TRACKING SHOTS

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.
Myron Santos
24 Hour Party People
(Michael Winterbottom).
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)
(Zacharias Kunuk).
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
(Roy Andersson).
A mercilessly funny film about the end of the world as we know it. In an anonymous city an economic collapse sends its inhabitants into hysteria -- and back to the search for an afterlife destroyed and made impossible by capitalism. First shown at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, and sadly shown only in very limited release this year.
Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki).
Miyazaki's relentlessly imaginitive animated film, about a child's relationship with the adult world, the crush of urban life, and the natural environment that remains. Each character possesses an astonishing ambiguity that keeps you guessing as to whether they are "good" or "evil," only to reveal that each possesses a little bit of both. Much like the creatures we meet in our real world -- and unlike those in nearly every other animated film ever made.
What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-Liang)
Tsai's stunningly gorgeous portrayal of interconnectedness across time, place, and lifetimes. The cameo by Jean-Pierre Leaud is startling and bittersweet.
Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón).
A rare road trip movie: a hilarious, sexy coming-of-age trip, across a true, beautiful Mexican landscape, taken by compelling characters from different sides of town and different sides of life. A friend told me that if this film had been made by Americans, in English, it wouldn't have garnered a fraction of the critical and popular acclaim. I responded, maybe -- but Americans don't make movies like these.

Lovell Mahan-Moutaw
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.
Howard Schumann

1. La Ciénaga (Lucrecia Martel)
A seemingly uneventful film that dramatizes, in an atmosphere of impending doom, the decadence of the Argentine middle class, as represented by one unhappy family. It is moody, sensual, and almost unbearably intimate, maintaining a constant level of anxiety and tension throughout. A compelling picture of class arrogance, with an ending as moving as any I've seen.

3. Promises (Carlos Bolado,
B.Z. Goldberg & Justine Shapiro).
A timely and emotional look at the Arab-Israeli conflict from the point of view of seven Israeli and Palestinian children. One of the most hopeful and moving documentaries in years. Listening to these children, there is some reason for optimism despite the daily toll of suicide bombings and bombastic rhetoric.

2. The 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.

4. Unknown Pleasures (Jia Zhangke).
A powerful depiction of the spiritual malaise afflicting Chinese youth as a result of global capitalism. Jia avoids pathos and sentimentality, opting for a documentary-style realism that is deeply affecting. Although focusing on the characters as victims of social and economic dislocation in China, the theme is more about feelings of abandonment, loneliness, and emotional numbness.

5.
Tie:
Ten
(Abbas Kiarostami).
Using only two small video cameras strapped to the dashboard of a car to eavesdrop on a series of semi-improvised conversations, Kiarostami's latest film is a highly original, experimental work that manages to convey a searing honesty about the status of women in Iran. It is a humanistic film and an extremely rewarding experience.
All or Nothing (Mike Leigh)
A fiercely intimate look at three families living in a grim South London housing complex. The conditions are familiar: unemployment and underemployment, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, loneliness, and the inevitable loss of self-esteem and despair. In spite of its bleakness, this film pulsates with a humanity that is life affirming and ultimately uplifting.
6. Heaven (Tom Tykwer).
Heaven raises the issue of ends and means -- does a worthy end justify violent means? It explores the answer, with this tale of a woman (Cate Blanchett) who takes the law into her own hands, in what is essentially an allegory about responsibility, transformation, and transcendence. This is not about God being somewhere else, but in ourselves, and what a gift that is. The film merges the highly technical, fast-paced direction of Tykwer with the slower-paced sublime poetics of the late Krzysztof Kieslowski (who wrote the script and had planned to film it) and the result is a strange but deeply spiritual experience.
7. Read My Lips (Jacques Audiard).
A "noir-ish" high stakes thriller, involving a near-deaf woman's involvement with an ex-con, with plots and sub-plots, passion and double-cross, and multiple twists and turns that will leave you breathless and very entertained. It is a black comedy, a heart-pounding thriller, a psychological drama, and simply a thoroughly engaging movie.
8. Rabbit-Proof Fence (Phillip Noyce).
This is a scathing attack on the Australian government's "eugenics" policy toward aboriginal half-castes. It tells the story of the indomitable courage of three young girls who escape from detention to head home across the vast and lonely Australian Outback. A simple story told with honest emotion with an ending that can only be described as gut wrenching.
9. Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón).
This is an open, honest, and intelligent film about two teenage boys of very different backgrounds and their sexual adventures with an older woman during a road trip in Southern Mexico. Although sexually explicit, the film does not cater to prurient interests to increase box office receipts, but is always fully believable as a true depiction of how adolescents think and feel. It is a film that is universal in its message about young people and the transitory nature of life.
10. Tie:
Time Out (Laurent Cantet)
A psychological study of a man who is in "denial" after he loses his job as a financial consultant, and resorts to lies and deception to keep up the pretense of employment for the sake of his family. It is a subtle, involving, and truly perceptive comment on the shallow, conformist world of middle management that depicts how an individual's identity can be so wrapped up in what he does that he can scarcely remember who he is or what is most meaningful in his life.
The Way Home (Jeong-hyang Lee)
An insufferable seven-year old boy from Seoul is deposited at his grandmother's house in the remote village of Youngdong in Korea's Choongbuk province so the mother can have time to look for work. This film by one of Korea's few female directors is dedicated to all grandmothers around the world and speaks volumes about the power of grace and loving-kindness to heal the hardest heart.

