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Best of the Fests Year by Year


Best New International Films

1. Sanxia haoren (Still Life, Zhang Ke Jia, 2006) As China rockets towards a postmodern future under the sway of a corrupt Capitalism, its people savor what small epiphanies they can salvage from the wreckage left in its wake. A deeply moving exercise in nostalgia for the present from one of the Sixth Generation’s première talents (Vancouver)

Still Life

2. Mój Nikifor (My Nikifor, Krzysztof Krauze, 2004 ) A knowing, self-aware commentary on art and artists featuring a stand-out performance in the title role by octogenarian actress Krystyna Feldman (playing an outsider painter who is male). (Palm Springs)

My Nikifor

3. Qing hong (Shanghai Dreams, Xiaoshuai Wang, 2005) More contemplative than his 2001 arthouse hit Shiqi sui de dan che (Bejing Bicycle), Wang’s tale traces the viscissitudes faced by a Shanghai family relocated to the provinces as a result of the father’s adherence to a now-outdated political idealism. Filled with a sense of cultural displacement and lost opportunities., the film reads stylistically as a homage to Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, with long takes of characters traversing hillside paths and a slow, ambiguous ending that features a car driving along a mountain road in long shot. (Palm Springs)

Shanghai Dreams

4. Shi gan (Time, Ki-duk Kim, 2006) A deeply disturbing investigation of how issues of identity and romantic love play out in today’s Korea, punctuated by harrowing footage of cosmetic surgeries. Bringing a mystical, sadomasochistic sensibility to bear on his material, director Ki-duk Kim (Seom [the Isle], 200; Bin-jip [3-Iron], 2004) is among the most distinctive new talents to emerge in world cinema in recent years. (AFI)


5. Derecho de familia (Family Law, Daniel Burman, 2006) The most assured offering to date from Argentina’s master of understated comedy. Especially notable: the long moments of silence and the tentative voice-over commentary from a protagonist who is only partly aware of his motives. The last in a trilogy about fathers and sons that began with Esperando al mesías (Waiting for the Messiah, 2000) and El Abrazo partido (Lost Embrace, 2004) (Vancouver)

Family Law

6. Jayee Dar Dour-Dast (Somewhere Too Far, Khosro Masoumi, 2006) Another Iranian study of impoverished people with noble souls carried out in the inimitably painstaking manner that has made this national cinema world-famous. (Montreal)

7. The Road to Guantanamo (Michael Winterbottom, 2006). Winterbottom continues his daring blend of documentary and fiction in this eye-opening indictment of US anti-terrorist policies (Seattle)

The Road to Guantanamo

8. Shaere Zobale-ha (Scream of the Ants, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 2006) Yes, it’s simplistic; and yes, it has something to offend devotees of every religion—especially Hindus. But this meditation on the problem of evil in the world filmed mostly in Benares, India is shot through with inventive riffs that revel in the connection between the sensations of life and the senses of cinema. Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf was once an Islamic fundamentalist and a hero of the Iranian Revolution, but the film’s depictions of nudity and sexual activity guarantee that it will never be shown in his home country. Not up to the level of Makhmalbaf’s 1996 masterpiece Nun va Goldoon (Moment of Innocence), but that sets a high standard indeed. (Montreal)

Scream of the Ants

9. Yi ma de hou xian dai sheng huo (The Postmodern Life of My Aunt, Ann Hui. 2006) The tragic ending works better than the comic beginning in veteran Hong Kong helmer Ann Hui’s playful, self-referential tale of a Chinese woman attempting to escape from her past. But there is much here to enjoy. In a particularly delicious turn, Hong Kong heartthrob Chow Yun-Fat plays against type as a sleazy con artist. (Vancouver)

The Postmodern Life of My Aunt

10. Barrio Cuba (Humberto Solas, 2005) The venerable principles of imperfect cinema are updated in this warm, multi-stranded tale of life in Havana’s poor neighborhoods from a veteran Cuban master. (Palm Springs)

Barrio Cuba

11. Look Both Ways (Sarah Watt, 2005) An engrossing and wholly original look at the meaning of death to a group ordinary people in Adelaide, Australia, with fanciful animations providing access to the inner lives of its characters. (Palm Springs)

Look Both Ways

12. Haebyonui yoin (Woman on the Beach, Sang-soo Hong, 2006). Eric Rohmer meets Michelangelo Antonioni in this wry Korean comedy, Hong’s most accessible offering to date. (Vancouver)

