Assayas maps recent history with synaptic complexity, his perspective gradually shifting from the titular free radical to the modern world that works him out of its system.
#2 Wild Grass
The heart wants what it wants, unto death, a state of affairs which moviemaking cinephile Resnais is delighted to indulge. (A brighter flipside to #10.)
#3 Everyone Else
Praising its shade-perfect emotional veracity feels transparent: with this movie on my list, you probably know some things about me I wish you didn't.
A self-contained allegory for religion, politics, patriarchy, or artmaking—the year's most pickapartable film, and, with its repurposing of domestic-sphere familiars, the most dreamlike.
#5 White Material
Denis's gift for rendering skin seemingly environmental—like Isabelle Huppert's sundressed translucence—is made scarring as whites and blacks stake disputed claims on what they consider their home.
An investigation into the uses and limitations of art therapy to top Shutter Island; and, as trustworthy, unobtrusive Malmberg brokers a meeting between his subject and audience, a testament to basic documentary technique.
#7 The Father of My Children
For the second half even more than the breezily inexorable first, as Alice de Lencquesaing (thrower of the Summer Hours house party) explores a teen's conditional autonomy in matters of adult relationships, culture and death, with a determined openness recalling... well, Hansen-Love herself, in her future partner Olivier Assayas's Late August, Early September.
James Murphy's Nilsson-esque AM pop and Harris Savides's smoggy telephoto lensing of a movie star walking (in Los Angeles!) conjure the appropriately anachronistic feel of movie-colony-based 70s auteur cinema at its most idiosyncratic.
#9 Black Swan
Stylish, silly symbolism, but grounded in Natalie Portman's tendony, revulsed portrait of self-disciplined young womanhood.
#10 You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
In contemplating the gap between artistic ambition and ability, the Wood Man stands shoulder-to-shoulder with a generation of filmmakers who've got all the time in the world—which is why he's on this list and Lena Dunham's not.
Run it through the Assayasizer: the rock-star hubris and oblivion of a somewhat incompetent terrorist, amidst the passing of eras in geopolitics.
#2 Everyone Else
Maren Ade's extraordinary dramatization of the drift, the shift in the weather system that develops between two people in a relationship when something's afoot but no one knows yet where or how far it will go.
#3 The Father of My Children
Mia Hansen-Love's act of candid discretion in portraying a depressive producer, the pursuit of artistic goals, and the aftermath of a family left behind.
#4 The Oath
Laura Poitras: "It's a bit of a mindfuck, but he is." Genuinely, persuasively, and intelligently ambiguous look at former Bin Laden associate Abu Jandal.
#5 Oki's Movie
Hong Sang-soo's daisy-chained stories play out affairs of the heart in and around a film school, mortifyingly funny but also unexpectedly cutting to the quick.
James Benning's first HD feature is a series of superb compositions with well-wrought sound that foster an exquisitely heightened awareness.
#7 The Robber
"An intelligently shot study in self-control and calculated release," is what I thought of director Benjamin Heisenberg's film, and still do.
#8 Shutter Island
Martin Scorsese's slow boat to crazy, an island that's one of his most potent visions of the self trapped, impregnable, and exposed all at once.
#9 The Social Network
The control-freak fantasies of a shut-out master coder make for fast, catchy entertainment in the hands of David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin.
#10 Poto and Cabengo/Routine Pleasures
Rep pick! Jean-Pierre Gorin's two terrific essay films on twin girls suspected of having an idolect, and model-train hobbyists.
#1 Our Beloved Month of August
An absolute whatsit, an ethnographic documentary/meta-experiment/incestuous road-trip musical as unpredictable as it is genuinely strange. Portuguese director Gomes invests adventurousness and wonder into every frame of this gem.
For once, a male protagonist whose insecurity-as-dickheadedness cannot be easily redeemed nor dismissed. Painfully awkward and awkwardly painful, Greenberg is the rare fully realized character to come out of an increasingly moribund American independent film landscape.
The floor is willingly conceded to Catherine Breillat: "For children, Nothing is really frightening because Everything is frightening and they have faith in their lucky star." A perfect encapsulation of Bluebeard's hushed fairy tale nightmare and initiation into adulthood.
Perhaps representative of a less aggressive Bruno Dumont, Hadewijch is nonetheless a troubling movie, exploring religious faith, culture and redemption through Western capitalism's conflict with Islamic fundamentalism.
#5 Boxing Gym
There's a difference between reliable and perfunctory, and documentary legend Frederick Wiseman has never confused the two. Boxing Gym demonstrates why, with Wiseman's clipped rhythms and patiently unveiled mini-narratives capturing the grace and grime of pugilism.
#6 The Ghost Writer
A political fable—not for Robert Harris' obvious conspiratorial revelations, but instead for Roman Polanski's singularly masterful construction of pervasive dread. Mood is the film's real message, and the mood is corrupt and corroded.
#7 White Material
We've become so accustomed to Claire Denis' consistent greatness by now that it's possible something like White Materialmay not receive the praise it deserves. This is tough, multi-layered filmmaking.
#8 The Portuguese Nun
Eugene Green is one of the good guys—a straightforward storyteller who can evoke the stylistic rigor and spiritual longing of a giant like Robert Bresson without succumbing to slavishness or pretension. His essential quality is an endearing self-deprecation.
Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor's documentary Sweetgrass featured a scene that stuck with me throughout the entire year: a young sheep herder, one of the last of his dying occupation, crying to his mother on a cellphone about the trials of an especially difficult drive as he stands atop a Montana mountain. Bonus points for having really happened.
10. Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl
Short and bittersweet: 439-year-old Manoel de Oliveira's barely hour-long fable of blind devotion and sharp disillusionment is a virtual clinic on dry irony.
#1 Film Socialisme
JLG offers us an arresting video parable—saturated in primary colors as rich and blocky as a Mondrian painting, not to mention his own 1960s classics—in which we are all in the same boat, and that boat is a cruise ship. In a banner year for the old men of the French New Wave (Alain Resnais's Wild Grass, Jacques Rivette's Around a Small Mountain), this is the standout.
#2 The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu
Completely unnarrated and put together entirely from state-commissioned footage of the former Romanian dictator, the year's best documentary is also a found-object horror film, a Trash Humpers of another sort.
The story of an idealist becoming a mercenary, and of the Left eating its own tail, Assayas's biopic of the Jackal is a Cinemascope monument.
Generation X is getting older, and we are not happy about it.
#5 Inspector Bellamy
The late New Waver—Chabrol died at 80 in September—leaves us with a beatific portrait of a long marriage.
#6 Everyone Else
See Greenberg, German division.
#7 Black Swan
I'm a sucker for a good tortured ballerina movie.
#8 The Social Network
Fight Club for today's twentysomethings.
#9 Please Give
Skewering the class prerogatives of Manhattanites with an insight and compassion not seen since Metropolitan, Holofcener gives us a White Material for Americans.
This summer sleeper didn't get the audience it deserved. As nuts in its own way as Black Swan, Natali's debut is a fresh and witty update on Cronenbergian themes and the most giddy fun I had all year at the movies.
#1 Daddy Longlegs
Josh and Benny Safdie
This queasily hilarious portrait of a dad who really needs to assume some adult responsibilities also depicts a New York in desperate need of citizens who'd do the same.
#2 Life During Wartime
The sequel to 90s-defining Happiness nails the aughts, positing external enemies like "terrorism" as mere diversions from America's real problem—ourselves!
#3 Valhalla Rising
Nicolas Winding Refn
Refn's grungy, hypnotic, elemental period piece goes back a millennium to find violence among the Americas' first Jesus freaks. Parallels to the present are obvious and awesome.
#4 Wild Grass
The French New Wavers all got old, dull, or dead. But pushing-90 Resnais recaptures the wacky exuberance that once made them such exhilarating cineastes.
#5 Black Swan
Aronofsky's hallucinatory nightmare about abused actresses and sexual repression also restores New York's edginess, which Republican mayors had almost eradicated.
#6 Shutter Island
Now that Scorsese has an Oscar, he can get back to making good movies. Or, at least, fun ones, like this gleefully kitschy bonanza of B-movie elan.
#7 NY Export: Opus Jazz
Henry Joost and Jody Lee Lipes
This adaptation of an old Jerome Robbins ballet imbues some of the city's last gritty spots with impossible terpsichorean beauty.
About a mentally damaged outsider artist who works with dolls, this doc reveals the weird, harmful ways we all simplify our lives into narrative.
In her deceptively decorous, theologically scathing film about divine miracles, Hausner attacks "hope," exploited by The Church here to devastating effect.
#10 The Kids Are All Right
This family-values dramedy is dumb on paper. But on screen it's such a warmly acted depiction of family harmony, you'll want to rush out and start your own.
1. Inception (Christopher Nolan)
I guess you could dismiss this as freshman-level philosophy and mild-buzz trippiness, but Christopher Nolan's unapologetic heist-movie framework for dreams-within-dreams makes Inception the most purely enjoyable movie-movie of the year, with strong emotional chords struck by Leonard DiCaprio as a man fighting his way out of a James Bondian subconscious.
2. Greenberg (Noah Baumbach)
Noah Baumbach doubles down on the (often hilarious) misanthropy that turned so many off of Margot at the Wedding; Ben Stiller abets as an unpleasant man cursed with critical-speaking anti-skills that any film critic will probably recognize.
3. The Social Network (David Fincher)
Aaron Sorkin discovers the secret to making Aaron Sorkin characters less insufferable and, actually, fascinating: make 'em jerks, or at least guys we're never prompted to admire. Without that hero-slash-self-worship, Sorkin's dialogue stings harder and faster, and David Fincher's coolly observational eye never sweats to keep up.
4. Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich)
Having long established their visual invention and comic timing, the Pixar team keeps pushing the envelope on how much emotional heft and glimpses of darkness can make it into a top-grossing G-rated blockbuster.
5. Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky)
It's The Wrestler for ladies! And plus glorious nightmares!
6. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright)
One reason we always complain about no one making good (much less great) romantic comedies is that no one seems to count a movie like this as one. Maybe because it wrecks the hell out of the curve.
7. I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra and John Requa)
Jim Carrey gives his best performance in years by starring in what is, essentially, a Jim Carrey comedy flipped into a cock-eyed semi-sick joke—that nonetheless has more recognizable humanity than any of his crowd-pleasers.
8. Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold)
English kitchen-sink indies aren't usually my bag, but apparently if you add downtrodden humor, a brilliant performance from newcomer Katie Jarvis, and just a pinch of Step Up 2 the Streets, I tumble hard.
9. The Other Guys (Adam McKay)
Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are the De Niro and Scorsese of secretly absurdist big-studio comedy.
10. 127 Hours (Danny Boyle)
The real soloist here isn't James Franco but Danny Boyle, who can make kinetic, impressionistic thinking-person's music videos of just about anything.