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
(Roy Andersson).
Andersson's return to feature filmmaking after a 25-year hiatus stands as a true original, a visionary portrait of human folly when faced with an impending apocalypse. He spent four years making this film, which focuses on the citizens of a metropolis who endeavor to deal with the end: flagellants parade in the streets, a corporation sacrifices a young girl, and salesmen try to sell crucifixes only to find that the public doesn't care about religion anymore. The film is also darkly and bracingly funny, with bizarre touches throughout, such as a magician who really does saw a man in half, and a bunch of frantic management types whose possessions seem to consist mainly of golf clubs. Andersson's careful framing also finds a strange kind of beauty, as in a scene where a man, covered in soot, rides the subway, and is oblivious as the crowd around him bursts into an angelic chorus. Throughout, the film confronts us with such imagery and asks us to put the pieces together. While it might not tie together neatly, it'll stick in your mind for weeks.
3. 25th Hour
(Spike Lee).
Spike Lee has long been one of my favorite directors, and I've been wondering for a long time when he would again make a film that's somewhere near the level of quality of his best work, Do the Right Thing. I was ecstatic to find that this film, adapted from the novel by David Benioff, is his best film since that controversial classic. Edward Norton stars as a New Yorker, a convicted drug dealer, who tries to enjoy the last day of his old life before a seven-year jail sentence. While 25th Hour doesn't condemn Norton's character for his actions, it also doesn't gloss over them, seeing what he's done through his eyes, as the actions of a man who got too comfortable, too cocky, and too foolish to get out while he still had the chance. He meets up with his girlfriend and his old friends in an extended nightclub sequence in which he and all those in his life must come to terms not only with what they've done, but also with the consequences. Finally, in a sequence of great power and tantalizing ambiguity, Brian Cox, as Norton's father, lays out a possible alternative to serving time, and the decision is left on Norton's shoulders, and on ours- what, Lee is asking, would we do?

