Movies Of The Year: 2002

Another mediocre movie year for the 2000s, as there’s really only 4 classic movies I’ve seen from this year. Most of the movies on this list are decent, but almost all of them have real serious flaws, or just aren’t anything special.

29. Red Dragon
28. Sweet Home Alabama
27. Austin Powers: Goldmember
26. Ice Age
25. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
24. Resident Evil
23. The Trials Of Henry Kissinger
22. Frida
21. Spellbound
20. The Business Of Fancydancing
19. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
18. 28 Days Later
17. About Schmidt
16. The Bourne Identity

15. Attack Of The Clones – Some of the worst scenes in any Star Wars film are the “love” scenes between Natalie Portman and Hayden Christiansen in this film. They’re truly abysmal. But everything else in the film is great. There’s an exciting opening chase sequence, followed by an interesting detective mission by Ewan McGregor, and the last 45 minutes or so of the film are great action scenes. If not for those God awful attempts at romance, this would be a great movie.

14. 8 Mile – I’m not an Eminem fan at all, and don’t really know much about him, beyond the broad generalizations you overhear in the media. So I came to this film largely ignorant of all that backstory that more up-to-date audiences would know. So to me, the movie is simply a coming-of-age story set in a world I’d not yet seen depicted in film. Good direction by the uneven Curtis Hansen, along with effective acting by Eminem, Mekhi Phifer and Brittany Murphy (not Kim Basinger) help make the setting interesting and the generic story successful.

13. Spider-Man – The best of the recent slew of comic book movies, if only it’s sequel had actually been a sequel instead of a remake, but that’s another year. Sam Raimi has always been an interesting director, but I can’t say there’s anything interesting about his style anymore. He seems to have moved into a Howard Hawks period in the wake of the negative reaction to The Quick And The Dead (#11, 1995), making conventional movies in a more invisible style. As such, his Spider-Man films are notable among comic book movies only for their competence in execution.

12. Gangs Of New York – Another film that might have been great. There are parts of this film that are outstanding: the opening battle scene, Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance, the brilliant recreation of 19th century New York, the draft riot scenes. The problem is Cameron Diaz. Her character is annoying and pointless. If every scene with her, and every reference to her character had been cut out, this film would be great instead of the bloated mess it unfortunately is.

11. The 25th Hour – Is there ay director working today more uneven than Spike Lee? This is one of his better recent films, the good part of the pattern along with He Got Game (#21, 1998) and Summer Of Sam (#18, 1999). In this case, it’s the great cast that makes it worthwhile. Edward Norton is typically great in the lead as a man spending his last day of freedom before going off to jail. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Brian Cox, Rosario Dawson, and Anna Paquin also star.

10. Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind – George Clooney’s directorial debut is a fun, albeit flawed, film about a game show host who may or may not be a hitman for the CIA. Sam Rockwell is great as Chuck Barris, the guy with the delusions, and the rest of the all-star cast is, well, all-star: Drew Barrymore, Juliia Roberts, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and George Clooney. The screenplay’s by Charlie Kaufman, and this, while not as good as his other top 10 film this year, is certainly his most fun movie, the one that least made me want to hit something, or someone (usually Charlie Kaufman).

9. 24 Hour Party People – That’s two straight films featuring virtuoso lead performances of 70s cultural icons by largely unknown actors. This time, Steve Coogan plays Tony Wilson, the impressario influential in the Manchester music scene in the late 70s and through the 80s. The film is about Wilson, and only incidentally about the music, which is fine because, despite the typical rise and fall structure of his story (drugs are bad!) he’s just such an interesting character. The music is great, mostly feature Wilson’s bands Joy Division, New Order and Happy Mondays, along with the requisite period appropriate music (ie, The Sex Pistols). Directed by Michael Winterbottom, who some think is great. I can’t say if he is though, because this is the only one of his films I’ve seen.

8. Minority Report – Another great year for Steven Spielberg, as he’s got 2 of the top 8 films of the year. This is the darker one of the two, though it’s not as twisted as AI (#6, 2001), you can definitely see Spielberg slowly starting to mature in these two films, perhaps under the influence of Stanley Kubrick and Philip K. Dick (who wrote the short story this film is based on). This film, I think, is actually hurt by having Tom Cruise in the lead. While I like Cruise, and think he’s a terrific movie star, he just doesn’t have enough depth as an actor to bring a believable sense of despair and ultimately, desperation to the lead character in this film. Still, the movie is visually brilliant, some of Spielberg’s most inventive work. And the other members of the cast are very good, especially a breakthrough performance from Colin Farrell and typical great work from Samantha Morton.