Woman on the Beach

Best Revivals and Restorations

1. Lady Windermere’s Fan (Ernst Lubitsch, 1925) An exquisitely elegant comedy of manners presented with a new score by Timothy Brock, who conducted a full symphony orchestra in a live performance for the Bologna screening. Given the terms it sets for itself, this may be a perfect film. (Bologna)

Lady Windermere's Fan

2. Il Cappotto (The Overcoat, Alberto Lattuado, 1952) A cutting social satire seasoned with expressionistic filming techniques orchestrated by the underrated Italian filmmaker Alberto Lattuado. Italian comic Renato Rascel delivers a knockout lead performance as a Chaplin-esque little guy bereft of his most cherished possession. (Bologna)

Il Cappotto

3. Mikaël (Michael, Carl-Theodor Dreyer, 1924) Maybe not Dreyer’s greatest achievement, but filled with youthful energy and provocative themes (including a barely hidden gay subtext). Not to be missed: a young Walter Slezak as the male femme fatale. (Bologna)


4. Arise, My Love (Mitchell Leisen, 1940) A polished script by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett and others; spot-on performances by Claudette Colbert and Ray Milland; and an assured presentation by Paramount stalwart Mitchell Leisen. Hollywood at its best (Edinburgh)

Arise My Love

Guilty Pleasure: Eden (Michael Hofmann, 2006) True, it featured a hokey plot and cardboard characters, but the erotically charged images of food and eating were mesmerizing. (TriBeCa)


Best Program Notes: Edinburgh

Best Screening Venues: AFI (Arclight Cinemas)

Best Filmmaker Attendance Record: AFI

Best Director Retrospectives: Germaine Dulac (Bologna), Norman McLaren (Vancouver)

Most Ambitious Programming: Bologna’s Cinema Ritrovato

Best Programming for Contemporary International Cinema: Vancouver

Most Informed Introductions: Edinburgh

Best Outdoor Screenings: Bologna (When you’ve got an outdoor plaza like this one, how can you lose?)

Outdoor screening in the Piazza Maggiore

Best Roundtable Discussion Session: Screenwriters Salon, Seattle (proving that screenwriters are also sometimes performers and that they have a lot of useful tips to share)

Best Documentary Program: Traverse City (under the guidance of Michael Moore)

Most Stylish Image: Chicago (with posters illustrated by Skrebneski photography and a striking logo designed by fest founder Michael Kutza)

Chicago International Film Festival logo

Most Beautiful Surroundings: Vancouver, Traverse City, Bologna, Edinburgh

Most Overhyped: TriBeCa

Weirdest Fest Trailers: Vancouver (I still can’t figure them out.)

Most Hospitable to Groups: Palm Springs, Vancouver


Best New International Films

1. Flandres (Hong Kong) Using a stylistic and thematic palette that updates French master Robert Bresson, Bruno Dumont fashions a searing tale of betrayal and redemption set against the contrasting landscapes of the mucky Belgian countryside and the arid North African desert.


2. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile) (AFI) Based on an actual incident that took place in Romania during the 1980s, filmmaker Cristian Mungiu chronicles the horrors faced by two young women who attempt to arrange an illegal abortion.

4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days

3. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Moartea domnului Lazarescu) (Hong Kong) Another amazing Romanian film, Cristi Puiu’s black comedy about an old man’s agonizingly slow demise takes the hero on an odyssey from one hospital to another as he is passed along through an uncaring medical system.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

4. Lights in the Dusk (Laitakaupungin valot) (Hong Kong) The concluding part of Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismaki’s “loser” trilogy, this noir-ish fable about a hapless night watchman balances laconic humor and a bleak commentary about human isolation.

Lights in the Dusk

5. The Missing Star (Stella che non c’è, La) (Palm Springs) This funny, penetrating examination of cultural divides and unexpected moments of connection from Gianni Amelio (L’America) focuses on a quixotic quest undertaken by an Italian engineer which takes him deep into untouristed areas of China.

The Missing Star

6. Jindabyne (Hong Kong) Ray Lawrence’s follow up to his arthouse hit Lantana uses the evocative landscapes of his native Australia as background for a tale about a troubled couple (Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne) who come apart over their responses to the murder of a young Aboriginal woman.


