Critic's Faves: Film 

1. Finding Neverland

This sweet but never cloying biography of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie covers the writer's involvement with a family of fatherless little boys. With depth and delicacy, it tackles the one thing as scary to adults as it is to children: death.

2. Riding Giants

A history of surfing told by the pioneers who saw it evolve from counterculture to big business. This documentary by Stacy Peralta captures the spiritual aspect of the men and women who swallow their fear to commune with an awesome force of nature.

3. Metallica: Some Kind of Monster

Heavy metal dudes Metallica share a big group hug and use their own in-house psychologist to come to terms with the macho, boozing error of their ways. It's a fascinating exegesis of the pitfalls of hyperbolic masculinity.

4. Mayor of the Sunset Strip

In a year of anti-success docs like Dig! and End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones, this was the leader of the pack as it followed the story of faded L.A. DJ Rodney Bingenheimer. He put some of new wave and punk's biggest acts on the map, yet today he has nothing to show for it but a grim rental and a lonely adulthood. It's one of the most depressing and revealing films every made about the fickle nature of fame.

5. The Saddest Music in the World

Canadian cult director Guy Maddin has not only absorbed a lifetime of silent film aesthetics, he is able to parrot their conventions back with a sublime inventiveness. All of this was apparent in his tale of a sexually ravenous beer company CEO (Isabella Rossellini) who stages a kind of international Olympics of the Maudlin.

6. The Time of the Wolf

A deeply troubling commentary on the post-9/11 dystopia, this anti-thriller deals with a world where money and status no longer protect us. It's an apt statement about the disastrous consequences of living for our own self-preservation and ignoring our citizenship in the world.7. Dogville

Newbie Tarnation director Jonathan Caouette got much of the glory this year for breaking aesthetic boundaries and ushering film into a brave new age. But old-timer Lars von Trier also continued to do his part to challenge audiences. Case in point: this minimalist, Brechtian drama about how an isolated American small town slowly devours and almost destroys a stranger (Nicole Kidman) seeking refuge.

8. Since Otar Left

Julie Bertucelli, onetime apprentice to directors Krzysztof Kieslowski and Bertrand Tavernier, crafted a richly observed film about women who are left behind when a young man emigrates from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia to Paris. It captures the immigration experience from the other side of the coin, asking what happens to those who remain in a country where future prospects seem nil.

9. Before Sunset

Proof that talk is still the best aphrodisiac, this extended, melancholy flirtation between Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke becomes even more rueful when their dreamed-for relationship is complicated by wives, children and much water under the bridge. Time nips at their heels (age has depleted the surface prettiness of the two leads and made them more real and sexy in the process) as the American boy and the French girl ponder their future together.

10. The Dreamers

After Euro-lite soft core disappointments like Stealing Beauty, Bernardo Bertolucci came back in top form with this tale of a menage a trios between an American exchange student and a French brother and sister in 1968 Paris. It deftly melded sex with brains, and was the year's only good news in Gallic-American relations.

Felicia.feaster@creativeloafing.com

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