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#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.