Thursday, December 30, 2004

2004 - My Year in Film (Well, Video, Actually)

Going through my Netflix history for the past year, it shows that I've seen more than 60 movies since I joined in March. Damn, I've become quite the DVD slut, haven't I? Anyway, here are (in no particular order) five flicks I saw this year that really struck me in some way.

The Battle of Algiers (1965): I've already written pretty extensively about this documentary-style flick, so I won't say any more about it here.

The Barbarian Invasions (2003): This French-Canadian flick (yes, there are subtitles) is one of those films that manages to be incredibly depressing and uplifting at the same time. It tells the story of a crusty old American history professor (which makes for some interesting observations) who is fighting a losing battle with cancer. His estranged son returns to Canada from the UK and rescues his dad from the bureaucratic nightmare that is Canadian healthcare, greasing the wheels to get him a private room in a closed-off portion of an overcrowded hospital. He then gathers his father's old friends together, to revel in their lives together. The son also secures a supply of heroin, to ease his father's pain. As the inevitable approaches, the whole bunch moves to a secluded lakeside house for, essentially, last rights. It's a very poignant film, dealing directly impending death and dying with dignity, but leaves you with a more hopeful outlook than you might think because of the love that is shared by these people in the old man's final days.

Blood Simple (1984): One of the ways I fleshed out my queue at Netflix was by putting in films by my favorite directors that I hadn't seen yet, most of them from early in their careers. Without a doubt, the most impressive of those flicks was the Coen brothers' first film. It's a perfectly executed Southwest film noir - made me jump right off the couch at least twice. You can see some of the same ideas (namely, a "professional" crime that goes highly wrong) they later used in Fargo here.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): This is popping up on a lot of "10 best" lists right now, with good reason. In the best tradition of real sci-fi, it uses a scientific idea (being able to erase your memories) to explore deeper issues of memory and human nature. There's some very funny stuff going on as those memories are being erased, but I think in the end it all comes down to this: can we exist as fully formed people if we lack memories, even painful ones, of what has already happened to us?

Ararat (2002): I wrote a little bit about this Atom Egoyan flick when I first saw it. It's not the best of his flicks (I'd give The Sweet Hereafter that honor), but it does deal with some very interesting issues of history and (again) memory. On the surface, it's the story of the making of a film chronicling the Armenian genocide committed by the Turks in 1915. But it really gets deeper than that and asks about the way history is remembered and how stories are told. Not only that, but equally important is how we listen to the stories of others and recognize the importance of those stories to them. The film really made me think, which is never a bad thing.
So that's it for 2004. On to 05 - Happy New Year, everybody!