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My Best Films List: A Baker’s Dozen
by Dennis Morton


Some lists are useful. Others aren’t. A list of the year’s best films is probably more useful to the person who compiles it than to anyone else. It requires at least a modicum of reflection, and it’s a self-testing, too. Does that movie you gave a glowing review to six months ago hold up? Do you even remember it?

Well, for better or worse, here’s a list of the movies I’d see again, gladly. Many of them I’ve already seen several times.
I’ll start with the foreign films.

There are six I’ll mention in the first tier. They are:

Cuckoo – a Russian film about the limits and uses of language. The absence of a lingua franca among the three lead characters drives the story. It’s a nearly perfect movie.

Swimming Pool – a French film about the creative process. Charlotte Rampling is a great actress. Look for the egg on the dresser. It signals the beginning of many things.

Magdalene Sisters – Riveting and upsetting. It’s based on a true story of slave labor sanctioned by an unholy alliance of church, state and a misogynist culture in an Ireland
of not so long ago.

Dirty Pretty Things – A taut tale of immigrant life in contemporary London. Part love story, part mystery. Beautifully acted by a great cast.

Winged Migration – One of the greatest nature films of all time, and vitally important. The people who put this film together are now collaborating on a film with Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherds.

And finally…
Bus 174 – This Brazilian movie should be required viewing for any person seeking public office. Poverty is expensive. This film shows us why. It’s humane and intelligent.

Now, to round out my baker’s dozen, here is a list of seven American films worthy of sustained attention.

There are four films from the major studios that stand out for me.
In America and Lost In Translation are my favorites.

In America is the story of one family’s struggle to come to grips with a tragedy. Had mom and dad read Jon Kabot-Zinn’s "Wherever You Go, There You Are", the family might have stayed put in Ireland. But we’d have been deprived of a great story.

Lost In Translation is Sofia Coppola’s second film. She is wise beyond her years. Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansen are great as two old souls who meet on a temporarily narrow path. This movie is distinguished by its uncommon restraint.

Mystic River is a showcase for Sean Penn’s greatest performance. Clint Eastwood has never made a better film. Mystic River is brilliantly chilling and easily one of the best movies of the year.
Legally Blonde 2 probably won’t be on anyone else’s list of best pictures. It’s on mine because it’s an ethically revolutionary film. LB2 cleverly and unashamedly targets teenage girls who will buy billions of dollars of cosmetics over the course of their consuming years. Thanks to this film, many of them won’t be purchasing cosmetics tested on defenseless animals. Three cheers to Reese Witherspoon and to animal rights advocates everywhere.

I’ll close by naming three films that are smaller only in the sense of their budgets. They are Raising Victor Vargas, Capturing The Freidmans, and what may be my favorite film
of the year – Northfork.

Raising Victor Vargas is an urban coming of age movie. Good intentions do not always lead to hell, as this movie sweetly shows us.
Capturing The Freidmans is a documentary that turns the audience into an appellate court. Using astonishingly invasive and intimate home film stock, and interviews with participants in a famous pedophilia trial, this film asks if justice was served.

Last, but by no means least, I’ve placed the Polish brothers third film on my list of bests.

Northfork is the story of the death of a town, a death by intentional drowning. It’s surreal and beautiful and sad. It’s also droll and funny. The Polish brothers are the real thing. And Northfork is their best movie so far.

If I were the Emperor of Oscars, I’d slice the little golden guy into three equal pieces and give one part to Northfork, one part to In America, and one part to Lost In Translation.

For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.