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The Year in Film

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A Prophet

Though only one cracked into City Paper’s Top 10 list, 2010’s cinematic cup runneth over with top-notch documentaries—and not just the Michael Moore, Errol Morris, An Inconvenient Truth sort of zeitgeist-baiting nonfiction. Instead, smaller, more intimate movies offered financial wrath (Inside Job, Casino Jack and the United States of Money); exposures of information mismanagement from the recent past (The Tillman Story), the less recent past (The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers), and the can’t forget (A Film Unfinished); arresting portraits of the things people do for work (Last Train Home, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work); fuzzy blurrings of fact and fictions (Exit Through the Gift Shop, Catfish); investigations of eating (Food, Inc., Fresh), and immersions into visual art about the power brokers who try to control it (The Art of the Steal) and ideas of beauty that fuel it (Waste Land). Moviegoing this year was as intellectually illuminating as it was entertaining. (Bret McCabe)


1 A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, France)

Malik (Tahar Rahim) is a young, comparatively innocent Franco-Arab who gets locked up for six years for attacking the police. In prison, the Corsican immigrants rule the North Africans. And the head of the Corsicans, a merciless Godfather-like figure named César (Niels Arestrup), forces Malik to commit a horribly brutal act, his first step toward becoming a hardened criminal. A Prophet continues in this vein: violent, visceral, and full of intrigue. It is a gripping depiction of the not-so-redemptive aspects of incarceration, and a window into the making of a criminal that makes you doubt your own moral moorings. A classic. (Andrea Appleton)

2 Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik, United States)

Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone—winner of the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize—is shattering because it feels so true. Filmed in a real family home, the movie portrays life in the impoverished hollers of southern Missouri with searing, near anthropological precision. It follows Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), a tough 17-year-old girl who must care for her family while searching for her crystal meth-addicted father. Like Ree herself, the movie is unflinching and unsentimental, and all the more moving for it. As Ree tells her young siblings, “There’s stuff that you’re gonna have to get over bein’ scared of.” (AA)

3 The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Niels Arden Olev, Sweden)

Apparently Hollywood is foaming at the mouth to get an Americanized version of this Swedish flick out, and that’s fine, but don’t let the fact that the original has subtitles and is based on a book instead of a comic book stop you from watching this chilling mystery that successfully interprets the book’s dense, convoluted political/business/newspaper intrigue, along with darker issues. The original title translates to “Men Who Hate Women,” and the Girl herself (Noomi Rapace) is deeply flawed, and that’s why we think she needs to be saved, right after we drop some X and party with her. (Joe MacLeod)

4 Restrepo (Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, United States)

Since 2004 filmmakers and embedded journalists have produced countless movies and books about U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq from the so-called grunt’s-eye view. With Restrepo, journalist Sebastian Junger and photojournalist Tim Hetherington spend nearly a year in Afghanistan’s Korangal Valley with one army platoon and come back with an unnerving, unvarnished look at the very forward tip of the war on terror. This is a steady, hard look at the steady, hard day-to-day lives of the young men and women dealing with an enemy you never really see, but whose bullets you almost constantly hear. Restrepo puts you there, but more than anything it reminds you that there is still so much we civilians don’t know or understand about the soldiers fighting this war, because what they’re enduring is worse than we imagined. (BM)

5 Cyrus (Jay and Mark Duplass, United States)

A creepy cool story of love in your 40s and the after-effects of it on grown children when they have an alternative/unusually close relationship to a parent of the opposite sex. Marisa Tomei is stunningly vivacious and heartbreakingly tender as Molly, Jonah Hill brings all of his sly wit with heavy shakes of manipulation and crazy to his role as her son Cyrus, and John C. Reilly charms the darling vintage sundress off her as John, a waaaay post-divorce man finally ready for love again. Bonus: Catherine Keener as John’s ex-wife Jamie and the only voice of reason. (Wendy Ward)

6 Carlos (Olivier Assayas, France)

A biopic about a Venezuelan terrorist-for-hire that skips across multiple continents, spans three decades, features dialogue spoken in many languages, and runs an opera-length nearly five and a half hours? To some people that might sound worse than going to the mall the day before Christmas, but in the steady hands of French director Olivier Assayas, Carlos becomes a gripping cinematic experience. Assayas’ nimble direction melds political thriller to crime saga, and Venezuelan actor Édgar Ramírez delivers a mammoth performance as Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, better known as “Carlos the Jackal” in the 1970s when he was associated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine or raiding OPEC headquarters in Vienna. Epic filmmaking. (BM)

