Directed by Andrew Jarecki
On the surface, the Friedmans were a typical 1980s American family until on one Thanksgiving Day, when that happy façade came to a crashing halt. After the local police discovered the dad had engaged in the buying and selling of child pornography, they questioned several students who attended his computer classes in the Friedman basement. What they revealed would shock the community, and destroy the Friedman family forever. A Crime story and family drama that is intricately woven together with more twists and turns than your usual thriller and is without a doubt one of the most astonishing and disturbing documentaries in American film history. See it to believe it, even if you won’t really know what or who to believe by the end.
Directed by Eugenio Mira
Genre: Horror, Dark Comedy
A young man attends his girlfriend’s father’s birthday party held at a luxury hotel. Just as they arrive, weird things start to happen and guests and hosts alike become exceptionally aggressive. Shot in real time (a la Hitchcock’s Rope), The Birthday begins as an extremely unusual black comedy only to slowly unravel into a horror film reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby. Director Eugenio Mira quietly introduces its horror aspects with a deliberately campy approach at the half-way mark then tears through the roof with an unforgettable climax of complete terror. From its opening titles to the abrupt ending, The Birthday is a gem waiting to be discovered. A slick, good-looking picture beautifully photographed in cinemascope with award-winning art direction and ingenious sound design geared for maximum discomfort. This Spanish horror film, shot in English stars an international cast and at the center is none other than Corey Feldman doing an odd, feature-length Jerry Lewis impersonation (a la The Bellhop). Feldman’s performance, easily the strangest in his career, reaches surprising (even cartoonish) levels of intensity. This film is quirky, campy and carries a hypnotic and seriously creepy atmosphere. One of the most unique and refreshingly inventive genre films. Director Eugenio Mira put it best at the 2004 screening at the Fantasia Film Festival when he quoted Back to the Future and said, “You may not like it but your kids are going to love it.”
Genre: Animated, Comedy
Brad Bird may be one of the few animated filmmakers working today who understands what the concept of a “family film” means. It’s something that offers material to viewers of all ages and doesn’t lose one group by catering too strongly to another. Ratatouille is an irresistible feast of comedy, imagination, intelligence and heart that is free of gratuitous pop-culture references that plague so many movies of the genre. Pixar succeeds again with Ratatouille, a stunningly animated film with endearing characters, a terrific script, great performances, sumptuous animation, a non-stop barrage of wonderful gags and one of the greatest performances of Peter O’Toole’s career.
Directed by Wes Anderson
Genre: Animated, Comedy, Adventure
Anderson, with his first madcap foray into animation, adapts Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and makes the brilliant decision of shooting the whole thing in beautifully old-fashioned stop-motion animation, while lending his usual trademarks to the children’s tale. The animation is superb and Fantastic Mr. Fox represents a prime example of what can be done with this painstaking, old-school format (the same technique used for the original King Kong and Wallace and Gromit). This stop-motion escapade is alive with texture, beautifully colored and overstuffed with ingenious visual effects and brilliant sight gags. Your eyes will never stop roaming the screen and it quickly becomes clear that Dahl’s edgy storytelling fits well with Anderson’s ever-present worldview and visual style. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a warm and charming film about family, adolescence, and adventure that nevertheless stays faithful to the spirit of the source material. In its glorious and barreling 87 minutes, Anderson has taken the gist of Dahl’s book and carefully expanded it into everything you would expect it to be. Whimsical, not quite tongue-in-cheek and very self-aware.
Directed by Giorgos Lanthimos
Genre: Drama, Dark Comedy
Infused with its own brand of hyper-stylized realism Dogtooth feels so out of this world that it is quite impossible to pin down. The winner of the Prix Un Certain Regard at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, Dogtooth is so twisted and weird that it makes the absurd comedy found in the films of Todd Solondz seem relatively lucid. Dogtooth is not for all tastes, and at many times can be unpleasant to watch. The film exposes the bizarre sexual undercurrents that exist behind a family’s life. At times the film can be extremely graphic, with pools of blood dripping on frame and at other times borderline pornography with explicit sex. It’s a labor of love from the director, a long-winded allegory wrapped within the year’s most unusual gift. Deliberately slow with a dreary pace, deadpan dialogue, and expressionless acting that may turn off some viewers. The well executed script is quite possibly one of the greatest depictions of family values gone wrong breaking new taboos in groundbreaking ways. Always unpredictable and certainly provocative, the picture is bound to raise a few questions and eyebrows.
Directed by Julian Schnabel
Genre: Bio-pic, Drama
This was Julian Schnabel`s second biopic of three revolving around an artist (after Basquiat and before Diving Bell and the Butterfly). Before Night Falls is as visually arresting as one might expect from a painter – Schnabel uses images as effectively as words to advance the story, always keeping the camera moving busily but with purpose. Javier Bardem gives an undeniably dynamic lead performance and together with Schnabel they deliver a spellbinding treatment of the life of the late Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas.
Directed by Michael Haneke
Genre: Drama, Thriller
A brutal and absorbing portrayal of a repressed woman who takes refuge in sado-masochistic sexual games. The Piano Teacher makes for rather unpleasant viewing but is well worth the watch for the brave, harrowing performance by Huppert, an actress tearing into a historical role. Extremely disturbing for its extraordinary themes, and an ending that will amaze.
Directed by Shion Sono
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Over its four-hour running time, Love Exposure unfolds an extremely bizarre odyssey revolving around an unusual love triangle, advanced techniques in upskirt photography, Japanese Catholicism, perversion, guilt and obsession amongst another dozen or so motifs. Masterfully directed by Sion Sono (Suicide Club, Hair Extensions), proving once again that he is one of the most innovative, unique and daring filmmakers working today. It’s a cinematic oddity which never seems to drag despite its marathon running length. Accompanied by an eclectic soundtrack, slick editing and wise direction, the film leaves you feeling somewhat hypnotized. You won’t be able to take your eyes off the screen. Love Exposure is a must see for any movie buff.
Directed by Andrew Dominik
Andrew Dominik has crafted an instant classic with this long, ambitious but truly rewarding movie. The stunning poetic visuals and meticulous attention to period detail make for some of the best work from master cinematographer Roger Deakins and one can only marvel at the visual miracles achieved here. A script that takes unexpected risks and whose dialogue sings with poetry and a true spirit to the America of the 1880’s. Combine all that with award-worthy, sensational performances from an all-star cast. including Casey Affleck – who proves him to be a character actor of immense creativity – and you have a near-masterpiece. The best Western to come across the range since Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man.
Directed by Bryan Singer
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Fantasy
A great movie consists of three great scenes and even if superhero moves aren’t your thing, X-Men 2 provides us with three of the greatest scenes in any action film. From the opening sequence featuring a would-be assassin, the acrobatic, teleporting blue mutant Nightcrawler penetrating the White House security to Magneto’s ingenious prison break and finally the well crafted, expertly choreographed fight sequence between Lady Deathstrike and Wolverine, X2 proves why Bryan Singer is one of the best working in Hollywood. A love letter to longtime fans of the comic Singer never loses sight on the ongoing theme of the series – the freedom to be different in the face of intolerant authority. The result is a movie that surpasses expectations, a superhero flick that can rightfully take its place alongside the best and a rare sequel that manages to improve on the original in every way.