To me, there seems to be a massive hole atop this list where some kind of singular, monolithic “film of the year” should be (do those even exist any more?). Regardless, here are eleven wonders:
1. The Headless Woman (Lucretia Martel) Put down by some as vacant formalism, Martel’s third effort is a spiral of heightened perception, numbed hallucination, and atmospheric terror. The sound design only deepens the dizziness.
2. RR (James Benning) Elegant art object, conceptual knockout, mesmerizing miniature, and concrete experience, Benning’s farewell to film stock is a clear-eyed remembrance of trains past.
3. Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien) The year’s best French film, courtesy of Taiwan’s master of light and movement. It’s like watching memories being formed.
4. Still Life (Jia Zhang-ke) Exceedingly prolific (he’s made four films of varying length in the time it took Still Life to be released here), Zhang-ke remains the indefatigably observant chronicler of our dim future.
5. Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso) Starkly precise and meticulously executed, this second Argentine entry (along with Martel) makes me marvel as a worried Carioca: wither Brazilian art cinema?
6. Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant) Milk may have all the heart, but Van Sant’s earlier 08 effort is a fluid blend of the bravura techniques from his Tarr-inspired reboot and the textures of earlier dreamscapes.
7. California Company Town (Lee Anne Schmitt) Another CalArts 16mm instant artifact (see #2), this one more deliberately essayistic.
8. Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas) If only for its audacious opening shot and rhyming final take, but also all the earthy, bizarro splendor in-between.