2. Bowling for Columbine. Those who'd insist this isn't the doc of the year don't know or don't care; it's not just about gun violence but the cycle of violence itself, from poverty to pain and back again, over and over and over. Michael Moore gets in Michael Moore's way too often, and not just because he's a big fella, but the man gives a shit, and that's all that counts. When he and two Columbine High survivors shame Kmart into giving up ammo sales, you cry and cheer; too bad it took a stunt to force the company, bankrupt in more ways than one, to do the right thing. And you're forced to wonder whether Chuck Heston lost his mind because God thinks he's a mean ol' man.
3. About Schmidt. Jack Nicholson hops in the Winnebago and takes a trip to, ya know, himself; the journey's ugly and without meaningful discoveries, only the revelation that a man doesn't define himself at life's end by what he did, but what he didn't do. Nicholson, a mess of sagging flesh and overgrown ear hair, gives the performance of a lifetime by becoming so small he disappears on the big screen. And Kathy Bates gets naked, which gets her an Oscar nod and gives us the creeps.
4. Punch-Drunk Love. At long last Joe Roth's Revolution Studios lives up to its name, and what does he get for his troubles? Bupkus, which is a friggin' shame, since Adam Sandler's gonna figure his audience doesn't want to see him all sad and serious and shit and take that as permission to go ahead with that Little Nicky sequel.
5. Far from Heaven. Doug Sirk would have been proud ... or mighty weirded out by the sight of Dennis Quaid making out with another man. A friend insists, by way of compliment, this is a laugh-out-loud comedy, and he's right, of course; it's so over-the-top it's a bottom. Still the loneliness is overwhelming, and Julianne Moore never, for a second, acts like she's in on the joke.
6. Chicago. So good you'll swear Richard Gere can sing and dance, which he can't; so good you and your mama will love it with equal ferocity. The best musical since Cabaret, which figures since they were written by the same fellers; or, could be the best musical since All that Jazz, which figures since it's all that Fosse, just more of it.
7. Solaris. Steven Soderbergh's other great movie of the year, just not the one that features a Hitler who wants to "take a swim in Lake Me." Instead George Clooney is lost in space and still managing to hook up with a hot piece, which is what makes him a god and the rest of us idle worshippers. And, if nothing else, you and your date can argue about when he died -- at the beginning of the movie or at the end. Like I spoiled anything; you'll never see it.
8. Talk to Her. Easily the best movie Pedro Almodóvar's ever made, if only because he's not trying so hard to be so willfully nutso; it's a quiet, haunting, beautiful movie about despair and longing, and it also happens to feature the most surreal rape scene ever, "set" as a silent film scene in which a tiny man walks into a giant pussy. You know, when you read that, it's gonna sound willfully nutso.
9. Sunshine State. Easily the best movie John Sayles ever made, because he finally figured out how to talk and point a camera at the same time. This movie about race, class, and real estate is more poignant than it has any right to be, and not just because Edie Falco's ten times the actress, well, most everyone else is right about now.
10. About a Boy. Chris and Paul Weitz prove themselves more than bakers of juvenile Pie with a touching, funny story about a man who acts the badly drawn boy till he takes on someone else's lonely kid and, yes, grows up. Too bad Hugh Grant spoils the estimable goodwill by ending the year giving Two Weeks Notice.