1. Wuthering Heights
If there’s an element of Terrence Malick-like cinematic abstraction and landscape photography to this “Wuthering Heights,” it feels more pre-modern than postmodern, as if it’s trying to dig backward through all the costume-drama adaptations to the physical, elemental truths of life and love on the frigid moors of Yorkshire. As a visual and sensual out-of-body experience (mention must go to Robbie Ryan, Arnold’s amazing cinematographer), no other movie released this year comes close.
2. Holy Motors
There’s no point trying to decode the ultimate whys and wherefores of “Holy Motors,” in which a man named only Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) travels through multiple identities, multiple realities and many different genres of film, from science fiction to motion capture animation to action flick to romantic musical to family melodrama. You have to enjoy the ride rather than the destination…
4. Zero Dark Thirty
No one thinks the discussion about the depiction of torture in Kathryn Bigelow’s Osama-hunting thriller is over, but since I don’t believe the film either justifies torture or seeks to, I see that conversation as a proxy for bigger questions about the uses of art in depicting political and moral crisis, and about the global role of the United States. A sweeping, moody historical chronicle of almost Tolstoyan breadth.
5. Rust and Bone
…by teaming with playwright Tony Kushner (who also wrote Spielberg’s terrific “Munich”), and focusing on the culmination of Abe Lincoln’s political career instead of delivering a log-cabin biopic, Spielberg has outdone himself… Whatever political or historical criticisms of “Lincoln” you may wish to offer, this is a meaty and satisfying example of Hollywood cinema at its finest.
7. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
8. Whore’s Glory
…this artful, honest and profoundly compassionate survey of the lives of real female sex workers in Thailand, Bangladesh and Mexico is his most haunting and memorable picture yet. Considering the button-pushing nature of the subject and the enormous potential for sleaze or sentimentality (or both) when it’s approached by a male artist, “Whores’ Glory” paints a remarkably evenhanded portrayal of the world’s oldest profession, neither judgmental nor celebratory.
9. Oslo, August 31
10. Take This Waltz
These tribute paragraphs have been abridged. Read more about the full list at Salon.