Our favorite films of 2002
|Contributors: John Banzon, Michael Buck, Barton Campbell, Paul B. Clark, Melissa B. Cummings, Martijn ter Haar, Haraldur Jóhannsson, Manny Knowles, Lisa Larkin, Kevin Lee, Lovell Mahan-Moutaw, Scott McGee, Mark Netter, Frank Ochieng, Ed Owens, Pat Padua, Moné Peterson, Rolando Recometa, Nathaniel Rogers, Shari L. Rosenblum, Roxy, Myron Santos, Howard Schumann, James Snapko, Greg Sorenson, Sasha Stone, Thea, and Josh Timmermann.|
Nine easy-to-find movies mingle with nine movies worth the hunt:
1. Spirited Away
In a year of continued Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings hype, this is where the real magic was.
(Kris Curry & Rich Fox).
-- A KISS act with a black Paul Stanley! Bitter resentment between "Davy" and "Mike" in the aftermath of a Monkees-act breakup! Spinal Tap meets Behind The Music in this documentary about tribute bands.
3. The Believer (Henry Bean).
12. The Two Towers (Peter Jackson).
The Year of the Woman: Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, Hysterical Blindness), Jill and Karen Sprecher, (13 Conversations About One Thing), Rebecca Miller (Personal Velocity), first time in decades that two female-driven productions are up for Best Picture (The Hours, Chicago). The discovery of the brave and spectacular heroine: Chihiro in Spirited Away. Nia Vardalos and Rita Wilson slam-dunking My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Presented alphabetically, except for any films I may have forgotten, which won't be presented at all:
Warm, funny adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel. I cringed at the prospect of Hugh Grant playing the lead, but he was surprisingly good. Loses track around the end when it starts deviating from the novel, but the novel's ending wasn't much better. Great script, fine supporting cast.
Adaptation (Spike Jonze).
One great big chinese box of a movie, this had me thinking about the mechanics of creating art. Cage is astounding in the dual role of the Kaufman brothers. Brilliant and very funny.
Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner)
Stunning, complex film adaptation of an Inuit legend. The film's look and feel is unique, the setting so remote it doesn't seem part of our reality. Unprecedented filmmaking, and a testimony to the life of the people it portrays.
I knew nothing about the stage musical going in, but this adaptation couldn't have sold it any better. Great songs, great performances; it wisely never strays from it's stage origins, and in fact incorporates them, imaginatively so. I was humming the tunes when I left the theater. Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese).
Big, ballsy, full-blown dramatic filmmaking with a fervent devotion to its subject matter. Daniel Day-Lewis's Bill Cutting is already one of my favorite cinematic characters. I give it four knife wounds.
An emotionally raw look at loss and redemption in the South. Halle Berry got all the attention, but Billy Bob Thornton is the one who holds the film together with a remarkably nuanced performance.
(Paul Thomas Anderson).
Beautiful and strange, a story of a seemingly-doomed love affair that frays the edges of emotional tension; it's disturbing and exhilarating in equal measure. Gorgeously composed and photographed, with a remarkable performance from Adam Sandler.
The story of a woman finding her place in this world through S&M. Nowhere near as salient as it sounds - this is a rather touching story. I suppose I can give this four knife wounds too, right? Ah, maybe not.
Spider-Man (Sam Raimi).
A rarity in these times, an action movie where the character moments are the highlight of the film. Wonderfully captures what was so compelling about the comic book Peter Parker and his circle of friends. Not a perfect film, but one filled with many small pleasures.
Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki).
Loved it. A stewpot full of imagination gone wild, Miyazaki is the only prominent filmmaker out there doing honest-to-goodness fable. After the film, I drove a different path home half-hoping I would get lost. Magical.
Iin rough order, along with a memorable moment from each:
1. The Pianist
A deceptively concise movie that masks its large scale. On the one hand an irrefutable and heretofore unrealized portrait of the Nazi Holocaust in Warsaw by survivor Roman Polanski; on the other, a fascinating, meditative puzzle about internal and external devastation, and the relationship of art to survival. With its procession of relentless, increasingly claustrophobic eliminations of freedoms, this late career triumph actually stands in some strange way as an illuminating sequel to the director's 1968 hit, Rosemary's Baby.
Indelible scene: Szpilman climbs over a wall…into a world of monumental ruin.
Hour Party People
A wildly enjoyable paean to a musical era not so long ago and an epicenter not so likely: post-industrial Manchester in the 1980's. Director Winterbottom, with elated DV production techniques, captures the feeling of youthful invention and naïve exuberance en masse. It features a game cast of young British comics along with cameos by the actual personages, and a hilarious standout performance by Andy Serkis (yes, Gollum in The Two Towers) as legendary kamikaze record producer Martin Hannett. Indelible scene: Tony reveals the Factory contract to Virgin Records.
3. Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón).
|7. Gangs of New York
There's an old saying that every great director eventually becomes a great art director. On the side of Martin Scorsese's epic is a fresh and vivid recreation of a time and place rarely (ever?) experienced on celluloid, a strongly political and revisionist directorial point of view, and our collective love for a great man of cinema. Going against it are some thematic and casting imbalances. If perfection were a pre-requisite for 10 best lists, Gangs might not make the cut; however, it does for breathtaking moments of visual magnificence.
