Dear Tony, Sarah, and David,
Funny that Tony should mention the 10-way tie for 11th place on his list of the year's best films since I faced the same dilemma. Yes, this was a very good year at the movies, and I awarded my own Special Jury Prize (from a jury of one) to 10 films that didn't quite make my Top 10. At film festivals, special jury prizes are essentially alternative first prizes, and all of these films are deserving: Diamond Men, The Fast Runner, Femme Fatale, Frailty, The Grey Zone, Ivans Xtc., Lovely & Amazing, The Man From Elysian Fields, Songs From the Second Floor, 24 Hour Party People.
Of the lot, Ivans Xtc. and The Man From Elysian Fields got the least critical support. Bernard Rose, I thought, obtained one of the year's best performances from Danny Huston as a Hollywood agent who attempts to treat cancer with cocaine, and George Hickenlooper made a smart, sophisticated comedy with a spot-on supporting performance by Mick ("Call Me Old-Fashioned") Jagger. 24 Hour Party People was one of those movies you either got or completely missed; I saw it on a few best-10 lists despite its generally poor reception.
Regarding John C. Reilly: Sixty years ago he would have found steady employment as the hero's best friend in westerns. He is reliable, sincere, and warm-hearted. No wonder he was good in Chicago: He spent his high-school years in Chicago as the lead in school musicals and so was singing and dancing long before Paul Thomas Anderson taught him the notes of discontent.
Regarding men: Gene Siskel always wanted us to do a special show on "Bad Dads," pointing out that the fathers in modern American movies are absent, evil, or clueless. To be a sensitive, caring, intelligent character in recent movies is to be a female. The only hope the male character has is to meet a good woman and learn from her. Can you imagine the outcry if Igby had been a teenage girl and her lover the 40-year-old best friend of her father?
What Time Is It There? grows and grows in my memory.
Sarah, like you I was amazed by The Fast Runner, but I am even happier to see Spirited Away so high on your list. Why does the American public continue to resist Miyazaki, when those who go to see his films love them so much? Is it that he includes silences and evokes moods and uses "pillow shots" while American animation is terrified of a moment's pause?
As for About a Boy, I wonder if it might not have ranked higher on my list if I had seen it recently. There is a psychological principle involving persistence of emotional memory, which suggests that memory does not record the intensity of past pleasure. When I saw Minority Report, I was gobsmacked by it, but in December, readying my list, I went to see it again, just to renew the feelings it had engendered. Similarly, last night I looked at Kieslowski's Red again and was reminded what an engrossing and touching experience it was. It had faded in my memory over 10 years.
As for My Big Fat Greek Wedding, it's the one movie everybody I meet has seen. (Recently that category has expanded to include Catch Me If You Can, which seems to be a smash hit among over-25s.) I wonder if Greek Wedding can actually ride its Cinderella trip right into the Oscars? If Nia Vardalos is able to get nominated as best actress, I have a feeling she will win (even over Julianne, Meryl, Renée, et al.) because when the Oscar voters mark their ballots, many of them are not so much voting for the best nominee as scripting, in their minds, the best Oscar cast.