Kingdom of Heaven—Visually a perfect piece of cinema, its impossible hero, played by Mr. Mediocrity Orlando Bloom, wounds the film very deeply, and acts like an extra who accidentally wandered into the movie’s exquisite costumes and sets, all while there are several other actors (Jeremy Irons, Ghassan Massoud, Edward Norton) who are crying out to be the center of what could have been a masterpiece. Also, pretending that violence is bad when you yourself are making an incredibly violent movie is stupid. But I love it anyway.
My Neighbor Totoro—Flawless magic. The best part is when Totoro notices the sound of raindrops striking his umbrella, and then jumps up and down to get more of them to fall from a nearby tree. The attention to detail in the film, such as the way an old oven door slumps on its hinges after it is closed, is remarkable, and the fact that this is a good story without conflict or bad guys or anything in the way of cliches makes the film even more remarkable.
Sayat Nova (The Color of Pomegranates)—Speaking of cliches, a movie that seeks to invent a new cinematic language, eschewing the camera’s movement, and even the third dimension, might have created a whole new set of cliches as well, if anyone had ever tried to make movies like Sergei Parajanov. The story is based on the life of a medieval Armenian poet, and draws its inspiration from medieval sculptures and illuminations, in addition to the metaphors from his poetry. The insane length of each shot, some of them continuing without interruption for several minutes, is almost too much to bear, since most of us have been raised on quick movements, quick cuts, and shots that never last more than three seconds at a time—but this great length is a gift, because it demands the viewer’s attention, forces him or her to examine everything in depth, while the onscreen metaphors likewise require viewers to examine them and wonder, at length, what the hell is going on. The film is challenging and very uncomfortable, but each shot is mesmerizing, beautiful, bizarre, and unlike anything you’ve seen before. If you have the time and the patience, you won’t regret watching it.
Slumdog Millionaire—Not as good on the second viewing, it left me feeling drained, and I was really disappointed by how the female lead is little better than a princess locked in a castle, waiting for her rescue by prince charming. She is not really a character so much as a pretty caricature, as is everyone else in this movie—we see lots of nice postcard shots, but nothing of the interior lives of the people wandering through them.