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Climax (Gaspar Noé) The best movie of the year gives new meaning to the term “bad trip.” Frenzied dance numbers combined with LSD, mental breakdowns, and childhood trauma turn this nutcase drama into The Red Shoes meets Hallucination Generation. Freak out, baby, freak out!
Joan of Arc (Bruno Dumont) There is a God and his name is Bruno Dumont. His piously poisonous sequel to last year’s best film, Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc, is artier holier and will give you Catholic goosebumps. The ten-year-old star stares nobly and defiantly through the camera lens right into your soul and doesn’t even wait for the church authorities – she burns herself at the stake.
Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino) A real crowd-pleaser that deserves every bit of its critical and financial success for pulling the rug out from under America’s true-crime obsession and daring to give the Manson murders a feel-good happy ending that manages to be both shocking and terribly funny.
Border (Ali Abbasi) If Eraserhead had cousins, this transgressive troll couple would have welcomed them into their jaw-droppingly-bizarre world of overdeveloped noses, maggot-eating diets, and pedophile-hunting duties. You won’t believe this one!
Amazing Grace (Alan Elliott) Top-notch doc about the 1972 making of Aretha Franklin’s gospel album made all the more powerful by its drab church setting and the empty seats inside. Aretha never looked so talented or so lost, almost like an alien who is stunned by her own talents.
Hail Satan? (Penny Lane) Not since the Yippies have we seen such a hilarious pack of militant activists as the Satanic Temple. Their real-life pro-separation-of-church-and-state cult leader, Lucien Greaves, makes Anton LaVey look like Pat Boone. Don’t send money to Toys for Tots this Xmas; give it to these heretics.
Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodóvar) The first Almodóvar movie to shock me – it’s not one bit funny or melodramatic and even the colors are muted, yet it goes beyond the valley of maturity and over the top of riveting self-reflection to gay mental health. You’re not dying, Pedro, independent cinema is.
The Golden Glove (Fatih Akin) Even its own American distributor called this film reprehensible, and I agree, yet it’s so appalling, so grotesque, so well made and bravely acted that dare I suggest you give this serial-killer movie a watch? Shame on you, Fatih Akin, for making it. Shame on me for putting it on this Top Ten list. Shame on you if you like it.
The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg) An ugly-to-look-at but beautifully shot high-class art film based on the director’s disastrous first love affair with a junkie. If Marguérite Duras and Philippe Garrel had sex and Martin Scorsese adopted their cinematic offspring, this might have been what their film baby would look like.
Joker (Todd Phillips) Irresponsible? Maybe. Dangerous? We’ll see. The first big-budget Hollywood movie to gleefully inspire anarchy. Bravo, Todd Phillips! Only you could get away with it.
Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (Bruno Dumont) An insanely radical heavy-metal grade-school religious pageant that is sung in French from beginning to end. The actors themselves seem like they might burst out laughing, but this is no joke. It’s the best movie of the year. You’ll hate it.
American Animals (Bart Layton) A true-crime story with a brilliant ensemble cast and the real-life culprits and victims edited in, commenting throughout on the action. Adolescent group madness is a beautiful thing to watch.
Nico, 1988 (Susanna Nicchiarelli) A small, sad, fearless biopic that asks the question: “Is junkie dignity possible?” The answer is no. Trine Dyrholm as our heroin-loving heroine plunges headfirst into the despair of showbiz with fierce determination.
Mom and Dad (Brian Taylor) A surprisingly scary, well-shot, pitch-black comedy about the day all parents in the United States decide to kill their own children. A laff riot!
Blindspotting (Carlos López Estrada) You’ll squirm. You’ll identify. You’ll choke on your own gentrified excuses. The smartest and funniest film about race and class in a long, long time.
The Green Fog (Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, and Galen Johnson) An avant-garde ode to San Francisco, the most cinematic of cities, told entirely through clips of films shot there but with all the dialogue cut out so the parts of the movies that originally didn’t matter now do. Abstractly clever, strangely compelling, and just about perfect.
Custody (Xavier Legrand) Divorce, jealousy, misogyny, and physical abuse, topped off with psychological damage to children: This feel-bad movie of the year is so beautifully acted that it made me feel happy, happy, happy!
Sollers Point (Matthew Porterfield) Can a heterosexual director worship his male lead on film just as much as Paul Morrissey obviously did Joe Dallesandro in Trash? Sure looks that way. McCaul Lombardi is a blazing star in this small-scale but beautiful drama about a young parolee’s struggle to re-enter lower-middle-class life in Baltimore.
Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982–1992 (John Ridley) A superb documentary about the Rodney King riots that first makes you hate cops, then white people, then racist African-Americans, then racist Korean people, and then yourself for forgetting all the details of this tragedy. I cried.
Permanent Green Light (Dennis Cooper, Zac Farley) A slow, quiet, sexual cinematic poem on mopey teenage beauties who love making bombs and wish they could explode themselves.
Baby Driver (Edgar Wright) The best movie of the year is a popcorn thriller, an art film, and a gearhead classic that grossed over $100 million. It deserved to! Watching the star turn of Ansel Elgort was like seeing John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever for the first time.
