Anton's Right Here Lyubov Arkus

Anton’s Right Here
Lyubov Arkus, Russia

A portrait of an autistic boy as seen through the eyes of a film historian with her own psychological baggage. Alternatively: a film historian finally comes to grips with her own life by learning to care for another “marginal” human being. A mind-bogglingly multilevel, multifaceted documentary, equal parts diary, essay, and political exposé.—Olaf Möller

Ashes Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand

Small is beautiful. Partnering with the boutique camera outfit Lomokino and cinephile 2.0 community MUBI, this quietly ravishing short synthesizes DIY 35mm with the streaming cinema paradigm. Apichatpong remains the least burdened dialectician of the cinema, and the kaleidoscopic Ashes ranks with his finest crystallizations of shadow and light, man and animal, memory and experience, earth and sky.—Nathan Lee

As the Flames Rose

As the Flames Rose
João Rui Guerra da Mata, Portugal

In addition to The Last Time I Saw Macao, João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata offered up potent solo projects this year. Rodrigues’s Morning of Saint Anthony’s Day finds Lisbon’s streets filled with morning-after zombies, barfing up the night’s revels and staring blankly into their iPhones. Guerra da Mata’s As the Flames Rose unfolds entirely in a bedroom, as the buff, shirtless Rodrigues sullenly bickers with a lover over the telephone. There’s political unrest on the television, and the walls and windows of the bedroom drift and dissolve, Syberbergian projections of unbridgeable distances and unquenchable flames.—Chuck Stephens

Cabaret Crusades Wael Shawky

Cabaret Crusades
Wael Shawky, Egypt

Based on Lebanese scholar Amin Maalouf’s 1984 study The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, this mesmerizing series of videos by Egyptian artist Wael Shawky imagines history as an elaborate puppet theater—literally. Choreographing a 200-year-old collection of Italian marionettes and hundreds of handmade terracotta figurines, Shawky’s project is at once densely material and hauntingly elusive, a tour de force of artisanal simulacra. Double feature with Team America: World Police, please.—Nathan Lee

The Capsule Rachel Athina Tsangari

The Capsule
Rachel Athina Tsangari, Greece

A weird, outrageous, constantly surprising work. Imagine the absurd dance routines from Tsangari’s Attenberg expanded into a Gothic horror ballet under the sign of Maya Deren, Catherine Binet, and Katt Shea Ruben. A 35-minute piece of sponsored cinema in the form of a lesbian vampire movie featuring radiantly beautiful women and insanely cute animated creatures performing cryptic rituals.
Olaf Möller

Cruel Summer Kanye West

Cruel Summer
Kanye West & Alexandre Moors, U.S.

Having delivered hip-hop’s equivalent to Sgt. Pepper with 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, producer/rapper Kanye West willed himself into the director’s chair for this inspired, over-the-top film. Shot in Qatar, it features West protégé Kid Cudi as a car thief who falls in love with a blind Arabian princess and must face a series of challenges to win her hand.—Michael Chaiken

Delhi Dance Ivan Vyrypaev

Delhi Dance
Ivan Vyrypaev, Russia

The human comedy in a hospital corridor, performed by five actors giving it their all. A narrative in seven movements during which entire life stories are likely to be upended—the living are suddenly dead, the hopeful are crushed, etc.—as memories and narratives are twisted and turned.—Olaf Möller

Dress Rehearsal for Utopia Andrés Duque

Dress Rehearsal for Utopia
Andrés Duque, Spain

Outside the industrial circuit of Spanish cinema exists a group of cineastes—the self-proclaimed “D-generated”—who have spent the last several years stirring the waters of nonfiction film. The most impressive figure in this heterogeneous collective is Andrés Duque, a child of the digital age who links autobiographical diary material, geopolitical commentary, and aspects of trance film. In Dress Re-hearsal for Utopia, a trip to Africa and the illness of Duque’s father provide the elements for a hypnotic and affecting film about otherness, beauty, and loss.—Manu Yáñez-Murillo

11/25: The Day He Chose His Own Fate

11/25: The Day He Chose His Own Fate
Koji Wakamatsu, Japan

The gruesome, grotesque end of novelist Yukio Mishima, in the company of four disciples of his private militia, the Tat-enokai. A dispassionate yet empathetic study of the loneliness of a mind at odds with the world, embodied by a man mortally afraid of the loss of his creative power and utterly lost in his own masquerades—the masks behind the masks behind the mask.—Olaf Möller

Eternal Homecoming Kira Muratova

Eternal Homecoming
Kira Muratova, Ukraine

A woman is visited by a whining man torn between his wife and his lover—over and over. Muratova stages the same situation again and again and again, using different actors each time and focusing on the emergence of small, subtle, ingeniously schemed differences—and in some cases enormous surprises. It may seem like a formalist exercise, but in fact it’s an ethical lesson in how to trick gods and men alike into allowing us space for our own desires.—Marco Grosoli

Florentina Hubaldo, CTE

Florentina Hubaldo, CTE
Lav Diaz, The Philippines

“Where is salvation?” Based on the misfortunes of the title character, enslaved by her father and forced into prostitution, the answer would have to be “nowhere.” Yet by closely scrutinizing the tortuous narrative structure unfolding over the film’s six-hour duration and Diaz’s stunning gift for staging, another answer filters through: “In the fourth dimension.”—Marco Grosoli

The Forgotten Space Allan Sekula & Noel Burch

The Forgotten Space
Allan Sekula & Noël Burch, U.S.

