No Country for Old Men, American Gangster, The Assassination of Jesse James, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Eastern Promises, 3:10 to Yuma, Gone Baby Gone: If these are the years "Best" movies, as Samuel Goldwyn once said, "Include me out!" Superb performances by Hollywood's finest actors? Check. Creative and thoughtful auteurs? Check. Brilliant screenplays? Check. One insurmountable problem: Rated R for violence.
In conversation, I'll pretend that I've seen them, so as not to damage my credibility. But, I won't. I'm squeamish about gore, and I love movies so intensely I merge what I see on the screen with reality. Murder, torture and rape are not a cascade of images, as they might be to someone raised in today's media-saturated culture. They seem real, and cause me to reflect all too painfully on the frailty of my own life and the lives of those I love. I've never gotten used to seeing the grisly and gruesome in the movies, in fact, rather than being desensitized, the opposite has occurred. I often can't watch the trailers for these movies (even on TV) without feeling ill.
Saving Private Ryan... I'm sure it's great! Mystic River... Clint Eastwood is such a skilled director that after Million Dollar Baby, a movie I didn't even like all that much, I was still sobbing in the parking lot. Pulp Fiction... can I see the PG-13 version? And, don't even mention torture porn movies, or their arty cousins, like Grindhouse.
Let me make one thing clear. This has nothing to do with censorship. You may make and view whatever movie you like. Just please don't sneer at me for declining to watch them.
I'm sure this has something to do with my gender. I'm female, like presumably 50 percent of the movie audience. My age (boomer) also matters. But, so does the fact that I screen hundreds of documentaries every year on the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival selection committee. I am exposed to every variety of man's inhumanity to man, both on a national and personal level—how much reality can I handle? It's tested every year. I wish I had never watched (although every professional in the field should) Have You Seen Andy?, a filmmaker's investigation into the childhood disappearance of one of his friends, kidnapped by a ring of savage child predators. Why would I want to see Gone Baby Gone, in which movie stars act out a similar scenario? Hotel Rwanda? Be my guest. I've watched survivors of the conflict confront the neighbors that hacked their family members to death.
Please don't assume I'm happier in the modern chick flick ghetto. The sexual revolution changed relations between the sexes for the better, by and large. But, it wreaked havoc on romantic comedy. Without a plausible reason to separate characters, who, in real life might choose to have sex on short acquaintance, the whole genre was dealt a fatal blow. Narratives idiotically stretch credulity to impede the love birds. This is one of the many reasons I like Bollywood films. Since they come from a socially conservative country, characters have to get to know one other in a time frame reminiscent of romance under the Hollywood Production Code. In Dhoom 2, there was a single kiss that packed more heat, with its transgressive passions, than has been seen in Hollywood films since the days when intercourse was commonly signified by a single smooch. And, talk about realism! In Bunty aur Babli, Rani Mukherji's character discreetly breastfed her baby. When are we going to see the equivalent Western star, like Gwyneth or Julia (mothers both), do the same?
All I want is a movie for grownups, with a little narrative complexity, unusual characters and piquant dialogue. The Lives of Others (appearing here only after the 2007 Best Foreign Film Oscar) had a thrilling plot of devious subtlety and political nuance. The French film My Best Friend dealt with male friendship, not cop buddies kicking ass or homoerotic CGI warriors but two flawed men searching for the human connection that makes life worth living. Michael Clayton was a Hitchcockian turn about corporate corruption with a magnificent trio of performances by George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton, locked in a fatal attraction that was not about sex but power, with an intriguing fillip of mysticism. Ratatouille, an animated film written by Brad Bird, was more sensitive in observing an artist's creative process than the combined montages of Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles and Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash pretending to write hit songs.
I love old movies, it's true. But, I love movies, period. I go week after week, hoping to be astonished and delighted. But not before scrutinizing the MPAA ratings explanation box to make sure there's no "R for Violence." If it's not there, then all clear.
Here's my top ten, listed alphabetically: