A list of recent (prior to 2008)  films in the “pas mal/not bad” category.

4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, 2 DAYS UP Time thickens and brings about irreversible life decisions. This film will resonate within anyone who who has ever been stuck, deep inside the ugliness of their confusion. A chilling recollection of the confinement of Ceaucescu’s Romania —> A+

49 UP Faithful to its almost biblical seven year itch to see “what happened” to those seven year old British kids, Darwin Apted again sums up and moves forward with his one-of-a-kind- bird’s eye view on our temporal existence, and its hopes and blind spots —>A+

2046 Even if less restrained than Wong Kar Wai’s earlier “In the Mood for Love”, this sequel will not disappoint those who relish lush colors, style and the havoc of desire. As if a cousin of Chris Marker had appeared in Hong Kong and rendered another homage to time, women and love —> A

AFTER INNOCENCE There are films that get us our of our complacency, this is such a brilliant piece. Why would innocent people, like you and I, spend time in prison (up to 22 years), or worse, executed? No reason, except for racism and a defective justice system using “eye-witness” testimonies. To find out more, if you can’t get hold of this important film: afterinnocence.net or want to get involved: exonerated.org – Beyond the grading system.

ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL A bunch of archetypal artists attempting to step outside the confines of cartoon characters to become flesh and blood individuals. Part of the fun resides in witnessing how the more they struggle, the more they remain amusingly predictable. Cynics will snicker gleefully —> B+

THE BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY As with other migration stories, the traveling entails a particular hunger, the longing for an unknown universe. Luscious photography softens the harsh reality of the tumultuous and perilous journey. Do we ever arrive anywhere? —> A-

BEING JULIA What happens when the theater of our psyches jumps from the stage to life, back and forth? Illusions might appear vital to our passion for life. Bravado and human frailties mix in typical Szabo fashion —> B+

CACHÉ In typical Daniel Auteuil fashion, the textured main character does not understand what is hitting him. The Chabrolesque Haneke projects again here, in a sadistic manner, searing acid sights. Not for every voyeur—> B-

CHICAGO 10 Twenty years ago (echoes of today?), an active war machine, a promising black leader, a democratic convention… and for this film, the trial of eight activists who with their two lawyers challenge the sixties’ status-quo. The words of the trial transcript become illuminated, and literally animated, as we revisit one of the liveliest examples of political theater. By all means necessary! —> A

CLASS (THE) For the teacher, the students, or the audience, the film springs from surprise to surprise… What do we teach, who teaches whom, and where does the teaching stop… As you enter this Parisian classroom, the vertigo of these questions engulfs you and keeps you wondering.  At times we swim upstream and run out of breath, but at other times, when we reach the highest branch, even if for just a second, we sense their enormous courage, from the filmmaker and the writer/actor, to the children. The film “Hate” by Kassovitz, as successful as it was in showing the new face of France, was just an appetizer, this is the main course! Directed by the talented Cantet, “The Class” won the Golden Palm at Cannes —-> A+ 

CONSTANT GARDENER (THE) “City of God”, the previous film by Meirelles had similar vibrating colors and dashing camera moves, yet this is more conventional entertainment: it engages the viewer, as most self-respecting thrillers do, but the focus on vague evil pharmaceutical companies blunts any potential deeper (political/emotional) engagement—> B

DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (THE) Surprisingly, by entering the body of an almost inert character, we become even more of a film viewer and our cinematic experience is enhanced. As in most successful films, the subjective reality of the character becomes aæmost sensory experience, full of delectable sights and sounds —>A-

DON’T COME KNOCKING Wim Wender’s vibrant road movies are no more, yet those landscapes of the mind reemerge in his love of the West, now shaded by the faded glory of aging. Some memorable cinematic stillness, as if Wenders and his writer/actor/friend Sam Shepard were finally able to stop all the chatter, and escape the prison of time— > B

FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS Kafka’s plea to start chipping away at the “frozen sea inside us” is transformed, in the hands of Clint Eastwood, into a well chiseled and memorable denunciation of the petrification working in and around war. From the ineffable freeze frames and traumas of the grisly battlefied to the volubility and complacent blindness of those who were not there but who are stuck in their need for heroes and idealized images, the treacherous monuments to male silence are slowly getting cracked open —> A+

