It's not your fault. Money is tight, you just had illegitimate septuplets, and a lot of these movies probably never played in a theater anywhere near you -- rumor has it that several of our readers don't even live in New York City. Sometimes it's just not feasible to catch everything in theaters, and that's okay. 2010 was an unusually rich year for cinema, and odds are that you missed some gems at both the multiplex and the art house. You don't have to flog yourself for it or anything (could be a scarring visual for the septuplets), but with the year winding down it's high time that you double back and catch up on the great stuff you missed. So here are 10 of the best films you probably slept on, complete with info as to where you can find them now.
Note: I wrote a piece in August called "The 5 Best Films You've (Probably) Missed This Year," which was a mid-year measuring stick of sorts. For the films that made both lists, I tweaked the text and updated the home video information.
10. 'Last Train Home'
Lixin Fan's documentary is a wake-up call for anyone who thinks that Chinese migrant workers are living the dream (spoiler alert: they're not). Chinese New Year annually congests the nation's railways with the world's largest human migration, and with that otherworldly backdrop Fan paints a quietly devastating portrait of a family suffocated by distance and limiting financial realities. Not just a valuable document, but also a haunting look at how life has gotten away from the living. 'Last Train Home' hits DVD on 2/22/2011.
There is no cooler way to die than to die in a Johnnie To movie, and there's no Johnnie To movie in which more people die than 'Vengeance.' French legend Johnny Hallyday comes to Macau with a memory disorder and a hankering to obliterate the gangsters who murdered his daughter and her family. Some of To's most insanely awesome set-pieces ensue, including a nighttime park shootout that borders on the symphonic. The parts are greater than the whole, but 'Vengeance' has some great parts. Out now on DVD and Netflix Instant.
Sylvie Testud stars in Jessica Hausner's elliptically spiritual gasp of a film, the story of brittle, wheelchair-bound Christine who somehow (miraculously?) regains the use of her legs during a church group pilgrimage to the eponymous religious mecca. Part Dryer and part Carlos Reygadas, Lourdes deploys static, sterile shots to tell a wistful story that's less about religious belief than it is the profoundly human see-saw of hope and despair. Available on region-free Blu-ray.
7. 'The Illusionist'
This is the best animated film of the year, even if you judge your toons based on how much they make you cry. Based on a Jacques Tati script which follows an aging illusionist touring around a most wistful Scotland, Sylvain Chomet's follow-up to 'The Triplets of Belleville' is both a tribute to the imaginative French legend and a gobsmacking eulogy for all the world's wonder. You can start ignoring 'The Illusionist' when it hits theaters on Christmas Day.
Opulent and operatic, this biopic about Benito Mussolini's scorned lover is all grit and razorblades underneath its ravishingly gorgeous veneer. Avoiding the "I want MY son!" histrionics of other films about mothers wronged, legendary director Marco Bellocchio foists history and cinema rapturously upon itself, resulting in a self-reflexive film that doesn't revisit history so much as it revisits history being made (it's like '). 'Vincere' is out now on Netflix Instant, DVD, and region-free Blu-ray.
The story of a movie star who's underworked and oversexed, Sofia Coppola's 'Somewhere' will obviously hit many of our readers a bit too close to home. But anyone capable of staring into that heart of darkness will find one of the best films of the year. They'll also find a movie that's a complete cheat on this list as it won't be in theaters until 12/26/2010. Look for our full review soon.
4. 'Scott Pilgrim vs. The World'
You might have heard about this one. 'Scott Pilgrim' is one of the most sharply perceptive films ever made about egocentricity and the universal need to narrativize one's own life. Here that notion is distilled into a warm story about a young love with a short future, and a generation pre-disposed to sublimating the culture of their time in an attempt to better make sense of their lives. Oh, it's also unspeakably awesome, and out now on DVD and Blu-ray.
Okay, this one you can feel bad about. At the moment this electric 5.5-hour globe-trotting terrorist biopic (it's 321 minutes long, but every one of them is totally compelling) is only available in a curtailed 165-minute version via cable VOD. Hopefully our review of the full cut convinces you to wait for the inevitable DVD & Blu-ray.
Some films create their own shorthand, but Yorgos Lanthimos' quite literally creates a whole new vernacular one word at a time. Somewhere in Greece there is a house, and in that house lives a peculiar family. To say any more than that would be revealing too much -- the language of ' is one meant to be learned rather than spoken. ' is gleefully subversive, bleakly hilarious (it culminates in what has to be cinema's greatest Flashdance homage), and an unforgettable argument that the world at large is only what we make of it. 'Dogtooth' will be available on DVD and cable VOD on 1/25/2011.
1. 'Secret Sunshine'
Holy hell. Roughly akin to a lovely mid-day stroll that's interrupted by a scud missile to the face, 'Secret Sunshine' is the year's most devastating gutpunch (without a bit of violence it makes stuff like 'A Serbian Film' seem laughably tame). Lee Chang-Dong's masterpiece tells the unassuming tale of a widow who relocates with her son to a small town in an effort to begin a new life. It doesn't go well. A bold, soul-stirring examination of faith and forgiveness, 'Secret Sunshine' is anchored by the kind of unforgettable performances that remind you how embarrassingly myopic the Oscars have always been. One of the best films of the last decade, 'Secret Sunshine' is finally coming to theaters on 12/24, and it's on Cable VOD RIGHT NOW.
Other Gems You Might Have Missed: 'Knight & Day,' 'Hadewijch,' 'Never Let Me Go,' 'No One Knows About Persian Cats,' 'Everyone Else,' 'Cyrus,' 'The Ghost Writer,' 'The Father of My Children,' 'Enter the Void,' 'Winter's Bone,' 'Lebanon,' 'Sweetgrass,' and 'White Material.'