4. What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-Liang)
Tsai presents the audience with characters and situations and challenges us to infer the meaning or, more specifically, whether they even mean anything at all. His purpose, I think, is to challenge our deeply-ingrained need to find order where there may in fact be none. The film is also slyly comic, and features some of the year's best cinematograhy (courtesy of Benoît Delhomme). Not for everyone, but if you're down with what Tsai's doing, very rewarding.
5. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki).
Miyazaki, one of the world's most acclaimed animators, presents a beautiful adventure about a little girl lost in a strange world. While comparisons to Alice in Wonderland come to mind, this is really an original - creating a fascinating new world and seeing it clearly and in great detail. At a time when American animated films grow more impatient and innocuous, Miyazaki's deliberate pacing allows audiences to immerse themselves in his beautiful images, which wash over them with the power of a strange and lovely dream.
6. The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke).
In the title role of this provocative film, Isabelle Huppert wears a cool, appraising stare as she portrays a woman whose life is all about control: the wielding of it over her students, the tug-of-war over it between her and her mother, the sexual dominance of and then submission to a handsome student. Her performance is fearless, unflinching from the character's more loathsome and ugly nature, finally building to an almost unbearably tense final sequence.
7. The Pianist (Roman Polanski).
Polanski returned to Poland to film the story of Wladislaw Szpilman, a Jewish concert pianist who survived the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto. The director, who as a child also survived the Holocaust, clearly identifies with his protagonist, a man who managed to endure largely because of kindness from others and sheer luck. As played by Adrien Brody, Szpilman is not a great man, and it is part of the film's triumph that along with the efforts of others to defy the Nazis through uprisings and insurrections, his surviving the horror was a defiant act that also mattered.
8. Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón).
I sometimes feel the need to classify the films I see as comedies or dramas, and for a long time I saw this one as a comedy. And yes, it's very funny in spots. But I think the key to the film is that its teenage protagonists are narrow-minded, paying attention merely to the moment, wondering when they will get to the beach and how they will manage to bed the sexy older woman who has chosen to come on the journey with them. The film's perspective, however, is closer to that of the woman, looking back, seeing everything through the benefit of hindsight, seeing how foolish the boys are and, at the same time, how serious life, with its difficult finality, can be.
9. Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore).
So yeah, I've heard that this film is flawed, that Michael Moore's documentary style is self-aggrandizing, and that his journalistic techniques are questionable at best. What this overlooks is that, for all the film's flaws, it has some significant points to make not only about violence in the United States, but also about the culture of fear that is propagated in the media. The film is also highly entertaining for those who like Moore's style (which I do), with an animated history lesson that is one of the funniest sequences I've seen in any film this year.
10. The Fast Runner (Zacharias Kunuk).
This was the year's finest debut directing effort, adapting an ancient Inuit legend about a man who is cast out by his tribe, only to return again and bring order to it. The film, which uses an Inuit cast filming inside the Arctic circle, has an archetypal power to it, as the most effective folklore does. What Kunuk is saying is that for a culture to endure, it's necessary to embrace storytelling, not only so the past isn't forgotten, but also so traditions and the communal spirit are kept alive for future generations.

John Banzon
The three best I saw:

1. Punch-Drunk Love
(Paul Thomas Anderson).
Short and sweet film that has all the eccentricities: offbeat plot, awkward silences, dark comedy, and unique style. Filtered lights and quick editing is all well and good, but this film succeeds as a poignant and sweet romance. Adam Sandler is perfect as the angry and lonely man who needs love and Emily Watson is angelic as the answer to his problems.

3. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki).
Magical and complex animated masterpiece. The dragon scene, the mud god, the awakening of the bath house, and (my favorite scene) the train station sequence, are all unforgettable.

 

2. The 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
A number of odd romances, a couple of odes to New York, and some other fine offerings:

