Some will disagree but I found 2002 a great year to go to the movies. The top four of my favorites are, I believe, unforgettable classics.
10. Les Destinées (directed by Oliver Assayas) The Godfather in French minus the crime – a three-hour epic about family obligations, love, and life’s hard choices. If it had been an American production, with brand-name stars, it would get ten Oscar nominations – as it is it got only limited release in this country.
9. The Cat’s Meow (directed by Peter Bogdanovich) An old Hollywood legend, somewhat fictionalized for the big screen, of a murder that took place aboard the yacht of William Randolph Hearst in 1924. I had fun trying to figure out both (a) what the filmmaker intended one to think happened, as well as, (b) what really happened that day on that boat.
8. Barbershop (directed by Tim Story) If you dismiss Ice Cube as a rapper who exploits his name recognition to star in low-grade comedies and typical action movies, this film may disabuse that notion. Barbershop is a feel-good ensemble comedy starring Ice Cube with great supporting performances by Cedric the Entertainer, Anthony Anderson and Eve (“Who drank my goddamn apple juice!!?”)
7. El Crimen del Padre Amaro (directed by Carlos Carrera) A Mexican import, El Crimen tells a story about priests acting human – imagine that! It set all kinds of box office records in Mexico. I also heard that the studio was persuaded by the Mexican government to delay releasing it until after a visit by the Pope. The main character, well played by Gael García Bernal, is a young priest who is chosen by the bishop to take over a troubled parish. Things go well until he falls under the spell of young Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancón) – and then has some very difficult choices to make.
6. The Bourne Identity (directed by Doug Linman) Matt Damon stars as a CIA hit man with amnesia. Sounds like it could be lame – wrong! It works mainly by changing pace between the action sequences (but not too much action) and the humanizing scenes with co-star Franka Potente. Also featured: another great performance by Chris Cooper as the CIA boss trying to track down the rogue Matt Damon.
5. About Schmidt (directed by Alexander Payne) A great comedy about an actuary – I never thought that I would see a major studio release with an actuary as the main character -- played by Jack Nicholson! Of course the premise is that he wasted his life doing meaningless work. After the death of his wife he realizes how he has become distant from his grown daughter – it sounds depressing but functions as a comic set up.
4. Adaptation (directed by Spike Jonze) Best “Hollywood spoof” ever. Is that a genre? The main character – actually a pair of identical twins played by Nicolas Cage – gave me my favorite comic scenes of the year. One of the twins is an idealistic but insecure screenwriter while the other is crass and commercial but insightful. Those scenes show how Charlie Kaufman (both the real author of the script and one of the twins in the movie) sees himself as an artist trying to work within the business environment of Hollywood. Meryl Streep, Brian Cox and Chris Cooper come through with great comedic performances. “Donald, don’t say ’Industry’.”
3. Rabbit-Proof Fence (directed by Phillip Noyce – see also The Quiet American below) A drama set in the 1930s outback by a very talented Aussie director, the story centers on a journey of three aboriginal girls across vast distances of wilderness because the girls had been separated from their mothers by well-meaning but racist white administration – personified by the character played by Kenneth Branagh. David Gulpilil gave a haunting performance with very little dialog as Moodoo the Tracker. A very charismatic Everlyn Sampi played Molly, the older girl who led the three. The film stands out is several categories: cinematography, sound, and, most of all, the lack of a heavy hand in dealing with a politically-charged subject – I applaud for The Quiet American that same restraint.
2. Enigma (directed by Michael Apted) Greatest romantic drama in years. Set during WWII as a team of intellectuals works tirelessly to break the Nazi’s secret code – the Enigma machine. The makers of this British import were able to convince me that the brilliant but tortured mathematician (well played by Dougray Scott) would sacrifice the security of the free world for the love of a certain enigmatic woman (convincingly played by Saffron Burrows). The third side of the love triangle is the relatively frumpy (compared to Ms. Burrows) Kate Winslet. Jeremy Northham and Tom Hollander give us interesting supporting characters in this spy world.
