Despite their best efforts, film critics’ annual Top 10 lists are often inherently compromised. In an effort to reflect their readership’s experiences and/or opportunities, many writers limit their selections solely to movies that have received local screeningsby design, neglecting many festival and out-of-town favorites. Other critics include titles selected from the glut of pre-release Oscar screener tapesthereby acting, in effect, as advance men for the studios’ post-holiday awards roadshow.
So here’s a logical, if somewhat puckish, extension of such critical hand-wringing: the top 10 films of 2000 that didn’t screenor, more precisely, haven’t yet screenedin Nashville. Willfully obscure? Perhaps, but over half the listed titles would have qualified for my actual Top 10. Elitist? Well, Lisa Schwarzbaum of the decidedly mainstream Entertainment Weekly included three of the movies among her year-end picks. So consider the list an idealized futureThe Best Films of 2001.
1. Time Regained At last year’s New York Film Festival, surrounded by a less than receptive Lincoln Center audience, Raul Ruiz’s ambitious Proust adaptation seemed an intriguing though somewhat forbidding “work of art.” Viewed again this summer at a packed Music Box screening in Chicago, the film dazzled as compelling popular entertainment. Buoyant and playful, brilliant and labyrinthine, brimming with ideas and imagesa glorious exercise in pure cinema.
2. In the Mood for Love Keyed to the lilting samba of Nat King Cole and the sensuous sway of Maggie Cheung’s hips, In the Mood for Love is a blissed-out reverie, a half-remembered glimpse of an irretrievable age (namely, early-’60s Hong Kong). Wrongly dismissed by many as a style-over-substance director beholden to surface flash, Wong Kar-wai has crafted his most emotionally resonant, exotically sumptuous, and hauntingly evocative work to date.
3. Eureka Shinji Aoyma’s staggering film chronicles the aftermath of a sudden, brutal, and ultimately devastating bus hijacking, charting the tentative struggles of the disaster’s three survivors to make sense of a suddenly foreign and disjointed existence. Over Eureka’s gripping three-and-a-half-hour journey, their pain is rendered palpablenot a dispiriting force, but rather an emotional obstacle to negotiate, work around, and finally overcome.
4. The Wind Will Carry Us An apple drops from a visiting media engineer’s hand and traces a seemingly aimless pattern on a balcony before falling at the feet of a village boy; the engineer then offers the inadvertently discarded fruit to the youth. From the accumulation of such simple, privileged moments, Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami fashions a metaphorically heady brew of millennial concerns: tradition vs. modernity, communication breakdown, human toil and mortality, the media’s distorting gaze.
5. Yi Yi Bookended by a boisterously off-kilter wedding and a quietly redemptive funeral, Yi Yi is a family melodrama that actually respects the genre, mining real drama and feeling from everyday domestic scenarios: emotional collapse, blossoming adolescent romance, middle-aged infidelity, wide-eyed youth. Though deceptively modest, Edward Yang’s celebrated film is a densely packed, multilayered tapestry of surprising insight and wonder.
6. Werckmeister Harmonies Legendary Hungarian director Béla Tarr’s latest is a chilling, darkly comic political satire set in a desolate, winter-ravaged villagea seeming outpost at the edge of the world. The film’s gradually escalating horrors and atrocities are balanced by moments of genuine mystery and awe, e.g. the enormity of a stuffed leviathan revealed slowly in tightly framed glimpses.
7. Chunhyang An age-old tale of forbidden love between a governor’s son and a courtesan’s daughter, Im Kwon-taek’s preternaturally good-natured crowd-pleaser is also a daring exercise in intertextual theatrics. The film leaps effortlessly between a pansori singer’s impassioned performance and the vivid cinematic projection of his unfolding epic.
8. Beyond the Clouds Michelangelo Antonioni’s likely-to-be-final effort, directed in collaboration with sympathetic colleague Wim Wenders, is hardly a major statement. Rather, this quietly assured collection of erotic vignettes is simply and touchingly beautiful. Call it The Unbearable Lightness of Dying.
9. The House of Mirth The recent promotional trailer and enthusiastic press coverage reaffirmed this literary adaptation’s many virtues: a pitch-perfect ensemble, Terence Davies’ graceful yet understated direction, and what may prove to be Gillian Anderson’s career performance as Lily Bart, a willful though uncomprehending society pawn fatally caught between long-nurtured mercenary instincts and newly emergent ethical precepts.
10. The Idiots Enfant terrible Lars von Trier’s other, less celebrated (though superior) 2000 entry concerns an extremist commune whose members are dedicated to unloosing their “inner idiot” through public “spazzing.” Directed in accordance with Dogme 95’s prankish guidelines, the resultant film, though borderline offensive and hard to justify, is often provocative and, more surprisingly, intermittently moving.
Honorable Mentions: The Captive, George Washington, Human Resources, A Moment of Innocence, Platform.
Scott Manzler is one of the founders of Nashville Premieres, an organization that sponsors screenings of recent movies and revival films that haven’t played Nashville.
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