Back to the Future

From Lilo & Stitch to Gangs of New York, this year's worthwhile screentime added up

Four of the top ten films I saw this 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, seen in a single, unbroken 96-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 Sokurov. Groundbreaking cinematography by German cameraman Tilman Büttner.

3. Sweet Sixteen. British filmmaker Ken Loach's best film ever, about a boy who dreams of the family life he never had -- and the hard life lessons he learns trying to create it.

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4. Divine Intervention. A potent black comedy from Palestinian writer-director-actor Elia Suleiman.

5. Road to Perdition. A riveting mix of pulp and myth. The only film actually released in 2002 about which I am passionate.

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 fourteen.

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. Gangs of New York. Flawed but still noteworthy. Daniel Day-Lewis is his usual mesmerizing self.

9. Italian for Beginners. From Denmark -- an accessible Dogme film!

10. Lilo & Stitch<. what the hell it made me laugh.>

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