My fellow film critic, Sonny Bunch, and I might have very different top 10 lists, but we do agree on one thing: The last year of the first decade of the 21st century wasn't a good one for movies. Hollywood might not have offered much of interest this year, but there was plenty at the art house — particularly thoughtful fare that explored politics and the people it affects.
1. "Adoration" — Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan is steadily producing an astonishing body of work. This film, one of his best, looks political but turns very personal — it's about terror in the world and in people's hearts. The provocative work is an emotional mystery in which those hearts are slowly revealed to the captivated viewer.
2. "In the Loop" — The funniest film of the year was also the most clever. Armando Iannucci's look at Anglo-American relations and the behind-the-scenes battles to go to war was instructive to anyone who thought the reasons for the Iraq war were completely aboveboard, and entertaining for everyone else.
3. "The White Ribbon" — Austrian Michael Haneke is one of our greatest living filmmakers. His latest film, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, is a subtle and masterful look at how fascism forms in childhood — in this case, the children who grew up to be Nazis. The black-and-white photography is the most striking of the year.
4. "Antichrist" — Lars von Trier's latest is not a film you enjoy — it is one that haunts you for months afterward. The critics who called "Antichrist" misogynistic made the rather elementary mistake of confusing a character with its creator.
5. "The Brothers Bloom" — Thirty-six-year-old filmmaker Rian Johnson has a more than promising career ahead of him. This magical film, dark and delightful, is a con caper with bite.
6. "Paris" — It's an ambitious title for a film, but Cedric Klapisch delivers. This heartfelt — sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, but always moving — film explores the people who make the City of Light one of the greatest in the world.
7. "Up in the Air" — Jason Reitman's latest is simply a great film, one of those comedies whose laughs are made more powerful by the serious themes behind them. But this one is also the perfect movie for our time: George Clooney, at the top of his game, travels around the country, feeling disconnected, firing people for detached management too frightened to do it themselves.
8. "The Limits of Control" — Jim Jarmusch's existential film flummoxed a few, but in this convention-smashing film — as in life — explanations are not so easy to find.
9. "Observe and Report" — Jody Hill will one day steal the crown of King of Comedy from Judd Apatow. This is the future of funny — a rip-roaringly hilarious film that refuses to pander to the audience with a deus ex machina heartwarming ending.
10. "An Education" — It's an age-old story: Schoolgirl is seduced by an older man, only to find he's not what he seems. But director Lone Scherfig and screenwriter Nick Hornby make it new with a deeply funny and deeply intelligent look at women's place in the world.
• Biggest disappointments — Wong Kar-Wai and Ang Lee have made some of the best films of recent memory — "In the Mood for Love" and "Eat Drink Man Woman," to name just one for each. This year, though, they tried to explore American milieus with which they weren't familiar and the results — "My Blueberry Nights" and "Taking Woodstock" — were duds.
• Best soundtrack moment — The children's animated film "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" introduced a new generation to prog rock with the clever use of the Alan Parsons Project's instrumental "Sirius."
By Rand Paul
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