The Best Independent / International Films of 2010

PopMatters launches our six-day look at 2010's best film, TV and DVDs by spotlighting the 25 best indie and international films of the year, highlighted by a host of superb documentaries, a stellar film from China and one of the finest works of "hillbilly noir" ever.

Film: Marwencol

Director: Jeff Malmberg

Cast: Mark Hogancamp

Studio: The Cinema Guild


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List number: 25

Display Width: 200Marwencol

"My memories that I do get," says Mark Hogancamp, "They come back in stills, just a single shot, but no context." Jeff Malmberg's extraordinary documentary traces Mark's journey, as he recalls it. The victim of a horrific attack on 8 April 2008, he woke nine days later in a hospital with his face smashed beyond recognition. Five men, he learned later, had beaten him almost to death outside a bar in his hometown of Kingston, New York. Mark's recovery included learning basic functions all over again. As the documentary shows the show, it suggests that Mark's capacity to share his experience through photos of Marwencol, through such precisely ordered and reordered forms, helps him to rediscover himself. Marwencol the movie is another opportunity for rediscovery, for Mark certainly, but also for the rest of us. As Mark describes it, he sorts through a past and builds a present on the "memories I do get," memories he absorbs and transforms. This process, of self-imagining and storytelling, reflects the intricate, ever shifting ways that we all understand ourselves, the worlds inside and around us. Cynthia Fuchs


Film: [REC]2

Director: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza

Cast: Manuela Velasco, Jonathan Mellor, Óscar Sánchez Zafra, Ariel Casas, Alejandro Casaseca, Pablo Rosso, Pep Molina, Andrea Ros, Ális Batllori

Studio: Magnolia Pictures


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List number: 24

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How do you make a sequel to a horror movie with a reputation for being extremely frightening without shooting yourself in the foot? Especially when the main characters from the first movie largely end up dead? For [REC] franchise creators Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza, you pick up right after the first movie ended, but from a different point of view. [REC] 2 follows a helmet camera-equipped SWAT team into the same quarantined building, preserving its found-footage perspective. The team is accompanying a medical officer who actually knows what's going on inside, giving the audience the explanation we never received in the first movie. This explanation skillfully expands the world of the franchise while fundamentally changing the nature of the scares in the film. It may not be quite as terrifying as the original, but [REC]2 still packs plenty of punch from a horror movie standpoint. And it's a step above the original in terms of storytelling, making it a near-perfect sequel. Chris Conaton


Film: Fish Tank

Director: Andrea Arnold

Cast: Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Kierston Wareing, Rebecca Griffiths, Harry Treadaway

Studio: IFC Films


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List number: 23

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Plenty of films have presented us with the Angry Young Man but not so many with the Angry Young Woman, an odd state of affairs when you consider that young women have at least as much to be upset about as their male counterparts. Andrea Arnold does her bit to help correct this imbalance with Fish Tank starring newcomer Katie Jarvis as Mia Williams, a 15-year-old living in tough London estate. Mia has plenty of reasons to be angry and the attention she receives from the adult world ranges from indifferent (her mother) to clueless (the school system) to predatory (her mother’s new boyfriend). So she makes lots of mistakes on her journey to adulthood but also displays a tenacity and sense of self which gives you hope she will become more than just another victim of her environment. Sarah Boslaugh


Film: Enemies of the People

Director: Rob Lemkin, Thet Sambath

Cast: Thet Sambath, Nuon Chea

Studio: International Film Circuit


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List number: 22

Display Width: 200Enemies of the People

Thet Sambath begins his story over images of peace and beauty, of rice paddies and trees and sunlight. He remembers his father's murder. "They arrested him and took him to the rice field. They killed him by thrashing by knives," Sambath says. "He did not die immediate. He very, very suffer. My brother, he watch." Sambath was just a boy, his father a farmer, a "country person," reportedly killed because he would not give up a cow to the Khmer Rouge. Now a senior reporter with the Phnom Penh Post, Sambath has spent years seeking answers to the question that has shaped his life: "Why the killing happened." His efforts are assembled in the astonishing documentary Enemies of the People, which he co-directed with Ron Lemkin. Combining Sambath's self-reflections and his interviews some of the killers, gently probing their memories, the film is focused through his evolving relationship with one subject in particular, Nuon Chea, also known as Brother Number Two. "I wasn't the right man to lead the party," he says now, by way of explaining how he appointed Pol Pot Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea in 1962. The film considers the tragic, horrific results of that appointment -- and the still unclear nature of the leaders' alliance and decision-making process. Cynthia Fuchs


Film: Animal Kingdom

Director: David Michôd

Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce, Luke Ford, Jacki Weaver, Sullivan Stapleton, James Frecheville

Studio: Madman Entertainment


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List number: 21

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Finally, a true crime 'family' in every sense of the word. This appealing Downunderworld thriller has all the makings of a post-modern classic. We’ve got the unusual setting (Australia’s outlaw aura circa the late ‘80s), a felonious clan loaded with craven characterization (including a brilliant turn from mad matriarch Jacki Weaver), a police squad both sworn to protect the law but using any and all means, legal or not, to get the job down, and an orphaned teenager who is introduced to the seedier slice of Ozzy life. Taken together, we’ve got the Melbourne version of Mean Streets, a true life look at how cops and robbers played out in a land far away from the usual Tinseltown take. Bill Gibron


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