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.|
|1. Bowling for Columbine
In his attempt to create a documentary in support of gun control, Michael Moore came up with something much more interesting than the unsubtle political rant he may have at first intended. This treatise on fear, consumption, and social influences leaves the attentive viewer of any political persuasion with lots to think about. After viewing this film, it will be difficult to see the insipid local evening news "scare" stories the same way again. The film is neatly summarized near its middle in a concise interview Moore does with Marilyn Manson. If a reputed demagogue like Moore can create a thought-provoking look into some of the root causes of violence in our culture by simply investigating them, imagine what else is possible, if , culturally, we stop accepting spoon-fed answers to hard questions. That is not to say that this film is without flaws. Moore still includes too many "look at me" moments, and some of his linkages, while intriguing, don't quite work. However, in a time when public policy seems rather important, I have to choose imperfect relevance over more accomplished fancy.
|2. Donnie Darko
This brilliant genre blender is riveting from start to finish, and requires multiple viewings to mine all of its depth. Donnie is rescued from an odd death by a mysteriously supernatural figure, and is inexorably set on a course of action that may affect more than just his own fate. To say more would be unconscionable. Combining elements of science fiction, teen drama, religion, philosophy, and more, it's one of the most original films in years. The film sports an effectively moody original score, in addition to perfectly selected 80's underground popular music (Sure, "West End Girls" would have been far better than "Notorious", but budgets are budgets...). It also brings new names to watch: Richard Kelly, the director, and stars Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
It also brings new names to watch: Richard Kelly, the director, and stars Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Terrific supporting turns from Mary McDonnell, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Beth Grant, Noah Wyle, and Katharine Ross are icing on the already many-layered cake.
|3. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes).
Part Douglas Sirk homage, part social commentary, this film's over-the-top stereotypes are balanced by great performances, and a simultaneously lovely and frightening evocation of the 1950s, shadows of which still haunt us today. Julianne Moore is elegant as the constrained housewife. Additionally noteworthy is the supporting performance from Patricia Clarkson, as the outwardly supportive, but irretrievably bigoted neighbor.
4. About a Boy (Chris & Paul Weitz).
Hugh Grant, it can be argued, is overused as the romantic buffoon, but his manner is used in a new and pitch-perfect way here. This story is of a man who's managed not to realize that he's become a middle-aged teenager, a man gently akin to American Psycho's Patrick Bateman, in that there's nothing inside the shell. Happily for Grant's character Will, he encounters a somewhat lost boy (Nicholas Hoult) who helps to at least start Will's delayed entrance to the human race. This is a thoughtful portrait of a lost soul and his rescue.
5. The Pianist (Roman Polanski).
It's another Holocaust drama, but rather than focusing on the shocking magnitude of the entirety of it, this film spends its time following the fortunes of one man, as he tries to survive it. Adrien Brody stars as Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish pianist. The film follows him as he and his family as they try to survive according to the rules of the Nazi ghettoes. The honest portrayals of violence will bring reminders of other holocaust films, but this time we see the dehumanization of a life in hiding, instead of life in the camps.
The film's complicated and challenging portrayal of a pederast earned it an NC-17 rating, even though there's no explicit content. The film is novel and daring in that it portrays adolescent sexuality as the ambiguous, contradictory stage that it is, and more significantly, describes intergenerational bonds as more complicated than is usually seen in the shrill and hysterical harangues normally done on the topic. The film would be even better, if it didn't cop out with an ending that tries to appease those who will hate the film anyway. A great debut performance from Paul Franklin Dano as the teen trying to find support and his way in the world, and my favorite of several great supporting turns from Brian Cox this year, as the conflicted man of mixed motives.
|7. Y Tu Mamá
También (Alfonso Cuarón).
What feels like every adolescent boy's dream road trip is tied to sociopolitical reality in Mexico, in this aggressively sexy road trip film. Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal portray the carefree, self- absorbed teens with contagious excitement, and Maribel Verdú is excellent as the older woman whose marriage is on the rocks, and decides to Carpe Diem with the young ones. The story packs a couple of surprises, but primarily is memorable for reminding us of ecstatic and maddening times that taught us something, and lasted all too short a time.
Welcome back to the mind of Charlie Kaufman, the man who helped bring you into the mind of John Malkovich. This neurotic self-examination of the process of attempting to write is filled with industry insider jokes, but is ultimately very funny for those who can penetrate its understated shift from self-absorption to capitulation about two-thirds of the way through. Three of the year's best performances are given by Chris Cooper, Meryl Streep, and a dual-role by Nicolas Cage.
|9. The Hours (Stephen Daldry).
This story of three parallel lives is moving in its telling of the necessity of living the life that is your own, rather than one that seems to have been prescribed for you. Sometimes the lives we lead are poisonous to ourselves, and the choice (or lack thereof) between living a life whose every moment is torture, and doing what is right for yourself, is shown as the usually agonizing one it is. The three lead actresses (Kidman, Moore, and Streep) are getting appropriate notices, but the supporting cast is strong here, too. John C. Reilly caps a breakout year, and Ed Harris is breathtaking as an anguished man living with AIDS.
