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The Year in Film 

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10 BEST

About Schmidt (USA, Alexander Payne)

Adaptation (USA, Spike Jonze)

Catch Me If You Can (USA, Steven Spielberg)

I'm Going Home (France/Portugal, Manoel de Oliveira)

In Praise of Love (France/Switzerland, Jean-Luc Godard)

Ivansxtc (USA/U.K., Bernard Rose)

The Piano Teacher (France/Austria, Michael Haneke)

Punch-Drunk Love (USA, Paul Thomas Anderson)

Time Out (France, Laurent Cantet)

Y Tu Mamá También (USA/Mexico, Alfonso Cuarón)

MOST OVERRATED: El Crimen del Padre Amaro (Mexico/Spain/Argentina/France, Carlos Carrera)

MOST UNDERRATED: Reign of Fire (U.K./Ireland/USA, Rob Bowman)

FESTIVAL FAVORITE: Werckmeister Harmonies (Hungary, Ágnes Hranitzky, Béla Tarr) Saw this on its second, and final, night at LACMA and kicked myself repeatedly for not having arranged things so I could see it again, right away. God as beached whale. Satan as shadow puppet and sideshow impresario. The saddest movie of the new millennium . . .

PERSISTENCE OF VISION: . . . sadder even than the last scene of The Piano Teacher, when Isabelle Huppert, realizing in the moments before her big piano recital that whatever power she may have had over her lover, her mother and her students — to say nothing of her own life — has evaporated, stabs herself with the kitchen knife she had intended as an instrument of vengeance and slips out of the concert hall.

 

CHUCK WILSON

10 BEST

1. Dahmer (USA, David Jacobson)

2. Y Tu Mamá También (USA/Mexico, Alfonso Cuarón)

3. Roger Dodger (USA, Dylan Kidd)

4. The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (USA, Peter Care)

5. Femme Fatale (USA/France/Germany, Brian DePalma)

6. The Pianist (U.K./France/Germany/ Poland/Netherlands, Roman Polanski)

7. Signs (USA, M. Night Shyamalan)

8. Time Out (France, Laurent Cantet)

9. The Cockettes (USA, Bill Weber and David Weissman)

10. Bartleby (USA, Jonathan Parker)

MOST OVERRATED: 8 Mile (USA, Curtis Hanson)

MOST UNDERRATED: City by the Sea (USA, Michael Caton-Jones)

FESTIVAL FAVORITE: In Doug Sadler's Riders (USA), Alex (Bodine Alexander) tries to protect her little sister from their mother's controlling new boyfriend (Don Harvey). The sisters run away to New Orleans, only to discover that strangers can be just as unnerving as the adversary back home.

PERSISTENCE OF VISION: Near the end of David Jacobson's Dahmer, the young serial killer played so brilliantly by Jeremy Renner slices open the stomach of the dead guy in his bed and inserts first his hand and then his forearm into the body. Jacobson has staged the film's most explicit moment as a fantasy sequence, so there's no gore, which allows us to take in the details: the half-lit room, washed in red, as if a scarf has been thrown over a lampshade, and the look of wonder on Dahmer's face, an expression that's stunningly familiar, for this, you realize, is a love scene.

 

MORE PERSISTENCE OF VISION

DAVID CHUTE

How about the contents of Spirited Away's River God? Not the contents of his stomach but of the gelatinous, greasy mass that passes for his body. A viscous, galumphing visitor to a bathhouse in the spirit world, the R.G. resembles a giant Shmoo in an African tribal mask, a walking oil slick that is also a demon of appetite, an icon of unappeasable hunger who has devoured everything in sight. The heroine, Sen, does a waterlogged Androcles number on a shard of metal protruding from the R.G.'s side, and it all comes gushing and tumbling out. Hayao Miyazaki's animated images are so evocative you can almost smell them. Not that you'd want to.

HAZEL-DAWN DUMPERT

In September, at a screening of Invincible, Werner Herzog's first narrative feature in years, Herzog admitted with resignation that the audience for his movies is dwindling. In one scene, Herzog cuts to thousands of bright-red crabs heading to the ocean, blanketing a seaside landscape and moving inexorably toward their destination over a set of train tracks, even as a massive locomotive bears down slowly upon them. It's classic Herzog, a stunning illustration of nature's indomitable will, but in this instance it plays also as an elegiac acknowledgment of the filmmaker's own inability to fight that will, and be anything other than what he is, even in the face of obliteration.

DAN FIENBERG

The sepulchral hush of a Valley dawn is shattered by a vehicle careening and flipping down an abandoned street. But the accident is forgotten with the arrival of an airport shuttle that lowers its mechanical steps and deposits a mysterious harmonium at the feet of Adam Sandler, attired inexplicably in a bright blue suit. The baffling and sublime opening to Paul Thomas Anderson's hilarious, alienating and romantic Punch-Drunk Love is almost transcendent enough to excuse Sandler's other 2002 efforts — starring in Mr. Deeds and Eight Crazy Nights, and producing The Master of Disguise and The Hot Chick. Almost.

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