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.
Michael Buck
1. Bowling for Columbine
(Michael Moore).
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 (Richard Kelly).
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.
6. L.I.E. (Michael Cuesta).
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.
8. Adaptation
(Spike Jonze).
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 (Peter Jackson).
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 (Hayao Miyazaki).
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.
4. 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
(Chris Columbus).
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.
Ed Owens

Top Three:
Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese).
The ultimate "flawed masterpiece," a work of such epic grandeur and ambition that even its failings are somehow endearing.
Punch-Drunk Love
(Paul Thomas Anderson).
Anderson's "little" film serves as a perfect reminder of why I love movies.
Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes).
I expected to hate it. Haynes' stunningly gorgeous throwback is surprisingly engaging and beautifully haunting.

Narc (Joe Carnahan).
Carnahan's genre pic is a stunning revival of a struggling genre.
Adaptation (Spike Jonze).
It's one note third act handicaps what is otherwise the smartest movie of the year.
Nine Queens (Fabián Bielinsky)
Argentina's relentlessly twisty scam film recaptures what Mamet has long since lost...a sense of fun.

Movies I enjoyed more than I probably should have:
Eight Legged Freaks (Ellory Elkayem).
The best dark comedy monster movie since Gremlins.
Undercover Brother (Malcolm D. Lee)
I'm not sure what it says about me, but I spent most of the movie in tears.
Resident Evil
(Paul W. S. Anderson)
Anderson (not to be confused with P.T.) makes a solid genre pic with a wicked sense of humor.

The jury's still out:

Femme Fatale (Brian De Palma)
The finest twenty minutes of cinema all year, followed by the most excruciating eighty.
The Salton Sea (D.J. Caruso)
There's a lot to like...I'm just not sure that I do.

Pat Padua

1. Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson).
I've finally stopped thinking about this movie, even though I got to see Emily Watson in the flesh last weekend. (Those eyes!) I'm all writ out on it - at least until the DVD is released - so fuck critical distance: I fell in love with this movie. It was one of two films to knock me out last year, and fortunately it came after the punch of ...
2. The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke).
Which, like PDL, is about dysfunctional love, innt it? But Isabelle Huppert's magnificent performance - I could watch her face NOT react for hours - portrays a different pathology. A friend calls this anti-sexual - but that is her sexuality. And as sick as she is and it was, that bathroom rendezvous scene was breathtaking in its sexual tension.
3. 24 Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom).
A wonderful (half-) tribute to Ian Curtis, not least because his morose music and life formed (half) the backbone of a movie so alive with raw cinematic energy. Adaptation didn't have the only problematic denouement last year - what about following Joy Division with the Happy Mondays?
4. Read My Lips (Jacques Audiard).
Love those odd couple movies this year. How many reviews noted, "sensual on more than one level"? "Senses working overtime"? "No new taxes"? An intelligent, touching thriller that, ok, is sensual on more than one level.
5. Moonlight Mile (Brad Silberling).
A restrained and realistic look at the varieties of grief and forgetting.
6. Solaris (Steven Soderbergh)
Loss in space.

Josh Timmermann
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 (Todd Haynes).
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)
Another, very different but equally profound examination of many of the same key themes dealt with by Godard, Tsai Ming-liang brings to his work a deadpan comedic approach notably reminiscent of both Keaton and Tati, and some of the longest, most hauntingly ambiguous static shots you'll ever see.
4. Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
The Taiwanese master Hou's most resolutely contemporary film to date is ironically presented in elliptical flashbacks, accompanied by some of the year's most effective voice-over work via the luminous Shu Qi. Looking back, she saw brief glimpses of beauty.
5. I'm Going Home (Manoel de Oliveira)
An aging thespian faces life on his own and the burden of old age, while regaining a newfound appreciation for life's sublime simpler pleasures, in Manoel de Oliveira's quietly moving masterpiece. Michel Piccoli's beautifully understated central performance is also among the year's very best.

6. The 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.
7. Solaris (Steven Soderbergh).
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
(Jill Sprecher).
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 (Todd Haynes).
'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.
7. The 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
(Phillip Noyce).
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.
9. Gangs 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.
Barton Campbell
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
(George Clooney
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
(Jill Sprecher)
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.  

