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.|
24 Hour Party People
An incredibly funny pseudo-documentary from Winterbottom, who gets better and better with each film (The Claim notwithstanding), starring Manchester, Factory Records, and the best music of the '80s.
Adaptation (Spike Jonze).
Jonze teams up with Charlie (and Donald?) Kaufmann again. A between-the-lines look at screenwriting and an inside joke that includes its audience. Masturbation revealed to be more interesting than as portrayed in the American Pie movies.
Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner)
Absolutely gorgeous Inuit epic, mythological yet present-day, incredibly shot and acted. A nearly alien world, so well-explored that to remember it truly exists comes first as a shock, and then a wonderfully reassuring surprise.
Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes)
A beautifully shot, delightfully acted, gentle elaboration upon Sirk's '50s melodramas that, in asking us to question why it was made, forces us to consider how its subject matter is still extremely relevant.
The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke).
A whoopie cushion on the piano bench, a basket of rotten tomatoes dumped into the orchestra pit, a He-Demanded-She-Demanded story that goes far too far. Isabelle Huppert and Benoît Magimel are extraordinary.
Songs from the Second Floor
You know you are headed for Film Snob status when you sit down to write your "best of" for the year and a) you find it hard to find anything that is good enough to be considered the best of anything and b) you relize that you spent more time watching old and foreign movies on both the big and little screen than you spent in any multiplex. ACK!
My Big Fat Greek Wedding (Joel Zwick).
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I loved this movie. I laughed, I cried and I did both with more feeling than I've had in a movie theater in years. I can't remember the last time I so enjoyed a movie, and shared that feeling with all my movie-going compatriots. Simple and sweet and not-very-original, I don't care. I got a big kick out of it and didn't even think to check my watch or worry about the state of my ass. Not once.
Secretary (Steven Shainberg).
Ah yes, yet another Cinderella story but this time with a sweet, kinky twist. Amusing, absurd and totally enjoyable, Secretary brought James Spader back to form and introduced me to Maggie Gyllenhaal, who makes innocently twisted look downright sexy. I can't wait to see what she is up to next.
Lovely & Amazing (Nicole Holofcener).
This picture somehow made four intensely neurotic woman very watchable; no one has done neurotic so well since Woody Allen. Sure, they are annoying, but they are also interesting, amusing and touching. It isn't a strange story, instead it is all too real and somewhat scary. Regardless, it manages to be enjoyable probably because it was very well-written and well-acted. Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie's little brother, is the new "It Boy" and proves why with his sweet geek character. I must give a warning though, Catherine Keener needs to be careful of being typecast - she plays too many strange bitches.
Monsoon Wedding (Mira Nair).
I wouldn't have imagined, after watching it, that I would have put it on my "Best of..." list but here it is. I enjoyed this movie on many levels. As an education of sorts into a culture I know nothing about; as a feast of music, food, clothes, language and color; and last but not least, as a lovely film about family and romance in the new millenium.
Spider-Man (Sam Raimi).
Although it doesn't take the breath away, it doesn't disappoint either. Sam Raimi has done interesting and promising work for years, and Spider-Man is the culmination of that. Tobey Maguire is the best bit of cult-hero casting since Viggo Mortenson's Aragorn. Visually cartoony and comic book-y, both in good ways, I'm looking forward to the next installment.
That's it. I do wish there were more, but alas, even these were hard to come by.
Ciénaga (Lucrecia Martel)
Believer (Henry Bean).
A probing and compelling film about antisemitism, Jewish self-hatred, the role of Jews in history, the nature of the Jewish experience, and man's relationship to God. Although it's about a Jew who joins the Nazi Party, The Believer, surprisingly, is a loving tribute to the Jewish experience and an examination of the very nature of faith. Though full of contradictions, its intelligence and emotional honesty, and a riveting performance by Ryan Gosling, make it an important film that should be seen whether or not you've ever set foot in a church or synagogue, or ever care to.
