(In theaters, April 2005) For film geeks, any new Robert Rodriguez film is an event in itself, and Sin City is a little bit more than that. A triumph of style in service of substance, Sin City is what you’d get should you decide to film the black gunk left after you’d squeezed all niceness out of the fifty darkest films you can imagine. A pitch-perfect transposition of Frank Miller’s celebrated graphic novels, Sin City breaks new ground in film-making through rapid digital production and a look unlike anything ever seen before. It’s the kind of film that, to a certain public, escapes critical value: Beyond being either good or bad, it’s fascinating to watch and even more interesting to discuss. As it happens, the blacker the better, and so Sin City emerges as one of the movies to watch for 2005’s year-end Top-10. Sure, it doesn’t embrace the clichés of noir as much as it revels in them: It’s unbelievably violent (even to jaded freaks like me), crammed with forced wall-to-wall narration and unrelentingly bleak. This is not a film for everyone, and that’s what makes it so good: In an age where lowest-common-denominator conformity is the way to greater stockholder profits, Sin City takes chances, keeps its budget manageable and reaches its target audience. There’s plenty of things to say about the film’s unrelenting characterization (all men are brutal, all women are, well…), but all of that should be seen through the quasi-satirical max-noir lens of the concept. Simply put, Sin City is meant to be grotesque and unreal. It seems almost retro to speak of performances in such a stylized film, but the impressive ensemble cast would be worth celebrating in any context: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke and Clive Owen are spectacular as the damaged men telling the stories, but the women also do well, with particular props to Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson and Devon Aoki. All in all, a splendid time at the movies, and a film that gives hope in a wasteland of bland studio products. I already can’t wait for the DVD.