7. From the Journals of Jean Seberg. Cinema studies docs were abundant this year, but Mark Rappaport's "fictitious autobiography" combines political film theory and free-associative gossip into a sharp critique of Hollywood misogyny. The fact that there's plenty to disagree with here serves to further its point that the power of interpretation is infinite, and available to anyone.
8. Secrets & Lies. Besides being the best acted movie in recent memory, Mike Leigh's hopeful family portrait is a triumph of sustained tone, where neither humor nor pain seems to exist without the other. In a more honest world, this would be a model of narrative filmmaking.
9. When We Were Kings. This documentary portrait of the most compelling boxing match in history--the 1974 fight in Zaire between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman--is no mere sports highlights reel, but an astonishing collection of archival footage: candid interviews with the two tough-guys, play-by-play commentary by none other than Norman Mailer, and concert scenes of James Brown and B.B. King, who accompanied the fighters on an unprecedented cross-cultural roadshow. Among this film's many nostalgic elements is its reminder of how much more possible it was then for celebrities to talk politically about race without fearing for their livelihoods. When We Were Kings opened on the coasts last month to qualify for Oscar nomination, and is slated for a wide release in mid-February.
10. Flirting With Disaster. In a year of great comedies, this consummately screwy farce was the funniest--and also the most harrowing. Writer-director David O. Russell erects a pup tent of sexual hysteria and manages to keep it up, forgive the pun, for a full 90 minutes.
Runners-up (alphabetically): Brother of Sleep, Hustler White, Land and Freedom, Ma Saison Préférée, Microcosmos, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, A Single Girl, Walking and Talking, The White Balloon, and The Whole Wide World.
Hollywood 10 Best (in order of preference): Tin Cup, The People vs. Larry Flynt, The Cable Guy, Kingpin, Mars Attacks!, Jerry Maguire, Star Trek: First Contact, Harriet the Spy, William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, and Multiplicity.
Better Than You Heard. These 10 deserved a better rap than they got: Barb Wire, Before and After, Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, Escape From L.A., From Dusk Till Dawn, Mary Reilly, The Mirror Has Two Faces, Mulholland Falls, The Rich Man's Wife, and White Squall.
You Must Remember These. In another strong year for local repertory film, the standouts included: Kieslowski's "short films" and the Mpls./St. Paul and LGBT festivals at U Film Society; the Twin Cities Black Film Festival at the Parkway Theater and Oak Street Cinema; the National Film Registry tour, the Pan Asian Film Festival, the "Century of Cinema" series, and the Gordon Parks, Spike Lee, and Chris Marker/William Klein retros at Walker Art Center; Olympia and the "Masquerade Freak Show" at Red Eye Cinema; "The Masterworks of Satyajit Ray" at Lagoon Cinema; "Sultry Sirens of the Silver Screen" in Mueller Park; Eisenstein at the MIA; Bigger Than Life at the Minnesota History Center; Planet of the Apes in Stevens Square Park; Vertigoat Suburban World; Too Late Blues in Loring Park; Raging Bull with Thelma Schoonmaker at MCAD; and Cassavetes, Chaplin, Crawford, Tarkovsky, Powell/Pressburger, "Blaxploitation Classics," and the "Festival of Silent Film" at Oak Street Cinema.
Musts to Avoid. To clarify, Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead was a '95 release, Evita at least had some unintended humor, and I didn't see Dear God. So the 10 worst of the year were: The Crow: City of Angels, Executive Decision, The Fan, Heaven's Prisoners, It's My Party, Jingle All the Way, 101 Dalmatians, She's the One, Sleepers, and Up Close and Personal.
Best As-Yet Unreleased Movie of the Year. A mock-documentary portrait of a minimum-wage worker who endures a succession of banal service jobs, Milwaukee auteur Chris Smith's American Job is a brilliantly ambiguous mix of comedy and social realism, and the year's most flagrantly independent film. In fact, American Job (which premiered a year ago at Sundance and played twice at the Mpls./St. Paul Film Festival) hasn't been picked up for release, and might never be--and that's an unmistakable sign of its greatness. But ironically, as Smith has been working on his follow-up with the help of some new friends in high places, this underdog movie about a slacker seems to have given its maker a career.