I, Olga Hepnarová (Petr Kazda and Tomáš Weinreb) A hypnotic black-and-white docudrama based on the case of a pretty, 22-year-old chain-smoking lesbian from Prague who in 1973 hopped in a truck and mowed down twenty pedestrians on a sidewalk. Deadpan indeed.
The Strange Ones (Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein) This brilliantly conceived, slow-to-reveal-itself drama pulls the rug out from under any audience’s comfort zone by asking them questions about adult/teen sexual relationships they’d never even want to consider.
Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello) A long, thoroughly irresponsible film about teenage French terrorists who blow up buildings in Paris for no apparent reason, then hide from the police in a luxury mall, where they watch coverage of their exploits on big-screen TVs they wish they could afford.
Wonderstruck (Todd Haynes) Want an IQ test for your cinephile children? Just take them to see this beautifully made, feel-good kids’ movie about the hearing-impaired, starring a little girl who looks exactly like Simone Signoret. If your small fry like the film, they’re smart. If they don’t, they’re stupid.
Graduation (Cristian Mungiu) This quietly harrowing tale of corruption and family dysfunction in Romania has the intensity of Bergman and the humor of Fassbinder... if he had been heterosexual.
The Wizard of Lies (Barry Levinson) A jarringly perceptive portrait of the Madoff family’s behind-the-scenes panic and denial over their greed. De Niro’s performance is restrained to perfection as Bernie, and Michelle Pfeiffer is downright astonishing as his wife. This ain’t no TV movie – give ’em both Oscars.
Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd) The exact opposite of Get Out – here the bad white liberals actually win. Viciously funny and maybe the meanest movie of the decade.
Wonder Wheel (Woody Allen) An impeccably acted potboiler in which Woody channels Tennessee Williams meets The Honeymooners, with a pyromaniac kid thrown in to add a touch of Bad Seed flavor. Say what you will, Mr. Allen has never made a bad movie. This is one of his best.
Tom of Finland (Dome Karukoski) This dirty but dignified, oddly commercial biopic of the artist who inspired the modern-day S&M gay leather scene is now the Finnish government’s official entry in the 2017 foreign-film Oscar race. That’s what I call patriotic penis progress, and I hope it wins.
Krisha (Trey Edward Shults) This hilariously harrowing portrait of a family reunion ruined by an alcoholic relative and too many dogs is told with verve and lunacy and features a top-notch performance by Krisha Fairchild, the director’s own aunt. Other people’s hell can sometimes be so much fun.
Tickled (David Farrier and Dylan Reeve) Hahahahaha! First you’ll chuckle watching this exceptional piece of investigative reporting, but then, once the shocking plot twists begin, you’ll choke on that laughter.
Everybody Wants Some! (Richard Linklater) The best accidentally gay movie ever made by a known heterosexual director features the most talented and sexy ensemble cast of the last decade.
Roar (Noel Marshall) I finally got to see Tippi Hedren’s real-life snuff movie starring her entire family that was made in 1981 but not released in the U.S. until 2015. Watch, slack-jawed, as Tippi is scalped and her daughter Melanie Griffith mauled by the wild-animal extras who turn out to be the real stars of this nutcase action film.
Wiener-Dog (Todd Solondz) The funniest dog movie since Godard’s Goodbye to Language. Nasty, blunt, rude, and full of hideous surprises.
Elle (Paul Verhoeven) Do daughters of mass murderers like to get raped? In France they sometimes do, and only Isabelle Huppert could play this hetero-deviant, Claude Chabrol–meets–Radley Metzger character with feminist dignity. Isn’t she the best actress in the whole wide world?
Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar) If Hitchcock had actually understood women, might he not have made this serious and absolutely stunning hellodrama about female longing and loneliness? Rossy de Palma is back, too. Yay!
Like Cattle Towards Glow (Dennis Cooper and Zac Farley) Arty teenage death, Gallic rimming, and a maddening passion for punk penises make this Eric Rohmer–like porno a real French tickler for the fucked-up literary set.
Valley of Love (Guillaume Nicloux) Yep, it’s her again. Isabelle Huppert and the fattest Gérard Depardieu you’ve ever seen team up as parents in Death Valley, searching for some kind of mystical message from their son who has just committed suicide. Even dead Pasolini would love this film.
A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies) The grim curse of Emily Dickinson’s poetic talent has never been shown with such depressing clarity. If you can’t enjoy suffering along with her, you should be dead too.
Helmut Berger, Actor (Andreas Horvath) Maybe the best motion picture of the year is also the worst? One-time dreamboat movie star and lover of Visconti, Helmut Berger, now 71 and sometimes looking like Marguerite Duras, rants and raves in his ramshackle apartment while the maid dishes the dirt about his sad life. The rules of documentary access are permanently fractured here when our featured attraction takes off all his clothes on camera, masturbates, and actually ejaculates. The Damned, indeed.
Cinderella (Kenneth Branagh) Yes, you heard me, Cinderella. I fucking love this Disney film.