7. Secret Sunshine (Milyang) (AFI) A masterly balance of gentle comedy and wrenching drama marks this story of a young widow’s descent into despair and her struggle to return to normality by Korean writer-director Chang-dong Lee.

Secret Sunshine

8. Silent Light (Stellet licht) (AFI) Not your father’s Mexican movie, Carlos Regadas’s slow, spare study of life in a Mexican Mennonite community recalls Carl Dreyer’s Ordet in its emphasis on guilt and spiritual transcendence.

Silent Light

9.  Red Road (Santa Barbara) Andrea Arnold’s harsh look at one woman’s struggle with revenge and loss is couched in a compelling thriller format.

Red Road

10. Razzle Dazzle: A Journey into Dance (Bahamas) Inspired comic turns by Ben Miller and Kerry Armstrong anchor Australian director Darren Ashton’s hilarious mocumentary about children’s dance competitions.

Razzle Dazzle

Runners Up: After the Wedding (Efter brylluppet) Santa Barbara), The Last Mistress (Une vieille maîtresse)(AFI), The Band’s Visit (Bikur Ha-Tizmoret) (AFI), 49 Up (Santa Barbara)

Best Revivals and Restorations

1. Les Deux Timides (1928) (Pordenone) The opening scene of this little-known René Clair farce must be among the most masterful demonstration of comic genius in the history of cinema.

Les Deux timides

2. Pandora’s Box (1929) (Pordenone) To see G. W. Pabst’s German Expressionist classic in a pristine print on the big screen accompanied by a live symphony orchestra is an incomparable experience.

3. L’Etrange Madame X (1951) (Bologna) Jean Grémillion is mostly forgotten today; this delicate melodrama makes a strong case for a re-evaluation of his work.

L’Etrange Madame X

4. Army of Shadows (1969) (Bologna) Jean-Pierre Melville’s existentialist chronicle of the work of the French resistance during World War II is fully deserving of the accolades heaped on it ever since its rediscovery in 2006.

5. Fräulein Else (1929) (Pordenone) Elisabeth Bergner’s incandescent performance as a young girl forced into an unbearable situation highlights Paul Czinner’s skillful adaptation of this novella by Heinrich Schnitzler.

Fraulein Else


Best Female Performances: Do-yeon Jeon, Secret Sunshine (AFI); Elisabeth Bergner, Fräulein Else (Pordenone)

Best Male Performance: (Kene Holliday) The Great World of Sound (CineVegas)

Kene Holliday in The Great World of Sound

Most Unjustly Maligned Film: Hounddog (Santa Barbara)

Dakota Fanning in Hounddog

Best Retrospectives: René Clair (Pordenone), Asta Nielsen (Bologna)

Asta Nielsen

Best Panel Discussion: Women in the Biz (Santa Barbara)

Best Filmmaker Attendance: AFI

Best Program Notes: Pordenone

Best Fest Venue: Arclight (AFI)

Most Audience Challenged: Bahamas

Most Elegantly Restored Theater: the Egyptian (CineCon)

Most Overhyped: CineVegas

Best Festival Logo: Pordenone (by Hagefilm)

Pordenone Festival logo

Most Sexist Fest Promo Reel: Santa Barbara

Most Underscreened: Sedona

Most Beautiful Surroundings: Sedona, Hong Kong, Bologna, Santa Barbara, Bahamas

Most Unexpected Celebrity Sighting: Sean Connery in an audience of a dozen people supporting a festival held in his neighborhood (Bahamas)


Best New International Films

  1. The Edge of Heaven (Galway) Fatih Akin’s moving tale about the not-quite-intersecting lives of a group of people traveling between Germany and Turkey. Postmodern trappings are here exploited to express profoundly human themes.

The Edge of Heaven

2. Lust, Caution (Hong Kong) A man, a woman, and a social cataclysm. Ang Lee’s best film to date looks at the way in which powerful sexual drives can be twisted into unaccustomed shapes by the bitter political exigencies of World War II China.

Lust, Caution

3. In Bruges (Sundance) In his debut as a filmmaker, playwright Martin McDonagh makes impish use of a resonant setting as background for a Boschian tale of violence and redemption. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson star.

