Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Starring: Michael Pitt, Eva Green, Louis Garrel
Bernardo Bertolucci's story of three cinephiles is, indeed, dreamy. Drawn to siblings Isabelle and Theo through a shared love of film, American exchange student Matthew eventually comes to find that he's bitten off a lot more than he can chew. The three lock themselves away in a world of their own, creating new rules that reject the limits placed on them by society. But, just as even the best movie has to end sometime, so does their self-created Eden as the outside world literally comes crashing through their window. A beautiful (albeit kinda creepy) piece of work that's like a love letter to movies themselves.
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Starring: Audrey Tautou
Once upon a time, the world fell in love with a little sprite named Amelie. She was a nice young woman who wanted to make other people happy even though she herself avoided chances at happiness because her isolated upbringing made her a little scared of other people. Jean-Pierre Jeunet's charming comedy follows Amelie through various adventures and, eventually, as she takes a chance at love. With a winning performance from Audrey Tautou, what's not to love about Amelie?
Director: Laurent Cantet
Starring: Francois Begaudeu
A year in the life of a classroom. Based on star Francois Begaudeu's own experiences as a teacher, the film follows the highs and lows of trying to teach a room full of teenagers. Though the film occasionally ventures into other parts of the school, for the most part it remains in that one classroom as Francois tries to deal with his ever shifting relationship with his students, who can give him hell one day but be easy the next, or vice versa. He's not perfect, he makes mistakes, and he regrets the way that he handles certain situations. There is no false inspirational moment at the end, just a detente as teacher and students celebrate getting through another year. The film rings with so much authenticity you may lapse into thinking you're watching a documentary.
Director: Thomas McCarthy
Starring: Richard Jenkins, Hiam Abbass
The Visitor is a film that does a lot of things you might expect but does them so well that that doesn't bother you. The story centers on Walter, a slightly aimless widower who discovers a couple of illegal immigrants in his New York apartment and experiences a revelation, of sorts, about his life. The visitor of the title could refer to just about anyone in the film, though Walter ultimately comes to seem like the most likely candidate as he's just going through the motions of life and not putting down roots. The Visitor is a gem of a movie with great performances all around.
Director: Martin Provost
Starring: Yolande Moreau
Rarely is the agony and the ecstasy of being an artist so thoroughly captured than in Martin Provost's account of the French painter Seraphine. For her, creating art is a religious experience but her fervor (not to mention the taste of success that is cut mercilessly short by the onset of the Depression) sends her over the edge and into madness. An amazing performance by Yolane Moreau as a simple woman whose rare and intense gift both saves and destroys her.
Director: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortmier, Paul Schneider, Patricia Clarkson
A most unusual love story, seeing as it's between a young man and a sex toy. Proceeding forward with disarming sincerity, Lars and the Real Girl becomes a heartfelt exploration of the lasting effects of trauma and the painful process of recovery. Ryan Gosling renders an amazing performance as Lars and the terrific supporting cast helps keep the film on track. It's a sweet, moving film that deserved a lot more attention than it got during its theatrical release.
Director: Olivier Dahan
Starring: Marion Cotillard
One of the most stunning performances of the last decade is easily Marion Cotillard's Oscar winning turn as Edith Piaf. Told in non-chronological order and constantly jumping back and forth in time, La Vie En Rose can be a somewhat jarring viewing experience, though by adopting this strategy the film does handily sidestep many of the cliches of the musical biopic. Ultimately, it's less the story of Edith Piaf's life than it is a portrait of her increasingly distressed state of mind. Alternately glorious and harrowing, it's an exhilarating experience.
Director: Sidney Lumet
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marissa Tomei
No plan is so perfect that it can't go horribly awry. Brothers Andy and Hank discover this the hard way when they hatch a plot to rob a jewlery store. It's supposed to be a victimless crime (they get the cash; the owners get the insurance money to make up for it) but victims start piling up fast and furious and things spin horribly, tragically out of control. At 86, Sidney Lumet doesn't make too many movies anymore but as Before the Devil Knows You're Dead proves, he's still got the knack for it.
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, William Hurt, Maria Bello, Ed Harris
"Ask him how come he's so good at killing people." Mild mannered family man and cold blooded killer - how can one be reconciled to the other and what does it say about society if they can be? A History of Violence is about a man whose dark past has finally caught up to him but on the grander scale it is about how Western society, which officially condemns violence, is built on a history of violence (revolutions, wars, etc.) and about how evolution is based on the principle of survival of the fittest. It's a brilliant movie from one of the most consistently interesting filmmakers working today.
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Starring: Fele Martinez, Gael Garcia Bernal
In Bad Education it can be difficult to know where you stand. Past and present, fantasy and reality, are so tightly woven together that sometimes they're difficult to distinguish. The story of a director who agrees to make a film with a man who claims to have been his boyhood friend and first love about their abuse at the hands of a priest features a lot of stories within the story and it isn't until the very end when all the layers have been peeled back that we can see how all the pieces (and characters, not to mention characters posing as other characters) fall into place. A wonderful, challenging work from the great Almodovar.