1 THE ASSASSIN (Hou Hsiao-hsien) At once old-school and free-form, classic and avant-garde, the great Taiwanese filmmaker’s first venture into wuxia is the only movie I saw this year that, as soon as it ended, I wanted to see again.
2 THE GUESTS (Ken Jacobs) Cinema’s master inter- and reinventionist found yet another way to make the medium new, employing a logarithm to rework a thirty-second fragment of an 1897 Lumière actualité into a seventy-three-minute 3-D movie wherein space regularly inverts itself. Kinda has to be seen to be disbelieved.
3 NO HOME MOVIE (Chantal Akerman) Maybe not a movie at all, Akerman’s final statement, a portrait of the artist and her elderly mother, forces a new rereading of this immensely important filmmaker’s entire career.
4 HARD TO BE A GOD (Aleksei German) This Russian sci-fi set in what seems to be the Middle Ages isn’t easy to watch. Some dozen years in the making, German’s last film is an infernal carnival of death. The whole teeming pageant lasts nearly three hours; every setup is a tour de force.
5 “MEXICO AT MIDNIGHT: FILM NOIR FROM MEXICAN CINEMA’S GOLDEN AGE” (Museum of Modern Art, New York) Roberto Gavaldón’s In the Palm of Your Hand (1951) and Night Falls (1952) were my favorites, but all seven of the Mexican noirs programmed by Dave Kehr at MoMA this summer were revelationsand the series itself a timely reminder that, gee, there’s a whole civilization down there.
6 CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) Joe’s most political movie, set in a bucolic hospital for narcoleptic soldiers, is paradoxically his most relaxingso restful that it even includes instructions for meditation.
7 HAMLET IN THE RENTED WORLD (A FRAGMENT) (Jack Smith/Jerry Tartaglia) Fashioned from the shards of a never-completed (or started?) psychodrama with Jack Smith as Hamlet, Tartaglia’s scrupulous assemblage of archival footage creates a coherenceeven in its incoherencethat Smith could never have achieved.
8 PHOENIX (Christian Petzold) The myth of Orpheus transposed to Germany in 1945 and told from the perspective of a Jewish Eurydice back from Auschwitz might have gone wrong in a dozen ways. That the melodrama works is due in no small part to Nina Hoss’s performance as a woman who is compelled to play her former self.
9&10 CONTINUOUS VARIATION (Manuel DeLanda) and THE WALK (Robert Zemeckis) Dare we imagine a digital, twenty-first-century New York City symphony that combines the first and last parts of DeLanda’s homemade derangement of midtown-Manhattan street life with the fifteen-minute megabuck midair stroll that gives The Walk its title?
A frequent contributor to Artforum, J. Hoberman is the author, most recently, of Film After Film: or, What Became of 21st Century Cinema? (Verso, 2012).