1. Before Sunset
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their roles as Jesse and Celine in director Richard Linklater’s sequel to his 1995 cult classic, “Before Sunrise.” Nearly a decade since the two star-crossed lovers part after a tumultuous one-day affair in Vienna, the two meet coincidentally in a Paris bookstore and thus begins their second wooing.
The film is a 75-minute conversation between the couple, every moment witty and fresh. At first glance, the premise seems too much like a gimmick, but listening to the banter of Parisian Celine (Julie Delpy’s performance is a highlight), you know you’ve stumbled across a piece of art.
This movie is rated R.
2. House of Flying Daggers
Strangely, the year’s most American film is the year’s most foreign. Zhang Yimou’s martial arts romance is the type of big-budget period drama of Hollywood old. The art direction soaks the film in scenic wonder and the cinematography frames it in blasts of colorful beauty.
Like many highbrow martial arts entertainments, the fight scenes are shot to emulate ballet. The always-wonderful Zhang Ziyi shares the screen with the equally dashing Takeshi Kaneshiro and Andy Lau, making this the perfect piece of eye candy.
3. The Incredibles
Who would ever have guessed an animated feature could be more than a diversion for tykes? Brad Bird’s amazing opus of
super heroes and villains transcends the Disney formula and evolves into a social commentary of middle America, complete with dysfunctional family values, marriage counseling for dummies and the ever-important lessons of tolerance.
4. Maria Full of Grace
Director-screenwriter Joshua Marston turns in the year’s most auspicious debut with his look at the Colombian drug trade. His leading lady is first-time actor Catalina Sandino Moreno, who gives an unnerving and refined performance as a pregnant teenage drug mule and adds a vivacious heartbeat to Marston’s deftly written script.
This movie is rated R.
5. Hotel Rwanda
It took 10 years for the events of the Rwandan massacre to be made into a motion picture, and just as many for director Terry George to come up with a script, a solid cast and a studio. The result is a powerful tour de force that demands attention and contemplation, but never slips into didactic lecturing.
Don Cheadle (one of the most underrated actors of our time) plays Paul Rusesabagina, a hotelier in the capital of Rwanda. When the majority Hutu tribe begins slaughtering the minority Tutsis, and the UN turns its back on the bloodshed, Paul shelters 1,200 refugees in his luxury hotel.
The power of its narrative structure makes “Hotel Rwanda” just as potent as “Schindler’s List.”
6. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring
This is the perfect Asian counterpart to “House of Flying Daggers.” While the latter takes pride in its visceral bombast, “Spring, Summer” is a lesson in visual humility. Kim Ki-Duk’s transient story of a young Buddhist monk’s sexual (and spiritual) awakening can best be described as a sage-like poem.
Told in five vignettes, the film attains a literary status unimaginable. The set design is ingenious; nearly the whole picture takes place on a floating temple. Paying homage to the human life cycle, “Spring, Summer” celebrates the evil in all of us.
This movie is rated R.
7. The Clay Bird
Famed documentary filmmaker Tareque Masud composes his first fiction, telling the story of Anu, a young boy sent by his religious father to an Islamic boarding school.
Set in Pakistan during the turbulent 1960s, the country is on the verge of civil war. The greed for political power tears the country apart, as well as Anu’s family. The question of whether Islam is the cause of the world’s problems is answered quietly and resolutely. A powerful look at how Islam affects its worshippers and those around them, this moving film shows that Islam is only as dangerous as the extremists who exploit its teaching, much like other religions.
One of only 40 features produced in Afghanistan, Siddiq Barmak’s directorial debut chronicles the life of a 12-year-old girl dodging the terrors of the Taliban. The fatherless girl disguises herself as a boy to keep food on the table, taking the name Osama. Too many outrageous injustices occur in its 90 minutes. The year’s most
unbelievable film is a bitter dose of believable reality.
Jamie Foxx is spot-on as the blind musical genius, right down to the head-swaying, shoulder-scrunching itch fest. Taylor Hackford’s fun and fresh biopic turns out to be a highly romanticized version of Charles’ life, but that’s a minor quibble for a movie that succeeds in wrenching your heart and making your toes tap.
10. The Aviator
Martin Scorsese’s three-hour epic focuses on the life and times of aviation tycoon Howard Hughes, while the audience gets a crash course in World War II politics and primitive air science.
In some of the most enthralling sequences of the year, Scorsese captures the magic of the sky by summoning a fleet of war planes accompanied to Howard Shore’s retro-action score in a staging of Hughes’ 1930 film “Hell’s Angels.”
Leonardo DiCaprio delivers his first truly great performance since “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” balancing Hughes’ playboy charm and obsessive-compulsive madness. Cate Blanchett proves she’s more than a showpiece by not only imitating Katharine Hepburn, but emulating her incomparable personality.
Hollywood-centric in every respect, Scorsese seems to have picked up a thing or two from Hughes’ life motto: Bigger is better!
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.