Sold — and bought — as the year's most "intelligent" blockbuster while actually baldly insulting its audience's intelligence, Inception both conquered the 2010 zeitgeist and helped define it. It was merely the biggest rendition of the year's most prevalent movie theme: How do you know that what you think is real is actually, like, really real? How do you know that you're not being fucked with?
It's a theme that manifested itself across budgetary strata and genres, popping up overtly or as subtext in everything from camcorder quasi-docs such as Catfish, Exit Through the Gift Shop and I'm Still Here to big-money entertainments like Salt and How Do You Know.
Two of my Top Ten choices, The Ghost Writer and Shutter Island, directly deal with the "real real" question, and most of the other films on my list incorporate some variety of it.
Top ten movies of 2011
So, counting down from 10:
10. ENTER THE VOID
Directed by Gaspar Noe
I can't fully condone Noe's trip — in my review, I called it a "mash-up of the sacred, the profane, and the brain-dead," and I stand by that. But I've come to appreciate its stoner stoopidness as part of its charm. And nothing else in 2010 set off my "What the fuck am I watching?" censor quite like it.
9. THE GHOST WRITER
Directed by Roman Polanski
The best Hollywood thriller that Hollywood didn't make this year.
8. SHUTTER ISLAND
Directed by Martin Scorsese
The best Hollywood thriller that Hollywood did make this year.
7. EVERYONE ELSE
Directed by Maren Ade
Want your Blue Valentine-like dissection of marital strife but could do without the Academy-montage mugging and wall-to-wall Grizzly Bear? Try Maren Ade's second feature, a grueling (but gorgeous) snapshot of a young couple whose vacation idyll is slowly eroded by the insecurities brought in from outside.
6. THE RED CHAPEL
Directed by Mads Brügger
The surprise winner of the World Cinema Documentary prize at Sundance in January, Brügger's hilarious document of his subversive journey into North Korea with two Danish-Korean comedians in tow is, like Dogtooth (see below), concerned with a closed system maintained through manipulation of reality. But Brügger and gang come armed with their own complicated series of manipulations: In the Year of Being Fucked With, the year's best doc offered a game plan for how to fuck with them back.
Directed by Sofia Coppola
The year's second masterful portrait of L.A. ennui as seen through the camera of Harris Savides (the other is Greenberg), Somewhere should be remembered as a game-changer for Sofia Coppola, the point at which she shrugged off the crutches — music-video language and decorative design — that defined her first three films, adopting an entirely new stylistic approach while remaining true to her key concerns. Don't think of it as a movie about the rich, famous and beautiful from the perspective of a woman who has been all three since birth; think of it as a movie about what happens when you get everything you thought you wanted, and you're still miserable.
Directed by Giorgos Lanthimos
Feted by Cannes in 2009, heralded by aging tastemakers (David Byrne, John Waters) upon its summer 2010 release in New York, the second film from Greek director Lanthimos is a matter-of-factly violent, blacker-than-black comic parable about sex, pop culture and closed societies set in a single suburban home.
3. DADDY LONGLEGS
Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie
Ronald Bronstein, director of the 2007 underground opera of awkwardness Frownland, is starting to attract awards attention for his go-for-broke performance as the desperate dad of two young sons in the Safdie brothers' manic, electric 16mm roman à clef. If only all awards-bait family dramas were as unflinching, honest and funny-horrifying as this.
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Through Ben Stiller's epic depresso Roger Greenberg, a fortyish Bushwick refugee floundering around L.A. and anti-seducing the much younger and surprisingly receptive Florence (Greta Gerwig), Noah Baumbach and soon-to-be-ex-wife Jennifer Jason Leigh distilled a certain toxic stew of unearned snobbishness, generational entitlement and self-defeating self-obsession — familiar from "Losing My Edge," the 2002 single released by James Murphy (under the name LCD Soundsystem), who composed Greenberg's soundtrack — and gave it a name. They also gave Stiller the best role of his career.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
1. TRASH HUMPERS
Directed by Harmony Korine
Influenced by surveillance and prank videos, but hardly haphazard (in fact, its non-aesthetic is the result of intricate design and careful production), Korine's faked relic about a separatist group of drunken, garbage-can-fetishizing, self-mythologizing miscreants is the ultimate twisted fairy-tale allegory for our decaying times. After vacillating on a number one, in the end I voted with my heart. And no, I am not fucking with you about that.