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Another Year We Make Contact

Simon Mein/Sony Pictures Classics

The 2010 movie year played out in predictable fashion, with a lot of noteworthy gems submerged beneath the usual Hollywood garbage and the occasional big studio success story sprinkled in for good measure. For adventurous moviegoers, those willing to break free from the bonds of mass-marketed, 3-D-centric product, the year offered its share of rewards, with a strong crop of documentaries and some characteristically fine work from well-established directors leading the pack.

Robert Levin’s Top Movies of 2010

ANOTHER YEAR (Mike Leigh) Mr. Leigh, master observer of the British working class, outdoes himself with a film that’s a keenly observed, eloquently rendered depiction of the small human battles we wage each day. With extraordinary performances, a wealth of recognizable, heartrending moments and a strong, mature sense of the ebbs, flows and imprints of time’s passage, his straightforward, deceptively simple drama is the movie of the year.

THE LAST PLAY AT SHEA (Paul Crowder) Sometimes a movie comes out of nowhere and floors you. That is the case with this remarkable documentary, which — using Billy Joel’s final concerts at New York’s old Shea Stadium as a hook — explores the essence of New York Mets fandom, the cultural divide between the city’s nerve center of Manhattan and its outer boroughs and the inextricable, generational-bridging bonds between a sports team and its fan base.

THE KING’S SPEECH (Tom Hooper) It’s been derided by some as middlebrow, quasi-Miramax pap; but Mr. Hooper’s “The King’s Speech” is something far different, a movie that convincingly transforms the majestic, remote specter of a monarch into a relatable figure stricken with everyday confidence issues. With smart, humane performances stars Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush greatly aid the film’s effective localizing of Britain’s King George VI’s struggle with his speech impediment.

127 HOURS (Danny Boyle) Mr. Boyle follows up his “Slumdog Millionaire” Oscar win with another remarkable feat of directing, transforming what would seem to be the unfilmable story of rock-climber Aron Ralston’s five days trapped under a giant boulder into a movie that gets into the head and soul of its protagonist with breathtaking ease.

CITY ISLAND (Raymond De Felitta) To make an ethnic-family comedy is to enter a minefield of clichés, stereotypes and broad, dopey humor. Filmmaker Mr. De Felitta sidesteps that perilous territory completely with this Bronx-set affair — a movie that offers that great, satisfying feeling only offered by a gentle, human comedy told with aplomb.

LET ME IN (Matt Reeves) It’s a remake (of 2008’s “Let the Right One In”), but a damn fine one — a classically told, elegantly filmed vampire story that’s infinitely preferable to the mainstream schlock fostered upon audiences with dulling regularity.

BLUE VALENTINE (Derek Cianfrance) No movie last year had more insight into the vagaries of romance. By cross-cutting the heady early days of a relationship with its tragic dissolution, director Mr. Cianfrance offers a candid, harrowing depiction of fading love. Ryan Gosling — working with Michelle Williams and a largely improvised script — again displays his unparalleled, riveting talent.

THE OATH (Laura Poitras) Ms. Poitras’s “The Oath” centers on the confusing, contradictory Abu Jandal, a Yemeni cab driver who was once Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard, and his thoughts on Al Qaeda, jihad and the war on terror. It’s an essential document of our time, offering an invaluable glimpse at the other perspective in the prime geopolitical conflict of the age.

DADDY LONGLEGS (Josh and Benny Safdie) Filmmakers the Safdie brothers imbue this semiautobiographical, neorealist valentine to their father with ample affection for the New York City of their youths and empathy for the struggles of single parenthood.

VINCERE (Marco Bellocchio) Mr. Bellocchio’s operatic style perfectly fits the sad, melodramatic story of Ida Dalser, who spent her life institutionalized and apart from her son after insistently claiming to be Mussolini’s wife. It’s a thought-provoking look at history’s ever-advancing tide and the victims it leaves behind.


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