The First Month
Best Film: A Separation. Easy choice. One of the best movies I’ve ever seen. It’ll be fun to see whether any of the 70-some movies to come will be able to top it.
Best Director: Asgar Farhadi (A Separation).
Best Script: Asgar Farhadi (A Separation).
Best Performance(s): Interesting that there’s no hands-down winner in this category. Many good performances but none that stand out as singular successes. In part, that’s because many of the best films have been ensemble pieces — A Separation, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, and Munyurangabo. To acknowledge that, I’m going to cheat just a little and name the cast of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (though equally strong cases could be made for the cats of the other two films).
Best Moments: More than any other category, this is one that benefits from the passage of time. The best scenes and moments, I think, are the ones that stick with you the longest. (While others that are perhaps more technically proficient recede.) The moments from the first month that have left the deepest impression: The sexy stewardess scene in Chungking Express, the shifting well imagery in Ivan’s Childhood, and the lamplit tea delivery in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.
Best Use Visuals or Technique: Notwithstanding all my reservations about Knife in the Water as a narrative work, Roman Polanski’s technique is outstanding. And the images that Andrei Tarkovsky paints in Ivan’s Childhood.
What Missed and Exceeded My Expectations: Leaving aside the two movies I flat-out disliked (Ong-Bak and How I Ended the Summer), four classics fell short of what I was hoping for: Wild Strawberries, Rififi, Knife in the Water, and Late Spring. All three have important virtues and are absolutely worth watching, but I think they each fall short in important ways.
Even so, the pleasant experiences far outnumber the disappointments. In addition to the films I’ve already cited, I want to single out (and recommend) Bicycle Thieves, Bus 174, Close Up, Grave of Fireflies, Nine Queens, 3 Idiots, and Ip Man.
Biggest Surprise: The early dominance of Iranian cinema. Tiny small sample size, but still — A Separation and Close Up aren’t just good films, they’re morally subtle works with great artistic vision.
Summary: I’ve liked every movie but two — a much better batting average than I expected going in. If that quality ratio stays this way, it’ll be a great 100 days.
Fun with Graphs: Here’s how the first month’s movie’s chart on the axes of Exciting vs. Enriching.