1. The Science of Sleep
After exorcising memories in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind French video whizz Michel Gondry explores the dream-life of alter ego Gael Garcia Bernal. Wildly inventive and very funny, it’s the most original film of the year to date – and likely to stay that way. Charlotte Gainsbourg is the girl next door.
2. Neil Young: Heart of Gold
Stop Making Sense director Jonathan Demme delivers another consummate concert movie with this simple, unadorned rendition of Neil Young’s Prairie Wind premiere performance at Nashville’s Ryman theatre last August. Plaintive and plangent songs of loss and love: this is what heartfelt means.
3. Thank You For Smoking
Brazen, almost offensively self-assured black comedy based on Christopher Buckley’s novel. Aaron Eckhart reveals an unexpected light touch as Washington lobbyist Nick Naylor, a professional apologist for the tobacco industry and self-proclaimed “merchant of death”. Nick preaches the Americanism of amorality so persuasively he almost believes it himself.
4. Half Nelson
Ryan Gosling wowed critics in The Believer a few years back, but he’s simply electrifying here as an inspiring, consciousness-raising history teacher in a black inner city school. The set up sounds like a groaner, but this teacher is also a major league screw up and a base head. Nuff said?
5. A Guide to Recognising Your Saints
Dito Montiel’s fresh, fluent treatment of a highly familiar coming of age yarn purports to be autobiographical. Shia LaBoeuf is the New York teen who needs to get out of town to find himself. Sterling performances from Chazz Palminteri, Martin Compson and Robert Downey Jr earned a Grand Jury Prize for ensemble acting to go with Montiel’s nod for direction.
6. This Film is Not Yet Rated
Admittedly Kirby Dick’s documentary about the backroom censorship exerted by the MPAA won’t surprise anyone who’s been paying attention (violence is cool, sex is the real threat to society) but the examples proffered by John Waters, Trey Stone, Kimberley Peirce et al are compelling, and Dick does us all the service of hiring a PI to find out who is really pulling the strings.
7. Off the Black
You want to know about acting chops? Nick Nolte grabs this middling father and son drama by the scruff of its neck and shakes some life into it. Even the simple act of cracking open a bottle of beer comes off as a declaration of independence the way Nolte does it. For the rest, it’s uneven, but not without promise.
8. In Between Days
Up close and personal, this intimate but never prurient snapshot of a Korean-Canadian teen preparing to go all the way with her boyfriend – if only he’d stop ogling other girls – is a poignant and honest slice of life. Newcomer Jiseon Kim is a marvel of expressive stoicism as Aimee. Her parents apparently worried that the movie might be a porno, and instructed her to lose weight.
9. Old Joy
Will Oldham – Bonnie Prince Billy himself – distinguishes himself in this subtle, lovely two-hander set in the Cascade mountains in Oregon. Two old friends go camping looking for something of the bond they shared in their youth, but inevitably get lost on the way. Produced by Todd Haynes with a soundtrack by Yo La Tengo.
Hard not to feel a swell of national pride at the eccentric joie de vivre the annual mix of mud, pot and music inspires in so many thousands of hardy Brits. Julian Temple’s doc ensures that the crowds are the star of the show, sifting through three decades of home movie archives to celebrate hippies, anarchists, travelers and right charlies, though of course the pop stars get a look in too. Like Glastonbury itself, it’s exhausting, but exhilarating.
By Tom Charity