1. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke)
2. A Prophet (Jacques Audiard)
3. The Social Network (David Fincher)
Both plot and theme -- the corporate legal wrangles and the world-changing ambiguities/potential of social media – in this skilfully-written and sleekly-directed film were pushed into the background by the compelling, difficult, sympathetic outsider-character study at the centre, Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg. Presenting as more than borderline Asperger’s, always paranoid, too-serious and sour, this Olympian genius struggles with nothing less than the burden of being himself. As for world-changing, it seems pretty clear that David Fincher certainly and writer Aaron Sorkin possibly share their Zuckerberg’s iconoclasm about the Harvard world and inherited money, so that his I-want-to-belong/I-don't-want-to-belong motivations look more complicated than simple revenge. By my diagnosis, then, the film’s closing zinger -- “You’re not an asshole, Mark, you’re just trying hard to be one” – has it all wrong.
4. White Material (Claire Denis)
Shot in Cameroon, but set nowhere in particular, this immersive, abstract, temporally complex film has colonial expulsion/nationalist revolution as a pan-African archetype playing out eternally: the white squattocracy, the messianic rebel leader and child soldiers, violence as historical inevitability. Isabelle Huppert is the coffee plantation owner, facing ruin.
5. Greenberg (Noah Baumbach)
Less vicious than Margot at the Wedding and less adolescent-awkward than The Squid and the Whale, this not quite crowdpleasing Baumbach comedy has Ben Stiller -- controlled but constantly at risk of explosion, breakdown or both -- as Greenberg, the unemployed housesitting narcissist who fails, Zuckerberg-like, to connect. Except that in his case he’s mostly an asshole and he’s mostly not trying not to be one.
6. Four Lions (Chris Morris)
7. Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik)
You should always worry when someone in a film produces a chainsaw.
8. Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese)
Or, the girls looked at Johnny. How many American directors Coppola's age are as consciously constructing a body of work? But while some themes -- some unavoidably autobiographical -- recur, this is the most subtle of her four films, and not a burnt-out, LA-set Lost in Translation. Key close-ups: the "old" face of Johnny in the make-up room, the last shot. And aren't you glad Coppola stopped at two pole-dancing scenes? One last thing: we know that the audience missed what Bill Murray whispered to Scarlett Johansson at the end of Lost in Translation, but do we know if Cleo heard what Johnny said over the noise of the helicopter?
10. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog)
Runners-up: A Single Man, Boy, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Fish Tank, The American, The Road.
Over-rated: Animal Kingdom, The Secret in Their Eyes.
Dud: The Killer Inside Me.