Crimson Gold (Jafar Panahi, 2003)
I'm pretty sure this is the first Iranian film I've ever seen, and it's certainly a striking introduction to the cinema of that region. At first glance this film seems aimless and almost inert, but it paints a slowly building portrait of both one man's inner torment and the dehumanizing life of the working class in Tehran. Panahi uses some stunning long takes and sometimes interminable scenes to illustrate the combination of boredom and mistreatment that leads to the breakdown of soldier-turned-pizza delivery guy Hussein. Even just the scenes of Hussein and his hoodlum buddy riding their motorbike through the tangled traffic paint a revealing picture of everyday life in a city that's an uneasy combination of opulence and oppression.
The Return (Andrei Zvyagintsev, 2003)
Some review that I can no longer place described this movie as a collection of Russian film cliches, and that's essentially what it is. Not that some of it doesn't work - Zvyagintsev creates an effective air of melancholic mystery, and the stark cinematography is often beautiful - but this is a film that delights in being obtuse for no apparent reason, and after a while, when it became clear that the motivations and actions of the characters were not going to be explained, I just got exasperated. Somewhere in here is a sort of interesting meditation on not appreciating what you have until it's gone, but it's buried under too many layers of obfuscation for me to much care.
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (Judy Irving, 2003)
It was interesting to watch this movie having seen Grizzly Man not all that long ago, because the subject of this film is really not much different from Timothy Treadwell, except that Treadwell got eaten by a bear so he's not around to defend himself. Really, though, Mark Bittner is about as nuts as Treadwell, and also has the potential to be as charismatic and endearing. The main difference is that his objects of obsession are parrots, who aren't particularly dangerous. He also communes with them in the middle of San Francisco rather than in the Alaskan wild, and the director of this documentary falls in love with her subject at the end of the film, while Werner Herzog listens to a tape of his subject's death throes. It's a rather fascinating dichotomy, especially given this film's sunny, cuddly tone. Despite the sense you get that Bittner may be completely bonkers, and the utterly annoying elevator-music score, this is a pleasant and entertaining movie that's hard to dislike, even if it feels more like a PBS special than a feature film.