The Forbidden Room (Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson) The most insanely inventive, hilariously funny faux-silent movie of all time, with sound design that should win the Oscar.
Tom at the Farm (Xavier Dolan) A Genet-like love story between a smart-ass hipster and his dead boyfriend’s domineering and dangerously closeted brother who once ripped the mouth off of a man who cruised his sibling. I thought it was sexy.
Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller) Big-budget tentpole movies can be art, too, and this ultimate nonstop demolition derby is downright insane from the moment it takes off.
Carol (Todd Haynes) Maybe the only way to be transgressive these days is to be shockingly tasteful. This Lana Turner–meets–Audrey Hepburn lipstick-lesbian melodrama is so old-fashioned I felt like I was one year old after watching it. That’s almost reborn.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller) A powerful, realistic, and amazingly well-acted comedy about sex between adults and teens that isn’t creepy but authentic, ballsy, and totally unpredictable.
Tangerine (Sean Baker) Last Exit to Los Angeles. A beautifully shot underground transgender adventure story that’s worth seeing for the scary extras alone.
Fly, Colt, Fly: Legend of the Barefoot Bandit (Adam Gray and Andrew Gray) A true-crime documentary that moves like the thief in the night the teenage “Barefoot Bandit” really was. Using animation, news footage, and realistic re-enactments (you even get to see him wiggle his toes), Fly, Colt, Fly will make you understand why this plane-stealing kid became a national folk hero.
Love (Gaspar Noé) The first Official Selection of the Cannes Film Festival to show hard-core heterosexual rimming – in 3D, no less. Thank God for Gaspar Noé.
Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg) Hilariously funny and, dare I say it, yes, pernicious. I love this film more than I love my own mustache.
Charlie Victor Romeo (Robert Berger, Patrick Daniels, and Karlyn Michelson) A nail-biting, fear-of-flying 3D experimental movie where you are locked in six separate cockpits with the flight crew as they re-enact black-box dialogue from actual aviation mishaps and crashes. The scariest airplane movie ever.
The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq (Guillaume Nicloux) My favorite writer is now a movie star, and he’s great playing himself in a literary whodunit that revisits his supposedly factual but still vague and unexplained book-tour kidnapping. Did it really happen, or was Houellebecq just drunk? Who knows? Who cares? I do, a lot.
The Smell of Us (Larry Clark) When the director, playing a wino savant named Rockstar, actually sucks the toes of his French teen male star on-screen (with subtitles yet!), you’ll know you’re beyond Odorama. The smell here may be ripe, but Larry Clark is back in top form. Oh, yeah... it’s a great musical.
Gloria (Sebastián Lelio) A feel-bad date movie for old people who love their lives but hate romantic comedies.
Who Took Johnny (David Beilinson, Michael Galinsky, and Suki Hawley) An amazing, lunatic head-scratcher of a documentary about missing children with plot twists that will leave you creeped out, surprised, and excited. As good as Capturing the Friedmans.
Li’l Quinquin (Bruno Dumont) Yes, there is such a thing as hillbillies in France. A comic barnyard mystery that asks the nagging question: Who is killing people in the countryside, cutting up their bodies, and stuffing the pieces up cows’ asses?
Nymphomaniac (Volume I and Volume II; Lars von Trier) I, a Woman meets Salò. I thank the director for every hideous second of this comic masterpiece.
Violette (Martin Provost) An upbeat biopic about one of my longtime literary idols, Violette Leduc (AKA the “female Genet”), a doubly miserable bisexual who only fell in love with gay men or heterosexual women yet found salvation through writing. The fact that she doesn’t commit suicide seems like a happy ending.
The Films of Joanna Hogg (Unrelated ; Archipelago ; Exhibition ) As the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s mini-retrospective last summer made clear, this British director’s perfectly framed scenes of simmering family resentments and embarrassed silences will thrill you in a severely modest way, and that should be enough. More than enough.
Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine) The best sexploitation film of the year has Disney tween starlets hilariously undulating, snorting cocaine, and going to jail in bikinis. What more could a serious filmgoer possibly want?
Camille Claudel 1915 (Bruno Dumont) Not since Freaks has there been such a harrowing pairing of a star (the sensational Juliette Binoche) with a cast of genuinely handicapped actors. Once again, the great Dumont proves he is the ultimate master of cinematic misery.
Abuse of Weakness (Catherine Breillat) Isabelle Huppert, my favorite actress in the world, plays a crazy director (based on Breillat) who recovers from a massive brain injury by falling for the convict swindler she casts in her film. Their nonsexual, obsessive relationship is sheer perfection to watch, especially when Huppert keeps falling down in those weirdly glamorous orthopedic shoes.
Hors Satan (Bruno Dumont – again! ) Nature never seemed more brutal than in this love story between a mentally challenged holy man who performs miracles and a teenage bad girl from the farm who foams at the mouth.
After Tiller (Martha Shane and Lana Wilson) The brave documentary that asks the question “Which of the four doctors who still perform late-term abortions in America do you like best?” Me? I’d pick the more matronly one from Albuquerque.
