The Ten Best Movies of 2010 

It was an off year, except in the Land Down Under.

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Meanwhile, Patrick Hughes' new release Red Hill has stylish genre fun with a Western set in the title village, where an Aboriginal escaped convict (Tommy Lewis) comes hunting for the ockers who done him wrong. (We review Red Hill at length elsewhere in this issue.) Fancy an Aboriginal musical? Western Australia fantasy Bran Nue Dae, by filmmaker Rachel Perkins, crosses Baz Luhrmann with Rabbit Proof Fence in the whimsical story of a teenage boy named Willie and his search for identity, which is hampered by mock-sinister Catholic priest Geoffrey Rush.

More Australian films are reportedly on their way to American screens, including Brendan Fletcher's Outback story Mad Bastards; Matthew Bate's viral-video documentary about dueling neighbors, Shut Up, Little Man!; the vigilante thriller Blame by Michael Henry; and Coffin Rock, Rupert Glasson's melodrama about a possessive ex-lover, sort of a Fatal Attraction riff with a male in the injured-party spot. The first two of the above get their US debuts at Sundance this winter. The upshot of all this is that we needn't get depressed sorting through tepid Hollywood sequels and remakes for movie excitement. The wizards of Oz are ready to pick up the slack.

We reviewed Mother, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Square, The Kids Are All Right, Animal Kingdom, The Social Network, Carlos, and True Grit during the year in the course of our weekly movie coverage in the Express. The Social Network is the very best film of the year by a wide margin, and we take back (almost) every negative thing we said about director Fincher while he was toiling in the vineyards of Fight Club and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. He finally found a story that means something. The film's strongest selling point, aside from Fincher's remarkable cast and the iron-clad topicality of profiling a tech billionaire in classically tragic terms, is Aaron Sorkin's screenplay. Now we're pacing the floor, anticipating what Fincher is doing, even as we speak, to another of 2010's best bets, the Lisbeth Salander Trilogy, as he helms the obligatory H'wood remake.

Alongside the bland ambitious deadpan of Facebook's founder, solitary Swedish riot grrrl avenger Salander is 2010's most striking poster child. Ever notice how every third person on BART is carrying a copy of one of the late Stieg Larsson's books? Niels Arden Oplev's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first in the series, is a stressful actioner with just enough headline kink to satisfy jaded urban audiences, but it was The Girl Who Played with Fire, under the direction of Daniel Alfredson, that really set the hook for Lisbeth's violent saga, aka The Millennium Trilogy — named after the investigative magazine where Mikael Blomkvist (actor Michael Nyquist) works.

Noomi Rapace, the face that took a thousand punches as hella-picked-on Lisbeth, successfully kept a lid on her character when a lesser mortal, say Uma Thurman's The Bride in the Kill Bill films, would simply hack everyone to pieces. Lisbeth is cool, hurt, and alone, and she'll never get over it. Many of us can relate. Her distressing adventures — after all, she's ridding the world of her family — tell us as much about the current state of things as Mark Zuckerberg's wounded acquisitiveness.

Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, the real-life protagonist of Carlos, also cast himself as a righteous avenger. He took his nom de guerre from two-time Venezuelan president Carlos Andrés Pérez, an anti-IMF, anti-World Bank petro-activist. When we first meet Carlos (a tour-de-force performance by fellow Venezuelan Edgar Ramírez) he has already worked himself up to a pitch of anger ("words get us nowhere") where violence is the only recourse to social injustice. And so he rents himself out as a hit man for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Potential audiences for filmmaker Olivier Assayas' monumental, five-and-a-half-hour portrait of the notorious international terrorist and his times have reportedly objected to the film's relentless cataloguing of assassinations and bombings.

As in The Baader Meinhof Complex, Carlos' depredations, detailed by director Assayas and screenwriter Dan Franck in machine-gun montage, put the story in clear, murderous context. Carlos was a sincerely committed, and sincerely misguided, man whose deadly career gradually took over his life. After all is said and done, what is a revolutionary? And what is a just cause worth dying for? This thought-provoking, visceral political drama is probably the pinnacle of Assayas' filmography.

Carlos, the Lisbeth Salander Trilogy, and Jean-François Delassus' tapestry-like documentary 14-18: The Noise and the Fury all began as TV shows. World War I literally destroyed an entire French generation, and director Delassus uses everything at his disposal — reenactments, newsreels, colorized footage, animations, etc. — to bring the full force of the horror of that war to the screen, through the requisite haze of time. The implication is that each and every one those lives was wasted. Maybe someone, some day, will do for the American people, vis-à-vis Iraq and Afghanistan, what Delassus does for the French with this haunting, brilliant, ineffably sad evocation of a time and place.

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