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1. Rachel Getting Married
The year’s best movie is a breathtaking mix of isolation and fullness. Side by side with a bleak family drama—an unstable woman (Anne Hathaway) fresh from rehab, sisterly antagonism, the insistent memory of a dead child, an emotionally stunted mother—is the overflowing heart of an extended family in which racial and cultural barriers dissolve. Jonathan Demme’s film looks backward and forward, from a self-indulgent past to an audaciously hopeful future.

2. Wall-E
Again, the stirrings of a new, socially engaged existence from the ruins of a self-indulgent past. A childlike robot with pivoting goggle eyes resides in a metropolis surrounded by skyscrapers that turn out to be compressed trash bricks piled high in the soot-gray sky. The wordless first half is sublime; the second—with its sedentary-blob humans—formulaic but fun. Andrew Stanton and CGI colossus Pixar use their vast technology resources to remind us of the natural world we’re in danger of destroying.

3. Happy-Go-Lucky
In Mike Leigh’s profound comedy, the question hangs: Is the blithely optimistic Poppy (the effervescent Sally Hawkins) fatuously cheerful? Leigh tests her worldview by putting her in an enclosed space with a rage-ridden proto-Fascist driving instructor (Eddie Marson)—the first lesson hilarious, the last scary. It turns out Poppy’s is not a life of whimsy but a design for living that’s brave and hard-won.

4. Cadillac Records
Darnell Martin’s musical drama centers on Chicago’s Chess Records and the seminal blues artists it launched, among them Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, and Etta James. The theme—black musicians struggling to find their voices in a society that keeps them segregated, beaten down, and infantilized—is beautifully sustained, and the ensemble is stupendous. Who could have imagined Beyoncé Knowles would find the anger and longing at the core of James’s music?

5. The Class
Based on the autobiographical novel by François Bégaudeau, who plays himself, Laurent Cantet’s wrenching drama centers on a teacher who attempts to win over a poor, racially mixed group of students. Every day is a high-wire act, a series of negotiations, small defeats, unexpected triumphs. Just as we’re getting high on this utopian vision, something goes wrong. See it. Brood on it.

6. Kit Kittredge:
An American Girl

It opened poorly against a Will Smith superhero picture and was largely shrugged off as a merchandising tie-in. But Patricia Rozema’s tale of an adolescent girl (a luminous Abigail Breslin) who, at the height of the Depression and amid widespread foreclosures, sets out to be a journalist and document the struggles of homeless families, is both enchanting and haunting. And as she learns to see the world with new eyes, Kit becomes one of the great contemporary role models for kids.

7. Waltz With Bashir
Fever dreams and recollections of the early eighties Israeli war with Lebanon: another film about the guilt of soldiers for what they did or didn’t do. But this one, by Ari Folman, is animated, and its fluid boundary between the real and surreal lifts it into the realm of myth.

8. Shotgun Stories
Few saw Jeff Nichols’s mournful tragedy (starring Michael Shannon) in which two sets of Arkansas brothers who share a father begin a deadly feud. It’s set against a landscape of isolated farms and dilapidated main streets, and the rhythms are languid. But the lines that pop out of these stuporous characters’ mouths have the bitter tang of real life. The movie makes you empathize with the rage that drives these men to violence—but also shows how manly action weakens them, wipes out their individuality, and turns them into automatons.

9. Doubt
John Patrick Shanley’s film of his play (starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams) is a heavy-handed but primal dramatic force. Set in the early sixties in a Catholic school, it asks if a priest sexually abused the school’s lone black student, whom he generously took under his wing. Shanley understands that it’s the dramatist’s business to sow doubt, to set down points of view that can’t be reconciled.

10. Trouble the Water
New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward through the camcorder lens of resident Kimberly Roberts as Katrina hits and the levees bust and the water rises outside her attic window. The film that Tia Lessin and Carl Deal build around Roberts’s footage is both infuriating and inspiring. For no matter how bland the government bureaucracies in the disaster’s aftermath, what happened to Kimberly and her abandoned neighbors and drowned uncle and hospitalized grandmother left to die will always be in the present tense.

Photo: Courtesy of Bob Vergara/Sony Pictures Classics

Photo: Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Photo: Courtesy of Mirimax Films

Photo: Courtesy of TriStar Pictures

Photo: Courtesy of Pierre Milon/Sony Pictures Classics

Photo: Courtesy of New Line Cinema

Photo: Courtesy of David Polanski/Mirimax

Photo: Courtesy of International Film Circuit

Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Schwartx/Mirimax

Photo: Courtesy of Zeitgeist Films

Fall Fashion Features

The Beefcake in the Backcourt
Big, fake, and fully able to outshine its surroundings.Big, fake, and fully able to outshine its surroundings.


The Beefcake in the Backcourt
Big, fake, and fully able to outshine its surroundings.Big, fake, and fully able to outshine its surroundings.