Hannah Arendt (Margarethe von Trotta) Finally, a smart biopic about a writer. Barbara Sukowa gives a phenomenal performance as the title character who caused an egghead shitstorm when she found her own Jewish intellectual freedom by coming to understand the “banality of evil” at Adolf Eichmann’s trial.
Beyond the Hills (Cristian Mungiu) If you thought Mother Joan of the Angels was the best arty Catholic movie about exorcism, think again. The supposedly demonized young girl is not possessed – she just wants to be a lesbian!
Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen) My Bay Area friend said it best: “We love the movie here. Only Woody Allen could make San Francisco look ugly.”
Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite) A whale snuff-film documentary that’ll make you root for the kidnapped killer mammal and wish he had eaten alive Sea World’s evil owners.
I’m So Excited! (Pedro Almodóvar) Flight goes queer. Right up there with Airport ’79 in the aviation-disaster genre. Only Pedro could pull off a joyously farcical yet eerily beautiful plane crash and not blow the budget by showing it.
The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies) The agony and passion of obsessive love and a broken heart are so well wrought here that you’ll wish you were suicidal over someone who didn’t love you back.
Paradise: Faith (Ulrich Seidl) Fassbinder died, so God gave us Ulrich Seidl. I laughed uproariously throughout this horrifying portrait of a religious fanatic, and if there’s something the matter with you, you will, too.
Paradise: Love (Ulrich Seidl) Middle-aged women sex tourists can be just as piggish as their male counterparts. But when the sexually exploited begin to exploit back, who’s the victim? The audience, that’s who, and we deserve it.
Amour (Michael Haneke) Misery is really in this year. “Hurts! Hurts! Hurts!” yells out the dying elderly wife to her longtime-caretaker husband, and ticket buyers will agree. Makes Saw seem like a romantic comedy.
Killer Joe (William Friedkin) The best Russ Meyer film of the year – only it’s not directed by him. Gina Gershon, you shocked me raw!
Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin) Directed as if the film crew snuck aboard a Weather Channel boat during Hurricane Katrina, kidnapped the skipper, hijacked the storm chasers’ equipment, swam ashore, and made a boldly original movie.
Compliance (Craig Zobel) A “based on real life” horror story that will make you want to regurgitate both the fast food and the blind allegiance to authority served up in this restaurant setting. Ann Dowd, who plays the ChickWich franchise’s manager, is by far the best actress of 2012.
Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present (Matthew Akers) Maybe the most perfect documentary ever made about an artist. Abramović stares back at the public with a magic-trick power that will get you high and make you cry.
Beloved (Christophe Honore) Another crackpot Umbrellas of Cherbourg homage by the French director who adores unrequited love, cigarettes, Catherine Deneuve, and especially Louis Garrel. Yes, it’s L‑O‑N‑G, but I wished the characters had kept on singing in the theater even after the projectionist had gone home for the night.
The Imposter (Bart Layton) A whodunit documentary that is better than any mystery novel. When Frederic Bourdin, a 23-year-old teen imposter and scam-artist supreme, dances alone on camera in his prison cell looking like an exhibitionist Sirhan Sirhan, you’ll want to hide your children and lock the doors.
The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodóvar) A dark, twisted, beautiful, and, yes, funny shocker from the greatest director in the world. God bless you, Pedro Almodóvar!
Mildred Pierce (Todd Haynes) This elegantly shot, pitch-perfect made-for-TV melodrama makes everyone who watches secretly yearn to be a woman with issues. The best period film in decades – period.
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (Jon M. Chu) I’m not kidding. A well-made doc that proves the Bieb was a child prodigy. Wait until you see Justin stick his head into the audience and shake his hair in 3D. I screamed.
Hadewijch (Bruno Dumont) In this grim, fiercely uncommercial movie, a fanatical Catholic young lady from a rich family hooks up with a handsome male Muslim terrorist, and together they blow up a commuter train. Love is strange, especially when God is involved.
Kaboom (Gregg Araki) A sexy, well-written, end-of-the-world comedy that succeeds beyond all expectation. Doomsday never looked so hot.
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman) This sad documentary debates the regrets of radicalism as a pack of lunatic-kid treehuggers get caught up in frenzied activism and are suddenly accused by the government of terrorism.
The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick) You’d think I’d hate this film, and I almost did – until I realized it’s the best New Age, heterosexual, Christian movie of the year.
I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive (Claude and Nathan Miller) This beautifully acted French film is a tragic, harrowing warning to all adoptees: Finding your real-life birth parents isn’t always such a good idea.
We Were Here (David Weissman) Half my friends died of AIDS, so this simple and painfully told doc on the disastrous epidemic’s effect on San Francisco is personal. If you don’t sob watching, maybe you should be dead too.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) A spooky, witty, never-pretentious meditation on the otherworldly lust of ghosts and wild animals. Aren’t you glad art films don’t get test-screened?
Domain (Patric Chiha) My favorite movie of the year. A forty-year-old alcoholic aunt (played by Beatrice Dalle – “Betty Blue” herself!) and her gayish teenage nephew form a perversely close relationship by taking walks together. Lots of walks! So many walks you’ll be left breathless by the sheer elegance of this astonishing little workout.
Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé) The best film ever about taking hallucinogenic drugs. Seizure-inducing title credits, cinematography that looks as if it were shot by a Gerhard Richter-influenced kamikaze pilot – even vagina-cams. Gaspar, thank you. You’re my sweetheart.
Buried (Rodrigo Cortes) The most excruciatingly painful date movie imaginable comes complete with a very smart feel-bad ending. See it with someone you hate.
Ricky (François Ozon) A great special-effects movie, though there’s only one effect: a flying baby. If David Lynch and David Cronenberg had sex and one of them magically got pregnant, this film could be their offspring.
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg) Talk about granting access! Are you crazy, Joan‽ If Jews went to confession, this film would be a sacrament.
Jackass 3D (Jeff Tremaine) A scatological, gay, S&M, borderline snuff movie amazingly embraced by a wide, American blue-collar family audience. Isn’t Steve‑O chugging down a glass of sweat collected from the asscrack of an obese man and then vomiting at you in 3D the purest moment of raw cinema anarchy this year?
Life During Wartime (Todd Solondz) Paul Reubens (without a trace of Pee‑wee) is a suicidal ghost who’s still miserable, and Charlotte Rampling plays a bitter, self-loathing hotel hornball. Both performances will break your heart.
Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos) If your parents raised you into your teen years without ever once letting you out of the house and taught you that “outside” means climbing in the trunk of the family car and locking yourself in, are you in mental trouble? Hilarious, original, and very discomfiting, the way movies should be.
Carlos (Olivier Assayas) I loved all five-plus hours of this French hymn to celebrity revolutionary-turned-mercenary Carlos the Jackal. He’s so sexy that even militant, left-wing German feminist terrorists give him head and his own hostages ask for his autograph.
Mesrine (Parts 1 and 2; Jean-François Richet) Four and a half more hours about another French criminal/folk hero/stud. Who’s badder? More butch? Cuter nude? Carlos or Jacques Mesrine? Why not a subtitled ten-hour Freddy vs. Jason combined sequel about both? In Sensurround, s’il vous plaït.
Import Export (Ulrich Seidl) The most sorrowful movie of the year is also the best. The miserable lives of Ukrainian immigrants in Vienna make this agonizing but brilliantly directed opus the cinematic equivalent of slitting your wrists. A new genre? Depression porn? Hey, I got off.
Antichrist (Lars von Trier) If Ingmar Bergman had committed suicide, gone to hell, and come back to earth to direct an exploitation/art film for drive-ins, this is the movie he would have made.
In the Loop (Armando lannucci) A smart, mean, foul-mouthed British satire about the struggle for global power that asks the all-important question: How do you debate the invasion of Iraq if your gums start to bleed in the middle of your presentation?
World’s Greatest Dad (Bobcat Goldthwait) Why, oh, why wasn’t this blackest of comedies a hit? Appallingly rude, decidedly family-unfriendly, this autoerotic-suicide tale of a hateful son and his clueless father left the viewer gasping in surprise.
Brüno (Larry Charles) Don’t listen to the critics – it’s better than Borat. Imagine a hetero teen couple in a mall on a first date somewhere in Middle America watching Sacha Baron Cohen pantomime every known gay-male sex act, ending in a joyous “facial.” Sometimes audiences get what they deserve.
Lorna’s Silence (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne) How do these great art films get financed? European socialism, that’s how, and I’m glad the taxpayers abroad put up the dough for this Tracking Shots “Я” Us masterpiece. Only the Dardenne brothers could get away with not showing the dramatic action that climaxes the whole movie. Just think if they had to test-screen this film in America!
Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodóvar) There was some grumbling from Cannes that this wasn’t one of Pedro’s best, but, boy, were those rumors wrong. It’s a beaut! A relentlessly intelligent melodrama filled with so many dizzying plot points that you’ll experience vertigo.
The Baader-Meinhof Complex (Uli Edel) Now here were some kids who knew how to cause trouble! Hmmm... What should we do today? Stop the Olympics or blow up a commercial airplane? These radicals made the Weathermen look like pussies.
Whatever Works (Woody Allen) Gerontophilia never seemed so appealing. This time, Woody goes a little gay and lives to tell about it with lovely, comic success. I am so mad I don’t have this director’s career.
The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel) Bleached hair, hit-and-run accidents, in-laws with hepatitis? Huh? I didn’t get it, but I sure did love it!
Sorry, it’s a tie:
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen) Does anybody not think this is the best American movie of the year (even though it was made in Spain)? Come on, it’s got a great script, the actors look like real movie stars, and Woody Allen films Scarlett Johansson with the same obsession Paul Morrissey had for Joe Dallesandro. Gives heterosexuality a good name!
Love Songs (Christophe Honoré) I may be the only person who would pick this as the best foreign-language movie of the year, but what do I care if you don’t like this hipper-than-thou bisexual French musical? When the sexy, smart-ass characters burst into songs about brain tumors, saliva, and human sandwiches, I get all teary inside and realize that this is the only romantic comedy I’ve ever really loved.
