My favorite movie of 2010 sneaks into town three days before the year ends: The Strange Case of Angelica is a strange case to be sure. Manoel de Oliveiras latest last film, which includes the 101-year-old directors first use of CGI in his debut dream sequence, is as funny and peculiar as its title promises. Putting his own eccentric spin on the myth of Orpheus, the last working filmmaker to have been born during the age of the nickelodeon offers a modest, ultimately sublime meditation on the photographic essence of the motion-picture medium, as glimpsed in the half-light of eternity.
As seen through the glass darkly of the present moment, Id say the past 12 months were notable for directorial comebacks: Veteran filmmakers Olivier Assayas, Roman Polanski, Claire Denis, and even the late Henri-Georges Clouzot provided first-rate returns to form. Indeed, had the rules of inclusion (or at least mine) not stipulated that a movie have three public screenings and be no older than six years, this 10 Best list would have been strengthened by two more comebacks, namely Raúl Ruizs Secrets of Lisbon, shown once during the New York Film Festival, and, in a hitherto unseen triumph, R.W. Fassbinders 1974 telefilm World on a Wire, which had its belated premiere run at the Museum of Modern Art.
And now, back to the future . . .
Olivier Assayas, France
Assayas puts it all togetherhistorical reconstruction and globalizing enterprise, terror and terroir, plus sex, death, and rocknroll. Carlos is a total you-are-there immersion in the bizarre career of a 70s terrorist and, as the equivalent of three feature-length movies, it arguably deserves three slots.
3. THE GHOST WRITER
Roman Polanski, U.K.
The Pianist had its moments, but Polanski hasnt made a movie so sustained in the decades since The Tenant or even 1966s Cul de Sac. In a way, this seemingly modest political thriller is almost their sequel. Shot in Germany (standing in for the wintry New England beach), impeccably directed, and edited under house arrestwith a beleaguered British prime minister played by exJames Bond, Pierce BrosnanThe Ghost Writer is rich with subtext.
Samuel Maoz, Israel As classic in its way as The Ghost Writer and even more overtly formalist, writer-director Maozs first feature is at once existential combat movie and political allegory. (Its about this tank . . .) The personal investment is evident. Lebanon, which could just as easily be called Israel, is based on the writer-directors experience of the 1982 war, as replayed in his head for nearly 30 years.
5. WHITE MATERIAL
Claire Denis, France
As a child of Africa, Denis also brings it back home with this convulsive, beautiful, terrifying workHeart of Darkness by way of Apocalypse Now. The filmmaking is terrific, impressionist yet tactile, with the girlish figure of Isabelle Huppert caught up in the maelstrom of a post-colonial civil war, fiercely clinging to the remnants of her past.
6. HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOTS INFERNO
Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea, France
Clouzots Inferno is another sort of wreckthat of a movie or perhaps a psyche. The title has a double meaning: The celebrated, wildly obsessive Clouzot attempted to make the ultimate 60s flick, Inferno, and came unhinged in the process. Its hard to imagine that Clouzots finished film would be more evocative than this explication of its shardsor that Romy Schneider could ever give a more seductive performance than in these screen tests and outtakes.
7. THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF NICOLAE CEAUSESCU
Andrei Ujica, Romania
Here is megalomania-made material. Romanian film-artist Ujicas archival assemblage is a three-hour immersion in a totalitarian leaders official reality. Its a modern-day Ubu Roi, with dictator Nicolae Ceausescus public image as fabricated by (and for) the tyrant himself.
8. THE JUCHE IDEA
Jim Finn, U.S.
American film artist Jim Finns deadpan faux-documentary account of image-making in North Korea complements The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescus show-stopping Pyongyang sequencea stadium filled with thousands of precision-drilled North Korean dancers creating an elaborate Romanian folk pageant for an audience of two (and the camera). Something other than ironic, the years prize whatzit is steeped in the pathos of political kitsch as well as the JucheNorth Koreas ideology of self-reliancethat DIY independent filmmaking requires.
9. GUY AND MADELINE ON A PARK BENCH
Damien Chazelle, U.S.
Another example of Juche cinema, this mumblecore musical mashes up Shadows with A Woman Is a Woman (and a bit of Pickup on South Street) to create a no-budget, neo-new-wave musical love story, shot off-the-cuff on the streets of Boston. At once clumsy and deft, annoying and ecstatic, Chazelles debut feature is amateurish in the words original sense, suffused with the love of movies.
10. The last 40 minutes of INCEPTION
Christopher Nolan, U.S. Pure cinema is where you find it: I caught this much-maligned behemoth as a civilian, about a month into its run. The first 90-something minutes were so nonsensical as to be unbearable, but then something kicked inthe special effect called editing! Since 70 minutes has always seemed the ideal length for a B movie, take in Inceptions finale with one or two of the equally sensational 3-D action sequences from Tron: Legacy.
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