1) The Kid with a Bike (dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
David Foster Wallace once wrote that there is something inside all of us that longs to "give ourselves away utterly" to something. For the main character of The Kid with a Bike, a 12-year-old boy named Cyril, that something is his father. It's this deep, inarticulate desire that makes it so profoundly wounding to Cyril when his father abandons him to the care of the state, selling off all their possessions and moving to another town without leaving so much as a forwarding address. Unable to fathom why this would happen, Cyril bolts from place to place in his search for the father who rejected him. He understands nothing but his own desperate, inchoate need. Eventually a kind young woman offers him the parental love he craves, but he also finds himself drawn to the slick leader of a local gang of hoods, who seems to offer him the same thing.
The magic of this film lies in how it sketches these characters and their desires crisply and movingly, without once becoming gooey or false. Cyril is no tow-headed moppet who concocts twee little Hollywood schemes to make his daddy love him again. He's a small, destructive thundercloud of directionless anger and hurt, easier to pity than to love. The other characters' attempts to draw him back from the precipice he stands on are uncertain, and the Dardennes film it all in a mostly straightforward, unembroidered style. Their unassuming approach pays massive dividends in the final minutes, however, with an ending whose impact is so sublimely subtle that it almost passed me by. The Kid with a Bike works because we all have something in common with Cyril. We long to give ourselves utterly to something. We recognize ourselves in him: an angry, lost child who strains to hear the voice of love calling him back home.