The passing year proved to be almost ridiculously rich and varied; any top 10 has to ignore dozens of exceptional movies. Here is what moved me most in the last twelve months of avid, obsessive movie-going (hopelessly justified as an alleged pursuit of eternal aesthetic truths).
1. = Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Mysteries of Lisbon (Raul Ruiz; 6-part TV version)
Mildred Pierce (Todd Haynes; HBO mini-series)
This year’s triple crown goes to the holy trinity of the most immersive experiences I was graced by. Joe’s long-deserved Golden Palm winner, which establishes a beautiful democracy of the living and the dead, as well as switches tables on you a couple of times before it plays out, is this year’s cinematic masterpiece. The other two came to us by way of TV screen, each reaching its heights by different means. Haynes’ straight-as-they-come narrative showcased Kate Winslet’s magisterial performance, as well as managed to purge the James M. Cain story of any dregs of noir that have been floating around it ever since the Michael Curtiz version. On the other hand, the late Raul Ruiz’s lovingly convoluted hall of mirrors transforms the narrative itself into an object of pleasure and entrancement alike. I find it as difficult to differentiate between these three major achievements as I found it impossible to unglue myself from various types of screens I saw each of them on.
4. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi)
A sort of Rashomon remade as a hologram, Farhadi’s courtroom drama manages to conjure up several versions of alleged truth not consecutively, as Kurosawa did, but all at once. Each version is fiercely stuck to (if not necessarily believed in) by one of the sides in a grueling trial, which by its end leaves the viewer in equal measure exhausted and enlightened.
5. Le Quattro Volte (Michaelangelo Frammartino)
A cosmic comedy of animate and inanimate objects leading their strange, circular co-existence, Framartino’s visual and aural tour de force is genuinely something else. By turning the viewers into mere observers and relieving them of any sense of identification or complicity, Le Quattro Volte plays like a documentary shot by a brilliant extraterrestrial cousin of Jacques Tati.
6. The Sleeping Beauty (Catherine Breillat)
The most vertiginous movie of the year multiplies levels of lyrical abstraction as if it was the simplest thing in the world, only to dismiss them at will as mere puffs of smoke at the end. Infinitely rich in associations (yet almost threadbare in its look), this may be the most evocative use of a fairy tale frame of reference the movies have yet given us.
7. Tuesday, After Christmas (Radu Muntean)
Much like the still-unreleased The Kid with a Bike, Muntean’s unflinching rendition of a sudden implosion of a marriage achieves greatness by means of a single final shot – not to be revealed here and certainly difficult to top in the future.
8. Melancholia (Lars Von Trier)
Reviewed by me here, Von Trier’s latest doesn’t fade away, but – much like the eponymous deadly planet – keeps creeping in on us and lures into repeated viewings, to which I’m already looking forward to.
9. The Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt)
A stunningly realized vision of reclaiming the planet by means of wits and agility alone, the most rousing blockbuster of the year makes one feel giddy and liberated, even as it depicts the end of civilization as we know it.
10. J. Edgar (Clint Eastwood)
Eastwood manages to infuse his Hoover biopic with a pungent B-movie earnestness, tell a heart-wrenching gay love story, and all the while not move an inch from the solid mainstream. His J. Edgar, while certainly not a thing of beauty, is a work of surprising compassion and raw emotional power – it can be seen either as Eastwood’a most electric movie to date, or else as a freshly-excavated Sam Fuller artifact, complete with Leo DiCaprio donning his mom’s evening dress.
Best unrealeased movies of the year:
The Loneliest Planet (Julia Loktev), Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan), The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
The most grossly overpraised movie of the year:
We Need to Talk about Kevin (Lynne Ramsay) – reviewed by me here.
Michał Oleszczyk is a contributor to “Kino”, the Polish film monthly and author of the first Polish monograph of Terence Davies (“Bitter Exile”, Kraków 2008).