Here's one of my dirty little secrets: I love lists and I keep track of my year's ten best movies all year long. Most other critics hastily assemble their lists at the last second, which is partly why so many December movies dominate; critics can't remember what they've seen earlier in the year. My list shows that 2008 has had a pretty poor first half, but I do have some contenders for listhood. Two movies are currently competing for the top spot, though I need to see them both again to be sure. Hou Hsiao-hsien's Flight of the Red Balloon (6 screens) is one; it has a lovely, laid-back, observant quality and feels less severe than some of Hou's other recent films. But I haven't yet decided if the film is a comedy or a tragedy. It all feels pretty light and insignificant, except for the saddest thing: no one seems to notice the red balloon of the title, drifting around Paris, unable to find a boy like Pascal to love it. The film also contains the year's most vibrant performance: Juliette Binoche playing a frenzied single mom working with a puppet troupe.

categories Columns, Cinematical