About a Boy (U.K., Chris and Paul Weitz) Light as a hummingbird feather, this hilarious, surprisingly soulful adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel about male immaturity features the year's cutest kid, Toni Collette's damaged hippie, and Hugh Grant deconstructing the velvet prison of his charm.

About Schmidt (USA, Alexander Payne) The best American movie of 2002, this devastating comedy about a retired Omaha actuary boasts Jack Nicholson's finest performance in 20 years, the year's funniest running gag (“Dear Ndugu”) and a sense of profound bleakness tinged with hope.

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (Canada, Zacharias Kunuk) An Inuit tale actually told by Inuits, here is a stunningly photographed voyage into a different way of knowing the world — magical, communal, throbbing with passion for frozen landscapes that are at once rapturously beautiful and, incredibly, life-sustaining.

Far From Heaven (USA, Todd Haynes) In an updated riff on Douglas Sirk, awash in lush photography and Elmer Bernstein's heartbreaking score, our most independent indie director makes you weep for characters trapped in a society they can't escape, go beyond or fully understand.

In Praise of Love (France/Switzerland, Jean-Luc Godard) An autumnal triumph from one of cinema's great geniuses, this dark meditation on personal, artistic and historical failure weds elliptical brilliance to images so exquisite that every shot is bliss.

Punch-Drunk Love (USA, Paul Thomas Anderson) A dementedly sweet fable that finds soulfulness in Adam Sandler, offers a sideways reworking of the old MGM musical (Jon Brion's score is a knockout) and establishes Anderson as Hollywood's most consistently inventive young director.

Spirited Away (USA/Japan, Hayao Miyazaki) A hundred years from now, the 2002 movie most likely to delight audiences is Studio Ghibli's animated masterwork about an unhappy suburban girl plunged into a loony-sinister world of mud gods, weird sisters and radish spirits — an instant classic, it's Lewis Carroll gone deliriously Japanese.

Talk to Her (Spain, Pedro Almodóvar) With his unsettling new film about how men try to express love — including ways that should give anyone the creeps — the madrileno master goes beyond his fondness for broad melodrama and bawdy camp to achieve a deadpan perversity worthy of Buñuel.

Time Out (France, Laurent Cantet) A perfectly turned tale of a dutiful bourgeois' attempt to escape the prison house of work, told in hushed tones and made transcendent by the year's finest performance — a subtle, wrenching turn by French stage actor Aurélien Recoing.

Y Tu Mamá También (USA/Mexico, Alfonso Cuarón) If you asked what movie I flat-out loved the most this year, the answer would be this freewheeling Mexican road picture, a brilliant film that's hard to catch in the act of being brilliant: It's bursting with sex, humor, politics, landscape, melancholy, beauty . . . life.

MOST OVERRATED: Adaptation (USA, Spike Jonze) I kept wishing screenwriter Charlie Kaufman would explore the emotions he raises (and obviously feels) rather than sinking into a cleverness so solipsistic that it folds possible criticisms into the movie rather than seeking an artistic solution that would overcome them.

MOST UNDERRATED: Lovely & Amazing (USA, Nicole Holofcener) This story of three wildly different sisters has a sly comic touch and a delicate sense of human frailty that ultimately reveals far more about women's lives than, say, The Hours.

FESTIVAL FAVORITE (BEST UNRELEASED OR UNDISTRIBUTED FILM): Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary (Canada, Guy Maddin) The year's deadliest-sounding project — a filmed version of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's adaptation of Bram Stoker — is brought to delirious life by Canadian director Maddin, who has a vision so gorgeously and crazily his own that you'd think he comes not from Manitoba but another planet.


In Secretary's opening scene, wonderful Maggie Gyllenhaal walks gracefully around a law office, arms stretched wide on a bondage stick to which her wrists are cuffed. She works a stapler with her chin, pulls a paper from a typewriter with her teeth, neatly bends to drop a lump of sugar in a cup, walks down the hall and, turning sideways to fit through the door frame of what is obviously the boss's office, shuts the door on our prying eyes. This, followed by a title card that reads simply, teasingly, “Six months earlier.”




About Schmidt (USA, Alexander Payne) The stillest, most nuanced performance Jack Nicholson has ever given — a portrait of the plight of the post-World War II American male who, stripped of his job, has no idea how else to define himself. He could be my dad.


Far From Heaven (USA, Todd Haynes) Once again, Todd Haynes has put just about everything that worries and excites him — sex, race, woman as victim and as overbearing mother — into a gorgeous, literate, beautifully acted melodrama that folds social critique into an old-fashioned weepie without compromising either.

I'm Going Home (France/Portugal, Manoel de Oliveira) The Portuguese master says farewell one more time in this elliptical study of an actor (Michel Piccoli) struggling with his own decline. The movie is an ambiguous poem to Paris, and an elegy for a more decent past as it gives way to a brassy new century.