FLANDERS This story is so cleverly told that its particulars become almost irrelevant, even if we leave the Flanders to some nondescript “Arab country” war. Like most masterful filmmaking this film projects us onto a front-row view of the human psyche, sure to sting our soul. Cannes Grand Prix winner —> A+

FOOD INC. Participant Media hits home by tackling the short term thinking of the food industry’s race after profits. Some indelible images and unconscionable practices are revealed —> A must see, beyond the grading system

GENESIS An African griot tells it all, the secret of (the formation of) life to the extent that your eyes can absorb it. Now you know! Made by the same biologists who gave us Microcosmos —> A+

GIGANTIC Featuring Paul Dano, Zooey Deschanel, Ed Asner, John Goodman and Jane Alexander, this offbeat fresco of individuals shines through its tight dialogue. Each pithy scene reveals one delusion after another —>A-

GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK Why would we need to hear again today the voice of Edward Murrow warning us against television becoming “merely wires and lights in a box” or his “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it. We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home”? Are we frozen in time within the black and white dichotomies of the fifties? Arresting performance by David Straitharn —> B+

GYPSY CARAVAN Juana and Esma have volcanic power (with the latter raising 47 kids) but it is their voices that touch us. A tapestry of Roma experiences, music and sparks, from India, Romania, Macedonia and Spain, guaranteed to make you fly through the vitality and strength of these colorful survivors. How to keep going! —> A+

HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS Starting his career as a rich story-teller, Zhang has finally made a successful transition to being a sharp Kung-Fu filmmaker. As you marvel at the most skillful symphony of colors and sounds, you get entranced right back to the awe of your childhood —> A+

HURT LOCKER (THE) The clock of our hearts beats tight, no skipping allowed! We are projected into the explosive situation of surviving a U.S. presence in Iraq: while we won’t learn much about politics, through swift sound and picture editing, the adrenaline rush of those who go into the eye of the storm can be shared by all —> A

INCONVENIENT TRUTH (AN) In the late 30’s Churchill warned us of a particular threat: The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to a close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences. Today, Al Gore similarly calls on us to reckon with an impending calamity: the dire effects of global warming. An elegant call to environmental action —> Off the charts (it is our lives, the future generations and that pale blue dot; we are trying to save).

INHERITANCE Stark setting and acting create a chilling portrait of the upper class and the sobering “choices” we all make. Dogma’95’s technical restrictions remain thankfully imperceptible —> A

IN MY COUNTRY If you did not see the documentaries on Truth and Reconciliation in S. Africa, this is the next best step. A love letter to a country that needs lots of healing and hardwork —> B-

INTO GREAT SILENCE  Whether we decide to ignore it or not, a huge abyss lies below all of us and, through this extremely rare entry into the monastic Chartreuse order, we venture into that very space. Almost wordlessly, but with an opulence of simple sights and sounds, this most experiential film transforms us into contemplative beings, deeply aware of our ephemeral lives. A unique antidote to our mundane rhythms and concerns —> A

JARHEAD This reconnaissance operation proves the Marines do live in a parallel universe, full of intense camaraderie, tensions and absurditiy. The lack of glamor allows memorable tableaux of sound and color to impact the viewer. American Beauty director, Sam Mendes, makes full use of, Apocalypse Now sound designer Walter Murch —> B+

JIMMY CARTER MAN FROM THE PLAINS While missing some of the depth that could from a complex understanding either of the middle-East conflict or what motivates Jimmy Carter, this book tour travel logue shows the power of a (good) action-oriented life —> B

KEEPING MUM Maybe a pairing up of Rowan Atkinson and Maggie Smith could seem incongruous, but each one infuses the other with “explosive restraint” and, as we reawaken that dormant sweet pleasure of killing those that bother us, we are almost back to its glorious ancestors, the Ealing comedies —> A-

LAST CHANCE HARVEY Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson are consummate actors who know how to work their audience with the smallest details. That they are falling in love possibly one last time adds to the poignancy of their tentative love affair. The dialogue and the timing of the whole film clicks away like a very well-oiled clock —> A

L’ENFANT In almost 10 years, the spirited kid-actor, Rénier, from the Dardenne’s other masterpiece, La Promesse, has grown up. Yet, the child of the title could apply to both the adult or the baby. With echoes of Bresson’s Pickpoket, the city’s raw sounds syncopate the Sisyphian hero, worthy of Masaccio’s illuminated frescoes —> A+

LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA Once you get to know who the so-called enemy is, it is much harder to kill them. This is why most wars are fought either by those who don’t want to know who they kill or by those who think they know who they are killing. This Japanese-speaking film by Clint Eastwood allows us to see the other side’s pain and possibly erase forever the criminal “Japs” label. Probably should be seen after Flags of our Fathers for a fuller impact —> A

LIVES OF OTHERS (THE) The chill of thinking that your conversations are bugged will travel with you beyond the walls of the theater. This riveting thriller takes us back to the state secret police services of East Germany, about twenty years ago, but the story’s power reverberates like an ominous warning —> A+

LORNA’S SILENCE Once again, the Dardenne brothers make full use of their documentary experience. While Europe is experiencing at times soft borders between many of its countries, it is the porous boundaries between people that matter in this film. Plays like an edgy musical composition to our vulnerabilities —> A

LOST CITY (THE) Andy Garcia brings a child’s heartfelt sense of the pre- Castro Cuba and the following years.The music changed and many made life altering choices trying to keep their spirit alive, even in hiding. A bit indulgent and lengthy at times, but a particular sincerity redeems most of it —> B-

MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES For many of those who believe that this is the Chinese century, this film will drive the point further. The context of the expansive Chinese economy is tied here to the fragile connections between the rural, the industrial and the urban landscapes, all with world-wide ramifications. The sobering imagery of Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky is the starting point for our excursion into contemporary China —>B-

MUNICH Like a bull, in a china shop, Spielberg will disturb a lot of furniture, this energetic beast of a thriller is missing one eye though: plenty of vision about the future from the Palestinian eye, but very little to see beyond the problems, on the Jewish side. But finally a film that leaves the viewer hungry with questions —> A-

NICOTINA The liveliest tongue-(in Mexican)-cheek thriller, how to have fun today with the film noir tradition, by the producers of “Amores Perros” —> A+

NOBODY KNOWS Kore-Eda, full of his humane subtle quirks, excels again. A must for anyone who has forgotten to be amazed by children —> A+

OLIVER TWIST It is obviously not enough to have survived Hitler, Manson or being wanted by the U.S. government to create a masterpiece, but Polanski’s compelling brushmarks paint. almost too knowingly, the pain of how innocent souls can survive the darkest times. As in the best storytelling, the more the characters are true archetypes, the more they are frighteningly real —> A+

PARADISE NOW Without sensationalism, as if a simple magnifying glass just peered into the psyche and complex history of two Palestinian suicide bombers. Time moves in a heart beat and a society is in need of answers, but none are given because the hard work of active viewership has just started—>A

PARANOID PARK Riding on the casual freshness of non-actors, Van Sant’s latest work circles around the psyche of a skateboarder skirting around his fate. Chris Doyle, the famed cinematographer of Wong-Kar Wai’s colorful films, makes the images breathe and bloom. In a clever mixture of tension and looseness, the film carves out, as a skateboarder would, an exquisite horizontal structure of time and space —> A

PARIS, I LOVE YOU Multifaceted like a diamond, because of its many stories and its international cast of directors and actors, each facet reflects both the reality and the fantasy that Paris embodies. Almost every story sparkles on its own, entertaining and enriching —> A-

PROTOCOLS OF ZION (THE) While George Lakoff warns us against the dangers of paying any attention to canards, we wonder if the dirt of anti-Semitism is worth our attention? In 1933, most of the world did not think so. The lack of organization of this filmic essay is somewhat compensated by the outrageous footage – from the delirium on some New York streets, to the Palestinian preacher’s call for cutting Jewish necks, to the Prime Minister of Malaysia’s murderous language, the warning is chillingly clear: while not looking at this monster would definitely be more comfortable, as these conspiracy theorists unite and rise to power, we are all in trouble —> B

READER (THE) Not an easy film as is appropriate for the topic: Kate Winslett offers us an intimacy that reverberates beyond the theater. Her desire to forget and to move forward negates a past that was never acknowledged, and keeps us on the edge for the larger section of this film. By sympathizing and falling for her, we become her “partner in crime”. That is where the power of this film lies—> A