Mister Lonely (Harmony Korine) A Marilyn Monroe lookalike lures a Michael Jackson impersonator to an island that is sort of like a cinematic Jonestown without the suicide, except for nuns who jump out of a plane piloted by Werner Herzog. Korine’s most fully realized movie doesn’t copy anybody.
Savage Grace (Tom Kalin) Julianne Moore in the best Isabelle Huppert role of the year. When a bad mother with good clothes fucks her sexy son, we feel downright criminal in our celluloid enjoyment.
Man on Wire (James Marsh) To see Philippe Petit lie down on the tightrope strung between the World Trade Center buildings as the police attempt to arrest him is to experience the most joyous defiance of the law ever seen on film.
The Last Mistress (Catherine Breillat) A brilliant costume drama that gets down on its tripod to worship the amazingly pillowy lips of its male lead, Fu’ad Ait Aattou. The most seductively sexual on-screen storytelling since Salò.
My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin) I remain frozen in admiration of this homegrown masterpiece from the most reluctantly radical and humorously tortured maverick working in the movies today.
The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky) The director may be channeling the Dardenne brothers, but Mickey Rourke eerily reminds me of Jean Marais bringing beauty to the Beast in Cocteau’s La belle et la bête. Just imagine Mickey’s Oscar speech!
Taxi to the Dark Side (Alex Gibney) Once you see this documentary about an Afghan cabbie who was at the wrong place at the wrong time in the U.S. war on terror, you’ll feel like rioting in the streets. Go ahead. Turn over a car. It’s good for you.
Milk (Gus Van Sant) Sean Penn’s amazing performance as Harvey Milk will make everybody in America have a gay agenda. I also salute the director’s restraint in not showing Dan White eating Twinkies.
Cassandra’s Dream (Woody Allen) Colin Farrell’s best performance ever as a guilt-ridden murderer who lets his remorse eat him alive. And I’m certainly not sorry to tell you the critics were wrong on this one.
Grindhouse (Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino) The coolest high-concept art film of the year. A faux-exploitation double feature from hell with coming attractions in between for films you’d kill to see if they were real. I could feel the ghost rats from Baltimore theaters past brushing up against my legs as I watched.
Before I Forget (Jacques Nolot) This negative movie about an HIV-positive man is brave, funny, gaily incorrect, and smart as a whip. The best feel-bad gay movie ever made.
Away from Her (Sarah Polley) Julie Christie deserves an Oscar for this wonderfully terrifying story of falling in love the second time around on Alzheimer’s. What does a husband do when his wife forgets she is in love with him and hooks up with somebody else who can’t remember either?
Zoo (Robinson Devor) They fuck horses, don’t they? No, the horses fuck them! Jaw-dropping, sympathetic documentary about the appalling true-crime story of the so-called Enumclaw Horse-Sex Incident.
Lust, Caution (Ang Lee) At first, I thought it was the only film to be rated NC‑17 for excessive cigarette smoking, but I soon realized it was a really sexy movie for adults. The best underarm-hair shot of the decade.
Brand Upon the Brain! (Guy Maddin) He may be the most original auteur working these days. Nuts. Defiantly uncommercial. Hilarious. Give the man more grants and prizes.
An American Crime (Tommy O’Haver) The sad but true story of Gertrude Baniszewski, brilliantly told. When Gertie, the scariest foster mother in the world, encourages her own hateful children and their mutant neighborhood chums to carve I AM A PROSTITUTE AND PROUD OF IT on their teenage girl victim’s stomach, you know you’re on the outer edges of entertainment but somehow glad to be along for the horrifying ride.
I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With (Jeff Garlin) A terrific tiny little movie that is a masterpiece of munching, melancholy, and the “magic of self-loathing.”
Flanders (Bruno Dumont) A relentlessly punishing and depressing slow-paced French film about mud, barnyard animals, bad sex, and ugly war. The worst date movie of the year made me happy, happy, happy!
I’m Not There (Todd Haynes) A suggestion of a biography whose million little fractions add up to one knockout of a movie. The exact opposite of Ray!
United 93 (Paul Greengrass) The best movie in the last five years. No cheap shots in this one! I have friends who would watch a snuff film, yet they refuse to see this great action picture – I don’t get why.
Jackass Number Two (Jeff Tremaine) Playing on more than 3,000 screens, Jackass 2 was the number-one-grossing movie in America on its opening weekend – and the male stars eat shit and drink horse semen for real. They’re nude a lot, too. If this isn’t cultural terrorism, I don’t know what is.
The Last King of Scotland (Kevin Macdonald) Forest Whitaker tops the performance of Joseph Olita in 1981’s Rise and Fall of Idi Amin, one of my all-time favorite trash masterpieces.
Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell) When was the last time the star of a film rimmed someone, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and walked away with his dignity? A touching, lovely movie that I hope gets turned into a Broadway musical.
The Departed (Martin Scorsese) The best-acted film of the year from America’s coolest director. The final shot is beyond perfection.
