So, we’re about halfway through the year, so we wanted to stop and take a look at the best movies of the year so far. My pick for number five is a rare animated feature that's not in 3-D -- and that's "Rango." Johnny Depp provides the voice of a pet lizard who's tossed out of his domesticated bliss and into the tiny desert town of Dirt. "Rango" is beautifully realistic and textured, but it also has a playful, slapsticky sense of humor.
/clip -- Rolling bottle
"Rango" is consistently clever, even as it pays tribute to classic films you've seen countless times before -- from "Chinatown" to "Apocalypse Now" to Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns. But it's so visually dazzling and has such an infectious energy about it, I was just delighted the whole time.
My Number 4 pick is "Bridesmaids." Kristen Wiig is funny and sexy, vulnerable and gutsy as a woman whose life is going wrong in every way. Then she finds out her best friend and only source of happiness, played by Maya Rudolph, is getting married.
/clip 3 - "Lillian asks Annie about her night"
Wiig proves she's a flat-out star here, navigating a series of painfully awkward moments with great creativity and heart.
It's a female-centric comedy but it's really got something for everyone, and that's made it the highest-grossing film yet from producer Judd Apatow, the king of the modern bromance.
My pick for number five is a movie that you enjoyed as well as I did. It’s 13 ASSASSINS, directed by the great, iconoclastic and extremely prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike. This is his take on the classic samurai genre. The movie consists of two halves. In the first, a samurai assembles a team of warriors to kill an evil lord. The entire second half of the movie is taken up by their showdown, a massive, nearly hour-long battle scene.
13 ASSASSINS is one tightly-constructed action movie—the best action film of the year so far, as a matter of fact. But it was Miike’s trademark surreal touches—like a character who coming back from the dead, for example—and oddball characterizations that really made this fun for me.
My number four pick is ROAD TO NOWHERE, the first feature film in over twenty years to be directed by maverick filmmaker Monte Hellman. ROAD TO NOWHERE centers on Laurel, played by Shannyn Sossamon, an inexperienced actress who is cast in a true crime drama, which is also called ROAD TO NOWHERE.
This film-within-a-film structure is so ambiguous that even other characters in the film begin to suspect that Laurel and the woman she’s playing are, in fact, the same person. Yes, it’s a film about filmmaking, but it’s also a film about identity and about how people invent stories for themselves. And it’s got a firmer grip on what it’s like to live in what we call “the digital age” than any other movie I’ve seen this year, which is surprising considering it’s directed by a man in his 70’s.
As usual our picks are very different, but I loved 13 Assassins. It’s this big bloody, epic blast. And then Road to Nowhere; beautiful, languid, mesmerizing and engaging in a totally different way.
My third favorite movie of the year so far is the quiet, thoughtful Western "Meek's Cutoff." It follows three families who are following a guide along the Oregon Trail in 1845. Bruce Greenwood is cocky and charismatic as Mr. Meek, even though he seems to have gotten them lost. Michelle Williams sees through him.
Director Kelly Reichardt's film is slow going, but a tension steadily percolates. "Meek's Cutoff" is about courage and determination -- and the power of strong women -- but it celebrates these qualities in beautifully subtle ways.
My number 2 film of the year so far is "Beginners," a deft and delightful romantic comedy. Christopher Plummer plays an elderly man who reveals he's dying of cancer. At the same time he announces he's gay, and finally feels ready to come out of the closet now that his wife of 45 years has died. Ewan McGregor plays his son, who's remembering him in flashbacks.
/clip -- McGregor explains house music to Plummer.
McGregor and Plummer have a charming, natural chemistry, but McGregor also has some lovely moments with Melanie Laurent, with whom he shares a romance that's also just beginning.
I was surprised by how much I liked Beginners. I didn’t really like Mike Mills’ first film, Thumbsucker, but I really enjoy this one. But, I wasn’t as surprised as I am by the fact that you really like Meek’s Cutoff.
And why is that?
Because I think you tend to dislike slow films.
I don’t know. Well like number three pick for you for example. That’s kind of slow.
It’s..it is not slow. My number three is a movie that Christy absolutely loves. It’s got a cruise ship, it’s got animals and children and the Odessa Steps and Europe and pratfalls and puns and history and stolen gold and Patti Smith and a lot of ideas and pictures and sounds. In short, everything a movie really needs, right? It’s FILM SOCIALISME by Jean-Luc Godard.
FILM SOCIALISME is challenging, but rewarding. The movie begins on a cruise ship whose passengers serve as a sort of microcosm of Western culture. Then it hones in on an ordinary middle-class French family who run a gas station. Both of these parts, as well as the third section of the film suggest a broken world and a culture in decay. Sounds pretty despairing, right? But because Godard is fond of contradictions, the movie is as much an ode as it is a eulogy. For sheer filmmaking, this is the boldest movie of the year so far.
