Ten best films: Biopics and classroom acts score high
The Monitor's critic sorts through what he sat through this year.
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'Encounters at the End of the World'
Werner Herzog's documentary about the Antarctic brings you up close to creatures (human and otherwise) both above ice and below. No matter where his camera takes him, Herzog's way of seeing – intensely lyrical and ineffably creepy – is always his own.
Mike Leigh's melancholy comedy, one of his best, stars the marvelous Sally Hawkins as an irrepressibly vital London elementary school teacher who refuses, against all odds, to be brought down by life.
'I Served the King of England'
This one-of-a-kind tragicomedy from the Czech Republic's Jirí Menzel chronicles the quicksilver fortunes of a blithely ambitious young man, wonderfully played by Ivan Barnev, as he endures the Nazi and Stalinist regimes.
Philippe Petit's famed 1974 tightrope walk between the towers of the World Trade Center is the centerpiece for James Marsh's extraordinary documentary meditation on a bygone era and the strangeness of heroism.
Chinese director Jia Zhang-ke is probably the finest talent to emerge on the world scene in recent years, and this film about two people seeking out lost loves in a ruined city is his best.
'Waltz With Bashir'
In this animated documentary, Israeli writer-director Ari Folman, who was a 19-year-old soldier in the 1982 war in Lebanon, goes back over the events leading up to the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. A harrowing personal odyssey that, finally and unforgettably, breaks into actual footage of the devastation.
'Wendy and Lucy'
Kelly Reichardt's road picture about a vagabond and her dog making their way to Alaska may not sound like much in the telling. Don't be fooled: It's one of the most quietly resonant movies of the year, with a performance by Michelle Williams that is, like the film itself, a model of grace and economy.
Other films, among many, that I liked: "Mongol," "Hunger," Gomorra," "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," "What Just Happened?" and "Trouble the Water."