20th Century Women ★★★★½

"Just be there," it says, and it's talking to us as much as it's talking to Jamie, the gentle and confused teenager at the center of this deeply sensitive, beautiful film about the people swirling around him in 1979 in Santa Barbara, their pasts and their futures. It wants us to bear witness to everyday life much as William Wyler once did, and what we see is complicated, messed up, lovely -- but never in any obvious or decisive fashion. Its peculiarities are totally unforced, and its philosophical evenness is emphatically kind, not distant. You well up from its sheer sensitivity, from the secrets it unveils and the mysteries it keeps, and from its hauntingly vivid compassion toward people, relationships and moments. I would wish we could get a hundred movies like this a year if I thought my heart could take it.

I didn't grow up in this era but I was in love with it when I was Jamie's age, and still am -- and this movie captures the ache and angst that necessitates punk for those of us far away from its nexuses as well as any critical essay about it that I've read or could conjure up. And also, man, this is probably sort of a violation to the way the movie intends its relationship with popular culture, but Billy Crudup and Annette Bening dancing to what may be my favorite song of all time and rebuking Black Flag in the process made my whole fuckin' year.