Indelible scene: Kicking open the wooden door onto snowy Five Points, circa 1846, atmosphere ripe with imminent bloodshed.
|8. Catch Me If You
While Spielberg's triumph of good humor and fluidity is being seen by many as a departure, it actually harkens back to his first theatrical feature, The Sugarland Express. With the box office shortcomings of that film, another tale of outlaws on the run, Spielberg claimed to have learned a lesson about downer endings, and virtually all of Spielberg's subsequent films have ended on some sort of positive spin. Here Spielberg makes sure to send us home smiling, but along the way includes enough pain, specifically the effects of divorce on a teenage boy, that he may have made his most autobiographical film yet. Supporting that theory is a breezy style harkening back to the 1960's French New Wave of his hero, director Francois Truffaut, as well as a sort of "graduation" ending set in 1974, the same year that Spielberg made that first feature.
Indelible scene: The charming, hilarious pas de deux between underage con man Leonardo DiCaprio and the stealth prostitute played by the stunning (and future Oscar winner) Jennifer Garner.
9. Lovely & Amazing (Nicole Holofcener).
Revival of the Year:
In no particular order:
Away (Hayao Miyazaki).
Many have compared this unfavorably to other Miyazaki classics such as My Neighbor Totoro and Princess Mononoke, but I loved Spirited Away as much as I have loved any Miyazaki film. The Bathhouse of the Gods is such a wonderfully exotic locale, what's not to like? I'm basing my opinion on the Japanese language version (I haven't seen the Disney dub).
Adaptation (Spike Jonze).
I come down on the side of not minding the twist in the third act. Great script, great performances all around. Nicolas Cage is forgiven for City of Angels, but I didn't see Captain Corelli's Mandolin, so he may still have some bad karma to work off.
Brotherhood of the Wolf (Christophe Gans).
Written by Gans and Stéphane Cabel. To me this film represents what I think Baz Luhrmann was aiming for with Moulin Rouge. I didn't like Moulin Rouge, but I liked this. In spite of the plot meandering, it was just so much more fun to watch.
Secretary (Steven Shainberg).
A light-hearted sadomasochistic love story. Who would have thought? The performances of the two leads carry this one.
Read My Lips (Jacques Audiard).
Again, the actors made me willing to overlook certain problems with the story. I can't wait for this to come out on DVD so I can see it again.
Cherish (Finn Taylor).
Another one with story problems but engaging leads. I hope Robin Tunney gets better work. but she's costarring with Matthew Perry in something, which can't be a good sign.
Enigma (Michael Apted).
You can have your lame XXX action extravaganzas - give me a talky codebreaking spy thriller any day. Kate Winslet is an appropriately plucky heroine, but Jeremy Northam steals the movie as a snide spymaster.
The Bourne Identity (Doug Liman).
Warning: this list does not include My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
1. City of God (Kátia Lund & Fernando Meirelles).
Cinema doesn't get more shocking or exhilarating. Next to this Brazilian crime epic, Scorsese's Gangs of New York looks like a trip to Disney World. Come to think of it, Miramax, which produced GoNY, is owned by Disney.
2. Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón).
A funny, sexy, vibrant, sexy, poignant, sexy, insightful and very sexy coming-of-age movie.
3. Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore).
Whether you agree with the movie's politics or not is irrelevant. Michael Moore's documentary about America's gun culture is the year's most relevant. And the most entertaining, too.
4. 25th Hour (Spike Lee).
Not to be confused with that Oscarbait about three women and a schnoz. A Spike Lee movie without a Spike Lee cameo is an added bonus. But it also happens to be the only Spike Lee movie that moved me to tears (the opening credits alone broke my heart).
5. About a Boy (Chris & Paul Weitz).
A Hugh Grant movie for those who can't stand Hugh Grant. Hugh Grant wears the same expressions in every movie, but the blinking and stuttering are used to stellar effect this time.
In no particular order:
The Two Towers (Peter Jackson).
I'm not a Tolkien nut, but I did thoroughly enjoy The Fellowship of the Ring, and rooted for it at the last Oscars. But I did not fully expect to be bowled over by The Two Towers. An astounding feat of CGI serving a strong story, as opposed to a Forcefully-weak story serving as an excuse for "cutting-edge" CGI (hello, George Lucas). The battle scenes recall and surpass the Babylonian gate climax from Intolerance, the sweep of Lawrence of Arabia, and the muddy, bloody viciousness of just about every Kurosawa samurai piece. I'm all tingly.
The restored Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927).
Saw a clip of the work in progress at the Pordenone Silent Film Fest back in '99, and I was agog then. Seeing the finished film was a huge slice 'o' heaven.
Minority Report (Steven Spielberg).
I frankly thought this was one of Spielberg's most daring works, like A.I., but more accesible for, well, most of us. While the blending of film noir and sci-fi isn't new, Spielberg doesn't make the composite too arty, like Ridley does a bit too much in Blade Runner. I did think the ending was a bit of a copout, though.
Narc (Joe Carnahan).
Jason Patric and Ray Liotta. Reason enough to see this film.
The Rookie (John Lee Hancock).
Dennis Quaid, Hollywood's most underrated, underappreciated actor (second only to perhaps Jeff Bridges), giving a lovely performance in a simple little movie.
Spider-Man (Sam Raimi).
I was looking very forward to this release, and I was not disappointed. Tired of angst-ridden multimillionaires playing superheroes, audiences seemed to respond to this gangly kid dealing with something larger than high school pressure and impending adulthood. The CGI was a little squirrely in some cases, but seeing Spidey swinging around the Capital of the World is a rush. Other highlights: G.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson. The very last song on the end credits. And Kirsten Dunst in the rain...
Catch Me If You Can (Steven Spielberg).
I love Tom Hanks.
Road to Perdition (Sam Mendes).
I love Tom Hanks, but I love Paul Newman, gangster pictures, and Conrad Hall even more.
The Sum of All Fears (Phil Alden Robinson).
Uncomfortably close to reality. Not crazy about Ben Affleck, but I bought him as a green Jack Ryan.