Pleasures (Jia Zhangke).
|Paul B. Clark
All in all, I'd say that 2002 was a fine year at the movies. Sure, there may not have been an honest-to-goodness critical world-beater, a movie that seemed to be on the lips of every serious film person (though Far From Heaven came pretty close), but as far as wonderful films in 2002 were concerned, there were quite a few worth mentioning. The first three listed were, for me, 2002's true masterpieces. They are followed by seven excellent films I loved, but not to the same extent as the first three.
1. 8 Women (François Ozon).
Where's the love for this one? Sure, it's gotten some respectable and sometimes enthusiastic notices from reviewers, but I think I've seen it on more worst-of than best-of lists. For me though, no film has loomed as large in my memory, none has captivated me as much as this kicky, giddy masterpiece. There's some serious film-nerd stuff going on here, such as how Ozon deals with female archetypes in male-dominated fiction, but like all great entertainments, it's not so much about the egghead stuff as it is also about that stuff, which is there if you look for it but doesn't insist on itself. It's a triumph of genre-mixing, with elements of murder mystery, farce, and musicals (each fabulous femme croons a tune), and it's done up in high style, with impeccable cinematograhy and set design and to-die-for costumes on the ladies. And the cast doesn't disappoint; from Catherine Deneuve, who sports a haughty sneer, to Isabelle Huppert, selling the film's most showy role by virtue of sheer conviction, to the other illustrious cast members - including Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Béart, Danielle Darrieux and star-in-the-making Ludivine Sagnier. I saw 8 Women in theatres over and over this year, and each time right before I saw it I got the sinking feeling that this would be the time when the film would let me down, sending me crashing back to Earth. But each time, I was both pleased and relieved that I was wrong.
2. Songs from the Second Floor
4. What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-Liang)
The three best I saw:
1. Punch-Drunk Love
Ring (Gore Verbinski).
Vivid, deeply somber horror film, with strong emotional underpinnings. Ehren Krueger wrote this masterful American adaption of the Japanese cult film. The film is visually striking, and contains some amazingly breathtaking scenes, including its most unsettling one: a grim and horrific scene involving a horse on a ferry. Being the "prestige" horror film of the year, it contains resonant themes about parents, children, and the cruel role media could play in society. Most meaningful of all is the transformation and self-evaluation of the protagonist, and emotionally detached journalist and mother (played by Naomi Watts, who carries the film).
Shari L. Rosenblum
Should Have Been: Adaptation -- 78% brilliant, 22% over-self-indulgent; if only the editing had been smart enough to recognize the difference between what works in concept and what works on screen.
Sadly, I didn't get to see very many movies this year. The following are the few that I liked:
I really enjoyed this crime drama. I think it's a fine piece of film-making. Al Pacino, Hilary Swank and Robin Williams are great in their roles.
Eight Legged Freaks (Ellory Elkayem).
Giant spiders attack a rural town! This is a high concept guilty pleasure and I understood that going in. Chances are you will know whether this sort of thing will work for you before you even see it.
Panic Room (David Fincher).
Better than I expected. Damn-near ruined by some unnecessary camera trickery but, on the whole, it works for me.
|Lilo & Stitch
(Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders).
One of the most sensitive and touching Disney cartoons ever made. It's also a sign of the times. Who would ever have thought that the day would dawn when we would see a Disney animated feature in which none of the main characters are white? But this movie doesn't stop there: throw in a black, male social worker, a drag queen and the line: "We're a broken family, aren't we?" and you'd think this was an anti-Disney movie. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome...new family values (applause).
About Schmidt (Alexander Payne).
A blistering account of alienation, isolation and silent grief in the form of a bittersweet character study. Retired Nebraskan career insurance man Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) must come to grips with his conflicted existence. Whether trying to stop his grown daughter from marrying a clueless waterbed salesman or fending off wacky forces that dare to disrupt his mental funk (the hilarious Kathy Bates as a flirtatious ex-hippie chick), Warren Schmidt is in a downward spiral. Payne reigns as one of the most effective social satirists in cinema today.
The Kid Stays in the Picture (Nanette Burstein & Brett Morgen).
