A personal selection…
10. Just Like Heaven (PG)
An unashamedly old-fashioned and whimsical romantic comedy, Just Like Heaven is breezily entertaining. Neither too sentimental nor too self-conscious, the supernatural premise never runs out of steam. Mark Ruffalo displays a good gift for comedy as a new tenant haunted by the spirit of the flat’s previous occupant, a coolly classy Reese Witherspoon. Chuck away all thoughts of Ghost. This is The Odd Couple given a rom-com spin. Pure confection - but of the high-class patisserie kind.
9. Time To Leave (18)
French director Francois Ozon delivers a telling portrait of a young man with only months to live. Happily, this isn’t a depressing morass of existential emotion. More an exquisitely precise exploration of mortality, typically French in its focus on sex and death. Softened by a whimsical, spiritual touch, it’s a tad too contrived in places and riper than Ozon usually allows. The last lingering shot is overblown but uplifting and haunting nonetheless.
8. Shopgirl (15)
Billed as a romantic comedy, and based on Steve Martin’s novella of the same name, this is anything but. Rather, it’s an amusing but decidedly chilly dissection of loneliness and a young woman’s ache for a partner. Claire Danes’ scintillating performance gives it a knife-sharp quality. The ‘should-she-shouldn’t-she’ question is only the half of it. A winter of discontent is distilled into a film that’s both depressing and heart-warming. Checking out the girl at the checkout will never be the same again.
7. Little Miss Sunshine (15)
Good word-of-mouth made this a surprise hit. A road trip with a difference, it follows young Olive – a beauty contest wannabe – and her dysfunctional family to the contest finale. Subtle as a knife and broad as a banana skin, it had wide appeal. A cracking cast – Steve Carrell, Greg Kinnear, Toni Colette and the young Abigail Breslin – nail the comedy and the tragedy. A slapstick (hide-the-body) volte face, though, is jolting and unnecessary. Fizzing and ironic.
6. Stranger Than Fiction (12A)
Tax man Harold Crick is alarmed to find that the voice he’s hearing is actually a narrator telling the tale of his life. Worse, she’s a real-life author and Harold is a character she wants to kill off. Can he find her and change his ending before too late? As close as popcorn cinema gets to an arthouse reflection of death and taxes, this is clever and funny. Challenging too but leavened by Maggie Gyllenhaal as the bolshy baker that Harold fancies. Easier to follow than Eternal Sunshine and warmer than The
Truman Show, it’s a bit too long. But worth it.
5. Munich (15)
A Spielberg film is always an event. Stunning and brutal, Munich follows the members of an Israeli hit-squad as they eliminate the Palestinian terrorists responsible for the Munich Olympic killings. But each assassination takes its toll on the men themselves and therein lies the point. Spielberg thankfully avoids the mawkish, drawn-out endings that marred Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List. Munich is probably his most mature and restrained movie. Even-handed too.
4. The New World (12A)
Ostensibly a retelling of the Pocahontas legend, this is actually much more oblique. Rather, it’s a poetic evocation of the discovery of the new world and its peoples. Nature, looks and smiles are as important as the script. We’re plunged into the delights and disorientations of discovery, moving without meridians to the very sights and sounds of encounter. Far too plodding for some, taken on its own terms it’s a thrilling if overlong achievement.
3. The Weather Man (15)
Cerebral slapstick. Dave Spritz is a putz, a tv weather man, estranged from his wife and failing as a dad. Nicholas Cage’s often one-note persona is ideally suited to the well-meaning but clueless Spritz. When punters lob beverages and burgers at him with alarming regularity, it’s funny, pathetic and symbolic. “It’s always fast food. I am fast food; tastes ok but with zero nutrition”. Gore Verbinski’s icy movie is leagues away from his sunny-side-up Pirates of the Caribbean pictures.
2. Sixty-Six (12A)
2006 was world cup year – but Sixty Six reminded us of days when we used to win things. Ironic, as this is a tale about losers - young Bernie, who longs for the best bar mitzvah ever, and his worrisome dad who can’t afford it. Crammed with quirky humour and tragic-comic touches, the footage of the footie cup final blends with the period detail to satisfying effect. The underrated Helena Bonham Carter and the hugely talented Eddie Marsan are the icing on the cake. It disappeared too quickly. A palpable hit.
1. A Bittersweet Life (18)
The best of the year, this cool slice of Korean cinema knocks spots off recent Asian gangster pics (from the lurid Oldboy to Infernal Affairs). Top fixer Sun Woo is asked to kill the boss’s girl if she’s playing away. He doesn’t, bringing down a bloody reckoning. Simple but somehow Shakespearean too, a reflection on loyalty, hope and wasted chances. Visual panache and a stunning performance from Lee Byung Hun are at the heart of this beautiful, near-perfect film. A quiet classic.