1. Summer Hours The premise is simple: A matriarch who inherited the estate and collection of her artist uncle dies, and two of her three children vote to sell it all instead of keeping the house and work in the family. The next hour is mostly about inventory, pricing, discussions of tax deductions, and an auction. But director Olivier Assayas evokes the sadness of the passing of the Old World and its indigenous forms of culture, the rise of globalization, and the weakening of family ties.
2. Everlasting Moments Jan Troell's entrancingly beautiful drama centers on a turn-of-the-century woman who finds an old camera in a cabinet and discovers that she has what another character calls "a gift for seeing." Troell uses surfaces — light, texture, faces — to hint at another world, a shadow realm.
3. Brothers Jim Sheridan's melancholy drama (with superlative performances by Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman and Sam Shepard), explores not just the horror of the "war on terror," but the chemistry of families — the connections that shape our actions even when separated from loved ones by continents.
4. The Fantastic Mr. Fox In this stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl's book, Wes Anderson's ultra-composed frames are magically, mischievously alive.
5. Tyson James Toback's documentary is one of the most intimate celebrity portraits ever made, a revelatory weave of confession and footage of the scary fights and contentious press conferences of controversial boxing champion Mike Tyson.
6.A Serious Man A Jewish joke with a sting, Joel and Ethan Coen lampoon traditions and folklore, along with the sanctified notion of moral "seriousness." Underneath, another note creeps in — existential dislocation and dread, and the impossibility of discerning divine motives.
7. Coraline Director Henry Selick makes some big boo-boos in adapting Neil Gaiman's novel for kids, but the images are so exquisite and otherworldly that you'll feel as if you're floating through his dollhouse world along with the heroine.
8. In the Loop A ribald, obscenity-laden British political satire that fictionalizes the days leading up to the U.N. resolution in support of the invasion of Iraq. Did it actually go down like this? It's terrifying to think so.
9. Food, Inc. In a year of stunning activist docs, Robert Kenner's film has the kick of The Matrix — a movie where humans find out they're living in a simulacrum, a virtual world of fake food (and farms) they mistake for reality. If we are what we eat, we're in deep trouble.
10. The Hurt Locker Director Kathryn Bigelow's adrenaline-soaked Iraq film evokes both the charge and the terrifying disorientation of a war in which death can come from any direction at anytime from anyone.
11. Of Time and the City Terence Davies' acid yet tender threnody for the Liverpool of his youth in the decades after World War II. It's found footage woven into an exquisite tone poem.
12. Where the Wild Things Are With some computer work but largely with live action, Spike Jonze brings Maurice Sendak's wondrous world of giant beasts and bestial little boys to life — with all its rage and longing and even depression intact.
13. Avatar With the help of a brontosaurian budget, James Cameron creates a pantheistic virtual world with such thrilling, vertigo-inducing depth that as you watch you barely notice it's a dumb, guilt-assuaging parable in which Native Americans and their living ecosystem best their capitalist-imperialist invaders.
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