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The 25 Best Films of 2010

Call it the Year of the Woman, as 2010 featured more standout lead female performances than any 12-month stretch in recent memory.

The 25 Best Films of 2010
Photo: Summit Entertainment

15. Eccentricities of a Blonde Haired Girl (Manoel de Oliveira)

Manoel de Oliveira’s Eccentricities of a Blonde Haired Girl comes on like a daintily pathos-driven sketch—in both the Guy de Maupassant and the SNL senses of the term. As long-faced thirtysomething Macário (Ricardo Trêpa) bullets from Lisbon in a charter bus, he regales an eager, motherly co-passenger with his tale of ruin; we flash back to a Portugal-as-a-Napoleonic-era stage where nubile blondes like Luísa (Catarina Wallenstein) drive the poor apprentices of fabric salesmen to distraction, and lovesick quests for wealth, with fan-abetted coquettishness. De Oliveira’s texture-hungry camera observes the romantically invested performances with an impartial intransigence; it’s the straight man in this diaphanous farce. And yet for all the cosmic cruelty they shoulder for their infatuations, de Oliveira continually confirms his Promethean affection for these characters by granting them the gift of comic timing. Lanthier

14. Amer (Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani)

In making Amer as cold, calculating, and totally transfixing as they have, Belgian filmmakers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani have manically constructed what may very well be the Super Giallo. Full of free-floating signifiers of victims watching killers, killers watching victims, and victims becoming killers, the film is essentially an academic’s tract on how the Italian giallo functions as a genre. And yet, it’s edited so masterfully and filmed with such a sadistically attentive eye for detail that it never feels intractably stiff. Every scene has a new color scheme, a new way to visually process sexual identification. Catte and Forzani prioritize their roles so that they impress us as visual artists that also happen to be capable theorists. The film’s narrative progression—the first act is Bava, the second is Fulci, and the third is Argento—is subsequently relentless while its dazzling kaleidoscopic aesthetic calls attention to its filmmakers’ brash know-how. It’s the ultimate cinematic fetish object—all close-ups, no mercy. Abrams

13. October Country (Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher)

Sopping with detached narcissism and unprocessed disappointment, October Country is close to what we’d presumably get if we gave one of the tangential interviewee-hicks from the annals of Errol Morris’s America a camera and unprecedented editorial control over his own story. Donal Mosher, playing off-screen documentarian in his own backyard, lyrically confronts the blue-collar heartache of his screwy, upstate New York kin by allowing their implosive discursiveness to bristle against their lushly pastoral environment. Revealingly contradictory, Faulkner-esque colloquialisms flow from the mouths of, among others, a disillusioned veteran, a chain-smoking grandmother, a ghost-hunting aunt, and a molested daughter fighting for custody of her illegitimate child. But co-directors Mosher and Michael Palmieri never mistake these for unsung American archetypes. They’re something much more vital: lost souls arbitrarily encumbered with universal regret. Lanthier

12. Ne Change Rien (Pedro Costa)

Who would have guessed that the year’s most transporting musical would come courtesy of Pedro Costa? The Portuguese tableaux-master here documents a variety of rehearsals, recordings, and live shows performed by actress Jeanne Balibar, the one-of-a-kind Jacques Rivette favorite who, humming and rasping one drone-rock number after another in static close-up, provides the solitary light in a universe of inky chiaroscuro. Hypnotic, willfully repetitious, and often suggesting an imaginary Nico biopic starring a young Shelley Duvall, Ne Change Rien is Costas’s stark portraiture wondrously attuned to his muse’s grooving rhythms, with such moments as Balibar’s performance of the theme from Johnny Guitar offering visual and aural pleasure intense enough to challenge anybody’s definition of the project as “minimalist.” Croce

11. Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong)

God bless IFC Films. Arriving in U.S. theaters more than three years after its Cannes premiere, Secret Sunshine isn’t just an actor’s showcase. Yes, Jeon Do-yeon’s towering performance as a piano teacher who moves with her young son to her deceased husband’s hometown is a nuanced, emotionally bracing portrait of grief and spiritual yearning, but the film is also a sterling reminder of how cannily Lee Chang-dong illuminates the power and effect of conformist cultures on the soul of the individual through his fixation on social minutiae. Neither saints nor sinners, Lee’s characters are still very much victims of societies in which male violence thrives and goes unchecked, and this is his bravest act of humane commiseration yet. Gonzalez

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