1. Chicago (Rob Marshall).
"Give 'em an act with lots of flash in it and the reaction will be passionate." Kander and Ebb were right. From its opening lyric ("come on babe") to its final bow ("but, oh, it's heaven"), Chicago supplies sequins and jazz and kicks and splits in a glorious celebration of sin, cynicism and cinema -- and it's just about impossible not to get caught up in it. Rob Marshall's variations improve on the stagey disconnectedness of the Broadway musical, and if Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger can't outdance or outsing Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera (who left me cold) or Ann Reinking and Bebe Neuwirth (who left me colder), they bring it on with pizazz, personality and overall oomph that out-razzle-dazzles the original(s). Richard Gere charms and smarms it up as tap-dancing lawyer Billy Flynn, and his intercut solo on the dance floor and in the court room captures each in perfect measure. Queen Latifah gives Mama a deliciously raucous and manipulative sexuality, and John C. Reilly, always superb, manages to be poignant without crossing into pitiful. His "Mr. Cellophane" is one of the film's revelations.
2. Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson). Crossing multiplex standard with artfilm aura, P.T. Anderson captures and capitalizes on Adam Sandler's comic persona and Emily Watson's wide-eyed wonderer in this absurdist romantic fairytale where sound and color, silence and light take on personalities of their own, and quirky, exploited, gives way to tender and sincere. The love story is original and familiar, and the telling intoxicating, audacious and utterly charming.
3. Secretary (Steven Shainberg).
Maggie Gyllenhaal blossoms on the screen in a black romantic comedy that explores identity, choice, and the darker side of sexuality without taking itself too seriously. James Spader, who has made half a career out of playing snivelly, cranky types, and devoted the other half to charismatic male leads, transforms himself oddly from one to the other as this variation on a love story unfolds. Remarkably liberating and suprisingly erotic, Secretary puts an intriguing twist of blamelessness on the standard deviations of the love relationship: dominant-submissive, master-servant, sadomasochistic, and having carefully taken its viewers to the point of judgment, dares them not to sympathize instead.
4. 25th Hour (Spike Lee).
Cautionary, reflective, sentimental, and angry, Spike Lee's 25th Hour plays like an elegy for the intangible lost, for what isn't to be. Remembrance and defiance weave through the dialogue, the direction, and the city-sensitive camera work by Rodrigo Prieto, of Amores Perros and 8 Mile. Presence in absence, the film traces images of the World Trade Center in New York post-9/11 -- Ground Zero, the twin towers of light. Absence in presence, it follows its subject (Edward Norton in top form as the would-have-been firefighter turned drug dealer) in his last hours of freedom, already encircled, entombed, in the regret that consumes him and the prison that awaits him. Brutal, at times, comic at others, it is above all a film about goodbyes, and it strikes a very tender chord.
5. Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese).
An exhilarating tale of staggering magnitude, Scorsese's ode to the birth of the city is so lovingly detailed, so carefully designed, so emphatically elaborated, that it sweeps you up and carries you along in its passion. Violent and bloody, unflinching in its antagonisms, it muddies historical detail but gets its emotion across, and retains a Christian referentiality that is strictly Scorsese. Daniel Day-Lewis is divinely hammy as Bill the Butcher, and Leonardo DiCaprio holds his own fairly well enough, but the centerpiece of the film, the reconstructed Five Points area, is what really impresses. The film's last image brought tears to my eyes.
6. The Pianist (Roman Polanski).
Polanski's adaptation of Wladyslaw Szpilman's memoirs conveys the experience of exclusion, separation, isolation, and horror of the Holocaust without sentimentalism or emotional manipulation. Adrien Brody's performance, from cocky to restrained to desperate to resilient, is measured and concise. The film's metaphors are fortuitous -- music is its character's strength and his survival -- and they are sparing and unobtrusive. If tears come to your eyes in watching, they come directly from the substance, not the form of the material. And if it feels distant, it seeps in nonetheless, and stays with you long after you've left the theater.
7. About a Boy (Chris & Paul Weitz).
Hugh Grant is airily charming, and deliciously caddish in this adaptation of Nick Hornby's slice of life novel about tricks to meet women, unlikely friendships and willing relinquishment of Peter Pan promises. A delightful way to spend a couple of hours.
8. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar).
A dance of loneliness and desire, of speechlessness, stillness, and commitment. Almodóvar never loses the keen eye for the ludicrous, but moves here from the farcical to the merely absurd, and imbues what might have been comic caricatures with sympathy and unexpected depth.
9. Alias Betty (Claude Miller) A complex and intriguing adaptation of the Ruth Rendell novel Tree of Hands, Alias Betty treats of motherhood and merit, fathers' obligations and children as a concept, and tells a story in puzzle pieces you need to fit together to create a whole that works, but that isn't necessarily easy to justify.
10. The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke).
Adult, unapologetic vignette of repressed sexuality tapped into....Isabelle Huppert is frighteningly, painfully persuasive in portraying her character's fear and need - rejecting, demanding, self-assured - and Benoît Magimel conveys the cocky desire of the younger man along for the ride until he sees where it's going. The ending chills for its lack of resolution.

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.

Manny Knowles
Sadly, I didn't get to see very many movies this year. The following are the few that I liked:
Insomnia (Christopher Nolan).
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).
Frank Ochieng
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 France’s Papin sisters and their 1933 murder of their employer and her daughter. This macabre tale is as provocative as it is unsettling.
Haraldur Jóhannsson
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).
James Snapko
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)
GO TO PART THREE
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