RED LIGHT Angry men can be dangerous. Take that sobering drive! —> B+

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD The desire to achieve perfect happiness in the fifties is directed by Sam Mendes of “American Beauty” fame. Private tensions and cracks are made public for everyone to taste. Color, sound, and every tool including Caprio and Winslett shine like polished shoes in midday sun —> A

SCIENCE OF SLEEP (THE) The delirium and jubilation of constantly reinterpreting reality mingles with the joys and tribulations of falling in love with another adult who is just like you, a child, awed and hurt by the world. García Bernal and Gainsbourg shine with freshness and fragility —> A+

SÉRAPHINE Eschewing most clichés and formulas, this compelling homage to what artists see rebounds through the actress’s vibrant presence. The genuine passion of “those who must do what they must do” is celebrated in resounding ways —> A-

SHALL WE KISS What could have been too cute of a question becomes a uniquely French humorous investigation. As the characters make every effort to rise above the confines of their skin, this comedy flows like chamber music to explore the danger of focusing only on the present moment’s desire —> A

SHOPGIRL Of course, being over 50, rich and cultured, he could be more interesting than his much younger rival in capturing that shopgirl, but will he learn some important lessons in time? With the refreshing quietness of a bedtime story, this light but touching bittersweet fairy tale is made for those adults who still wonder “how to keep the girl”. Of course, race and class never enter the picture as we dream on –> B+

SILVER CITY Not because the plot is so fascinating, but because, like many John Sayles films, it points to what independence of spirit stands for –> B-

STOP-LOSS If we don’t take such a website as this one to heart, we might feel that more often than not, as if we were sleepwalking through our lives. Did we even know we could ask such a question as “should we stop stop-loss”? This fiction film, confronts us with the reality and urgency of such inquiries. Yes, Iraq is not entertaining, but the seeds of a contemporary classic film are there, living moment by moment the lives of people most of us are too removed from to ever acknowledge —> A

TOKYO SONATA One might be reminded of the two outstanding films, “Nobody Knows” and “Time-Out” but this film stands on its own, in a more muted way, as a tale of contemporary Japan, struggling, beyond appearances, to manage its limping —> A-

TRANSAMERICA This film might make most of us “definition-challenged” as to what constitutes gender; in the meantime we will have become shameless voyeurs of the tour de force of actor Felicity Huffman —>B

TULPAN Strong winds, birth and death will keep us honest. Add to it the stark steppes of Kazakhstan and a camera that loves its actors (and its animals), and you have a rich and intimate portrayal of Kazakh country life that will revive most wearied Western viewers —>A

UP It is hard to choose between the cantankerousness of old age and the optimism of youth, both have their charm: one is full of knowledge, the other, full of innocence and hope. No need to choose with this film, we get them both at the same time, and with the third character being the archetypal home, its 3-D quality brings out at times a quality rare in animation, tears —>A

VIVA PEDRO (Amadóvar Festival) Flames of all kinds provoke and mock our desires. Excesses and deviancy flirt with normalcy, and everything falls to pieces with sumptuous musical and visual design —> A+

WALTZ WITH BASHIR Dreams and threads of consciousness are linked throughout this academy award nominated animation from Israel. Since this is a war and a massacre, it is clear that one cannot be a true witness to the horror and so, as viewers, we are caught between our attempts to piecing it all together and escaping, with all of our might, the whole nightmare. As the subjectivity of filmmaker draws out what was once fully lived, we travel one layer away from the tragedy —> B+

WAR/DANCE Even as they describe for us some of their harrowing experiences, nobody knows the trouble these Northern Uganda children have seen. These young warriors sing and dance, and with their bodies and their faces draw a most life-affirming message of healing—> B+

WHAT THE BLEEP DO WE KNOW? Not because of its overdone special effects and its uneven speakers, but because the future could involve more Quantum Physics if enough people were privy to its mysteries —> B-

WRESTLER (THE) Mickey Rourke carries the film on his wide shoulders as if the gruffness of the poet Bukowski had come back to life.  The subculture of wrestling and trailer parks opens us up to disturb whatever zone of comfort we would like to ensconce ourselves in —> A

YES Why not tell stories differently? Yes, of course, Sally Potter you can! A refreshing and fragile look at love across the various divides. Original filmmaking, as it should be —>A-

ZELARY Compelling storytelling based on WWII real-life events. As we witness the fragile trust between people (country/city, soldiers/civilians), one can easily be reminded of the golden age of Czech cinema —> A-