Bowling For Columbine
(Michael Moore).
Moonlight Mile (Brad Silberling).

In probably the most overrated film of the year, Michael Moore has crafted his most powerful and effective documentary.  He could have done without the awkward Heston interview, but he gets props for actually leaving the film fairly open-ended.    In the most underrated film of the years, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ellen Pompeo give understated but honest performances in a fairly realistic melodrama that made me, at least,  feel all warm inside.
Equilibrium (Kurt Wimmer)
The Rules of Attraction (Roger Avary)
The most overlooked movies of the year were those that featured an actor who played Patrick Bateman or focused on the character's younger brother. Both of these films should become cult classics as soon as they're released on video. 


Nathaniel Rogers

1. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes).

We begin and end with Douglas Sirk, you see. If nothing else, this was the year of the great melodrama director. His name popped up all over the place in film conversations, in retrospectives, in essays, and his films on television screens in the background of the most unrelated films (like 8 Mile). Sirkian tropes and homages were in the air. 8 Women was a comic primer for one way of looking at that world but with Far From Heaven, the renewed interest in melodrama and Sirkian emotionality reached its apotheosis. But the most infrequently understood and most crucial to understand thing about Far From Heaven is that its replication of a bygone era is only the jumping off point for a film that is resolutely about the here and now. Among the film's many wonders is the extraordinary alchemies that Todd Haynes performs. While fashioning a replica and homage, he creates a thing beautifully his own. While hypnotically immersed in 50s minutiae, Far From Heaven offers a looking glass for the neo-conservative here and now. It's a film for the eyes, intellect, and heart. Here's to all artists like Todd Haynes who when looking at the past find in it not rusty templates or stagnant by-the-book filmmaking, but timeless truth and the impetus to experiment artistically. Haynes dives into the past to show us the relevant present. His experiment pays its respect, then moves divinely forward, like its heartbroken protagonist, into the uncertain future.


2. Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón).
By now it's already clear that Y Tu Mamá También has achieved classic foreign film status here in the United States. Alfonso Cuarón's take on the rowdy road movie is one of those rare film experiences where every element adds up to make the whole much greater than any of its individual parts. It moves rapidly on several layers and works on every last one of them: road movie, coming of age drama, teen sex comedy, sociopolitical statement. The recipe itself is deceptively simple: One gifted director + two randy boys + one woman with a secret + a mythical beach = movie paradise. Like "Heaven's Mouth", the beach the boys invent only to discover in reality, this movie is a more magical thing than even Alfonso Cuaron probably imagined while dreaming it up.
3. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar).
4. 25th Hour (Spike Lee).
5. The Two Towers (Peter Jackson).
6. Late Marriage (Dover Koshashvili).
7. Spider-Man (Sam Raimi).
8. The Hours (Stephen Daldry).
9. Lovely & Amazing (Nicole Holofcener).
10. 8 Women (François Ozon).

Martijn ter Haar
1. The Man Who Wasn't There
(Joel Coen).
2. Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly).
3. Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff).
4. The Royal Tenenbaums
(Wes Anderson).
5. Cecil B. Demented (John Waters).
6. Le Vélo de Ghislain Lambert
(Philippe Harel).
7. No Man's Land (Danis Tanovic).
8. Bowling for Columbine
(Michael Moore).

