Where to begin? I didn't know much going into this movie going into it outside the fact it's considered one of the best movies ever made (hence why it made the list)... and, of course, the one-sentence plot summary that IMDb gives. So I gave it a watch and... I understand perfectly where people are coming from.
The film follows Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues)--though it's not particularly about him. Some will say the movie is about both he and a trigger-happy, drug-dealing hood named Li'l Ze (Leandro Firmino). But I disagree. The movie is split up into "stories" that flesh out certain places or characters. I think the most telling segment is the Apartment's story. It's a brief bit that tells you the history of this single apartment that eventually leads to Li'l Ze taking over the city. Why is this the most telling? Because it's a miniature version of the entire film itself. Somebody ran it before, somebody takes it over through violence, runs it for a while, somebody else takes it through violence, and the cycle continues. The main character of this movie is the City of God itself, and we follow who comes in and out of the city, runs the city, destroys the city, etc. Rocket, Li'l Ze, and all the others are merely guests in the story of this city.
That being said, the city has one hell of a story to tell. It's a fascinating movie with fascinating characters. The good guys aren't totally good, the bad guys aren't totally bad, and even Li'l Ze--as insane as he is--does attempt to be more human once or twice. And even though the story of the city is on a cycle, it never felt like it was repeating itself. It never really dragged, either. And despite being moderately lengthy, it has a good pacing.
The acting is phenomenal, and it brings out the quality writing. There are a few moments where maybe the dialogue isn't up to snuff (though that could possibly be blamed on translation?). But otherwise, the storytelling and voice-over narration and everything is rather solid.
The film is also visually stunning. The cinematography and the editing are fun and unique and, at times, rather stylistic. It partially reminded me, at times, of something Danny Boyle might do. Sometimes it was steadicam, sometimes shaky cam, sometimes vibrant, sometimes grainy, sometimes moving pictures, sometimes still pictures, sometimes full screen, sometimes split screen (or partially split screen). It was all done very well, and it made what would otherwise be a gritty, dark film more bearable.
If you have yet to check out this film, I strongly suggest doing so. It's superbly made on all levels. The visuals, acting, writing, directing, etc., are all fantastic. It's much more of a character piece than a plot-driven drama. However, as I said before, the human characters are only incidental. The film is about the city, and all the other characters just show up in each other's stories and grow. And even though it's not the easiest film to sit through (it is rather dark and can be disturbing), it's quite a sight to see.