After the usual disclaimer - some of these haven't yet/won't ever open in SA, but they have all played somewhere within a few hundred miles - here are the films that meant the most this year:

1) Punch-Drunk Love: Well-praised by some but still horribly underrated, P.T. Anderson's visually thrilling film did what romantic comedies never do: It made you worry that things might not work out in the end. It also made art house theaters safe for Adam Sandler, if only for the short period before the release of 8 Crazy Nights.

2) Far From Heaven: It looks like nothing more than an experiment in style, but Todd Haynes' meticulous replication of Douglas Sirk's melodramatic world actually has its own beating heart, and its style turns out to be ideally suited for its story.

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The talented Julianne Moore breaks taboo with Dennis Haysbert in Far From Heaven.

3) Bloody Sunday: A recreation with all the visceral impact of a miraculous documentary, this account of a 1972 police riot in Ireland was the best of both worlds - believably staged events, with well-placed cameras reacting to the action as if it really were unfolding on the spot.

4) Minority Report/Catch Me if You Can: The year to start loving Spielberg again! Two truly wonderful films, very different in tone and message, unified by an unmistakable excitement behind the camera, and a willingness to let the audience decide for itself how it feels about the action, rather than cramming emotion down their throats.

5) Adaptation: Speaking of not cramming anything down the audience's throat, the still-upcoming-for-SA Adaptation is, in many ways, dependent on the audience's understanding of a joke-within-a-joke-within-a-joke. Fortunately, director Spike Jonze is good at dropping hints.

6) The Devil's Backbone: What is a ghost? What is a ghost story? Even more, maybe, than recent smartly spooky films such as The Others and The Sixth Sense, Guillermo Del Toro's Spanish Civil War-set film stretched the boundaries of the contemporary horror film - and they were in need of a good stretch, heaven knows.

7) The Fast Runner/Lagaan: Two three-hour films from other worlds, utterly different from each other and from anything seen in Hollywood. Both are capable, if the viewer sits with them for half an hour, of breaking preconceptions of what foreign films are all about.

8) Y Tu Mamá También: The sexiest good art film in some time, but maybe it's not really an art film. Maybe it's just an artfully-made movie about loss of sexual innocence that happens to be in a foreign language. Either way, it deserved to play for months on San Antonio screens.

9) The Kid Stays in the Picture: "Documentary" and "non fiction," after Picture, are no longer synonyms: A flagrantly self-serving celluloid memoir, the film has been given enough stylistic tweaks by its makers that you know they are in on the joke of movie mogul Robert Evans' life, and they want you to be in on it too.

10) Chicago: It will be here soon enough, and depending on Oscar nominations, it might actually get a decent release. A better champion for the Return of the Movie Musical than the challenging Moulin Rouge, it's worth putting on some kind of list just for the fiery presence of Catherine Zeta-Jones.

More by John DeFore



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