Top ten films of the year

By Drew Hunt

10. “Tiny Furniture (USA, Director: Lena Dunham) Lena Dunham’s film is a fiendishly clever effort—one that bears no marks of a debut feature. Dunham stars as Aura, a film theory major and YouTube video maker who moves home after graduating college only to find disillusion. “Tiny Furniture” is an honest self-examination and a sort of denigration of post-grad malaise that satirizes New York-style bohemia. But Dunham is never entirely pessimistic. Her disregard of privilege and aversion to social climbing is refreshingly modest, and so is her unapologetic relationship with her body and sexuality. It’s also very funny, making light of awkward hookups, iPhone porn and departed pet rodents.

9. “Mother (South Korea, Director: Joon-ho Bong) This strange and startling film from Korean director Joon-ho Bong marks yet another unconventional effort. It’s fairly common on the surface: A mother’s son is accused of murder so she sets out to prove his innocence. But the film is laced with odd humor and wry experimentation. Throughout his career, Bong refused to play by the rules of genre filmmaking. Not unlike his monster movie, “The Host,” “Mother” subverts audience expectations by toying with convention. It’s deceptive in the way a film like “Inception” wishes it were: Bong relies on unique characterization opposed to convoluted plot points to create intrigue, and the film succeeds because of it.

8. Restrepo (USA, Directors: Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger) This riveting documentary chronicles one year in the life of a platoon of U.S. Army troops stationed in the most chaotic and dangerous regions of Afghanistan. As the soldiers literally fight to survive, the directors succeed in eliminating any external aspects and focusing the story solely on the soldiers. However, it’s nearly impossible to ignore the circumstances of their plight. The result is a harrowing and sometimes enraging experience. It’s a wholly honest film and the year’s

best documentary.

7. I Am Love (Italy, Director: Luca Guadagnino)“I Am Love” is an unapologetically lavish melodrama in the vein of a film by Luchino Visconti. Like Visconti, fellow Italian Luca Guadagnino is a decidedly hands-on director—almost to his detriment. But the flailing emotionalism of “I Am Love” is made tolerable by a stunning visual style. Tilda Swinton stars as the film’s main character, and Guadagnino’s camera renders her nothing short of majestic. Her lionization could have led to the film’s downfall, but Swinton is as good as she’s ever been, effectively saving “I Am Love” from wallowing in romanticism, like so many of Visconti’s films did.

6. Winter’s Bone (USA, Director: Debra Granik) A disarming look into a world of unease and hostility, Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” is a graceful merger of naturalism and stylization, one that renders the Ozarks as a hauntingly uninhibited landscape. Any beauty it possesses is lost in Michael McDonough’s brilliantly stirring cinematography—even the trees look menacing in this world. As far as narratives are concerned, the film is as engrossing as they come. It’s a kind of backwoods neo-noir, as bleak as it is captivating. The performance given by Jennifer Lawrence—who plays the film’s main character, Ree—is brimming with gravitas. She’s already garnered major award nominations—a trend that shouldn’t stop any time soon.

5. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? (USA/Germany, Director: Werner Herzog)The lack of public awareness of this film is undoubtedly due to its inaccessibility. While its theatrical run can only be described as sporadic, Werner Herzog’s latest film is his best since his documentary “Grizzly Man.” “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?” is chockfull of Herzogian goodness: Michael Shannon plays a typical Herzog protagonist, a mentally unhinged obsessive whose aggressive behavior appears to be devoid of rationality. Frequently pitted against the indomitableness of life and nature, Herzog’s heroes devolve to pure inanity. What results is a visceral filmic experience, and “My Son, My Son” is a sort of spiritual sequel to films like “Aguirre: The Wrath of God” and “Fitzcarraldo.”

4. The Social Network (USA, Director: David Fincher) Like his 2007 film “Zodiac,” Fincher’s latest is a forensic study of an impenetrably obsessive outcast who reconstructs the world by infusing it with his own crippling insecurities. It’s the most intelligent mainstream American film to be released in years—a sort of cynically fatalist tale about the corruptibility of big business. But the character Mark Zuckerberg (note: the character, not the actual guy), portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg, represents much more than the cutthroat nature of the American dream. Blinded by pride and aimless egotism, he is the Charles Foster Kane of the iGeneration.

3. Carlos (France, Director: Olivier Assayas)Olivier Assayas’ remarkable film manages to be epic and contained in equal spurts—a sprawling, five-hour marathon and a nuanced character study. His account of the international terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez—aka Carlos—packs all the punch of an action flick, but it’s Assayas’ deconstruction of the global community that makes the film resonate so profoundly. Assayas continues to be one of Europe’s most preeminent auteurs.

2. Black Swan (USA, Director: Darren Aronofsky) Having run the gamut of bodily destruction in his 2008 film, “The Wrestler,” Darren Aronofsky returns to similar themes in this psychological thriller. Natalie Portman takes the place of Mickey Rourke as Aronofsky’s would-be punching bag, providing a vulnerability that belies the decimation of her mind and body. Aronofsky induces squirms and pathos in equal dosage, ritualizing the act of ballet to the point of brutality yet retaining all of its grace and beauty. It’s a spectacular achievement and his best film to date.

1. Dogtooth (Greece, Director: Giorgos Lanthimos) In a film that owes a great deal to the static framing and structural cinema of Chantal Akerman’s “Jeanne Dielman,” Giorgos Lanthimos’ subversive dissemination of the modern family is an unrelenting, bitingly satirical masterpiece. For reasons unexplained, a married couple sheltered their three adult-aged children from civilization, dictated their knowledge of language and customs, and formed an elaborate mythology of the outside world to prevent them from leaving their home. The results are nothing short of animalistic. The children become prone to violent outbursts and emotional breakdowns as the illusion of their existence begins to break down. The subtle chaos of Lanthimos’ film examines the balance between nature and nurture, with nature—and the violent barbarism therein—frequently winning out. It’s not an easy film to watch, but the rewards are plentiful.