1. Caché (Michael Haneke) A brilliantly directed anti-thriller about a TV hosts horror of being watched, Caché let a slight amount of light into Hanekes bleak world. Even so, it made the audience work hard for tenuous and ambiguous conclusions, rather than offering the satisfactions genre films usually provide.
2. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog) Years after the New German Cinemas heyday, the documentary boom has helped put Herzog back on the map. A great doc usually requires a great subjectin amateur filmmaker and grizzly bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell, Herzog found a replacement for his best fiend Klaus Kinski. Surprisingly, this dialogue with a dead man soberly examines the romantic worldview behind many of his filmsbeing a visionary wont keep you from being eaten by a bear.
3. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (Park Chan-wook) With three films released in New York this year and an enormous amount of ink spilled about them in print and on blogs, Park has finally established himself as one of world cinemas most controversial directors. Is he a Hitchockian master or a reactionary glorifying vigilantism? Ive swung back and forth, but Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, the first installment in a trilogy about revenge, is an unshakably brutal depiction of a society where CEO and anarchist alike share the same lack of values. Vengeance is everywhere, but the sympathy must be supplied by the spectator.
4. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) Who would have guessed that William Blake has a successor in Thailand? This two-part gay love story, which starts off banal and ends up aiming for mythical transcendence, made the rest of the years romances (whatever their orientation) look trivial in comparison.
5. The Holy Girl (Lucrecia Martel) The Holy Girl may be the first film whose framing is influenced for the better by a lifetime of watching cropped videotapes Conflating a girls burgeoning sexuality with her urge to spiritually redeem a man who gropes her in a crowd, it creates a visual vocabulary all its own to express the turmoils of female adolescence.
6. The New World (Terence Malick) The years most powerful heterosexual love story, it suggests that Malick is the last poet left in Hollywood. Improving on The Thin Red Line in several respectsparticularly the use of voice-overit contains some scenes combining music, live sound and montage so powerfully that my jaw was on the floor.
7. Kings and Queen (Arnaud Desplechin) If Seinfeld was a show about nothing, Kings and Queen is its oppositea film about everything Desplechin can cram in. Taking family melodrama as its starting point and pumping it full of literary references, sharp mood changes, and a little bit of hip-hop dancing, it suggests that he can do almost anything he wants and put a personal stamp on it.
8. Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa) The best horror film Michelangelo Antonioni never made, Pulse risks foregoing a logical story in favor of evoking horrific desolation. Its ghosts arent nearly as scary as its vision of a Tokyo emptied of life. If its fears about an Internet-driven apocalypse now seem slightly datedit was made in 2001 and only released in the U.S. this yearkeep in mind that it looks back to Hiroshima and includes imagery predicting 9/11.
9. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg) Despite the title, Im not convinced that this film has anything profound to say about bloodshed. However, it does offer a scathing picture of American life at its most phony, where social roleswhether they be gangster, family man, or teenage bullyare drawn from pop culture and have little to do with peoples real inner lives. This is the kind of American film it takes an outsider to make.
10. Darwins Nightmare (Hubert Sauper) Essential, indelible, and harrowing, this documentary starts out with a small subjectthe destruction of a Tanzanian lake by imported percheand turns into a portrait of globalization at its bluntest and most callous. Balancing crude, even ugly direction with very careful editing, its as scary as a great horror film but all too real.
James Bennings 13 Lakes, Hong Sang-soos Tale of Cinema, Philippe Garrels Regular Lovers, Katsuhito Ishiis The Taste of Tea, Nobuhiro Suwas A Perfect Couple, and Takashi Miikes Izo didnt make it off the festival circuit into commercial release, but they deserved a better fate. At least Izo is currently available on US DVD.
Runners-up: The Devils Rejects (Rob Zombie), Innocence (Lucile Hadzihalilovic), Kung Fu Hustle (Stephen Chow), Land of the Dead (George A. Romero), Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki), Shes One of Us (Siegrid Alnoy).