CHICAGO – Some films never get a fair shot with audiences. They open in a handful of art house theaters scattered throughout the country before inconspicuously landing on DVD. Passionate movie lovers are left with the task of championing these unjustly obscure titles and helping them to acquire the audience they deserve. Before I reveal my picks for the top five films of 2010 that you probably didn’t see, here are the 10 runners-up.
The feisty, ever-questioning spirit of Carl Sagan is alive and well in Alejandro Amenabar’s fascinating and haunting historical epic. “Agora” functions as somewhat of an antithesis to “Passion of the Christ,” portraying the ancient ideological battles between Pagans and Christians with complexity, intelligence and a refusal to exploit its inherent violence. Rachel Weisz is at the peak of her radiance as Hypatia, a female scholar specializing in astronomy, philosophy and common sense. Yet she’s far from a saint. The theme of altering one’s perception to achieve growth is highlighted in every aspect of the production, which is in the great tradition of provocative spiritual cinema such as Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ.”
Here’s the film that Soderbergh’s “Che” wanted to be. As Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, the monstrously egocentric Venezuelan revolutionary who famously raided the 1975 OPEC meeting in Vienna, Édgar Ramírez delivers one of the year’s most electrifying performances. With a running time of five-and-a-half hours, Olivier Assayas’s magnificent epic was broadcast on the Sundance Channel in three installments, thus making it eligible for the award season’s miniseries categories. That’s somewhat of a shame, since the film is exuberantly cinematic, and should ideally be played on the biggest screen possible. Though the pacing does lag, particularly during its final act, Assayas and Ramírez brilliantly illuminate the psyche of a self-righteous narcissist.
In the same year mumblecore queen Greta Gerwig was cast in the Ben Stiller comedy “Greenberg,” a quartet of Hollywood stars were cast in the Duplass brothers’ latest mumblecore comedy. Both films were wonderful and swiftly overlooked by audiences, but at least “Greenberg” garnered some major nominations at the Indie Spirit Awards. Mark and Jay Duplass have always been the most accessible of mumble– oh heck, let’s just call them character-driven microbudget filmmakers. “Cyrus” is a masterwork of uncomfortable silence and awkward laughter, as John (the sublime John C. Reilly) becomes engaged in a battle of wits with his girlfriend’s grown son (Jonah Hill, in a revelatory performance).
Conor McPherson’s remarkable character study recaptures some of the “Sixth Sense”-style magic that M. Night Shyamalan lost a decade ago. Blending insightful drama with supernatural elements, the story revolved around a haunted widower (Ciarán Hinds), a ghost-obsessed author (Iben Hjejle), and a spirit-consuming alcoholic (Aidan Quinn). McPherson portrays the unpredictability and occasional sloppiness of human behavior with a raw authenticity that is strikingly juxtaposed with the picturesque Irish surroundings. Some momentary jolts of grotesque horror tilt the film dangerously close toward Sam Raimi territory, but other sequences prove to be as ominous and chilling as anything in “Paranormal Activity.” Like “Sense,” this film remembers that the most interesting characters in a ghost story are not the ghosts themselves, but the mortals who encounter them.
“The Exploding Girl”