1 WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? Tsai Ming-liang’s pensive, hyper-distanced romantic hourglass was the only movie I saw this year that possessed unmitigated respect for its audience’s attention. Revisit the funny/sad, sad/funny mysteries of time and time-counting on DVD.
2 RUSSIAN ARK Sokurov’s demiurge of a movie, freakish, fascinating, taxing, formally transforming, and historically useless but itself conceived as an act of history. Reviewers who don’t do a dance over it are merely restaurant critics in disguise.
3 SAFE CONDUCT As modest as its filmmaker heroes, yet as dense and epic as an oriental weave, Bertrand Tavernier’s requiem for his Greatest Generation—the toiling film-industry soldiers conjuring illusions under the Nazi nose—is the year’s least seen great movie.
4 WARM WATER UNDER A RED BRIDGE Apparently, some can resist a film that uses absurd gully washers of vaginal fluid as a metaphor for passion and joy, but not me. The year’s happiest film, from septuagenarian firestarter Shohei Imamura.
5 IN PRAISE OF LOVE God’s own melancholic self-eulogy, abstruse and meditative and lovely; proof again that he is ahead of the curve, and film culture may never catch up.
6 THE PIANO TEACHER Naked, self-immolating character study so extreme it’s clearly not about masochism at all. Michael Haneke’s movie would be, at any rate, nothing without Huppert, who may be the planet’s most indispensable actress.
7 THE LADY AND THE DUKE Another old New Waver, Eric Rohmer, lights out for the frontier, re-creating Revolutionary drama with gorgeously contrived digital matte paintings that surely sent Guy Maddin back to his brain tank.
8 PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE Awash with idiosyncratic charm that PTA’s pretentions usually dampen, this passive-aggressive ballad should be the rule, not the exception, for Anderson, Adam Sandler, and Hollywood at large. It looked easy, didn’t it?
9 ADAPTATION Scripter Charlie Kaufman’s Elvis year peaked with this juggling act, a movie that pays on repeat viewings like a busted slot machine. Does Spike Jonze deserve any of the credit?
10 ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU-CHOU Alienated Japanese teens, Web-site wonk/pop-icon fanatic/pimp-gang leader/teen-whore style, all in luscious digital video from director Shunji Iwai.
Runners-up, in order: Time Out, Bloody Sunday, About Schmidt, Far From Heaven, Solaris, Talk to Her, The Fast Runner, Auto Focus (Paul Schrader), Rabbit-Proof Fence (Phillip Noyce), 24 Hour Party People.