Sherrybaby (Laurie Collyer) Maggie Gyllenhaal plays an ex-convict drug addict (the kind I see in Baltimore every day), and the film is so depressing and great that I wish I could see it with an all-female prison audience.
Inside Man (Spike Lee) Handsome bank-robbing outfits – so chic, so scary, so fashionably conformist.
Sleeping Dogs Lie (Bobcat Goldthwait) A feminist tale of a girl who once blew her dog and mistakenly tells her boyfriend. Now, there’s a high-concept romantic comedy.
Hamilton (Matthew Porterfield) A tiny, minimalist art film from Baltimore that made it to New York and is astonishing in its simple beauty, amazing performances, and hypnotic pace. The real thing.
Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola) Sofia Coppola is Karen Kilimnik!
Last Days (Gus Van Sant) How does Gus get away with making films this great? So arty, so sexy, so maddeningly cool that I’m jealous, Michael Pitt is better at being Kurt Cobain than Kurt was.
Palindromes (Todd Solondz) Todd makes the perfect abortion movie: kind, scary, fair, and with amazing musical numbers! Come on over to Broadway. Mr. Solondz – we could use you.
A History of Violence (David Cronenberg) Maria Bello is the best actress of the year, and for once you believe a scene in which the leading lady vomits from being shocked.
Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog) Timothy Treadwell is the Richard Simmons of the real-life grizzly set, and who ever would have expected Werner Herzog to be the voice of reason?
Saraband (Ingmar Bergman) When elegant, stunning Liv Ullman counts the seconds of a minute in real screen time, it’s more thrilling than any action movie. No Botox for this beauty; she looks fresher than all of Hollywood’s top female stars put together.
Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki) The best movie about pedophilia ever made. If you missed this one, you’re stupid.
The Aristocrats (Paul Provenza) Will make you want to rush from the theater and shout out dirty words to strangers. I laffed till I cried, and I hate jokes.
Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch) Even more beautiful than Alexis Dziena’s bush are the slow, exquisite shots of Bill Murray driving. Whatever the exact opposite of carsick is, that’s what this movie made me.
Head-On (Fatih Akin) A David and Lisa for the criminally insane moviegoer. You’ll feel like dating an alcoholic after seeing this Turkish/German love story from hell.
2046 (Wong Kar-Wai) How can a film that slightly lets you down be so great? No actress wears eye makeup better than Gong Li.
Tarnation (Jonathan Caouette) The best movie of the year. A scarily original underground documentary about a boy (the director) who saves his own life with a video camera. A truly sensational début.
Baadasssss! (Mario Van Peebles) Not since Ed Wood has there been a film that captures “making of a movie” with such a firsthand knowledge and love of showmanship.
The Mother (Roger Michell) A recently widowed grandmother turns horny and has a secret affair with her daughter’s much younger, loutish boyfriend. Gerontophilia never seemed so exciting.
Bad Education (Pedro Almodóvar) Even the Catholic Church and child abuse can be joyous in Almodóvar’s hands. Isn’t Pedro simply the greatest director in the world?
The Brown Bunny (Vincent Gallo) All that beautiful scenery behind the bug-splattered windshield is sheer genius. I wish I’d seen the longer version.
The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci) Everybody always looks sexy in a left-wing riot. Maybe they’re even sexier when they stay home instead and have threesomes. Especially with a soundtrack this great.
Kill Bill, Volume 2 (Quentin Tarantino) Being buried alive with Uma and Quentin was the thrill ride of the season. Coolest end credits of the decade.
The Saddest Music in the World (Guy Maddin) A maddeningly arty musical that will haunt your memory, even if you hated the movie. Maddin puts the capital A in Auteur.
Before Sunset (Richard Linklater) Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy walk around Paris and talk. That’s it. The only romantic comedy I’ve ever loved.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry) Jim Carrey used to look like Tex Watson’s mug shot, but in this film he’s the handsomest man in Hollywood. Most Artforum readers will want to have sex with him.
Far from Heaven (Todd Haynes) My favorite film of the year. A Douglas Sirk–inspired melodrama that actually works without being campy. How does a director this young know so much?
La Chatte à deux têtes (Jacques Nolot) This hilarious, entertaining, and authentic film takes place entirely inside a Parisian porn theater. Somebody! Please! Give this movie American distribution!
The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke) Not since Salò have we had a shocker like this. Isabelle Huppert is God.
Y tu mamá tambien (Alfonso Cuarón) Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal get my vote for screen couple of the year (even if they were drunk and don’t remember a thing).
Merci pour le chocolat (Claude Chabrol) It’s her again. Isabelle Huppert poisons her family, and Claude Chabrol tells her how to do it with cinematic perfection.
Gerry (Gus Van Sant) So slow, so formal, so ballsy, so fucking good. Don’t sleep with anybody who doesn’t love this film.
In Praise of Love (Jean-Luc Godard) Right in the middle of a scene the music rises, overlaps, and completely drowns out the dialogue. The most beautiful and radical sound mix of the year.
