Best Picture. Wild Grass – Alain Resnais, the legendary director of a few films I actually can’t stand (Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year at Marienbad) has more recently been applying his formalist tricks to more conventional stories of mortality and romantic displacement and confusion. Wild Grass is a master class in cinematic beauty: in camera placement, score, and heartbreaking/gorgeous cinematography. The proper plot as it were – a roundelay of obsession and misplaced objects, etc. – is mostly a pretense for an eerie celebration of…everything.
2. Carlos – the kind of sprawling epic global blow-out that Olivier Assayas has been flirting with for some time. Édgar Ramírez, in the male performance of the year, reveals the terrorist, more commonly known as Carlos the Jackal, as a ballsy, grandstanding fraud. The picture can be read in a number of ways, most obviously as an exploration of the endless, labyrinthine world corruption that few fully understand. But the picture becomes truly great about 3 1/2 hours into its 5 ½ hour running time when it transforms into a sadly banal comedy of a wannabe revolutionary as a typically hen-pecked, bloated, domestic schmuck. Nothing ever changes and everybody ultimately wants the same things.
3. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World – people understandably assumed that this was just more graphic novel masturbation in search of a high box-office take. The director Edgar Wright, however, made a major leap with this Godardian action picture that’s also somehow the best romantic comedy in years as well as the most purely entertaining plop-it-in-whenever picture of the year. This is a classic, and, in a few years, people will know it.
4. Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer – the true sequel to Wall Street, this seductive, savvy documentary concludes on the infuriating, devastating note that politicians must pay for the prurient behavior that we reward interchangeable television hussies for exploiting.
5. Winter’s Bone – the noir as mythic poem of despair and unexpected human kindness. One of the best acted pictures of the year.
6. True Grit – the big rousing studio movie of the year that reminds us of the pure childish pleasures of watching a story told on screen. Underneath that is a characteristically sad, uncharacteristically generous Coen Brothers movie.
7. Vengeance – Johnny To’s stunning revenge thriller has the single best action sequence in years that turns a junkyard shootout into an abstract re-contextualization of the approach of Birnam Wood. And Johnny Hallyday gives great tarnished icon.
8. The Thorn in the Heart – Michel Gondy is a brilliant stylist who often lets his movies get away from him. Exploring the hurt of his own family, Gondry creates a disciplined, compassionate exploration of the Hell that is the life of the black sheep. It’s his best picture since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
9. The Ghost Writer – Roman Polanski’s fleet, stylish, funny, absurd political comedy of corruption. Would make a good double-feature with Client 9. Ewan McGregor’s best performance.
10. White Material – Claire Denis’ haunting picture isn’t the political harangue that some viewers seemed to take it as – the European/African guilt is certainly there, but this picture is simply and more mysteriously the waking nightmare of the year. One of Isabelle Huppert’s best performances.