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7.24 City and Up in the Air. Two symbiotic portraits of economic transformation, made roughly 7,000 miles apart. In Jason Reitman’s recession-era parable, George Clooney’s freelance hatchet man floats in the rarefied air above a contracting America, while Jia Zhangke’s latest bottled message from the world’s most rapidly developing nation (i.e., China) takes us to a state-owned aerospace factory about to be razed to make way for a modern, high-rise apartment complex. In one film, capitalism wanes, while in the other it waxes. Both directors cast real workers to freely intermingle with professional actors, creating a democracy of images that gives each movie its soul.
8. Fantastic Mr. Fox and Where the Wild Things Are. Two uncommonly astute, richly imaginative adaptations of children’s literature by two of the most original American filmmakers of their generation. Could it be that turning 40, as both did this year, prompted Spike Jonze and Wes Anderson to reflect on the agony and ecstasy of pre-adolescence, and to contemplate, in refreshingly unsentimental terms, the nature of family?
9. The Headless Woman. A middle-aged dentist hits something with her car — a dog, she thinks — early on in Argentine director Lucrecia Martel’s willfully disorienting, what-really-happened head-scratcher. The woman’s family and friends — a collection of bourgeois grotesques — keep assuring her that everything is fine, but before long we too begin to feel that we aren’t quite ourselves, and that we are sharing in Veronica’s dark, private, altered state.
10. The Beaches of Agnès and Passing Strange and Tyson. Three virtuoso performance pieces, rooted in memory and centered around three incomparable artists: the octogenarian filmmaker and gallery artist Agnès Varda; the singer-songwriter Stew; and the boxer Mike Tyson. Varda’s is an auto-portrait; Stew’s a Broadway concert deftly filmed by Spike Lee; and Tyson’s a piercing snapshot taken by his friend James Toback, a fellow traveler on the path of obsession and desire who gives us Iron Mike in all his monolithic multitudes and allows us, for a brief moment, to peer alongside the fallen champ into his existential abyss.
Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes