By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
7.Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith: Every frame is a work of art, and every plot development finally reminds us why these prequel films were made in the first place. Episodes I and II were relatively disposable, but Sith, which at last reveals the coming-out party of the evil Emperor Palpatine (outstanding Ian McDiarmid), is essential--a buddy action comedy that gradually tosses all its heroes into hell. Some griped about the romantic dialogue, but try transcribing your own sweet nothings to a significant other and see if they're any more eloquent. Yes, it's lame to die of a broken heart, but it's not every day that your true love turns into the most iconic villain in film history. If you have any love for Star Wars, there's no way to dismiss Sith.
--Luke Y. Thompson
8.The New World: Terrence Malick's two-and-a-half-hour retelling of the Pocahontas story isn't one of those long movies that feels short--coming out of it, you'll know you've been hit with an epic. But unlike Malick's nearly incomprehensible Thin Red Line, The New World is consistently beautiful and involving (and a technical masterpiece, to boot, having been shot using mainly natural light). Some say September 11 was the day America lost its innocence, but Malick traces it back considerably further, via the heartbreaking transformation of free-spirited Pocahontas (teenager Q'Orianka Kilcher in a stunning performance) into the Anglicized Puritan "Rebecca," after she believes her one true love, John Smith (Colin Farrell), is lost to her. Parallels to larger themes abound, but what's most important is that someone finally reclaimed this story from Disney and did it right. --L.Y.T.
9.Syriana: Those who'd bemoan Stephen Gaghan's multi-tiered drama about the oil biz--about those who drill for it and those who get drilled for it--as being too convoluted miss the point; it's less about connections made than deals undone. And those who dismiss it as lefty propaganda bereft of warmth and humanity do so at their own peril; it's entertaining as much as it is enlightening, and half the fun comes from piecing together the pieces of this grim puzzle. It's a thriller first, one in which the closest we come to a hero is a disgraced CIA agent (George Clooney, using his star power for good, not evil, more and more every day), and the closest we come to a villain is a terrorist for whom we feel nothing but sympathy. Everyone else, from the attorney proffering "the illusion of due diligence" to the energy analyst who sells his soul to government and petrochemical flunkies to pour fresh crude, falls in that gray area separating the damned from the doomed. --R.W.
10.Look at Me: With its impeccable script, finely tuned acting and astonishing emotional integrity, Look at Me deserves far more attention than it received. Lolita (Marilou Berry) is 20 years old and, in the words of her father, "anger on wheels." She's got cause: Said father is the famous writer-publisher Etienne Cassard (Jean-Pierre Bacri), an insufferable narcissist. Also, Lolita is overweight, and nearly everyone who befriends her does so only to get to her father. Sylvie (played by director Agnès Jaoui), Lolita's voice teacher, is guilty of same. Such is the impetus for herding a whole flock of characters into a single pen, including Sébastien (Keine Bouhiza), the boy who likes Lolita as she is. Look at Me accomplishes what art is meant to do: It shines a penetrating, intelligent light on a swath of living, breathing humanity. And in so doing, it shows us who we are. --M.L.
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