A mind-bending essay film about sea cargo in the contemporary global economy, filmed mainly in four port cities (Bilbao, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, and Rotterdam) and what the filmmakers call “the industrial hinterland in south China and the transport hinterland in the heart of Holland.” Too political for mainstream taste, obligatory for everyone else.—Jonathan Rosenbaum

January, 2012 (or the Apotheosis of Isabel the Catholic)

January, 2012 (or the Apotheosis of Isabel the Catholic)
Los Hijos, Spain

An X-ray of Spain’s economic and social crisis, this 18-minute piece is an audiovisual riddle. On the soundtrack we hear the impersonal megaphone of a Madrid tourist bus recounting the city’s glorious past while the visuals focus on the abstracted gestures of a series of people sitting at a bar. With essayistic clarity, the Los Hijos collective encourage us to distrust the official line that’s all too drawn to siren songs yet so unable to articulate and respond to the reality of the people.—Manu Yáñez-Murillo

Japan's Tragedy Masahiro Kobayashi

Japan’s Tragedy
Masahiro Kobayashi, Japan

A devastating study of grief and remorse in the form of a mosaic of vivid flashback fragments, this reply to Kurosawa’s Ikiru centers on an aging widower who chooses slow suicide, sealing himself in his room with only the phantoms of his lost wife and the memories of the happiness fleetingly shared with their hapless son. Kobayashi’s remarkable film uses an almost brutal form of kammerspiel to offer a sobering vision of old age overwhelmed by the decay of everything that once gave life meaning.—Haden Guest

Jiseul O Meul

O Meul, South Korea

This chilling evocation of the massacre of civilians by the army during the 1948 Jeju Island Uprising performs a critical intervention against more generalizing histories of post–World War II Korea, insisting on the centrality of the locale and boldly choosing to feature an all-Jeju native cast speaking in dialect. A rare example of truly independent South Korean filmmaking.—Haden Guest

Kuichisan Maiko Endo

Maiko Endo, Japan

This auspicious debut glides through several genres before settling into something wholly original and true to its own design. It follows a nameless young boy through the streets of Koza (Okinawa City), the historic site of a spontaneous riot against the U.S. military presence. Caught between the traditions of the East and the detritus of the West, the boy’s alienation unleashes a series of haunting, enigmatic visions, whose primal power is expressed through images saturated in the incandescence of Gustave Moreau.—Michael Chaiken

The Millennial Rapture

The Millennial Rapture
Koji Wakamatsu, Japan

In a typically Wakamatsu-esque enclosed space (a small coastal village), a dying midwife and the animated photograph of her dead husband (a monk) discuss the brief lives of three cursed youngsters. A flashback-structured parable on the intersection of life and transgression, wise enough to violate its own detached wisdom, which belongs to the couple as much as to the director.—Marco Grosoli

Nightfall James Benning

James Benning, U.S.

Benning’s prolific digital phase—he’s completed nearly 20 works in the format in three years—has included an unconventional “remake” of Easy Rider, a structural essay on the activities of Voina and Pussy Riot, and Nightfall, a 98-minute dusk tableau in which we are gradually immersed in the profoundest of blacks in a measured, one-way contemplation of light into darkness.—Gabe Klinger

On the Edge (Sur la planche)

On the Edge (Sur la planche)
Leila Kilani, Morocco

Filming a quartet of young workers in Tangiers, documentary filmmaker Kilani graduates brilliantly to fiction. The protagonists of this electrifying thriller who work in a shrimp-packaging plant watch two co-workers from the French quarter with envy and anger as they play at being low-lifers. Together, the four run riot and defy their fates.—Elisabeth Lequeret

Rua Aperana

Rua Aperana 52
Júlio Bressane, Brazil

Mining old family photographs as well as his own films, Bressane cross-pollinates a deeply private video essay with a landscape film in which he wordlessly en-gages—and further complicates—his auto- biographical and mythological relationship with the eponymous Rio street address where he grew up, currently resides (FYI, in case fans would like to send him a postcard), and which he has featured in nearly every one of his films since 1957.—Gabe Klinger

Syrakus Klaus Wyborny

Klaus Wyborny, Germany

A dozen narrative poems by Durs Grünbein, interpreted in sounds and images. Wyborny treats the texts as sounding boards for his own casual observations about the places Grünbein discusses, at times presenting what the writer saw and at others moving in a completely different direction. As a whole, Syrakus seems to include all of cinema—feature and essay, documentary and animation, past, present, and future.—Olaf Möller

Today Alain Gomis

Alain Gomis, Senegal

A man (Saul Williams) lives out his final 24 hours on earth, his impending death foretold from the start as if in a game or a sacrificial ritual. Gomis brilliantly merges the existential and the everyday to produce a picture of life as a boisterous, busy dance—Crystel Fournier’s camera bobbing and weaving along with Williams’s Everyman as he makes his way through the past and the present, and the streets of Dakar. A haunting, muscular, poetic piece.—Jonathan Romney

The Wall Julian Pösler

The Wall
Julian Pölsler, Austria

Based on Marlen Haushofer’s 1963 novel, this resonant landscape film is built on a simple Kafka-like premise and a striking audiovisual conceit: an invisible wall, indicated only by an ominous hum, strands a woman in the Austrian mountains, where she must survive like a landlocked female Crusoe. A cadre of diverse cinematographers and an audacious solo performance by Martina Gedeck (always seen, but heard almost entirely in voiceover) make for an austerely involving Human Condition statement.—Jonathan Romney