Compelling stories unfolded in documentaries, genre enjoyed resurgence

By Kenneth Turan

Los Angeles Times

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 21 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Go to war with "Restrepo," which shows combat from the soldiers' point of view, and "The Tillman Story" — too awful and too significant a military tale to fade from view.

Film buffs can see the story of a movie that never was with "Henri-George Clouzot's Inferno" or learn in "Waking Sleeping Beauty" how Disney revived its animation franchise with "Beauty and the Beast."

Ride along on one of the last of the Montana sheep drives with "Sweetgrass" or get into training with "Boxing Gym," a quiet but potent film from the master Frederick Wiseman.

Need a palate cleanser? Try "Kings of Pastry" — just don't see it on an empty stomach.

The world awaits you. You won't be disappointed.

BEST OF 2010

It's not just that good things traditionally come in threes. I'm splitting the top slot of my 10 best list among "Inception," "The Social Network" and "Toy Story 3" for a reason.

I'm doing it because, considerable evidence notwithstanding, I still believe in Hollywood movies. So I'm encouraged beyond measure when studio films not only please both critics and audiences but also so dominate their moment in time that you have to see them or be left out of the national conversation. Granted, in a better world there would be a lot more than three, but I'm grateful there are still any at all.

As is my personal tradition, the other spots on my list will be filled in an unorthodox way, but if you can't be eccentric about your favorites, what's the point? In alphabetical order:

"Animal Kingdom." An art-house crime saga that marks the impressive debut of Australian writer-director David Michod, this moody, brooding modern-day film noir knows just how to revitalize a genre for contemporary audiences.

"Inside Job" and "The Tillman Story." Powerhouse documentaries that restore faith in films that shake the system by having the intelligence to ask provocative questions and the nerve to insist that they be answered.

Israel rising. An exceptional cinematic year for this troubled state, with features "Ajami," "Eyes Wide Open" and "Lebanon" appearing in U.S. theaters.

"The King's Speech." A pair of masterful actors re-create a monumental test of wills between an imperturbable layman and a king who insists with royal certitude, "I stammer. No one can fix it." Wrong, wrong, wrong.

"Night Catches Us" and "Nora's Will." The first a compelling marriage of the personal and the political, the second a funny and poignant character drama, these are the kinds of films to which attention is rarely paid.

"A Prophet," "Mademoiselle Chambon" and "White Material." Three wildly different French films that are united not only by language but also by shared individuality and filmmaking skill.

Trio of Twos. Two tiny gems ("Kisses" and "Prince of Broadway"), two offbeat animated films ("A Town Called Panic," "The Secret of Kells"), and a pair of proficient Hollywood entertainments ("Unstoppable" and "The Town") helped brighten this year.

"True Grit." The Coen brothers revisit the John Wayne classic in a darker hue with splendid results.

"Winter's Bone." An atmospheric tale of a teenage girl's bleak and desperate search for her father in the clannish, impoverished Ozarks that adroitly meshes character concerns with narrative drive.


The appearance of fake documentary "I'm Still Here." Where's reality when you really need it?

Kenneth Turan: kenneth.turan@latimes.com. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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