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2003
by Mark Asch

At the Cannes Film Festival, convened a fortnight after George W. Bush played flight-suit dress-up and declared our Mission in Iraq to be Accomplished, Patrice Cherau's jury gave the Palm d'Or and the Best Director award to Gus Van Sant's Columbine deconstruction Elephant, surely a more oblique political statement than many were hoping for: Dogville, Lars von Trier's stripped-down-and-built-back-up comprehensive indictment of America's hypocrisy and its god, went home empty-handed. But its head-on, often maddening engagement—in contrast to Van Sant's Bela Tarr voguing and subtle abdications of explanation—made it the more relevant film then, and still.

The following winter's Oscar-winner, and 2003's biggest Hollywood film, came, of course, from New ZealandThe following winter's Oscar-winner, and 2003's biggest Hollywood film, came, of course, from New Zealand-though again, some argued that Return of the King's fantasy-world moral struggle for the future of the world was less relevant than Mystic River's study of unresolved trauma and misapplied Old Testament justice.

Most beloved by critics like me, and undergraduates like me at the time, was a story of a young person's loneliness and self-discovery, understood through well-curated pop culture within a space carved out of a culture to which she was largely indifferent. Kicking off a decade of unprecedented solipsism, Sofia Coppola's rarely equaled Lost in Translation rolled out over the same fall semester that Mark Zuckerberg developed the social-networking sites that would become Facebook.

Notwithstanding any of these—or the interventionist flag-waver Tears of the Sun, a quote from which adorned a high school baseball teammate's AOL Instant Messenger profile at the outset of the invasion of Iraq, where, six and a half years later, that friend now serves—the film of the year was Gillo Pontecorvo's insurgency ur-text Battle of Algiers, screened for interested parties at the Pentagon in August. This prompted a Rialto Pictures rerelease that winter, which I biked over to see at Film Forum the following January, encouraged in part by a review written by current L contributor Michael Atkinson, still bylining, as Benjamin Strong would soon be as well, for an independently owned Village Voice.

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