10. The Good Girl (Miguel Arteta).
Jennifer Anniston's portrayal of Justine, a woman who feels the ache of being just a little out of step with all of those around her, centers this simple, sad story. When Justine meets an eccentric co-worker (another great Jake Gyllenhaal performance), she finally finds some comfort in her bland, oblivious, empty world, only to find that she's providing more solace than she's getting. Her decision on how to resolve her extra-marital affair really makes this film, as it gives a little moral ambiguity to the character we've grown sympathetic to, even as it provides a way for her to deal with the world she feels apart from.
|1. The Two Towers
My favorite film of the year, and part two of what will likely be one of my favorite film experiences ever when it's all done. This film (like the first) taps into one of the basic reasons I love films. Total Escape. Taking me to another world. I've heard people on both sides, saying it is a letdown from Fellowship, or those who say it's better. For me it is simply equal, thrilling and moving in different ways; flawed but with chill-enducing moments that completely overshadow its mistakes. Plenty of highlights, but I'll focus on Gollum. As wonderful as his "Oscar-clip" split personality scene is, the look he gives when Frodo is luring him from the Forbidden Pool sums up why I think he's such a wonderful creation. It is just a subtle look of distrust, something I never imagined a CG character could pull off. I was mesmerized and moved by him every second he was onscreen.
|2. Spirited Away
I want to see this again so badly, I really hope they release it again when it gets a Best Animated nomination. A gorgeous, original film. Weird in ways that most children's films would never attempt. Disturbing and haunting. One moment that sticks out is the haunted train ride. (And I thought taking the subway was a surreal experience.) I loved the images of the train moving across the water.
3. Minority Report (Steven Spielberg).
Loved it despite its much-discussed flaws. I don't think it's either as bad as some folks thought it was, or as great as some critics praised. It was a just a good action movie, with what I thought was a well-played star turn from Tom Cruise, and a great performance from Samantha Morton.
About Schmidt (Alexander Payne)
The reason to love this film is Jack Nicholson's performance. The clever use of voiceover serves as a good joke that really brings the film (and his performance) home. I wish that the rest of the characters moved me more, or seemed more real. But maybe that's the point, that it's About Jack.
5. Chicago (Rob Marshall).
Pure entertainment. I liked the cynicism of one of the last lines and wish the film had even more of that attitude. It seemed like they had a good time filming it, and I enjoyed watching it.
6. Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón).
Funny and well acted coming of age story, with an underlying sadness--made clearer in its final moments.
7. Lilo & Stitch (Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders).
Another kid's film that didn't coddle its target audience. For all its unreal qualities, the relationship between Lilo and her big sis was moving and realistic in ways that most children's films shy away from. And Elvis rules.
8. Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese).
Can you say flawed masterpiece? Both riveting and boring and I'm not sure how that happened, but that's how it struck me. I was interested and caught up, but I wanted it to end, and I had no desire to see it again.
9. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
I think Alfonso Cuarón will do wonders with the third film. But I thought this was a decent adaptation. Continued to enjoy the child actors, and thought Kenneth Branagh gave a wonderfully smug performance. The villains are a bit too sniveling, but from what I recall, pretty close to the book.
Movies I enjoyed more than I probably should have:
The jury's still out:
Love (Paul Thomas Anderson).
The film at the top my list last year, Mulholland Drive, was, like much of Lynch's previous work, full of references to the 1950's (the bright candy colors, the doo-wop song renditions, even the brooding James Dean cool of Justin Theroux's rebellious young filmmaker), an era its director admits to cherishing and being consistently fascinated by. But Lynch undoubtedly has nothing on Todd Haynes in that department, who, with subtly suggestive nods to the present, made a film that would've just about fit right at home in mid-50's movie theatres, into the single best movie of 2002. Go figure.
|1. Far From Heaven
Perhaps the most amazing thing of all about Todd Haynes' meticulously faithful pastiche of Douglas Sirk-style 1950's melodramas, is that it never sacrifices emotional resonance for mere technical homage. Thanks to superb performances by Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, and Patricia Clarkson, Haynes' film is ultimately as deeply devastating as it is stylistically ravishing.
2. In Praise of Love (Jean-Luc Godard).
Arguably the greatest and most influential filmmaker still working today, Godard directs his most accomplished and provocative film in decades. An enigmatic, melancholy elegy for love, history, memory, and cinema, In Praise of Love reestablishes Godard among the front ranks of the medium's most vital practitioners.
3. What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-Liang)
Fast Runner (Zacharias Kunuk).
To my mind, no film that I saw all year broke more new ground than this vast, unforgettable Inuit-language epic. Forget Lord of the Rings -- Kunuk's flawless recreation of ancient myth is as engrossingly timeless as any film I can recall.
