OK, Linus made his list first, and I follow in turn…
Ratatouille – Ah, the portrait of the artist as a young rat. There are so many angles to take with this film (objectivism? animal rights? artistry?) and focus instead on the food. I mean, this is a film about food in which the food looks good. Really good. Every dish is concocted with the glorious food-porn close-ups of a celebrity cookbook. The attention to detail in the textures, colors and luster of food fulfills the movie’s premise — that the rat can, in fact, cook. Without it, what is the artistry of the rat, or of the filmmaker for that matter?
Cache – Michael Haneke’s grueling picture about surveillance, paranoia and the fear-based culture we inhabit is one of the best responses to 9/11 out there, and I don’t even think it was intended that way. The problem of Iago — the motiveless malignancy — comes back to haunt Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche’s perfectly cold couple. What is it that they did? What did they do to deserve the menacing videotapes left on their doorstep? Without massive bloodletting or violence, as one sees in much of the rest of Haneke’s work, he deals his most devastating blow.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Science fiction films tend toward the slick or the dystopic (or both). This is neither. It is a world that looks and feels a lot like our world, with memory-erasure using the same cheap ads as back hair removal. Also in a departure from usual sci-fi, it has human characters, giving us personalities rather than a litany of personality traits and archetypes. Without explicit mentions of fate and free will, we have arguably the most potent display of the problem of free will and responsibility in modern cinema, simply because it does not deal in the abstract. We are the sum of our acts, and no amount of technology can take that from us. Jim Carrey sells the movie’s human core with his best ever performance.
Before Sunset – As a fan of the lost art of conversation, I could not help but be bowled over by this 90-minute ode to conversation and the power it can have on our lives. How deeply the right word can cut. Each word in the conversation is a part of the whole, tying back to and dancing around the issue at hand — a life unfulfilled. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy do a great job creating what appears to be a seamless conversation picking up right where they left off seven years earlier, but the passage of time has changed their outlook on life and each other. Nobody gets a second chance.