In Bruges

4. Hunger (Chicago) The hunger strike mounted by the IRA’s Bobby Sands while imprisoned in the 1980s forms the basis for this masterful docudrama by video artist and first-time feature filmmaker Steve McQueen. The sight of actor Michael Fassbender’s naked skeletal frame as we witness Sands slowly dying of starvation is a spectacle not easily forgotten. Fierce, uncompromising and very hard to watch.


5. Gomorrah (Chicago) Are Italian slum dwellers more bereft of hope than those in the U.S.? Matteo Garrone’s hard-edged study of life in the housing projects south of Naples makes a strong case that they are. The mobsters don’t help matters.


6. Four Nights With Anna (Chicago) A uniquely Polish take on absurdist storytelling from legendary helmer Jerzy Skolimoski. The story follows a lumpen workman as he courts his would-be bride by breaking into her bedroom at night as she sleeps.

4 Nights with Anna

7.  Lake Tahoe (AFIFest) Fernand Embcke’s offbeat and whimsical exercise in minimalism chronicles the doings of a young Mexican boy after he has run his car into a telephone pole.

Lake Tahoe

8. Wendy and Lucy (AFIFest) Another minimalist study, this one about a young woman (Michelle Williams) who loses her dog en route to Alaska. From American indie director Kelly Reichardt.

Wendy and Lucy

9. Happy-Go-Lucky (Chicago) Mike Leigh applies his signature improvisatory style to an uncharacteristically upbeat portrait of a constitutionally cheery elementary school teacher, played with infectious exuberance by Sally Hawkins.


10.  Ballast (Vancouver) Lance Hammer crafts a bleak visual poem out of the struggles of a poor black family in the Missisippi delta.


Runners-Up: Tokyo Sonata (AFIFest), Lion’s Den (AFIFest), La France (Hong Kong), Mad Detective (Hong Kong)

Best Revivals/Restorations

1. The Great Consoler (Bologna) Lev Kuleshov shows up as a master of evocative sound in this 1933 adaptation of two O. Henry stories.

the Great Consoler

2. Underworld (EbertFest) Ben Hecht was reportedly livid at what Josef von Sternberg did to his gangster story script, making jealousy rather than ambition the source of the mayhem. Sternberg supplied his usual visually stunning set pieces for this 1927 production; the party scene, in particular, is a tour-de-force.


3. Les Nouveau monsieurs (Pordenone) Jacques Feyder’s audacious 1929 portrait of jazz age Parisian morality is marked by sophistication, elegance and wit.


Best Retrospective: Josef Von Sternberg (Bologna)

Best Live Musical Accompaniments:

  1. The Alloy Orchestra’s stirring performance of its own music at the screening of Underworld during EbertFest.
  2. Neil Brand’s accomplished score for the silent version of Hitchcock’s Blackmail, played by the Orchestra del Teatro Communale under the direction of Timothy Brock in the Piazza Maggiore, Bologna.
  3. The musical backing for a program of early European avant-garde films screened at Bologna. Original scores by Camille Saint-Saëns (The Assassination of the Duc de Guise), Max Butting (Walther Ruttmann’s Opus 1), George Antheil (Fernand Léger’s Ballet Mécanique) , and Eric Sati (René Clair’s Entr’acte) were featured along with J S. Bach’s 3rd “Brandenburg Concerto,” which backed Otto Fischinger’s Motion Painting N. 1. Again played by the the Orchestra del Teatro Communale under the direction of Timothy Brock in Bologna’s central plaza.

Best Fest Venue: Arclight (AFIFest)

Most Beautifully Restored Theaters: Egyptian (CineCon), Grauman’s Chinese (AFIFest)

Best Outdoor Screenings: Bologna (Piazza Maggiore)

Cutest Fest Logo: Bahamas

Best Filmmaker Attendance: AFIFest

Best Program Notes: Pordenone

Most Beautiful Surroundings: Sundance, Hong Kong, Bologna, Galway, Vancouver, Pordenone, Bahamas


Best New International Films

1. Police, Adjective. (Chicago) One of the best examples of the New Romanian Cinema, this anti-detective story from Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 East of Budapest) takes its time to get going, but the payoff is breathtaking.

Police, Adjective

2. A Prophet (Dubai) Civilizations clash with a vengeance in the French prison system, where Muslims and Corsican power blocs vie for control. In this dark, kinetic thriller from Jacques Audiard (Read My Lips) provocative subtleties underpin an ingenious, action-filled plot.