Who'd have guessed that famed actor's director Soderbergh would make his finest film to date with an icily cerebral, moodily poetic unofficial remake of a Tarkovsky classic? What is, perhaps, even more surprising is how remarkably well Soderbergh's work fares alongside that of his predecessor.
|8. The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke).
Decidedly not for the faint of heart, Michael Haneke's austere, often-shocking adaptation of Elfried Jelinek's semi-autobiographical novel features the performance of the year (and of her career) by the immensely courageous Isabelle Huppert as a masochistic, deeply disturbed piano instructor at the Vienna Conservatory. Considering the nature of her work here, Huppert-- arguably the greatest actress working in film today -- will almost definitely not win an Academy Award, but, dammit, she should!
9. Adaptation (Spike Jonze).
Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze's second collaboration proved to be as exhilaratingly original as their first. A far more personal affair for Kaufman than the deliriously odd Being John Malkovich, Adaptation is, perhaps, the most dizzying, brilliant cinematic vehicle for creative block since Fellini struggled to follow-up La Dolce Vita.
10. Monsoon Wedding (Mira Nair).
As exuberantly colorful as that other 2002 ethnic "wedding" film is the stuff of standard-issue Hollywood fluff, Nair's most thoroughly successful film to date is a joyous celebration of her heritage, and the most fun I had at a movie theatre all year.
Everybody's complaining that it was a bad year for film. But when I sat down to make my list, I easily came up with 57 films worth seeing. Well, here's the top 10:
|1. 13 Conversations
About One Thing
Hands-down best script of the year (by sisters Jill and Karen Sprecher) manages to be both an entertaining story and a thought piece touching on many of mankind's major issues: trust, ethics, free will, the meaning of life. Oscar-caliber performance by Alan Arkin anchors a rock-solid cast including Matthew McConaughey and Clea Du Vall.
|2. Far From Heaven
'50s look with '90s issues, this homage to the films of Douglas Sirk is one of the best-looking films of this or any year. Strong performances by Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid and Dennis Haysbert will let you overlook the fact that it's basically a soaper.
3. Road to Perdition (Sam Mendes).
Paul Newman shines as a mafia don in a sumptuously-filmed period piece. Tom Hanks plays an unaccustomed bad guy role as Newman's protégé.
|4. The Pianist (Roman Polanski).
Polanski returns to Poland after 40 years to film - brilliantly - this true story of a Jewish musician for Warsaw radio, and his struggle to survive the Holocaust. Adrien Brody should be nominated for his transcendent performance.
5. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki).
Miyazaki's stunning "last film" is a prime example from the reigning master of Japanese anime. A little dark for the very young, but a must-see for everyone else.
6. Talk to Her ( Pedro Almodóvar).
A meditation on love, loss and life from the Spanish master Almodóvar that manages to be wacky, touching and profound all at once. Stars Javier Cámara and Darío Grandinetti.
Hours (Stephen Daldry).
No one will be afraid of Virginia Woolf after seeing this tour-de-force performance by Nicole Kidman, supported brilliantly by Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Ed Harris. Michael Cunningham's impossible-to-translate novel (or so I thought) has been beautifully scripted by David Hare and directed by Stephen Daldry.
8. Rabbit-Proof Fence
The Aussies treated their native populations as badly as we norteamericanos did, but man's (or, in this case, girls') indomitable spirit and thirst for freedom takes wing in this terrific fact-based film directed by Phillip Noyce. Stars Everlyn Sampi and Kenneth Branagh.
of New York (Martin Scorsese).
As a lesson in cinematic technique, this was worth the two-year wait. Martin Scorsese likes, and is clearly master of, the epic genre. This tale of the Irish mafia stars Leonardo di Caprio and Cameron Diaz. You'll want to boo Daniel Day-Lewis' pennydreadful-type villain.
10. Frida (Julie Taymor).
Beautifully constructed, imaginatively photographed look at some of the life, but mostly the tempestuous marriage of artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. You may not learn a lot about Frida's art, but you'll be captivated by the look and feel director Julie Taymor gives this piece. A pleasure to watch.
1. Chicago (Rob Marshall)
In his directorial debut, Marshall has created a beautifully entertaining delicacy for the senses. There may be a few finer films released in 2002, but none come close to being as fun as this incredible musical.
Adaptation (Spike Jonze).
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Each week since I first saw the new film from the team of Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze, I have alternately loved and hated it. The script can be pretentious and self-indulgent, yet it is still undoubtedly the most brilliant writing I've seen in years. George Clooney proves with Confessions that Jonze isn't the only man who can direct a Kaufman script, an assumption I had made after seeing the mediocre Human Nature.
13 Conversations About One Thing
Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson). Perfect casting, perfect dialogue, perfectly witty and disturbing. That is the best way I can sum up these two films.
1. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes).
2. Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón).
Martijn ter Haar
1. The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein (John Gianvito).