Four of the top 10 films I saw this past year don't actually open in the U.S. until 2003, but they played at various film festivals during the year. By listing them here I not only alert readers to films they should watch out for in '03, but I also make a pointed statement about the poor quality of outstanding films in 2002. Good ones, yes. Outstanding ones, no.
1. City of God: This brilliant, brutal film the Brazilian entry for the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar charts how the drug trade came to the slums of Rio de Janeiro in the period from the 1960s to the 1990s. Directed by Fernando Mereilles, with a predominantly nonprofessional cast. Cinematography by César Charlone. Extremely violent, so be prepared.
2. Russian Ark: A dreamlike journey through three centuries of Russian history, shot in a single, unbroken 87-minute Steadicam shot which covers more than a mile inside St. Petersburg's magnificent Hermitage Museum, the former Winter Palace of the Tsars. Directed by Alexander Sokulov. Groundbreaking cinematography by German cameraman Tilman Büttner.
3. Sweet Sixteen: British filmmaker Ken Loach's best film ever, about a boy who dreams of a family life he never had and the hard life lessons he learns trying to create it.
4. Road to Perdition: A riveting mix of pulp and myth. The only film actually released in 2002 about which I am passionate.
5. Divine Intervention: A potent black comedy from Palestinian writer-director-actor Elia Suleiman.
6. Bowling for Columbine: Yes, it's one-sided, but director Michael Moore doesn't put words in anybody's mouth; he lets people hang themselves. Should be mandatory viewing for every person in the United States over the age of 14.
7. Talk to Her: The latest from Spanish writer-director Pedro Almodóvar. As good as his early work is, his films keep getting richer. A wizard as a writer-director, Almodóvar comes up with the most outlandish plots and makes our hearts overflow with both joy and sorrow.
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8. Max: Set in 1918 Germany, this provocative film imagines a relationship not quite a friendship between a sophisticated Jewish art dealer and a struggling young artist named Adolf Hitler. The controversial subject matter is saved by a complex and thoughtful script, intelligent direction from first-time director Menno Meyjes and unusually fine performances from John Cusack and Noah Taylor.
9. Gangs of New York: Flawed but still noteworthy. Daniel Day-Lewis is his usual mesmerizing self.
10. Lilo & Stitch: What the hell; it made me laugh.
As for good (but not great) films that are worth catching: The Quiet American, Catch Me If You Can, About Schmidt, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, The Hours, Signs, and foreign-language films Italian for Beginners, Mostly Martha and How I Killed My Father.