Storytelling (Todd Solondz) The director of Happiness leaves you squirming in your seat, feeling gloriously bad. What more do you want for a $10 admission?
Read My Lips (Jacques Audiard) A drab female office worker with a hearing problem falls for French rough trade. Not getting laid never seemed so exciting.
Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar) My kind of romantic comedy – a wise and kind love affair with a girl in a coma. To hell with the Oscars – award Pedro the Nobel Peace Prize.
Irreversible (Gaspar Noé) The art shocker of the year is also the year’s best. Put on the horrifying sound track CD (there is one), take a roofie, and remember this amazing journey into rape and, yes... intimacy.
Dog Days (Ulrich Seidl) Runner-up. The most humiliating film ever made (for both actors and audience). Astonishingly hateful and original. Vienna never looked so depressing.
The Son (Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne) Lead actor Olivier Gourmet won the best-actor award at Cannes for this performance, despite the fact that he’s filmed almost entirely from the back of the head. If this isn’t art, what is?
Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary (Andre Heller and Othmar Schmiderer) Very Paul Morrissey. Very Andy Warhol’s Hitler’s Kelly Girl. Chillingly simple.
Medea (Lars von Trier) I kiss the ground of New York’s Screening Room for booking this beautifully muddy, 1988 shot-on-video masterpiece when it finally got a theatrical release this year.
Swimming Pool (François Ozon) Sexual compulsion, a semi-erect “Hollywood loaf,” and the most amazingly naked performance of the year (Ludivine Sagnier).
Cet amour-là (Josée Dayan) Jeanne Moreau is Marguerite Duras – and as much fun as Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest.
Ken Park (Larry Clark and Edward Lachman) Leave It to Beaver goes hard-core. Bravo! Clark’s the only director who consistently makes the New York Times rise to his bait.
Anything Else (Woody Allen) The critics are full of it! Woody is still smart and funny, and nobody does a medium master shot better. Christina Ricci is the perfect Woody Allen leading lady.
Friday Night (Claire Denis) The most provocative traffic jam since Fellini’s 8½. So slow. So infuriating. So sexy.
Bully (Larry Clark) My favorite movie of the year: A dirty true-crime sexploitation picture that dares to be art. Larry Clark invents the “crotch-cam” shot and inspires the most outraged New York Times review of the season.
Faithless (Liv Ullmann) Liv Ullmann channels Ingmar Bergman. See it on acid.
L.I.E. (Michael Cuesta) A feel-good child molester with a hard-on of gold befriends a confused Long Island teen and his Gacy-bait sidekick.
Mulholland Drive (David Lynch) Lipstick lesbians never had this much celluloid fun.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (Kevin Smith) GLAAD was wrong on this one. Jason Mewes can tell me a blowjob joke any day of the week.
Our Lady of the Assassins (Barbet Schroeder) The perfect boyfriend: He’s young, cute, and kills whoever gets on your nerves.
Lumumba (Raoul Peck) If the distributor of this stylishly realistic biopic about slain Congolese statesman Patrice Lumumba could afford to send out screening videotapes to Academy members, the film’s star, Ériq Ebouaney, would be a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell) Finally, a new kind of hip punk-gay musical that makes all the old-fashioned show-tune queens run for the exits.
Chopper (Andrew Dominik) Eric Bana, as the Australian psycho-murderer who wrote a best-selling autobiography, is as scarily likable as Faye Dunaway was in Mommie Dearest.
Fat Girl (Catherine Breillat) Anaïs Reboux, dressed in puke green, is perfect as the sullen, overweight child–woman who yearns to be desired. She could play a young Divine.
Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier) The most hilariously moving, “feel-insane” movie of the year.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Joel Coen) The jaw-dropping all-singing, all-dancing Ku Klux Klan/Busby Berkeley number is a real beaut.
L’Humanité (Bruno Dumont) The endless saga of a simpleton cop so desperate to feel emotion that he spies on the sex life of his lusty neighbors and smells and kisses his crime suspects during interrogations.
American Psycho (Mary Harron) A chain-saw movie for the elite; the funniest American comedy of the year.
The Idiots (Lars von Trier) A Dogma 95 comedy about a bunch of Danish yuppies who join a Manson-like cult of assholes and liberate themselves by acting like retards in public (“spazzing”).
Water Drops on Burning Rocks (François Ozon) A fake Fassbinder movie directed by my new favorite French auteur. Screenplay necrophilia never seemed so cinematically correct.
The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola) Who would have predicted Sofia Coppola could bring to mind Cocteau’s Les parents terribles?
Criminal Lovers (François Ozon) Ozon again. A Leopold and Loeb–meet–Hansel and Gretel fairy tale about a bitchy teen ingénue and her naïve boyfriend who are imprisoned by a horny, gay, cannibalistic ogre.
Pink Narcissus (James Bidgood, 1971/99) Actor–model Bobby Kendall’s ass: As beautiful and timeless as The Wizard of Oz.
Eva (Joseph Losey, 1962) The best re-released failed art film of the decade. Jeanne Moreau chain-smokes and listens to Billie Holiday records while humiliating her lover in glorious black and white.