Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh) – My most basic criteria for a film’s worth is the degree to which I wish I could have made it myself. This film is most definitely one I would be proud to call my own. Almost relentlessly upbeat to the point that it raises some surprisingly troubling questions about the extent to which we can allow happiness into our lives. The character described by the title seems at first like a mindless moppet but over time the true splendor of her personality simply wins you over. Then Leigh and actress Sally Hawkins pull out the show-stopper with an amazing scene between her and Eddie Marsan that exposes just how much she can be exploitive and manipulative in her own seemingly harmless way. This could very well become an all-time classic.
Serbis (Brilliante Mendoza) – see my review on Slant
Tony Manero (Pablo Larrain) – Deeply disturbing, wholly original, sensational but decidedly ungratuitous. Stylistically inspired by the Dardennes but a thorough rebuff to their sentiments in every other way.
Hunger (Steve McQueen) – In terms of pure economy of cinematic exposition this is the leanest meanest piece of work since the days of Bresson, setting up the cathartic 20 minute dialogue in the middle. The rest is kind of a let-down, especially when McQueen falls for self-consumptive body rot aesthetics and the sentimentality of superimposed doves. But what precedes the ending is revelatory.
Tulpan (Sergey Dvortsevoy) – someone (Michael Tully?) wrote that this film was co-directed by God, and with some of the exterior takes I’m inclined to agree. I would love to see Dvortesvoy’s version of Noah and the Ark (or Doctor Doolittle)
Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa) – I was taken in with the story of pretense and fakery among members of a dysfunctional family. Here you can see the connecting lines between Kurosawa and Edward Yang, the inner rage and despair lurking within people threatening to express itself any number of ways.
Treeless Mountain (So Yong Kim) – Impeccable and modest socio-realism, a classic throwback to vintage DeSica.
35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis) – Denis in a low-key, all the better to show off her skills with actors, who are all uniformly excellent. A worthy tribute to Ozu’s Late Spring, one of her personal favorite films.
Still Walking (Hirokazu Kore-eda) – Kore-eda’s self-professed tribute to Naruse, with a similarly fussy family trading endless barbs with each other, great and small. Like a Naruse film it’s got a great restless vibe to it belied by impeccable framing and dramatic execution.
24 City (Jia Zhang-ke) – see my review on Slant
A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin) – Being mentioned in the same breath as Margot at the Wedding and Rachel Getting Married as kitchen sink melodramas featuring ensemble acting with nary a likeable character in the mix. Haven’t seen Rachel yet, but I like this one as much as the polarizing Margot, inasmuch as I admire their director’s determinedness to hit the same note of near sitcom-like interpersonal discord until it makes its own maddening melody.
Night and Day (Hong Sang-soo) – see my review on Slant
The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky) - I’m of the camp that doesn’t ascribe too much profundity to it – at best it successfully breathes new life into the old washed up comeback cliches and has some incredibly choreographed wrestling sequences. Very much a Rocky for our time.
The Headless Woman (Lucretia Martel) – To paraphrase Vadim Rizov, there probably isn’t a more intensely realized display of masterful filmmaking to be seen this year. I could barely watch it.
RR (James Benning) – Mostly informed by the cognitive dissonance of one moment reading one of the many tomes on this film issued by the Benning fanclub extolling its singularity, and the next moment watching any number of amateur footage indiscernible from this film on YouTube. I’m a philistine.
Under the Tree (Garin Nugroho) - a letdown from Opera Jawa, this one is too mired in dramatic exposition to let the musical sequences soar.
Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone) - Maybe The Wire ruined this for me. I found this to be too much of a disjunctive thumbnail sketch of a deeply entrenched social problem to be truly satisfactory or illuminating.
Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt) - Directed with enough obliqueness for left-minded critics to overload with sociopolitical significance.
Che (Steven Soderbergh) - Airless exercise in revolution as performance art (namely Benicio del Toro’s Oscar)
Plastic City (Yu Lik Wai) – Apparently the version I saw at TIFF will not be the final so the jury is out. A weird, weird film.