By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
That every one of these projects put politics front and center makes the future of Minnesota film look positively thrilling--even despite the sad fact that the Minnesota Film Board was forced to trim its operations still further in '04. Hell, old-school provocateur Robert Altman is reportedly coming here to shoot the Prairie Home Companion movie this very season. How's that for good news? Though my latest Top 10 is all over the map (see below), a year from now it could be full of movies made right here in Minnesota. That was the other message of 2004: Don't give up hope.
Nattering intellectuals, born-again nitwits, existential conundrums, crisis investigations, "everything stores," communicable anger, random cruelty, "pure being," pure bullshit, big laughs, a little love, a little hope. Is this not ourselves?
2. Fahrenheit 9 /11
I never like to credit filmmakers for their intentions--except when their intentions include shining a global spotlight on a nimrod president's evildoings and throwing him out of office. That Michael Moore didn't succeed in the latter aim doesn't much matter to me, at least not for purposes of critical evaluation: In this case, the intent--with the level of force that he and others put behind it--was plenty by itself. (The artistry of Moore's message never felt as praiseworthy to me as the strength of his transmitter and his resolve to keep it running.) Where some saw the documentarian's agitprop turn to dust on 11/3, I saw a movie about profound despair gain yet another layer of tragedy--thick enough to make it, at least for the time being, too painful to watch again. But if history is fortunate enough to see another era follow this one, there won't be a movie that better captures what it felt like to want the culture to present us with a new start--or even Moore.
3. S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine
This stunning work of humanitarian cinema, among many other things, seems to reframe the irresolvable But what did it accomplish? debate over 9/11: Here, it's not the film's exhibition, but its production that's designed to bring about positive change in the real world--and the proof is on the screen. Cambodian documentarian Rithy Panh follows one of the seven survivors of the Khmer Rouge's most notorious detention center on his return to the scene of the crime: the torture and murder of more than 17,000 people. The perpetrators of these atrocities are directed to reenact their routines for the camera; we in the audience may or may not be the same afterward, as we prefer--but those on the screen would appear to have no such choice.
4. Before Sunset
The people I know who don't appreciate this romantic drama all say it's because they don't find the lovers likable. Huh? Since when do you need to find the lovers likable? Seems to me the lovers in any realistic romance (filmed or not) are always highly flawed, and this one, co-written by its director (Richard Linklater) and his stars (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy), is more realistic than most (filmed or not)--which is why it's more beautiful than most. I'm reminded of an old Leonard Cohen line: "Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack/A crack in everything/That's how the light gets in."
5. The Aviator
With this, the magnificently obsessive Martin Scorsese rounds out a decade spent in thorough investigation of the matters that most concern him: anxiety, isolation, desire, privilege, self-pity, social custom, world history, and cinema.
6. Infernal Affairs
Cinema with passion revisits Hong Kong through the head and heart rather than the trigger finger. It's not an action movie, this one, but a film noir, like T-Men with a twist: Here, the two undercover tough guys (Tony Leung, Andy Lau) are seeking each other--without quite knowing it--from opposite sides of the fence. The characters' distinctly 21st-century disorientation (How am I not myself? How is he not himself?) becomes ours--and, in turn, even the villain becomes sympathetic (up to a point). Scorsese will be remaking this ingenious movie in Boston with Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon--and, according to rumor, without watching it first.
7. The Polar Express
Master of the illustrative anachronism, director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) here goes forward to the past, using new digital technology to render a cartoon feature whose pastel images suggest it could have been drawn in 1955--the year Disney unleashed Lady and the Tramp in 'Scope (and Marty McFly went to the prom with his mom). It's a sentimental film and, for me, a sentimental fave: my two-year-old's first theatrical experience (in that magic time machine known as the Heights)--and it steamrolled both of us.
Granted, it's tough to disagree about an L.A. movie with the maker of Los Angeles Plays Itself, who has gone on the record to say that this visual map of an Angeleno cabbie's long, long night doesn't know its way through the city (or much of anything else, either). So, too, I'll admit the movie has nothing on Heat or The Insider as a Michael Mann study of men at work. But I'll be damned if it ain't a landmark in digital videography for the cinema. And I do mean for the cinema: Watch the DVD, with its depressingly smoothed-out textures, and you won't be seeing the movie, which wasn't about men at work or Los Angeles or anything so much as it was about exploring the unique virtues of hi-def DV--including how it eliminates the need for special lighting to make black and white faces look natural in the same wide frame, even after dark.