The holiday season is here with a raft of films, many vying for year-end awards. I've always found it funny how critics attempt to set up films for viewers before either one of them has seen it. For one, it lets the Hollywood buzz machines receive undue power. More importantly, it takes away the excitement of word-of-mouth. You decide you want to check out the film, instead of being told by the box office or awards groups.

So over winter break, with a month to sleep, relax, and pursue your interests more fully than is often possible at Bowdoin, check out those films that interest you. It doesn't matter if they're mainstream or art house, just let your own curiosities draw you to the theater.

What I'm recommending for you is a small sampling of films that have made the largest impact on me. With these films, I can't guarantee your enjoyment, but I can say you will find a movie that will challenge as you are swept up in its artistry.

And don't forget about the Bowdoin Film Festival. With all that free time over break, you'll easily be able to find the time to make a short film to submit. No film will be rejected, and this is the way to continue strengthening the arts on campus. Any comments or questions, just e-mail me at Happy holidays, see you all in January.

"The Searchers"

Director John Ford is my top candidate for the title of premier American cinematic artist, though you'd never get him to agree with that. Over a career spanning more than 50 years, the variety and complexity of his oeuvre likely won't be rivaled. He went more places, and did so in an unostentatious American way. Over the course of time he directed many of the greats, from "Grapes of Wrath" to "The Informer" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." All have much to offer a viewer.

But the film that always seems to encapsulate a career that defies encapsulation is "The Searchers." There are many obvious reasons for this. It stars John Wayne, who Ford discovered; it is set in Monument Valley, Ford's favorite location for shooting; and it is a Western.

There are less apparent reasons, too. Wayne's five-year quest to rescue his niece from the Comanches tackles American racism at a profound moment in the country's history, and does so with Ford's thematic ambiguity profoundly on display. Wayne's performance as Ethan Edwards stands tall in a career full of great, indelible performances from one of America's most loved actors. "The Searchers" has inspired filmmakers to this day, being a foundational influence on Scorsese's "Taxi Driver."

"All About My Mother"

One thing is for certain about Spanish director Pedro Almodovar: He never gives viewers a dull film. Often filled with sexually risqué characters and situations, this film is about a mother who recently lost her son and goes in search of her husband in Barcelona, who she has not seen in 20 years.

But plot summaries cannot do a great film justice. The joy is not in what they do, but how they do it, how they challenge you and do so in an artistically satisfying manner. On this count, Almodovar has few peers. His characters often celebrate unorthodoxy, as that is where the beauty, vibrancy, and diversity of life come from.

In "All About My Mother," Almodovar explores what it means to be a mother and the many different incantations that can take. From traditional mother to transvestite and everything in between, his characters make decisions many others wouldn't agree with. But he knows that potentially making mistakes is the only way to truly celebrate life. You feel the vibrancy of his filmmaking in each shot, and combined with the world's greatest city, prepare to be enraptured.

"2001: A Space Odyssey"

Stanley Kubrick's film is considered one of the most important in expanding the art form, and is my favorite film (though that is not set in stone). With a minimum of dialogue, "2001" explores the nature of human intelligence from the dawn of man to the present.

Much has been made of Kubrick's monolith (you'll have to decide for yourself what it symbolizes), but even more interesting is the man vs. machine dichotomy between the astronauts and HAL. One of the most famous non-human movie characters, HAL allows Kubrick to explore the great possibilities and responsibilities involved with intelligence.

Along the way, Kubrick challenges viewers in ways that have scarcely been attempted since.

"Annie Hall"

The romantic comedy that has inspired all current day attempts, Woody Allen's film shows the true meaning of the genre's title. The character of Annie Hall has become infused with Diane Keaton's persona, but you have to return to this performance to understand how fully she inhabits this character.

Allen's typical cynical New York humor is given much more poignancy this time around. His relationship with Annie is rocky, but full of affection that emanates from the screen. Allen makes use of a number of original tools in this film, including interspersed animation and talking directly to the camera.

Relationships have no easy guarantees, but the joy and the learning involved make the effort worth it. "Annie Hall" celebrates these fleeting moments?may we all meet someone as affecting as Annie.

A short list of films just as good as the ones above: "Days of Heaven," "I Heart Huckabees," "Psycho," "Hoop Dreams," "The Magnificent Ambersons," "A Clockwork Orange," "The 400 Blows," "Malcolm X," "Far From Heaven," "Sunrise," "The French Connection," "Cabaret," "Sunset Boulevard," "Talk to Her," "Coming Home," "Network," "Chinatown," and "The Seven Samurai."