The year in film

A great Memento of a middling movie year
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The Independent Culture

The past year wasn't terrible for movies, but I can't say there was much that had me tearing out of a cinema dying to talk (and write) about it. The job of film critic can be the most interesting in the world, and the most boring - sometimes in the same week - so keeping a perspective on the highs and lows isn't always easy.

The past year wasn't terrible for movies, but I can't say there was much that had me tearing out of a cinema dying to talk (and write) about it. The job of film critic can be the most interesting in the world, and the most boring - sometimes in the same week - so keeping a perspective on the highs and lows isn't always easy.

In an obituary run by this newspaper, the late American critic Vincent Canby was quoted on the difference between people who write about movies and people who simply go to see them: "The difference is not that critics are smarter. Far from it. But a bit luckier, perhaps, if only because most of us are doing exactly what we want to do. The difference has partly to do with memories of movies that build up on the critic's mind, like plaque on teeth. Mostly, though, [it] has to do with levels of tolerance. The latter...explains the great gaps that frequently exist between the tastes of critics and those of the ticket-buying public."

This seems to me more or less true. Three out of the five films I most admired this year were "critical" successes, but common sense must also play a part. While I would be keen to commend a moving exploration of a young woman's hand-to-mouth existence in a Belgian trailer-park, I have to accept that after a hard week at work this might not be the Saturday night movie that friends had in mind.

For the record, the best film I saw in the past 12 months was Memento, Christopher Nolan's brilliant meditation on time, identity and the usefulness of body tattoos. It was the only movie that I paid to see again, partly because I loved it, partly because its tricky backwards narrative and layering of clues almost demanded a second viewing. I still can't say for certain whether the ending supplies closure or opens an infinite vista of murder and retribution. Haunting in a different way was Wong Kar-Wai's In The Mood for Love, a melancholic memoir of a romance that might have been. Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung play unfortunate neighbours in a Hong Kong tenement drawn into a faltering pas de deux by their partners' infidelity; though neither seems able to decide whether their dalliance is play-acting or the real thing.

Unlikeliest star of the year was Mark Borchardt, the subject of Chris Smith's engrossing documentary American Movie. Borchardt, geeky and unstoppably garrulous, is the Ed Wood of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: he has been making films since he was 14, and as yet shows no obvious signs of talent. The spectacle of a man almost pathologically driven to make movies (check his horror classics, The More The Scarier I-IV) was funny, and in an odd way, rather moving. I was thrilled and awed by the bloodthirsty battle sequences of Gladiator and thought Russell Crowe the most convincing action hero in years. Finally, Laurent Cantet's Ressources Humaines took the unpromising subject of labour relations in provincial France and parleyed it into a gripping story of class barriers, corporate duplicity and filial resentment. Jean-Claude Vallot, a non-professional playing the role of the hero's father, gave the year's most affecting performance.

As for the worst of the year - I groaned and tsked through Honest, Scary Movie, Battlefield Earth, Coyote Ugly, The Skulls, and Ben Elton's appallingly smug Maybe Baby. But if you put a gun to my head, I'd sooner you pull the trigger than make me watch Lars von Trier's unspeakable Dancer in the Dark again.

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