It took long enough (Hero was released in China in 2002). I actually saw this film last year on a bootleg DVD. According to Jet Li, so did every Chinese American, making the marketing of this film an uphill battle. But Miramax pulled it off (And lost their deal with director Yimou Zhang in the process. His follow-up House of Flying Daggers was released under the Sony Pictures Classics banner this year â€“ thatâ€™s how long it took to release Hero). But all of that doesnâ€™t diminish the greatness of the film. Itâ€™s just plain gorgeous. Itâ€™s also moving. A fantastic story. Incredible kung fu. And politically relevant. If Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was the martial arts film as romantic melodrama, then this is the martial arts film as political fable. In a lot of ways, itâ€™s a film about terrorism and tyranny. In every way, itâ€™s a watershed moment in the history of martial arts cinema.
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I donâ€™t usually like romantic films. And yet, romantic pictures have taken the number seven, number two, and, as youâ€™ll see in a second, number one slots this year. Admittedly, none of these are conventional romantic films. Thereâ€™s certainly a beautiful tragedy to the predicament the protagonists find themselves in. And a nice little sci-fi mindfuck quandary to go along with it. But thatâ€™s the beauty of Kaufman.
Charlie Kaufman has quickly become my favorite living screenwriter. Heâ€™s able to take absurd yet intriguing premises and infuse them with humor, creativity, insight about the human condition, and rigorous cinematic structure. Director Michael Gondryâ€™s gone up a notch in my book as well, relying on more than just CG for some of the incredible effects here.
To top it all off Jim Carrey gives one of his strongest (and sure to be most underrated) performances here as the latest in a long line of Kaufman uber-schlubâ€™s â€“ smart, shy, selfish, and insecure â€“ played by the likes of John Cusack, Nick Cage, and Sam Rockwell. And, like A Very Long Engagement, it makes an unconventional, yet spot-on, point about romance. Itâ€™d give too much away to tell you now, but if you see them, I think youâ€™ll know what I mean.
1. Before Sunset
Of all the films to come out this year, with all the special effects, and compelling stories, and wacky comedy, and political intrigue, and social unrest, and controversy, itâ€™s a film about two people talking that takes the top spot for me this year. Now the most ubiquitous film review clichĂ© since Star Wars is the triumph of human interaction over special effects summed up usually in a variation of â€śthe only special effect here is human interactionâ€ť which usually makes me want to sharpen something. But in this case there is no special effect. It really feels like co-writer/director Richard Linklater just turned on the camera and let the characters do their thing. It feels like what reality TV promises (and virtually never delivers), except that this is all (for the most part) scripted.