1. The Best Movie Released in U.S. Theatres in 2002: Spirited Away (directed by Hayao Miyazaki) Greatest animated movie ever – a masterpiece. If you agree with the premise that film is primarily a visual art form, you may be willing to go the next step and appreciate the significance of the artwork in this film. I’ve never seen anything that comes close – many of the scenes seem like they could stand as impressionist paintings. I could watch it with the sound off and just delight in the visual beauty – but the story, an Alice-in-Wonderland tale set in the Japanese spirit world, also grabbed me. A frightened little girl stumbles into a situation where she must deal with many evil, scary creatures in order to return home and save her parents – who had been turned into pigs. Whoever came up with these creatures – particularly the No-face character – had one hell of an imagination. If it doesn’t win the Oscar for best animated feature (it was nominated) – I give up!
Road to Perdition
Gangs of New York
Roger Dodger – Written and directed by newcomer Dylan Kidd – remember that name. Campbell Scott plays Roger, a hilarious womanizer who has no idea how obnoxious he is. The action takes place in New York one night as Roger takes his teenaged nephew (Jesse Eisenberg) out clubbing.
Y Tu Mama Tambien
Spider Man – all-time best adaptation of a comic book! Way before I saw the film - when I read that Tobey McGuire had been cast to play Spider Man - I had high hopes – and I still wasn’t ready for what I saw. I love it when a good movie does huge box office.
The Quiet American (directed by Phillip Noyce)
The Kid Stays in the Picture
The Good Girl
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Lovely and Amazing – There are a few scenes that I found so funny that just thinking about them makes me laugh: Katherine Keener plays a thirty-something woman who has an affair with a teenaged boy (Jake Gyllenhaal) -- hilarious.
Dogtown and Z-boys
Talk to Her (directed by Pedro Almodovar)
Chicago – Why wasn’t Chicago, which I loved, in my top ten? I can’t help but compare it to classic musicals like Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, Swing Time, and Top Hat. My complaint: Chicago starred three marginal dancers – chosen for their name recognition and acting ability – and covered up that shortcoming with chop-chop-chop editing. There must be 100 cuts in each dance number! Don’t get me wrong – if you haven’t seen the movie, be sure not to miss it. I just hope that the success of Chicago doesn’t mean that it becomes the template for musicals for the next few years. And while I’m at it – couldn’t Catherine Zeta-Jones get her body into shape to play a professional dancer, knowing that she is going to be on the big screen in skimpy costumes? I love the little joke that they made of it – Roxie to Velma: ”You want some advice, well here's a piece of advice from me to you, lay off the caramels.”
Standing in the Shadows of Motown -- Best documentary I’ve seen in years.
Punch Drunk Love – (Best Movie Starring Somebody Who I Thought Would Never Be Anywhere Near My “Best-of” List) I never thought that I would endure another Adam Sandler movie, much less one in which he plays a supposedly loveable goofball (his stock-in-trade) but you just never know what a clever script can do.
The Worst Movies (that I saw) of 2002:
Worst Movie of 2002 : Half Past Dead – When I saw Rollerball early in the year I thought that it would stand as the worst of 2002. It took until mid-November – Rollerball is a rotten movie with no redeeming characteristics but Half Past Dead has Steven Segal plus the most ludicrous production design, implausible plot – I could go on. It almost qualifies in the So Bad That It is Good category but it is more pathetic than campy.
Worst Movie of 2002 to Receive Critical Acclaim: Bowling for Columbine I never have shared director Michael Moore’s anti-business far-left politics but I usually enjoyed his playful humor. But the only humor in this movie is unintentional – I laughed at Moore rather than with him. Blind-siding 88-year-old Charlton Heston in an interview for which Heston had no warning as to the subject – wow that really was funny!
The first “Planet Naboo Citation for the Worst Cinematic Moment”: Natalie Portman and Christian Hayden on Planet Naboo (Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones) All of the stars were aligned to create some of the worst cinema of all time – awkward dialog, inept actors – and it wasn’t an entertaining kind of bad – it was more like when-did-I-die bad.
Solaris and Full Frontal: Worst “Art” Films by a Big-Name Director – What is going on with Steven Soderbergh? He has done some great work but now -- two stinkers in a row. In Solaris there must have been a half hour of close-up of George Clooney just staring with a blank look on his face.
XXX: Worst Big-Budget Blockbuster (I hope that doesn’t mean that we get more of the same.) Runner-up: Sum of All Fears