1. LOURDES (Jessica Hausner, 2009)
LOURDES asks what a miracle is, on whose terms one should be determined, and who is deserving of such a blessing. A marvelous Sylvie Testud plays a woman with severe multiple sclerosis who is healed while on a pilgrimage in the southwestern French town. Director Jessica Hausner observes with detached amusement and seriousness how this seeming miracle changes the individual and the crowd in typical and unexpected ways. LOURDES shows reverence to the mystery while skewering how people try to divine it.
2. INCEPTION (Christopher Nolan, 2010)
Dazzling in its conception and execution, INCEPTION continues Christopher Nolan’s reign as the maker of Hollywood’s brainiest and eye-popping films. This multi-layered leap into the dream world electrifies with its visual and narrative construction. Perhaps INCEPTION’S commercial and critical success will plant the idea that blockbusters don’t always have to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
3. TRUE GRIT (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 2010)
Joel and Ethan Coen settle into a vintage western remake that also has room for their signature quirks and humor. TRUE GRIT may be the most classical Hollywood film the brothers have made, but they’ve invested it with a great deal of craftsmanship and personality too. The performances are outstanding across the board. Hailee Steinfeld carries herself well with the immature certainty of youth while while Jeff Bridges’ Dude-ified Rooster Cogburn keeps the laughs coming.
4. FOUR LIONS (Chris Morris, 2010)
Comedies don’t get any nervier than director Chris Morris’s FOUR LIONS, which is built on the exploits of bumbling Islamic terrorists in a cell near London. Boldness in and of itself in a comedy doesn’t mean the material is actually humorous; however, FOUR LIONS is packed with razor-sharp wordplay and glorious slapstick that make it an explosively funny and unsettling film.
5. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP (Banksy, 2010)
The brash and hilarious survey of the street art scene in the documentary EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP is enough to put one’s head spinning. Banksy, a celebrated graffiti artist and the film’s director, presents a quick history of this underground. Then he turns things around to discuss the nature of art, authorship, commerce, and hype. You never know when the rug will be pulled out below you in this thought-provoking and highly entertaining film.
6. HADEWIJCH (Bruno Dumont, 2009)
HADEWIJCH delves into its study of religious ecstasy and confusion with uncommon thoughtfulness. Julie Sokolowski delivers a great performance as a young woman working to make her proud displays of faith more humble, especially after she is sent from a cloistered life back into society. Her religious belief and assurance is powerfully examined as a lifelong dialogue instead of a simple choice that ends the conversation.
7. TOY STORY 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010)
The well is usually long dry by the time of the third film in a series, but the creative minds at Pixar again prove themselves an exception to the rule. TOY STORY 3 brings what should be a fitting conclusion to the adventures of Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the crew in this breakneck action picture and affecting meditation on family.
8. NEVER LET ME GO (Mark Romanek, 2010)
Spanning 1978 to 1994, NEVER LET ME GO tracks three special children who grow up together in a boarding school. In his skillful adaptation of the fantastic Kazuo Ishiguro novel, screenwriter Alex Garland reveals the secret about these characters basically from the outset, yet the underlying science fiction aspect is treated as a canvas for the relationships and emotional turmoil instead of being the main focus. NEVER LET ME GO can be about the soul, technological innovation, media messaging, or any number of things beyond what the plot spells out. Still, the main story regarding love and purpose plays as its own kind of beautiful heartbreak.
9. THE TILLMAN STORY (Amir Bar-Lev, 2010)
THE TILLMAN STORY is a tough and principled documentary about a family’s loss, their persistent search for the truth, and the manufacturing of myths and heroes. Pat Tillman did the unthinkable for a professional athlete. Months after the September 11, 2001 attacks, he left a lucrative career in the National Football League to become an Army Ranger. Tillman refused to explain his motivation for the choice. After he was killed in action, the official report told of a heroic battlefield death that didn’t mesh with the covered-up facts. Tillman became a symbol for the war that he never wished to be. In telling the story of his family’s pursuit for answers, director Amir Bar-Lev also explores our need for unquestionable heroes and how creating them is a disservice to them.
10. MARWENCOL (Jeff Malmberg, 2010)
The documentary MARWENCOL reveals the imaginative creations that bloomed out of tragedy and need for one man. After being assaulted Mark Hogamcamp lost his memory and turned to a unique way of rediscovering his identity and trying to recover. In his yard Hogancamp builds a World War II-era Belgian town he dubs Marwencol and fills its with dolls that function as the the alter egos of himself and those important to him. Director Jeff Malmberg provides a deeply empathetic view of loneliness and powerful evidence of art as an outlet. He also exercises restraint and displays respect for Hogancamp as he freely and frequently talks about the pain of being alone. This artist born out of necessity discusses his Marwencolian representation and imaginary world with a depth of feeling that most would reserve for real acquaintances. Some of the documentary’s most touching portions provide insight into the expressive and healing properties of the art on the creator.