The following are my favorite that I watched this past year*. This started out as a "best of" list, but it ended up being just my favorites. So these are the most engaging, well made, or endearing movies I watched last year** with a little commentary:
- Behind the Sun (2001) - This is a great Brazilian film that explores the honor culture within the lives a poor farming family. It's a patient, beautifully shot film that utilizes visual cues to emphasize its theme. This is film at its finest.
- Requiem for a Dream (2000) - This one gets hard to watch, but is brilliantly done. The craziness that comes with drug addiction is tracked well with this film with color, frenetic camera techniques, and editing. Again, it uses the art of film to its fullest.
- No Country for Old Men (2007) - Simplicity stands out in this movie. Hardly any soundtrack is used, leaving just environmental sounds to pop and also making the film more real. The camera observes more than it moves letting the viewer focus on faces and reactions. This is a well crafted movie.
- 12 Angry Men (1957) - You hardly ever see acting as good as in this movie. It's 12 jurors debating a trial in a room. Only the beginning and end take place outside of the hot deliberation room; it's a feat in acting that the film remains entirely engaging.
- Cinema Paradiso (1988) - Simply put, this movie is adorable. It's a coming of age story, a nostalgic look to the past, and a celebration of film. Also, the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is absolutely gorgeous.
- Juno (2007) - Rarely do I see characters that I feel like I would be friends with in film. And maybe in this case Juno would be way too cool to be my friend, but I love her style. I think this movie captures high school-aged teenagers better than most movies.
- Junebug (2005) - I heard a lot of good things about this movie before I ever saw it, and it lived up to expectations. I grew up in the suburbs of the Pacific Northwest, but my family was church-going people, so a lot of this film was familiar despite taking place in a small town in the South. The very real relationships make this movie great to watch.
- What's Up, Doc? (1972) - One of the funniest movies I've ever seen. I usually don't like slapstick or even straight up comedies that much, but this one is great. Barbra Streisand works in this setting and Ryan O'Neal is hilariously straight-lace. The comedic pairings and timing are well done here.
- The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) - I went through all of Wes Anderson's films (sans The Darjeeling Limited) and this was the only one that I really enjoyed. It's just self-conscious enough to add quirk, but not to overtake the story. I just really liked the characters in the movie.
- Baran (2001) - Majid Majidi makes beautifully simple films. This one has a love story of sorts. It shows a young man falling in love for the first time; the love is more of a crush from afar, but an experience most people have had. I love Majidi's patience in his filmmaking, and this movie is no exception.
- Some Like It Hot (1959) - So funny. I never knew a film made in 1959 could be so dirty (thank you double entendre). Cross-dressing galore, hijinks ensue, actually manages to transcend painful into hilarious.
- A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) - I can now say I've seen it. Marlon Brando it so masculine and working-class fabulous in this movie. I don't know much about acting technique, but the contrast between Brando and Vivian Leigh is exciting to watch. Another acting heavy movie that is entirely engaging.
- Gladiator (2000) - I finally saw it! And it was actually good! Mostly because Joaquin Phoenix is great.
- Across the Universe (2007) - I have my criticisms about this movie, but the music was great (except the drug-tripping middle of the film--"I am the Walrus" will never be good). It's hard to go wrong when you use the Beatles as inspiration and some of the songs are fantastic renditions.
- The Jane Austen Book Club (2007) - This is definitely a chick flick, but a good one. I love Jane Austen, Amy Brenneman, and Hugh Dancy so the combination of all of them resulted in me loving this movie. It's pretty unsuspecting and kind of fluffy, but you don't feel dumber afterward.
- Bourne Ultimatum (2007) - It's just an entertaining 2 hours that didn't make me want to shoot myself (I'm looking at you, all the other 3rd sequels that came out this summer).
- Bicycle Thieves (1948) - The faces in this movie kill me. They're heartbreaking and lovely all at the same time. A poor Italian man has a bike stolen, so he and his son try to hunt it down. A very moving story.
- Man in the Moon (1991) - Little Reese Witherspoon in a coming-of-age-in-the-South movie. It's cheesy to be sure, but this is the great innocent cheese that maybe makes you a little misty-eyed.
The following are honorable mentions, that maybe weren't my favorite, but still stuck with me:
- The Nun's Story (1959) - Audrey Hepburn in a very somber role. She's one of my favorite actresses because she chose interesting roles. You would never find a film like this made these days--it's a movie that doesn't focus on sexuality or man-hating, which is surprisingly rare in women centered film these days.
- In the Land of Women (2007) - It reminded me of In Good Company: a lost man in his mid-twenties learning how to grow up. It was entertaining and didn't try to make something magnificent out of it's weak plot. It was just pretty good.
- Becket (1964) - Fantastic acting! I love Peter O'Toole. He wreaks charisma, even when he's totally dislikable. It's a long movie, but O'Toole's performance is worth it.
- The Innocents (1961) - A ghost story that was quite creepy, maybe because it was in black and white. There are some fantastic surreal moments that are very eerie.
- Shakespeare in Love (1998) - A decent romance. It was pretty funny, but what stuck with me was that Joseph Fiennes is absolutely gorgeous. And Ben Affleck is in it. Who remembered that?
- 28 Days (2000) - I love Sandra Bullock. Most of her movies are respectably mediocre, and this one fits in there. It's about drug rehab, but contains an ensemble of quirky patients that make you smile, Bullock included.
- You Can Count on Me (2000) - I love Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney. This movie all about them, as siblings, trying to cope together. It's a great family relationships movie.
- A Hard Day's Night (1964) - This is, in my opinion, the better of the Beatles movies. This one has a less forced plot that allows the Beatles to perform their songs basically at random. Plus, you get to see that the group has great comedic timing, George Harrison being the funniest.
- The Saint (1997) - Val Kilmer, really bad disguises, and even worse accents. Awesome.
- Oliver! (1968) - So long! And the title character was awful, but Fagin makes up for it in his Jewishness. Plus, it features Oliver Reed as Bill Sikes who would play a creep years later in Tommy.
- Tommy (1975) - The Who's rock opera that's good to listen to, utterly frightening to watch. Oliver Reed once again.
- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band (1978) - The bad things that can happen when using the Beatles as inspiration, although some of the musical number are pretty great. Plus, when will you ever see the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton star in a film together again?
- Step Up (2006) - Dance movie! Channing Tatum being muscle-y.
- She's the Man (2006) - Cross dressing movie! Amanda Bynes still sucked, but kind of entertainingly instead of painfully! Channing Tatum being muscle-y.
- Heart and Souls (1993) - I can't believe I've never seen this movie before. It's really great because Robert Downey Jr. is always great. It's really bad because it involves spirits, limbo, and Elisabeth Shue (who was also in the Saint, surprise, surprise).
- Somewhere in Time (1980) - I can't believe how weak the time traveling soul mates plot is. It makes even less sense than the Lake House, which means it's great.
*Note: I excluded Children of Men and Pan's Labyrinth from the lists because they came out really early in the year, already won some awards, and everybody already knows they're good.
**A second note: I want to thank BYU International Cinema for existing and giving me access to a lot of really awesome foreign and older films that I can watch for free.