Is it that time of year already? 2002 passed in a blur, and now the kudos season is upon us. The critics' groups have spoken (including a new Seattle critics' poll, which fell for Far From Heaven); the Golden Globes go out Jan. 19; and the Oscar noms are issued Feb. 11. L.A. scribes favor About Schmidt; the smarties in N.Y.C. gave their nod to Far From Heaven. For an even smarter view, the Village Voice critics' poll—yet another voting duty for this overworked critic!--comes out Jan. 1 (www.villagevoice.com). Don't ask me to make sense of the various top choices and 10-best lists; the consensus view is that there is no awards consensus this year. Which means that at last, my customary left-field, depressive picks might carry as much weight as A.O. Scott's.
1. Time Out Although not a drop of blood is shed or an act of violence committed in Laurent Cantet's thriller, it builds to almost unbearable tension and sadness as a recently fired business consultant lets a minor lie escalate into a major deception. Anyone who's got too much of their identity based on their job will sympathize as bland Vincent risks everything, including his family, to cling to the charade of employment. (The movie opened in April and is due on DVD Jan. 14.)
2. Y Tu Mam᠔ambi鮼/I> Everyone at the office wants to borrow this DVD from my desk—and for good reason. Alfonso Cuar� coming-of-age road-trip movie debuted here in April, then ran for months owing to its caliente sex and the Godardian narrator who lends surprising subtextual depth to the picaresque. Despite their raunchy expectations for the older woman who journeys with them, Tambi鮼/I>'s two horny teens have their eyes opened to life and death.
3. Bloody Sunday Why did nobody see this film when it opened in October? Maybe because Paul Greengrass chose the odd docu-drama format to basically re-create the Jan. 30, 1972 massacre of 13 civil-rights marchers by British troops in Northern Ireland. OK—it's depressing, but it's also wrenchingly powerful because the outcome is so inexorable. In brilliantly edited and deliberately chaotic sequences, events take on their own terrible logic. (Criminally, it's ineligible for the Oscars, having screened once on Irish TV.)
4. The Fast Runner Zacharias Kunuk's three-hour Inuit epic wowed audiences at SIFF and opened in June. Entirely subtitled and often wordless, the film's greatness lies as much in the immediate sensory details of the frozen Arctic landscape as in its grand classical themes of love, revenge, betrayal, dynastic succession, and curses to be exorcised. And I just loved the performance of Lucy Tulugarjuk as the two-faced temptress Puja. (Look for it on DVD Feb. 11.)
5. Bowling for Columbine Flawed, polemical, unbalanced, reductive, intellectually shoddy, unfair to Alzheimer's-afflicted Charlton Heston—say what you will about Michael Moore's October gun-culture documentary, it's the most provocative and indelible documentary of the year. I saw it late on a Sunday night with a theater full of Gen-Y kids (some sneaking in beer and Chinese food), and they burst into applause at the end. Whatever boring, stodgy, balanced docs are Oscar-nominated this year, none will have such visceral effect with an audience.
6. Secretary The best love story of the year. Steven Shainberg's November favorite adapts an S&M empowerment story by Mary Gaitskill to become an oddly affirmative fairy-tale romance. In her breakout role as the fragile, self-scarifying office drone, Maggie Gyllenhaal flowers under the, ahem, strict hand of her new boss. Secretary is her My Fair Lady, and James Spader her naughtier, uncensored Henry Higgins.
7. Ali Zaoua Maybe it's only me, but I loved this little Moroccan film, which only played a week here in August. Cast with real street kids out of Los Olvidados, the tale of three pals trying to arrange a decent burial for their dead friend is both grim and uplifting. Whimsical animation sequences provide a little relief for the viewer, while the kids just sniff glue. But in their circumstances, you might, too.
8. Talk to Her Pedro Almod�'s Christmas gift to cinema is a relaxed, accessible, and generous love story between two men who meet while tending two comatose women. At least that's the short and simple synopsis. Since it's still in theaters, I'll spare you the plot and insist that you go see it. (As one of the two guys says of the coma cases, "A woman's brain is a mystery, and in this state even more.")
9. Sunshine State For once, a John Sayles movie that doesn't feel like homework. Sure, it's still talky and serious, but Edie Falco and an excellent ensemble cast help keep the family troubles and Florida real-estate schemes from growing tedious in this July release. (It's already on DVD, with Sayles providing commentary.) More amazing still, Sayles permits himself to write some laugh lines, proving that you don't have to be humorless to be edifying.
10. Gosford Park Technically a 2001 release in N.Y.C. and L.A., Robert Altman's English murder mystery send-up arrived here in January. At first an arch, airy kind of Agatha Christie spoof, the movie gradually becomes a lacerating examination of the class system in decline. Altman does try your patience with his characteristic dillydallying and dead ends, but Gosford has an underlying moral structure that's finally breathtakingly clear and affecting. (Already on DVD.)
Honorable Mention (alphabetical): About Schmidt, Adaptation, Alias Betty, All About Lily Chou-Chou, Baran, Behind the Sun, Dogtown and Z-Boys, Far From Heaven, Igby Goes Down, Italian for Beginners, Jacques Demy double-feature (Lola/Bay of Angels), Kandahar, The Kid Stays in the Picture, La Ci鮡ga, Lantana, Last Orders, LOTR 2, the restored Metropolis, One Hour Photo, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Read My Lips, Tadpole, Unfaithful.
Commendable and Coming Soon: The Hours (Jan. 10), The Quiet American (Feb. 5).
Unseen, but Dying to See: Russian Ark.
Most Overrated Good Films: Adaptation, Far From Heaven.
Most Overrated Bad Films: Gangs of New York, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Spirited Away.
Most Overrated, period: critics' 10-best lists.