Late Marriage (Israel/France, Dover Koshashvili) A deceptively simple romantic caper set among the vigorously traditional Georgian-Israeli community digs deep into philosophical issues about the way we all try to make over an intractable world in the image of our own desires.

Little Otik (Czech Republic/U.K./Japan, Jan Svankmajer) The great Czech surrealist's magnificently twisted black comedy, about an infertile couple who try to raise a child out of a tree stump, has much to say about greed — for food, for love, for control. All done with a pile of twigs.

Morvern Callar (U.K., Lynne Ramsay) Scottish director Lynne Ramsay takes the baton from Jane Campion and gives us a visually sophisticated and mysterious tale of escape and female friendship.

Punch-Drunk Love (USA, Paul Thomas Anderson) The year's goofiest and most touching romantic comedy. Adam Sandler shines as a superdoofus only Emily Watson could go after, temper tantrums and all.

Talk to Her (Spain, Pedro Almodóvar) Almodóvar grows up and out of burlesque with this wonderfully improbable tale of two men learning to love two comatose women. Only Almodóvar could make this plausible, not to mention deeply moving.

Time Out (France, Laurent Cantet) A tough, heart-rending, infinitely humane study of a laid-off executive (brilliantly played by Aurélien Recoing) who, refusing to acknowledge that he's been laid off, invents a new life. He's not a hero; he's not a victim. He's a monster, created by a monstrous world.

24 Hour Party People (U.K., Michael Winterbottom) Michael Winterbottom and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce catch the moment of Manchester's mid-'70s musical heyday, with a terrific Steve Coogan as Tony Wilson, founder of Factory Records and the Hacienda dance club.

MOST OVERRATED: The Piano Teacher (France/Austria, Michael Haneke) Pretentious unto nausea.

MOST UNDERRATED: The Believer (USA, Henry Bean) Profanely sacred, where many thought it was sacrilege.

FESTIVAL FAVORITE: Mai's America (USA/Vietnam, Marlo Poras) Marlo Poras' documentary, about a young Vietnamese exchange student from Hanoi as she tries to find a place for herself in rural Mississippi, embodies the best in nonfiction filmmaking. Observant and nonjudgmental, Poras sympathetically charts the collapse of Mai's American dream, while remaining open to unexpected themes.


In Punch-Drunk Love, Emily Watson strides away after being rebuffed by a clueless Adam Sandler, then stops dead, stares straight ahead with a wisp of a smile, turns on her heel and goes back for another try.




About Schmidt (USA, Alexander Payne)

All About Lily Chou-Chou (Japan, Shunji Iwai)

Chicago (USA/Canada, Rob Marshall)

The Cockettes (USA, Bill Weber and David Weissman)

Far From Heaven (USA, Todd Haynes)

The Hours (USA, Stephen Daldry)

Life and Debt (USA, Stephanie Black)

The Piano Teacher (France/Austria, Michael Haneke)

Sunshine State (USA, John Sayles)

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

MOST OVERRATED: Adaptation (USA, Spike Jonze)

FESTIVAL FAVORITE: Life on Christopher Street (USA, Maria Clara and Kimberly Gray) A hip-hop Paris Is Burning, only tougher, stripped of sentimentality even as it digs deep into the wound of queerness + race + poverty. Smart, funny and insightful (and far too brief), this documentary short — with its hip-hop homo Goths, fierce baby dykes and dry-witted young queens — serves up images of contemporary queerness and people o' color that shame almost every other film made by either American queers or melanin-blessed heteros.




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

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

3. Gangs of New York (USA/Germany/ Italy/U.K./Netherlands, Martin Scorsese)

4. The Bourne Identity (USA/Czech Republic, Doug Liman)

5. Sex and Lucia (France/Spain, Julio Medem)

6. Lovely & Amazing (USA, Nicole Holofcener)

7. Personal Velocity (USA, Rebecca Miller)

8. 25th Hour (USA, Spike Lee)

9. Autofocus (USA, Paul Schrader)


10. The Man From Elysian Fields (USA, George Hickenlooper)

11. The Triumph of Love (U.K./Italy, Clare Peploe)

12. 8 Mile (USA, Curtis Hanson)

13. Frida (USA/Canada, Julie Taymor)

MOST OVERRATED: Road to Perdition (USA, Sam Mendes) This film boasts a surplus of beauty in its cinematography (so much so that the characters seem to brandish Oscars instead of Tommy guns), but is fundamentally empty.

MOST UNDERRATED: Frida You could even argue that it has been underrated by me — though I made it No. 13 with an eye toward the possibility that, where posterity is concerned, “The last shall enter first.”

FESTIVAL FAVORITE: The Secret Lives of Dentists (USA, Alan Rudolph) ä Written by Craig Lucas (based on Jane Smiley's short novel The Age of Grief) and starring Campbell Scott and Hope Davis, here's a hellish season in the life of a married couple in their 30s, unflinchingly traced and for that very wise and funny.

