6. “Lincoln” _ Steven Spielberg’s historical drama, too, is an exhumation of the past, even if it ultimately fails to make flesh its title character (even Daniel Day-Lewis can’t enliven such a calcified figure, especially with the incessant horn-tooting of John Williams’ grandiose score). But it does succeed _ unlike any movie before _ in summoning a political world, peopled by colorful characters (James Spader, Tommy Lee Jones) in and around Congress.
7. “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” _ The Duplass brothers’ man-child comedy is a rumpled sweatshirt of a movie. When Jason Segel, as a completely charming pothead, finally rises to the occasion, it’s strangely moving.
8. “The Dust Bowl” _ One of the most pleasing things of the year was to see a Ken Burns with some fire. In “Central Park Five,” which he co-directed with his daughter Sarah Burns and David McMahon, he shed light on a miscarriage of justice. When lawyers for New York (who had refused to comment on the case) subpoenaed his notes, he flatly refused. In “The Dust Bowl,” he made clear its contemporary and potentially polarizing lessons: that the federal government can do good and that we are capable of marring the environment horrendously.
9. “Holy Motors” _ French, fantastical and nuthouse crazy, Leos Carax’s film might seem the stuff of pretentious art house. But it’s a simple day-in-the-life, only one in which limos talk and fingers get bitten off for the sake of Eva Mendes. Any references or meanings are irrelevant: It’s a mad movie dream.
10. “Premium Rush” _ How about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s year? Aside from roles in “Lincoln” and muddled but still thought-provoking “The Dark Knight Rises,” he also starred in the excellent time-travel puzzle “Looper” and this seemingly forgettable but really quite fun genre pic about an elusive bike messenger. There may not have been anything as much fun at the movies this year as watching Michael Shannon as a corrupt, comically reckless cop disgusted by his ignoble two-wheeled prey.
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