Like FILM SOCIALISME, my number 2 pick juxtaposes a family with history – though in this case it’s not the history of Europe, it’s the history of the whole Earth. Massively ambitious, Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE is part creation myth, part chamber drama. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain play the parents of three boys growing up in Texas in the 1950s. Malick conveys even the most mundane parts of their life with an approach to shooting, directing and editing that emphasizes stray, fleeting moments.
So you had to bring up Film Socialism again? Did you go watch it a fifth time and glean more details from it?
I did, I did and it was even better, and you know what, it’s even better with an appreciative audience that laughs at the jokes.
I wasn’t aware that Film Socialisme was a comedy.
It is. It’s hilarious people fall into pools, run into windows…
Wow, that’s wacky, but you know what? We do agree on my next film.
You’re number two is actually my number one.
My pick for the year's best film so far is "The Tree of Life." Gorgeous and ambitious, tightly controlled yet free-flowing, this is unlike anything you've ever seen before. And yet it's very much the culmination of everything Terrence Malick has done until now - all four features he's made over the past four decades
/clip -- Pitt challenging eldest son to hit him
This may sound baffling and self-indulgent, but Malick's imagery is stunning and often dreamlike, as he depicts childhood memories in wispy, impressionistic snippets of sight and sound.
/clip -- Boys chasing Jessica Chastain around the house
"The Tree of Life" is deeply spiritual, but Malick isn't one to preach. Instead, he gives you the sense that he's genuinely asking questions to which the answers may be unknowable -- he's putting them out there for himself, and for all of us. "The Tree of Life" is the only movie this year that truly, deeply changed me, and I'm still thinking about it months later.
Literally shows you the creation of it’s own universe, the evolution of life on it, and it’s ending, I think, can almost be the, you know, interpreted as kind of an apocalypse for this universe. This universe that really just exists in Malick’s head. It’s so incredibly ambitious.
It’s got dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs are the ultimate symbol of ambition.
But they’re okay. They make sense in the context.
Yeah, I mean, we don’t agree on much in our, in our top fives but we, I think, agree more or less on this film.
Very much so.
Well, looking at the other four films in my top five, you’re probably noticing a pattern. Art, western culture, families, ambiguous characters, and probably one of the reasons why my number one pick occupies it’s slot, is because it combines all of those things into one movie. My vote for the best film for the year so far is without a doubt CERTIFIED COPY, directed by Abbas Kiarostami. It’s what you call a masterpiece of directing, writing, performance, construction—you name it. Juliette Binoche and the opera singer William Shimmell play the lead roles: two people who appear to meet for the first time at the beginning of the film and engage in a flirtatious game where they pretend to be husband and wife over the course of a long afternoon in Tuscany.
/clip 1 (“Good husband”)
When we reviewed this film on the show, I was fairly convinced that the Shimmell and Binoche characters were in fact strangers, and that the film wouldn’t be as good if they were a married couple pretending to be strangers as Christy suggested.
/clip 3 (“All she wants”)
I’m no longer convinced of that. I’ve heard enough good theories about both sides—and some other more complicated explanations for their relationship—to understand that it’s ultimately irrelevant. It’s irrelevant because Kiarostami has constructed CERTIFIED COPY in a way that allows many different interpretations or none to coexist. CERTIFIED COPY is about the way people create meaning, whether it’s the characters of the film who—depending on how you look at it—either invent a marriage or pretend not to know each other, or it’s us, the viewers, constructing an explanation for what see on screen. But it’s also about language, loneliness and the most basic building blocks of human relationships. It’s the most moving film I saw this year. And I think regardless of whether the Shimmel and Binoche characters are, in fact, married or not, I’d actually say that this is the greatest film about marriage made in the 21st century and maybe the most romantic as well.
Well, I love the ambiguity of their relationship and, yet at the same time, the emotions that they feel and the reactions they have are so real and so relatable. Juliette Binoche is amazing in this; three different languages perfectly.
This is her greatest work, I think. This is an amazing role, and William Shimmel…
Only his first time acting in a film. Is really great at doing this character.
Totally natural. Yeah.
This sort of, this likable, charming know-it-all, but you’re right the, you know, the characters are fluid, the relationship is fluid, but yet the emotions and the ideas are so concrete, and that’s what I love about this film. That’s why I think it’s a masterpiece.
Right, and I love all of the theories. I love that it keeps you talking about it afterword and so few films make us do that.