|Once again, my list of the years favorites is definitely not going to match anything you will see in newspaper critic round-up or lists of film award nominations. Call it the Year of Visual Style: each of these films demonstrates the distinctive approach of a talented crop of filmmakers.
|10. VEER-ZAARA (2004, Yash Chopra)
Yash Chopras return to directing is Bollywood at its most opulent -- high production values, lush costumes and scenery, colorful musical numbers, and plenty of tear-inducing melodrama. Featuring genre heavyweights Shahrukh Khan, Preity Zinta and Rani Mukherjee, with Amitabh Bachchan and Hema Malini in supporting roles, this 3-hour epic traces a decades-long romantic tragedy between a Pakistani girl and an Indian helicopter rescue pilot, adding a theme of cultural and religious tolerance to the usual ones of love and sacrifice. Familiar territory for Bollywood fans, but a lovely visual extravaganza.
9. SIN CITY (Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez)
Sin City is all style. Rodriguez creates a three-dimensional version of interwoven stories from Millers series of gritty, nihilistic comic books, crystallizing the films actors into hardboiled archetypes through audacious use of black and white and lurid splashes of color. In a year filled with cinematic visual creativity, this film certainly makes the top of the list.
8. SERENITY (Joss Whedon)
Ive never seen an episode of Firefly, but I thoroughly enjoyed tagging along for a wild space ride with this ragtag crew of not-really-mercenary-at-heart fugitives. The pace was exciting, the production values top-rate, and the world-building rich and complex. (Im looking forward to seeing this again after watching the DVD set of television episodes, a terrific Christmas present!)
7. MIRRORMASK (Dave McKean)
The collaboration of award-winning graphic novelist Neil Gaiman and artist Dave McKean, who also directs. Unlike many adolescents whod love to run away and join a circus, MirrorMasks protagonist Helena finds her circus performer parents exasperating and longs for a more normal life. When a careless insult appears to send her mother into a coma, Helena withdraws into the dark and elaborate world of her drawings, in which a scenario very similar to her predicament in the real world is unfolding. Gaiman and McKean create visually stunning images to populate Helenas private world: the visuals are like nothing youve ever seen on film before.
6. WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT (Steve Box and Nick Park)
2005 was a better than average year for animation features, with the long-awaited return of Aardvark Studios dynamic duo in their new Anti-Pesto rodent extermination venture topping the list. Almost as good, Howls Moving Castle presents Hayao Miyazakis take on the popular fantasy novel by British author Diana Wynne Jones -- a surprisingly apt combination.
5. KAMIKAZE GIRLS (2004, Tetsuya Nakashima)
Momoko is the odd one out in her rural Japanese town, eschewing the uniformly ugly clothing worn by everyone else in favor of elaborately frilly dresses evoking the era she wishes she inhabited: 18th century Rococo France. Desperate to make money to pay for her expensive indulgences, she tries selling bootleg designer clothes leftover from her fathers yakuza days. Her best client: Ichiko, a self-styled Yanki punk and girl-gang member who casually inserts herself into Momokos world and changes her life completely. Funny, surreal, and surprisingly touching, this is a fresh and insightful look at the bizarre world of Japanese obsessive youth culture, unlikely friendships, and the magical powers of embroidery.
4. 2046 (2004, Wong Kar-wai)
Typically WKW in its themes of memory and regret, as well as gorgeous imagery both visual and aural, but for the first time the director incorporates science fiction elements that, surprisingly, dont clash at all with the films recurring focus on the past, even within the future. Ive never before seen a film so haunted by the past, on so many levels -- Hong Kongs past, the histories of the characters (some of them not even in the film itself), WKWs entire body of cinema, and (not least) the spectre of Leslie Cheung. Fans of Wongs work were also treated to the short film The Hand, by far the best of the Eros trilogy honoring Michelangelo Antonioni.
3. 3-IRON (2004, Kim Ki-duk)
Aptly described in the San Francisco International Film Festival program as lyrical and strange, this story of a young drifter who breaks into empty houses and tidies them as he explores the trappings of the inhabitants lives balances humor, poetry, and violence, and is nearly silent. I liked this better than Kims earlier Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring. Probably my favorite film of the festival.
2. THE TASTE OF TEA (2004, Katsuhito Ishii)
Full of fine understated performances and delightful visuals (including playful use of animation and CGI effects), this episodic look at the day-to-day lives of the slightly quirky Haruno family living in a small countryside town north of Tokyo is utterly charming. Who knew the Japanese might so embrace magic realism?
1. DAYS OF BEING WILD (1990, Wong Kar-wai)
Yes, this one counts, as WKWs stylistic breakthrough film finally got its US theatrical release in 2005. Days is moody, romantic, tragic, lyrical, sultry, mesmerizing, and totally drenched in tropical malaise and obsession. Watching this in a theatre (four times during its San Francisco run) was one of the biggest treats of the year for me.
10. GODZILLA: FINAL WARS (2004, Ryuhei Kitamura)
Directed with total enthusiasm by one of Japans brash young chambara revisionists, this 50th anniversary celebration of kaiju cinema resurrects Tokyos most loved nemesis, as well as a host of his cinematic companions. Cities are destroyed, monsters attack, aliens invade, scientific mumbo-jumbo is disseminated in various languages: its certainly a mess, but great fun to see with a full house of Godzilla fanatics.