01/18/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

My alternative Top 10

When I assembled my 10-best films of the year, I did so with an eye on mainstream films. The year was so strong in that regard that it was still difficult to stop at 10 - and what got put aside were things like foreign-language and nonfiction films.

However, unlike the days when I worked for a newspaper, space on the Internet is not limited by physical constraints. So it's possible to create more than one Top-10 list.

Instead of picking and choosing among all documentaries and foreign films to find a representative one or two for my Top 10, I have created an alternative Top 10 - five nonfiction and five foreign-language. (And even then I cheated a little.) Here goes:


1. Iraq docs: Standard Operating Procedure, Body of War, Taxi to the Dark Side, CSNY: Déjà Vu: Since we were subjected to the overhyped "Shock and Awe" of the Iraq invasion five-plus years ago, filmmakers have been insistent on using cinema to remind us of the truth, despite the smoke and mirrors that the Bush administration consistently purveyed. This year's crop was particularly strong, even if audiences stayed away as though they were poison; the home-video versions will live on, as kinetic history lessons for all who care to learn from them. Errol Morris' Standard Operating Procedure was an infuriating examination of what happened at Abu Ghraib and why. Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro's Body of War told one soldier's stirring story about life after a crippling injury. Alex Gibney's Taxi to the Dark Side won the Oscar and exposed American cruelty and callousness in a case of murder. And, for good measure, I've included Neil Young's CSNY doc, which offered not only good music but a moving "Living with War" theme.


1. I've Loved You So Long: I was intensely moved by Kristin Scott Thomas' performance (in French) as a doctor, just out of jail for murdering her young son, trying to reintegrate into society. She is helped by a younger sister she barely knows, who takes her into her home and gives her the space and the time to find her way. Scott Thomas was painfully remote and yet open at the same time: a woman haunted by her deeds who walks away from the penitentiary but will never be free from her own personal prison of guilt and regret. It was spare and gripping, from novelist and first-time director Philippe Claudel.

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