Film Reviews

Back to the Future

Four of the top ten films I saw this year don't actually open in the United States 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 also make a pointed statement about the quality of 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 that 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 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.

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 Adolph 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.

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Jean Oppenheimer