(Benoît Delépine, Gustave Kervern; Belgium) One of the wry pleasures of 2004, and certainly the year’s most enjoyable Belgian disability road comedy. Two warring curmudgeons hit the road in wheelchairs after losing the use of their legs in a bizarre farming accident and head to Finland to demand reparation, making misery for everyone they meet en route. Tati-esque pacing, crisp black-and-white photography, and marvelous non sequitur moments-including a touch of Finnish biker karaoke-lead up to a killer punchline, delivered in typical laconic style by Aki Kaurismäki . . . who else? – Jonathan Romney

Across the Border
(Pawel Lozinski, Jan Gogola, Peter Kerekes, Robert Lakatos, Biljana Cakic-Veselic; Austria) Conceived as a response to the entry of 10 new countries into the European Union last May, this omnibus brings together a series of meditations on the idea of the border from Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Slovenia. The most resonant is Slovakian filmmaker Kerekes’s “Helpers.” Set on the Slovak/Austrian frontier, it follows a group of men and women who served as volunteer “border patrol helpers” in the Communist era. Like Kerekes’s 2002 feature, 66 Seasons, this short is mindful of yet another border—that between the past and the present-and the way history plays itself out in our daily lives. – Alice Lovejoy

La Demoiselle d’honneur
(Claude Chabrol, France)
Chabrol switches milieux (the working-class Faubourgs in place of the haute-bourgeois provinces), but returns to novelist Ruth Rendell, who wrote the novel on which La Cérémonie was based. An upstanding, well-balanced young man falls in love with a troublingly duplicitous young girl. Or, how documentary can’t resist the dangerous lure of fiction· Working from this central idea (which evokes his masterpiece Le Boucher), Chabrol returns to his gloomy, sticky, slightly dirty register, and once again takes up his celebrated theme of “credible grotesquerie”: expressionism as a form of exhausted naturalism. – Frédéric Bonnaud

(Abdellatif Kechiche, France)
A confrontation between two languages: the argot of kids from the banlieues vs. the French of Marivaux. A story of impossible love between a pretty blonde who masters both idioms and a young Arab who never manages to express himself in either. The title translates as “dodging,” which is what Kechiche himself pulls off to avoid the two great stumbling blocks of the film-banlieue genre—the well-meaning Tavernier vein and the modish La Haine approach. Passing through the prism of language, the director demonstrates an astonishing political intelligence. – Frédéric Bonnaud

5 x 2
(François Ozon, France)
French cinema’s most industrious but uneven prodigy pulls off his most mature film yet. Ozon gives us five glimpses of a couple, in reverse sequence from divorce to first meeting, unfolding their dissatisfactions, then takes us back to discover their sources in seemingly innocent moments. Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi gives her most nerve-baring performance yet, and Stéphane Freiss—a dead ringer for the young Trintignant—excels as a sympathetic-repellent thinking man in the great Nouvelle Vague tradition. Harrowing, brilliant, and absolutely not a date movie. – Jonathan Romney

Frau Fährt, Mann Schläft
(Rudolf Thome, Germany)
Anatomy of a family unraveling in Potsdamer Platz, the designated center of Berlin, which in turn is the nominal center of Germany. Under Thome’s uncompromising, compassionate yet detached gaze, the clashing acting styles jangle the nerves, making the characters’ pain all too palpable. In this update of Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy, violently melodramatic moments of prayer and hard questions posed by God only deepen the sense of existential sorrow. – Olaf Möller

The Garden
(Frederick Wiseman, U.S.)
In which the eponymous Garden on Madison Square is converted from hockey rink to convention center to concert stadium to revival meeting to basketball court to circus big top, as endless amounts of food are processed, packaged, cooked, eaten, and thrown away, and a nonstop flow of verbiage issues from the mouths of assorted middlemen, faith-healers, and management types, angling for a few more dollars from the hordes who never stop coming, gazing, leaving, coming back. Basically, this is Wiseman’s Society of the Spectacle-often hilarious, always acutely observed, and absolutely terrifying. – Kent Jones

(Lucile Hadzihalilovic, France)
A dazzlingly original feature debut from Gaspar Noé’s sometime editor and soul mate. Based on a Frank Wedekind story, Innocence is set in a girls’ school deep in a forest, in some mythic fin de siècle universe, where pupils arrive in crates and are raised in a strict but benign old-world atmosphere. This eerie self-enclosed world, where fetishistic images of childhood and femininity are taken to their limits, offers echoes of Buñuel and Borowczyk, but from a female Gothic perspective. Angela Carter would have relished it. – Jonathan Romney

Ma mère
(Christophe Honoré, France)
George Bataille’s father was an abusive, blind, crazy person. You don’t need to know that to watch Honoré’s opus—an adaptation of the excremental philosopher’s posthumous novel—but if you add the insight to the film’s already glorious mutation of Oedipal determinism, fired by the hot-to-cold flashes of Isabelle Huppert and the raging hormonal confusion of Louis (son of Philippe) Garrel, you get a veritable deluge of psychosexual sludge. There are no guilty pleasures. – Chris Chang

Moth Games
(Andrei Proshkin, Russia)
The promising future of talented rock musician Kostya (Aleksei Chadov)—by far the most ambitious among a group of dead-end teens—rapidly goes up in smoke after an impulsive joyride finds him behind the wheel in a hit-and-run. Proshkin’s second feature boasts convincing performances all around, with Lilya 4-Ever‘s Oksana Akinshina again heartbreaking as Kostya’s most loyal friend, standing by him through his most angry, even violent patches. A powerful and memorable film. – Laura Kern

Pin Boy
(Ana Poliak, Argentina)
A rarity among rarities: a thoroughly honest movie about work, set almost entirely in what has to be one of the last manually operated bowling alleys in existence. Wondrously quiet and contemplative, minimal in form yet rich in observation and everyday poetry, with every image and sound drawn from the immediate environment—the echo within the bowling alley, the wooden pins stacked and re-stacked on the floor, the faces and voices of the old men, the lifers, who give a young man named Adrián an impromptu education. – Kent Jones

The Ring
(Angus Reid, Slovenia)
A traveler’s notebook comprised of seven years of footage shot all over the world. In fragmentary meditations on the nature of art, Super-8 footage of a pregnancy and birth, or the harrowing search for evidence and memories of the final days of a man tortured and killed during the Bosnian war, the film is a monument to creation—a process at once deeply personal and divine.—Alice Lovejoy

Ten Skies
(James Benning, U.S.)
One of this unique filmmaker’s greatest works, and on paper, one of his most minimalist: 10 shots of the sky, each lasting 10 minutes. But the experience of watching—and hearing—it is fabulously rich and intense. The skyscapes are filled with life and change at the speed of light. The soundtrack creates an equally rich narrative space by way of 10 short stories that are “insinuated” without ever being “explained.” A masterpiece. – Alexander Horwath