10. "Funny Games"
This shocking, uncompromising thriller was a visceral and disturbing homage to the classic "theater of cruelty." Ruthless, infuriating and unbearably provocative, "Games" rested so heavily on tenterhooks of guilt that an apology was in order for admiring it.
9. "Snow Angels"
Every step was an anticipation of the next in David Gordon Green's exacting examination of human frailty. As the master of moods, Green wasted no time in establishing the bitter demons lurking at the periphery of his protagonists' cynical dreams, utilizing a barren, wintry landscape to emphasize frosty feelings and sinister psyches.
With a wisp of heartache etched onto her glorious but careworn face, Kristin Scott Thomas delivered thespian gold in Philippe Claudel's moody French classic. Emotional isolation met aloof appeal, yielding lilting crescendos of hope, redemption and despair.
Through a series of deft flashbacks director Sam Mendes built a tough case for suburban ennui in this acrimonious examination of domestic gloom: a sometimes quiet, sometimes rage-filled unraveling of dignity, pride and shallow sense of self. Husband and wife bled dissatisfaction and a hopeless emptiness both rhythmic and ravaged.
6. "The Visitor"
Consummate character actor Richard Jenkins painted a portrait of the classic lonely widower with broad, poignant strokes: the lovely renewal of an isolated economics professor into a graceful, compassionate soul who opened his heart to the possibility.
With breathtaking harmony James Marsh balanced tempo, humor and passion in the re-telling of high-wire artist Philippe Petit's stunning walk across New York's City's Twin Towers. The beauty of this dazzling documentary was felt in the harmony and lithe attitude of a cheerful and egocentric Frenchman so consumed by his own fate that it exacted a profound toll on those who stood by him.
4. "My Winnipeg"
In the bitter darkness of Canada's sleepy Winnipeg, director Guy Maddin narrated a homespun anti-ode to the place of his birth. Thick furry frost coated the city with frigid tenacity while its residents, the ultimate citizens of the night, squeezed snowflakes of bliss from its viscous and cottony cold. Black arteries and white lights: a place with no beginning and no end.
Jonathan Demme directed this wildly engaging journey into the foundations of friction and family dysfunction — paired with Jenny Lumet's graceful and spontaneous scripting — with the subtlety of a heat-seeking missile. Anne Hathaway was pitch-perfect as a recovering addict-cum-narcissist who used the rituals of matrimony as a breeding ground for her scathing wit and indictments of family and friends. The quips came fast and furious but never overshadowed the foundation of friction that spoke to dark demons.
The king of keen observations on the British working class, Mike Leigh crafted a spare, plotted series of vignettes around an irrepressible leading lady for whom lemons became lemonade each and every day, masking a bruised soul that her singleton self stoutly refused to acknowledge. Morally authentic and perpetually propitious, the lively rhythms of "Happy" and their buoyant heroine were a welcome breath of fresh air.
Danny Boyle directed with unwavering homage to India's teeming favelas and one young man's steadfast quest for the ubiquitous brass ring. The crazy kaleidoscope of craft and color was vibrant with revulsion yet pulsating with principled promise, most notably for the enchanting and resilient poppet prophets of the ghettos.
JEANNE AUFMUTH'S PANS
File this one under high expectations denied. Baz Luhrmann was handed the golden key to Oz and got it stuck in the lock.
Egregious visual panoply that positively choked on its own abstract symbolism.
Clint Eastwood's stale tale of a cantankerous Korean War vet whose Hmong neighbor melts his heart may have signaled the beginning of the end for Clint.
M. Night Shyamalan lost his mojo and barely raised a pulse in his sophomoric take on the classic paranoid thriller. Sans thrills.
An endless parade of verbal chestnuts peppered this heavily cliched remake best left untouched.