A shrewd and insightful documentary recalling the sometimes triumphant, sometimes tumultuous days of Hollywood heavy-hitter movie producer Robert Evans. Evans is afforded the opportunity to provide narration for his own legendary exploits, ranging from his touted heyday as a notorious womanizer to his prominence and power in 1970s Hollywood. We are introduced to the succulent details involving drugs, broken marriages, financial discourse, depression - in other words, the good sordid stuff!
Murderous Maids (Jean-Pierre Denis)
A shockingly brutal account of Frances Papin sisters and their 1933 murder of their employer and her daughter. This macabre tale is as provocative as it is unsettling.
About Schmidt (Alexander Payne).
Apocalypse Now: Redux (Francis Ford Coppola).
(I was quite surprised that it didn't bore me to death)
Black Hawk Down (Ridley Scott).
The Two Towers (Peter Jackson).
Elling (Petter Nĉss).
(A charming, Norwegian comedy)
Frailty (Bill Paxton).
(Surprised how much I liked this one)
Gosford Park (Robert Altman).
An "Agatha Christie murder mystery" where it doesn't matter "who did it" in the usual sense.
Monsoon Wedding (Mira Nair)
An Indian surprise.
XXX (Rob Cohen)
Mostly because I liked it as a ride - and also because I know that nobody else will give this one a second thought - much less a vote.
8 Mile (Curtis Hanson).
1. Bowling For Columbine (Michael Moore)
The most potent, thought-provoking, and important film of the year. While it may be easy to put blame on Moore for his tactics and some of his "manipulating" of the facts, its hard to dismiss his claims. Moore's argument is strong, and while his opinions may be biased, they are hard to ignore. He's onto something most people would rather not deal with. America's problems with gun violence continue to grow, and it may be because of the race and class issues that are perpetuated by the institutions in control of this nation. Oh, I better wrap it up now because I have to catch C-Span--they're airing G.W. Bush's reasons for war on Iraq--and after that I've gotta watch Cops on Fox.
2. Adaptation (Spike Jonze).
The best piece of fictional filmmaking this year. It's about evolution, the creative process, and one guy's search for meaning in the world. Nic Cage is fantastic as the Kaufman twins, and so are the entire supporting cast -- particularly Chris Cooper as the toothless savant, John Laroche. The moment I heard the screenwriting guru (played admirably by Brian Cox) tell Charlie Kaufman, after a seminar on the do's and don't's of screenwriting, that he shouldn't "bring in a deus ex machina," I knew this film was reveling its own self-reflexivity. It's a remarkable film, and a hell of a good time at the movies.
3. The Good Girl (Miguel Arteta).
A surprise - not just because of Jennifer Aniston's outstanding performance, or that the writer-director team of Chuck & Buck could change gears so effectively, but because the film seemingly came out of nowhere and left theaters before people got wind of its impact.
4. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes).
Another film about class issues, only this film incorporates the race and gender angle, making it the equivalent of a two hour cultural studies course at your local university. Sign me up, because Todd Haynes does an incredible job depicting the unrest and tension of the 50's zeitgeist, while critiquing the values of an era that never seems to go away.
5. About Schmidt (Alexander Payne).
Dear Ndugu, About Schmidt is one of several films this year that addresses what may be one of the key issues in America these days: the problems within the middle class. I must tell you I loved the representation of middle class-midwestern complacency and obliviousness to the rest of the world. Warren Schmidt is the main character, and he goes through an existential crisis that is perfectly fit for something we might have seen out of 40's film noir, but guess what? It's relevant today, and what happens is so right on the money it becomes near impossible to argue for its social importance. It's just a simple boring movie about this simple boring guy, right? I think not, Ndugu. Some people just don't want to admit this kind of film is legitimate, so they write it off as a Jack Nicholson vehicle or a depressing take on old age. What happens if your perfectly sheltered life turns out to be insignificant and meaningless? The mirror can be quite unkind.
And the rest:
6. Storytelling (Todd Solondz).
7. Talk To Her (Pedro Almodóvar).
8. Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese).
9. Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón).
10. 25th Hour (Spike Lee)
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