10. Time Out
The french writer-director Laurent Cantet's film is a hushed, small-scale masterpiece that moves into the shadowlands of tragedy. Vincent (Aurélien Recoing) is a bourgeois family man who, unbeknownst to his brood, has recently been fired from his position as a mid-level corporate consultant but still pretends to go to work each day. Vincent sinks further and further into a miasma of seediness and deception, and yet -- this is the greatness of the film -- he is never so alive as when he is tranced out by his own duplicity.
9. Y Tu Mama Tambien
Alfonso Cuaron's road movie is the funniest and freshest sex comedy of its kind since Bertrand Blier's Going Places. Two teenage Mexican boys, played marvelously well by Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, set out for the beach with the disaffected wife of a cousin of theirs, played by Maribel Verdu as a mixture of slut and angel of mercy.
8. The Pianist
Roman Polanski's film, based on the memoir of the Polish musician Wladyslaw Szpilman, who survived the Warsaw ghetto, is his strongest and most personal picture to date. As Szpilman, Adrien Brody has a feral grace, and the horrors we witness have a matter-of-factness that only makes them more horrific.
7. Domestic Violence
Frederick Wiseman's documentaries have a dramatic truth available almost nowhere else in movies right now. This film is one of his most affecting. I've rarely seen as much unalloyed bravery in a movie. Primarily set in a shelter in Tampa, Florida, called the Spring, the film takes us inside its institutional-white interior to observe caseworkers and abused women and children trying to make sense of their shared situation. Wiseman has too much respect for these people to simplify their condition, and his respect frees us to register a full range of emotional responses.
6. Spirited Away
The great Japanese anime director Hayao Miyazaki has made his masterpiece. Spirited Away, which was even more popular in Japan than Titanic, is the most deeply and mysteriously satisfying animated feature to come along in ages. At a time when animated movies, at least of the computer-generated Shrek and Toy Story variety, have never been funnier or friskier, Miyazaki offers up the traditional pleasures of hand-drawn animation combined with the emotional undertow of a resounding myth or Grimm's fairy tale.
5. Bloody Sunday
Written and directed by Paul Greengrass, the film is the most visceral and cumulatively powerful account of civil war since Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers. It takes place from dawn to dusk on January 30, 1972, when British soldiers, under orders to make mass arrests, shot 27 unarmed demonstrators, 13 of them fatally, as they were taking part in what was intended to be a peaceful, large-scale civil-rights march in Derry, Northern Ireland, to protest the British policy of internment without trial. The primitive force of this film seems to bubble up from the vast collective memory of the combatants. It's like watching a nightmare made flesh.
The latest collaboration from director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who made Being John Malkovich, is a wildly original comedy starring Nicolas Cage in a dual role as Charlie Kaufman, a sorry-faced screenwriter trying to adapt Susan Orlean's nonfiction book The Orchid Thief and getting nowhere, and his crass brother Donald, who decides he wants to be a screenwriter, too. In real life, Kaufman couldn't figure out a way to adapt Orlean's book, so he wrote this film about a screenwriter trying to adapt the book. Meryl Streep plays Orlean, Chris Cooper is the eponymous orchid poacher. All the actors are in top form.
Benoît Jacquot's movie of Puccini's Tosca is a rare example of first-rate filmed opera. The virtues of Tosca have been debated since it was first staged in 1900. Is it tragedy or melodrama, art or kitsch? By pouring so much passion onto the screen, Jacquot makes such questions seem niggling. However you care to classify this Tosca, it's amazing. The famous arias are sung by Roberto Alagna, as the freedom-loving artist Cavaradossi; Ruggero Raimondi, as the villainous Roman police chief Scarpia; and Angela Gheorghiu, as Cavaradossi's lover, Tosca. They are so thrillingly felt that the screen seems to tremble, and Tosca's "Vissi d'arte" is, as it should be, the film's high point.
2. The Quiet American
The opening shots of The Quiet American, based on the Graham Greene novel and set in Saigon in 1952, establish the mood that will carry throughout the movie. Delicate boats at night appear as though glimpsed through a moist scrim of memory; but in these same waters a body will soon wash up. The body belongs to Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser), an American who had been stationed in Vietnam ostensibly to provide medical aid but who, in fact, was a covert CIA operative. Beautifully directed by Phillip Noyce, the film, which flashes back from those opening sequences, is a full experience, a love story and a murder mystery that expands into a meditation on the deep deceptions of innocence.
1. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Peter Jackson's second installment in the trilogy is darker and more action-packed than its predecessor. Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn really comes into his own, while Elijah Wood's Frodo has less to do. Ian McKellan's Gandalf the Grey has been resurrected as Gandalf the White, a distinct sartorial improvement. The climactic battle sequence at Helm's Deep is a stunner.