7 Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé, France)

It’s tough to imagine anyone having an I-can-take-it-or-leave-it response to Enter the Void. Gaspar Noé’s woozy psychedelic epic about the last moments and early afterlife of a young drug dealer (Nathaniel Brown) in a neon-lit Tokyo is aggressively disorienting, elliptical, crass, and indulgent, a literal assault on senses and sensibilities from its seizure-inducing opening credits to the vaguely incestuous ambiguities of its ending. But just as the movie takes the first-person view of its transmigrating protagonist, it also represents the singular vision of an ambitious filmmaker who hasn’t played it safe yet (see also: Irreversible). (Lee Gardner)

8 Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky (Jan Kounen, France)

Coco Chanel’s gorgeous Art Nouveau/Art Deco house in the French countryside is the main backdrop of this early 20th-century tale of an artistic and then physical affair between Chanel (Anna Mouglalis) and composer Igor Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen) behind the back and quite in front of his sick wife Katarina (Yelena Morozova). Mouglalis glides and seduces as the business-savvy Chanel, whose passions never betray her sense of independence and self, while lean Mikkelsen keeps his expressions as tight as Stravinsky thinks he keeps his work, family, and betrayal separate—when they, in truth, influence each other to great effect. (WW)

9 Dogtooth (Giorgos Lanthimos, Greece)

What if Wes Anderson’s Tenenbaums had been trapped in their family home since childhood by an implacably plotting mom and dad, the offspring’s stunted maturity and hapless quirks a planned-for outcome, not a by-product of maladroit parenting? This savage satire represents a good guess, as well as proof of the stone-cold fact that sex, barter, and 1980s movies will always win out in the end. (LG)

10 The Secret in Their Eyes (Juan José Campanella, Argentina)

Like its fellow great art-house thriller The Silence of the Lambs, Juan José Campanella’s movie is about a crime and its investigation, but it’s also about something else—in this case, the passions, regrets, and grudges we quietly hold onto throughout our lives. It’s a subject rarely explored well in the truncated time/attention span of mainstream cinema, but Secret provides genuine emotional depth along with tight plotting and bravura set pieces, such as the astonishing soccer-stadium manhunt. And if you’re gonna be asked to believe a man can carry a torch for decades, Soledad Villamil is definitely the actress to sell the idea. (LG)

  • The Year In News It was the year of the “enthusiasm gap,” and not just as applied to the long-over honeymoon between President Obama and all but his most ardent admirers. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Film Though only one cracked into City Paper’s Top 10 list, 2010’s cinematic cup runneth over with top-notch documentaries—and not just the Michael Moore, Errol Morris, An Inconvenient Truth sort of zeitgeist-baiting nonfiction. Instead, smaller, more intima | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in DVDs Max Ophuls’ 1955 Lola Montes endured many of the same heartbreaks and indignities as its title character: misunderstood, manipulated, abused, and abandoned. | 12/14/2010
  • The Year in Television I watch the Hawaii Five-O remake on CBS. There, I said it. Now, don’t get me wrong—it’s awful. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Music In years past, City Paper has looked to its freelance contributors to vote in its annual Top 10 records poll. This year, we looked to Baltimore instead. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Local Music The record label Thrill Jockey is not based in Baltimore. Nor is City Paper on the Thrill Jockey payroll. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Books In years past we’ve polled City Paper’s book reviewers for their 10 favorite books of the year and threaded a list together from their input. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Art Unlike last year’s Laure Drogoul: Follies, Predicaments and Other Conundrums at the Maryland Institute College of Art or 2008’s Franz West, To Build a House You Start With the Roof: Work 1972-2008 at the Baltimore Museum of Art, there wasn’t one exhibitio | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Stage The year in local stage is bookended by a pair of DIY transitions. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year in Food When we try to count our blessings in precarious years, we invariably include good health in our shortened list. | 12/8/2010
  • The Year In... City Paper's writers go beyond the categories and pick even more top tens | 12/8/2010
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