Whatever you make of it, the fact is that the best movies of 2010 focused on tiny, private and/or completely artificially constructed worlds that can be examined but are not easily ruptured. Be it the wacko-fundamentalist family unit in Dogtooth, its ultra-loose opposite in Daddy Longlegs, the enormous Catholic sanctuary in Lourdes, or the beach house in About Elly – not to mention the total confinement of one’s own computer screen in The Social Network – 201o was fascinated with insularity. (I haven't seen Tron: Legacy yet, but I'm guessing it would make another case in point.) Only one movie on the list that follows has a true epic scale and employs an international setting, thus not only defying fragmentation itself, but reaffirming the functional unity of our world as such. That the hero of the movie is a terrorist (Carlos), is another matter.
Here’s my Top 10 for the year 2010:
1. Dogtooth (Giorgos Lanthimos)
Lanthimos’ small-scale homey prison-camp family fable is not only the most stunningly executed movie I’ve seen this year; it’s also the wittiest and most horrific variation on the perils of insularity since Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s Innocence (2004). Emulating a number of seemingly contradictory influences – ranging from Pasolini to Rocky (1976) – Lanthimos created a haunting vision of human culture as a psychotic parlor game erupting in violence, that is both difficult to match and impossible to shrug off. (See my full review here).
2. About Elly (Asghar Farhadi)
3. Tuesday, After Christmas (Radu Muntean)
4. Carlos (Olivier Assayas)
A movie that needs to be seen in its 330-minute version or not at all, Assayas’ mammoth yet slick actioner goes down like a shot of vodka (OK, a series of shots). In its multilingual and geographical grandeur, the movie achieves something that should be flaunted in the ads as Globe-O-Vision. In its intermittent employment of action movie kicks and analytical recoil, Assayas’s film offers an unparalleled glimpse into modern history without a hair of sermonizing, and with a good deal of excitement (and horror).
5. Greenberg (Noah Baumbach)
It wasn’t until the second viewing that I appreciated Baumbach’s quietly accomplished feat of throwing an über-jerk onto us and then pairing him with the most happily autistic screen presence this side of Seinfeld’s Patrick Warburton (courtesy of the indelible Greta Gerwig).
6. Lourdes (Jessica Hausner)
7. Eyes Wide Open (Haim Tabakman)
Everything was set for a commonplace doomed-love story. By virtue of his precise (sometimes scarily so) direction, Tabakman eschewed the limitations of the material and gave us the most devastating account of desire warring with culture that hit the screen in 2010. I’d choose the scene in which a passing bus is suddenly revealing the crowd of hostile on-lookers as the single most potent shot I’ve seen this year.
8. The Social Network (David Fincher)
A virtual steamroller of energy and verbal zest, The Social Network has the distinction of surpassing its own perilous topicality and adding a great new character to the venerable lineage of American folk heroes, without stooping to making him cute or even likable.
9. Prodigal Sons (Kimberly Reed)
10. Daddy Longlegs (Ben & Josh Safdie)
Runners-up: Exit through the Gift Shop (Banksy); Amer (Cattet, Forzani); Boxing Gym (Wiseman); Father of My Children (Hansen-Løve); Let it Rain (Jaoui); Bluebeard (Breillat); Enter the Void (Noe).
Plus my annual personal awards:
Best Director: Olivier Assayas (Carlos)
Best Actor: Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)
Best Actress: Mirela Oprisor (Tuesday, After Christmas)
Worst movie of the year: The A-Team (Joe Carnahan)