many of his previous themes from other films into one massive cinematic download. Perhaps it's a generational thing, but anyone who has ever experimented with masochism as an alternative to crushing numbness or felt impotent to change the circumstances of a life that's been planned out from birth, can understand, if not absolutely relate to, the frustrations of Ed Norton's nameless narrator. Read the full New Times review

3. The Matrix: That this movie isn't number one on my list just shows what a great year this has been. It's nice to finally see a science-fiction movie that breaks new ground. Many claimed the story was too convoluted, but how nice to be able to make that complaint after years of other movies that invoke comments like "It's too dumb, and rips off Aliens/Blade Runner/Road Warrior/(insert iconic sci-fi movie title here)." Read the full New Times review

4. Cabaret Balkan: An Eastern European Pulp Fiction, minus the Seventies stylings and constant pop-cultural references that bogged down the original.

5. Being John Malkovich: Speaking of experimenting with content ... video director Spike Jonze deserves a lot of credit for picking this as his first feature. And John Malkovich deserves equal credit for going along with it and turning in one of his greatest performances simply by being himself. In a year where the overwhelming theme was crisis of identity, Jonze gave the concept an absurd literalization and followed it through with deft execution. Read the full New Times review

6. Run Lola Run: I can't think of any movie this year that experimented as much with form and content. Lola perfectly captured the rush of playing a really good video game, complete with multiple endings, a pulse-pounding score, and a surrealistic blending of visual media. Oliver Stone has tried this sort of thing but hasn't pulled it off quite so well. (He was obviously impressed: Some of Lola's score ended up on the soundtrack for his year-end release, Any Given Sunday). Read the full New Times review

7. Three Kings: Okay, admittedly the idea of making an international call on a cell phone when you're trapped in a bunker beneath the desert is pushing it, but otherwise, David O. Russell's Gulf War Western is both a thrilling ride and a powerful protest film. And let's face it, whoever would have thought, back in 1991, that pants-dropping white rapper Marky Mark Wahlberg would be capable of giving one of the year's best performances? The scene where he emerges from the Iraqi bunker, still in shock after being tortured, says it all.

8. Earth: An Indian answer to Gone with the Wind, Earth tells a powerful human story of love, class, and religion, set against the epic backdrop of India's civil war and the formation of Pakistan. Director Deepa Mehta had already proven that she could handle intimate drama with the lesbian-theme Fire, and now proves herself equally adept at making a "big" movie as well. Read the full New Times review

9. On the Ropes: It's rare that a documentary comes along that can rival a dramatic treatment of the same subject, but this outstanding movie about inner-city boxers struggling to transcend their environment had me on the edge of my seat. Because the odds are stacked against our heroes, and this is real life rather than Rocky, you honestly don't know how things will work out until they do.

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