By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
6. Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA). Paul Thomas Anderson takes off on Adam Sandler's screen persona, showing us how unfunny – in fact, how very scary and disturbing – Sandler's typical geek characters would be if you remove them from the realm of broad comedy. Beneath its apparently happy ending, Punch-Drunk Love is truly unsettling – a strange and amazing piece of work.
7. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, USA). This story of different kinds of forbidden love isn't simply an homage to the Douglas Sirk melodramas of the '50s. It re-creates them, utterly without snickering irony, while anachronistic flourishes give the drama an extra charge.
8. Lagaan (Ashutosh Gowariker, India). The Oscar rules are so insane that I'm ignoring them for this one. It would qualify if it hadn't been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film last year; if it had merely been entered but not nominated, it would qualify for all the other awards this year. In effect, it's penalized for having gotten a nomination. (I couldn't make this stuff up.) Certainly the best four-hour musical about cricket you'll ever see.
9. One Hour Photo (Mark Romanek, USA). Robin Williams really is creepy as all get-out in this perfectly controlled thriller – which is maybe too finicky in its attention to design. Still, it's a winner.
10. The Pianist (Roman Polanski, U.K.-France-Germany-Poland-Netherlands). A great director mutes his usual trademarks to deal with the Holocaust (which, of course, he experienced firsthand). This is a film more to admire than enjoy: It's grueling, appropriately enough, but not the kind of thing you want to watch over and over.
Bubbling under the top 10: Insomnia (Christopher Nolan, USA), The Fast Runner (Zacharias Kunuk, Canada), Wasabi (Gérard Krawczyk, France-Japan), Sex and Lucía (Julio Medem, Spain), Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (Shohei Imamura, Japan-France), Happy Times (Zhang Yimou, China), Rabbit-Proof Fence (Phillip Noyce, Australia), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Peter Jackson, USA-New Zealand), Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay, U.K.), Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (George Clooney, USA), and The Happiness of the Katakuris and City of Lost Souls (both Takashi Miike, Japan).
Other films that I'm glad I saw and may even revisit: What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-Liang, France-Taiwan), Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón, USA-Mexico), The Lady and the Duke (Eric Rohmer, France), Minority Report (Steven Spielberg, USA), Lovely & Amazing (Nicole Holofcener, USA), I'm Going Home (Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal-France), How I Killed My Father (Anne Fontaine, France-Spain), Igby Goes Down (Burr Steers, USA), and Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (Robert Rodriguez, USA).
Final cop-out: Every year there's a film about which I can't quite make up my mind. This year, it's the much-lauded About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, USA). Jack Nicholson is great in it, and Payne – channeling Sinclair Lewis, the Coen brothers and Elaine May – seems to be trying to find some dignity in pedestrian lives. Still, it's hard to escape the feeling that his contempt for all his characters, Schmidt included, outweighs his compassion.