With all the flowers there are to smell, all the sunsets to watch, all the sylvan fields to frolic through -- naked, and not alone (lover preferred, faithful dog acceptable) -- who has time to watch a bunch of movies?
This year I've spent too many days and nights trying to talk myself into caring about Terminator 3 and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Hollywood Homicide -- that is, trying to get myself out of that field, into my pants, and to a movie theater to see Hollywood's overcooked offerings. Usually I ended up getting reacquainted with the printed page. And so my list of 2003's rememberable movies comes to you with lacunae, although I doubt that Willard or Johnny English would have made the cut anyway.
As always, I hate 10. I hate its paradoxical points and curves. Whoever thought up such a number should be flayed. So -- call it iconoclasm -- my list has 11 entries (or 19, depending upon how you count), each one a movie I'd recommend you see. Are they the "best" of anything? In these troubling times, when we all need to hold hands and sing a song together, I refuse to be so judgmental.
Here, then, in alphabetical order -- although, coincidentally, the first one on my list is a particular favorite -- are some movies you should add to your Netflix list, or however you satisfy your movie jones.
Ararat (above). Atom Egoyan -- the somber, intelligent, patient ironist -- has created an unusually tricky and absorbing drama, set in the present, about the 1914 genocide by the Turks against Armenian-Turkish citizens perceived to be a threat to national security. We see the slaughter, and yet, not a single scene takes place in the past. Intrigued?
Capturing the Friedmans. Long before reality television, this dysfunctional Long Island family made home movies of their good times -- and also of their unraveling when Dad and one son went to jail on child-molestation charges. Andrew Jarecki's documentary about their lives has more complex character development than most scripted dramas you'll see.
Cuckoo. Russian director Alexander Rogozhkin's sublime anti-war black comedy brings together three people who speak three different languages, but who nonetheless never actually understand each other, even when they make love. His quirky movie grows so good with each passing frame that you won't want it to end.
The Girl from Paris. This lovely, intimate drama follows a 30-year-old city dweller who chucks it all for a country life on a piece of land run by an ancient dairy farmer. It's exquisitely lean and French, a story about how forces of nature come to co-exist.
Intacto. Just pop this Spanish supernatural tale in the VCR/DVD and sit back for a funky ride. Writer/director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo has made a true original that'll keep you watching, wondering and guessing right up to the final showdown between its bemused hero and the poor suffering soul (Max Von Sydow) who has become The Luckiest Man on Earth.
The Man Without a Past (above). Don't we all just love saying his name: Aki KaurismÃ¤ki. He's Finland's answer to Bergman and BuÃ±uel, and his wry parable about an amnesiac is one of his most witty and accessible movies, especially if you like Finnish humor.
School of Rock. Yes, that's right: School of Rock. My paean to the year's Hollywood offerings has the amorphous -- and inexplicably hilarious -- Jack Black in sterling form as a neo-Mr. Peepers teaching uptight prep-school kids to rock on!
The Secret Lives of Dentists. No one knows the exigencies of love and intimacy like perennial list-maker Alan Rudolph, the most famous unknown director in America. This time he tells the story of a husband and wife (Campbell Scott, Hope Davis) who share a profession, three children and a crumbling marriage.
The Shape of Things (above). You either love or hate Neil LaBute, the caustic playwright-cum-filmmaker (In the Company of Men). This is his film of his own play, with the outstanding original Broadway cast (Paul Rudd, Fred Weller, Rachel Weisz, Gretchen Mol). Another exercise in misogyny from LaBute? Or a critique of it? Decide for yourself.
Sweet Sixteen (above). Almost half a century of social conscience hasn't dulled the dramatic edge of Ken Loach, the wonderful British director. This time, he tells a heartbreakingly honest story of a Scottish boy-to-man who might not make it across the threshold.
Thirteen. Ingénue actress Nikki Reed survived a period of dangerous rebellion and co-wrote this movie about it. She also plays her story's wild child, Evie, opposite equally troubled Evan Rachel Wood and mom Holly Hunter. Director Catherine Hardwicke tells their story uncompromisingly and without sensationalizing it.
Finally, some stragglers: Chicago, Spike Lee's 25th Hour and The Pianist were 2002 films that waited until 2003 to visit Pittsburgh. All are worth a look. So are a few smaller '03 movies, like All the Real Girls, Open Hearts (from Sweden), Lawless Heart (from England), Bend It Like Beckham and The Station Agent. I could go on, but I need to make myself pretty for 2004, and that takes time.