Kevin Lee

1. The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein (John Gianvito).
This film probably means more to me and my particular interests than it will to most people, though on the other hand, I can't quite understand how the only film this year that dealt with the effects of the Persian Gulf war on everyday American people wouldn't matter to a lot of us. The story follows the downward trajectory of three New Mexico residents in the wake of the Gulf War: a woman whose children are the victim of a vicious hate crime because their last name is Hussein; a high school student whose increasing interest in peace activism leads him to run away from his sheltered home; and a returning soldier who indulges in an empty existence while trying to shake off the horrors he's witnessed. Made over 6 years and 13 credit cards, this film taps into a raw live-wire energy that means everything to today's sorry state of independent filmmaking. Both the characters and the film brandish a fierce, wounded innocence that gives way to inconsolable rage at their own ineffectuality under the shadow of war, modulated by some vivid musical and visual digressions, and culminating in a finale of apocalyptic spectacle of fascination and horror. Gianvito's first film is admittedly rough on the edges, which is probably why it didn't pick up a distributor. But I've found those rough edges to have taught me more about movies and moviemaking than anything else I've seen this year.
2. Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov).
300 years of Russian history covered in a single 96 minute take traveling through the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg - Sokurov's masterpiece is much more than a cold technical exercise - it's a passionate and often humorous, though melancholy, meditation on what Russia was, is and will be. The gleeful melancholia is also generated through the restless camera movement, and how it creates moments that come blindingly from out of nowhere and then disappear into the void of history. This film really nails a sense of instant discovery and instant loss that I think is central to the art and beauty of the motion picture.
3. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki).
This film, possibly the greatest animation feature ever made, is not only a restlessly inventive delight to watch, but makes a plethora of observations on civil conduct and the enduring virtues of courtesy and compassion in a society far more complicated than what you find in most movies, animated or otherwise.
4. Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón).
Here are many things in one film: an eye-opening fresco of Mexican society, a meditation on love and death bursting with spontaneous energy, and the best teen-sex comedy I've ever seen.
5. Silence, We're Rolling (Youssef Chahine).
I'm not sure why this hilarious film has yet to find a distributor, since its insights on celebrity culture seem perfect for American appetites, and it spills over with joy and music besides.
6. Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) (Zacharias Kunuk).
A.k.a. Gangs of the Arctic Circle, this one got brownie points by many critics for being the first movie produced and shot by the Inuit people (when did we stop calling them Eskimos?), but there is much more going on here than the creation of a trivia question. This film makes as inspired a use of digital video as any feature I've seen, not only because the sub-zero conditions made it impossible to shoot on film, but in the way an ancient myth of timeless human frailty runs headlong into the digital age, preserving a centuries-old tale and the cultural practices of its time for future generations to remember. Only in the end credits, when we see the preparations of the actors and crew, do we realize that this is as much of a fiction and an anthropological project for them as it is for us. (It also doesn't hurt that this film kicks the collective butts of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings in the mythical action department.)
7-8. (tie)
The Pianist (Roman Polanski).
In Praise of Love (Jean-Luc Godard).
It was hard not to see these films as being the attempts of two old masters to redress the way Spielberg's Schindler's List converted wartime atrocity into mass entertainment. To that end, both films fixed on three crucial themes: survival, resistance, and freedom through artistic expression. The 73-year-old Godard showed he was very much in tune with the world - his film is dense with images that seem to carry an ongoing conversation about the world's failure to truly learn from its own history, and the failure of movies to do anything about it. Movies, which for Godard once held an unlimited potential to liberate people from conventionality, have now become a chief means to oppress us: freedom has become an advertising slogan for ideological mass consumption. Polanski's film was more commercial, and yet strangely un-commercial in its matter-of-fact telling of the horrors faced by a Jewish pianist who miraculously survived the Holocaust. No camera tricks, no flashy dramatic moments; Polanski's reverence for his subject matter was profoundly felt, and the result was perhaps the most mature film he's ever made. Both films made a powerful virtue out of the practice of helpless observation.
9, 10 and 11. (tie)
Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson).
Time Out (Laurent Cantet)
I'm Going Home (Manoel de Oliveira)
These film comprise an intriguing trilogy on the three stages of man, respectively: young love, midlife crisis and imminent death. Paul Thomas Anderson threw down a gauntlet of crazy cinematic effects to emphasize Adam Sandler's stumbling progress towards happiness; it was like experiencing puberty all over again. Laurent Cantet's masterpiece about a laid-off middle manager who concocts a fictional job to impress his family and friends was a stifled scream cracking the glass walls of white-collar culture. 94-year old Manoel De Oliveira gave us an equally affecting vision of the world and a taste of experiencing life at his age, as well as his patience and wisdom, charting an elderly actor's acceptance of his own demise over the course of giving three amazing performances. Time Out's Aurélien Recoing and I'm Going Home's Michel Piccoli gave perhaps the two best male performances of the year.

©2003 CineScene
For Chris Dashiell's year-end wrap-up, click here.