A Prophet

3. Vincere. (Chicago) Italian maestro Marco Bellocchio’s study of a woman seduced and abandoned by Benito Mussolini is as much about the power of cinema as it is about the power of fascism. Ravishing, complex and provocative.


4. Three Monkeys. (Wisconsin) Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan has created a searing portrait of a family on the edge. Elegantly shot in desaturated digital video and movingly performed by a stellar cast.

3 Monkeys

5. Sin Nombre. (Sundance) El Norte meets City of God in this edge-of-your-seat Spanish-language thriller from first-time Japanese-American filmmaker Cary Fukunaga. Adriano Goldman’s crisp, vivid cinematography enlivens a grim tale of poverty and criminality south of the border.

Sin Nombre

6. About Elly.(AFI FEST)  With its infectious energy and over-privileged characters, Asgar Farhadi’s portrait of Tehran’s idle rich feels like the Iranian New Wave turned on its head.

About Elly

7. Revanche (Wisconsin) A thinking person’s thriller from Austria’s Gotz Spielmann.


8. Backyard (Vancouver) Mexican auteur Carlos Carrera (The Crime of Father Amero) brings a scorched-earth sensibility to this study of the femicide that is now routine in the border town of Juarez. Based on actual events, the film paints a ferocious portrait of an unregenerate patriarchy in which such horrors represent the hidden backyard of the social order.


9. Mother (Chicago) A macabre thriller in which the detective (who is the mother of the man accused) ends up having to assess her own responsibility for the crime. From Korea’s Bong Joon-ho (The Host).


10. The Maid (Sundance) Sebastian Silva’s affectionate portrait of tangled class relations in an upper-class Chilean household.

the Maid

Best Revivals/Restorations

1. Easy Living.(CineCon) Preston Sturges’s good-humored satire of high finance gets an additional boost from Mitchell Leisen’s glossy, fast-paced direction. Edward Arnold and Jean Arthur star in a screwball classic.

Easy Living

2. Al Momia. (Bologna)This stately, elegant tale, first released in 1969, is based on a true story about the plunder of Egypt’s cultural treasures in the 19th Century. Al Momia was the only film directed by Sahdi Abdul Salam, who worked as an art director for most of his career. Framing a spectacular backdrop of ancient temples, the images are rendered with pristine crispness in a new restoration sponsored by Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation.

Al Momia

3. Long Pants. (Bologna) Originally released in 1927, this was the most accomplished and fully realized of the early Capra works we saw at the Cinema Ritrovato Fest. The virtuoso pantomime of its star Harry Langdon highlights the production. This is the only Langdon film in which one of the terrifying amoral women who abound in the star’s oeuvre is securely anchored within a cogent narrative. The movie’s theme of immature male sexuality was later to be taken up by Jerry Lewis and Seth Rogen, but it has never been so adroitly skewered as here.


Best Retrospective: Early Capra (Bologna)

Best Fest Venue: Egyptian (CineCon)

Most Overhyped: TriBeCa

Best Outdoor Screenings: Bologna (Piazza Maggiore)

Most Insufferable Visiting Filmmaker: C. W. Winter (The Anchorage) (Vancouver)

Best Introductions: AFI FEST (Robert Koehler)

Best Program Notes: Bologna.

Best website: AFI FEST (disclosure: I contributed)

Best Fest Promo Reels: Vancouver, Wisconsin, TriBeCa, AFI FEST

Best Performance by a Two-Year Old: Asia Crippa (La Pivellina)(Vancouver)

La Pivellina

Most Beautiful Surroundings: Sundance, Vancouver

Unexpected Pleasures:

1. Knockout performances by Rod Steiger (Duck, You Sucker) and Beulah Bondi (Make Way for Tomorrow, Track of the Cat) (Bologna)

Rod Steiger in Duck, You Sucker

Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore in Make Way for Tomorrow

2. George Raft dancing in a puffy shirt in Rumba (CineCon)


3. Newcomer Gabby Sidebe’s winning turn in Precious (a.k.a Push) as an overweight, underprivileged Harlem teen who has seen a world of trouble but has manufactured a rich fantasy life to escape it. Lee Daniels’s film won both the jury prize and the audience award at Sundance.

Gabore Sidebe in Precious

4. The sounds of a monster movie heard as we watched its rapt audience in Gigante. (Vancouver)






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