PERSISTENCE OF VISION: That moment in Ivansxtc (pronounced “Ivan's ecstasy”) when superagent Ivan Beckman — played unforgettably by Danny Huston — has surprised himself by opening up to a pair of hookers. He has no one else to talk to. He is literally dying behind his professionally forced smile, as the cancer he's kept secret from the world is moving into its final stages. He catches his own reflection in a fragmented mirror and takes a quick but serious look, like a man who's never really noticed himself before.




About Schmidt (USA, Alexander Payne)

All About Lily Chou-Chou (Japan, Shunji Iwai)

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (Canada, Zacharias Kunuk)

Far From Heaven (USA, Todd Haynes)

Jackass: The Movie (USA, Jeff Tremaine)

Life and Debt (USA, Stephanie Black)

Lilo & Stitch (USA, Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders)

Punch-Drunk Love (USA, Paul Thomas Anderson)

Sunshine State (USA, John Sayles)

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

MOST OVERRATED: Bowling for Columbine (Canada/USA/Germany, Michael Moore)

MOST UNDERRATED: Jackass: The Movie (USA, Jeff Tremaine)

FESTIVAL FAVORITE: Oasis (South Korea, Lee Chang-dong) It's hard to say what makes Oasis a tougher sell: the director's harrowing depiction of a brutish ex-con's attempted rape of a young woman with cerebral palsy, or the deeply felt, beautifully human love story it initiates. Regardless, Lee refuses to shrink from ugliness or feed his audience empty sentiment in a masterful melodrama about two outcasts who ultimately find in each other the self-worth they're denied in a harsh, exploitative society.

PERSISTENCE OF VISION: Director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros) contributed the most visually stunning segment to a compilation of filmmaker responses to 9/11 titled 11'09″01. A crescendo of chaos and horror built on images and sounds from that morning, it begins with a pitch-black screen that pulses with the intermittent progress of a body falling through space.




Bloody Sunday (U.K./Ireland, Paul Greengrass)

Far From Heaven (USA, Todd Haynes)

Gangs of New York (USA/Italy/Germany/U.K./Netherlands, Martin Scorsese)

The Good Girl (USA/Germany/Netherlands, Miguel Arteta)

Invincible (USA/U.K./Germany/Ireland, Werner Herzog)

Lovely & Amazing (USA, Nicole Holofcener)

Morvern Callar (U.K., Lynne Ramsay)

Punch-Drunk Love (USA, Paul Thomas Anderson)

The Quiet American (USA/Germany, Phillip Noyce)

What Time Is It There? (France/Taiwan, Tsai Ming-liang)

MOST OVERRATED: Bowling For Columbine (Canada/USA/Germany, Michael Moore)

MOST UNDERRATED: The Rules of Attraction (USA/Germany, Roger Avary)

FESTIVAL FAVORITE: The debut feature from Canadian writer-directors Steven Clark and Matt Bissonnette, Looking for Leonard is a loving and amiable throwback to the heroic age of American independent cinema. Full of offbeat characters and a caper plot that's more or less forgotten, the film is just the kind of left-field surprise this festival attendee is always looking for.

PERSISTENCE OF VISION: A gang known as the Dead Rabbits assembles for battle at the beginning of Gangs of New York, as martial drumbeats push the tension and a Steadicam follows them through a series of catacombs. It is classic Scorsese — too intense, bottled up and on the brink of eruption — and, after a brief pause for conversation, Brendan Gleeson kicks open a door that leads from their dim, cramped quarters out into an unbelievably vast, snow-covered town square. In a breathtaking move, the camera then pushes on through the door and surveys the surroundings, yanking the viewer backward in time.





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.




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.




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.


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.


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.



In Standing in the Shadows of Motown, which documents the musicians — a.k.a. the Funk Brothers — behind our greatest pop label, race stands in the shadows, as it does in much of the Motown sound. In casual chat, guest performer Me'shell Ndegéocello asks bassist Bob Babbitt if he ever felt tension as a white musician in a primarily black environment. He considers for a moment, starts to answer, then breaks down, eyes clouded in tears of remembrance and joy. The moment is naive and tender and transcendent, everything about America that Trent Lott has labored to destroy.


The subtle brilliance of Tsai Ming-liang's What Time Is It There? is apparent from the opening shots of the film. But it isn't until the final scene that the director's deft balancing of grief, angst, loneliness and yearning flowers to breathtaking effect. Framed symmetrically, with a gigantic Ferris wheel in the center, evenly spaced light posts on each side, and a figure moving steadily inward to a vortex of converging lines, the shot shows us the moving wheels of time, and you know — in this pure, mysterious equilibrium — that everything's going to be okay.

LA Weekly