Tellingly, only my top two titles unequivocally belong on a list of this kind, and only items three and four were sufficiently savoury to make me pleased to know they’d successfully managed to elbow their way in. The other six films are compromise choices of one sort or another, outstripping Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia because even though they lacked the Turkish film’s formal brilliance, they all ran on greater narrative energy.
Rust and Bone
This unlikely romance between a disabled orca trainer and an extreme fighter with limited social skills exults in instinct and the body, finding emotion in the least likely places imaginable. Canadian Craig Davidson wrote the source stories for this astonishing French feature from Jacques Audiard.
The whole history of the seventh art unspools as director Leos Carax follows the peregrinations of a method actor (Denis Lavant) who pushes his art to the point where he makes Robert De Niro look about as adventuresome as Ralph Richardson. The more you know about the movies, the more rewarding this film becomes.
A wild and woolly Norwegian film noir wherein the line between good and evil grows so thin that traditional morality soon ceases to be a factor. Comfort food for your inner id.
Not all manga are for kids. Singaporean director Eric Khoo tuned his admiration for the gekiga (unflinchingly realistic comic books aimed at adults) of Yoshihiro Tatsumi into an animated feature that manages to combine variegated fictions and biography without the aid of computer graphics.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Grim, measured, and sociologically somewhat suspect, Lynne Ramsay’s “bad seed” child drama is ultimately redeemed by Tilda Swinton’s brilliant performance as a tormented mother who suspects she’s given birth to a demon with a disarming smile.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
This low budget, hard-to-read parable about the peregrinations of an uncanny little girl on a Louisiana island in the wake of a natural disaster isn’t really as great as it’s cracked up to be, but it’s still haunting enough to hold the viewer’s full attention, nevertheless.
There’s a gritty stoicism to this gangster movie about moonshiners and G-men during the Prohibition era that makes it a fairly distinguished member of its genre. The dialogue and acting are both pretty good too.
From this quietly rich documentary, I actually learned something about both the greatest reggae artist of all time and the Jamaican society that formed him. Full marks to director Kevin Macdonald.
The Flowers of War
This “sisterhood is powerful” spin on the Rape of Nanking doesn’t represent Zhang Yimou at his very best, but Zhang Yimou at his so-so is still nothing to sneeze at.
Because it’s the best James Bond movie yet, and because director Sam Mendes makes us shed more tears for an iconic object than we do for a beloved and recurring character.