7. Adaptation – My favorite Charlie Kaufman film, depending on how much I allow myself to be annoyed by the ending. I get the idea, the joke. I get the idea in all of Kaufman’s film. that’s kind of the problem: he’s not as smart as people seem to think he is, and it seems he tries to be clever to cover up for that. His films end up being both too cute and too pretentious, and perhaps unrelated, very misanthropic. Being John Malkovich (#30, 1999) is the worst offender in this regard. But this, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind suffer from this flaw, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind much less so. What redeems this film for me are the great performances: Nicholas Cage in the dual lead role, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, and Tilda Swinton. The cast also includes Brian Cox, Ron Livingston, Judy Greer, Steven Tobolowsky and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

6. Catch Me If You Can – Speilberg’s film about the hunting down of a con artist is told with a light and breezy touch that’s very much a contrast to the darker sci-fi films that preceded it. Leonardo Di Caprio and Tom hanks are pretty good in the leads as the con man and the detective who spends years tracking him down. It’s got one of the best credit sequences ever, and it’s style nicely echos that 70s modern style of the film itself. The big problem, though, is that the film’s sheer length counteracts the effect of that lightness. The film drags toward the end, and it never really gives us anything to make that 141 minute length worthwhile. And I like long movies, generally speaking.

5. Bowling For Columbine – Yes, another flawed film, another film whose ending prevents it from being great. Just one of those years, I guess. Up until that ending, this is easily Michael Moore’s best, and most balanced (though I don’t especially care about that) film. The film has been pigeonholed as an attack on guns by a left wing wacko, an opinion that can only be reached by not actually watching the film. Instead, Moore questions whether or not guns are the problem, examines it from a number of angles, and ultimately concludes that they aren’t, that it’s our news media and politicians and the “culture of fear” they’ve created that’s the problem. This is why the attack on Charleton Heston at the end of the film is gratuitous and just plain mean-spirited. It does nothing to further the thesis of the film, or our understanding of the issue. All it does is make Heston look bad. But the cartoon’s hilarious.

4. The Two Towers – This one os tough to rate, because half of this movie are some of my favorite parts of the whole LOTR trilogy, while the other half are some of my least favorite. Put succinctly: Aragorn good, Frodo boring. More specifically, as an enormous geek, I hate how they changed the Frodo storyline to make the Faramir character more like his brother and less awesome. If you don’t know what I mean, you haven’t read the book and probably should stop reading this and go read it right now. The extended version of this one is essential. The storyline involving (the fairly dreadful) Liv Tyler only makes sense in the long version, and actually approaches being interesting as the love triangle between Aragorn, Arwyn and Eowyn is fleshed out. In the theatrical release, it was just confusing and annoying. The big battle scene at the end is, of course, worth the cheesy Sean Astin speeches at the end of the film.

3. Punch-Drunk Love – Director Paul Thomas Anderson followed the amazing, yet depressing Magnolia (#3, 1999) with this bizarre film starring Adam Sandler and Emily Watson. Generically, it’s almost impossible to place. It’s a romantic comedy that doesn’t try to be funny. A romantic drama that’s totally absurd and unbelievable. An Adam Sandler film that doesn’t have any jokes. The best I can do is call it a musical. It’s the music and the colors that matter. There exists the basic necessities of a plot and really only one character, Sandler’s, is developed in any kind of detail, albeit obliquely and never entirely satisfactorily. The film is all emotion, something that’s better conveyed with music and color and tone than backstory and psychology and jokes. A beautiful film, I can’t think of any I’d compare it to. . .maybe The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg, or a Powell and Pressburger masterpiece like The Red Shoes or Black Narcissus? Truffaut’s “joy of making cinema” at it’s finest.

2. City Of God – I avoided seeing this film for a long time, despite it playing my theatres in two separate runs and rave reviews from anyone who saw it. I had the mistaken impression that it would be another social commentary film about how tough it is to be a poor kid in the third world, a fact I empathize with but don’t feel the need to see a depressing film about. Imagine my surprise when I finally got around to watching it and discovered the best pure crime movie since Menace II Society (#7, 1993) or even Goodfellas (#2, 1990). The Goodfellas comparison is more common as both films cover a long stretch of time (the same stretch IIRC) and track their subjects from childhood through a rise to criminal power and eventual disastrous fall. It does have the richness in setting, style and characters that Goodfellas has, but in mindset it seems much closer to Menace to me, in that it’s more about escaping the senseless, chaotic violence of street gang life than it is a psuedo-glorification of the Mafia lifestyle. Seu Jorge’s character Knockout Ned is the character those other two films really lacked: the decent guy who gets sucked into the gang lifestyle but tries, but never really succeeds, to assert a sense of honor into it. He’s the opposite of Larenz Tate’s O-Dogg, the nihilistic psychopath. Seu Jorge is also the Brazilian singer who did all the great David Bowie covers in The Life Aquatic.

1. Hero – I almost swapped this and City Of God for ideological reasons. I have a feeling that Hero is perceived in the PRC as a justification for totalitarianism. The problem is Tony Leung’s rationale for renouncing his lifelong attempt to assassinate the evil Qin Emperor. He comes to the conclusion that “Our Land” needs to be unified, and that Qin is the only one who can unify it. Thus, an evil leader is to be tolerated because we need that powerful ruler to control us, otherwise, we have chaos. You can see how the present Chinese government might find that a comforting thought. Ultimately, though, I was convinced to let the film’s aesthetic merits overcome my objection. And the film truly is beautiful, certainly the most visually stunning martial arts movie ever made, which is saying a lot given the recent competition of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (#1, 2000) and director Zhang Yimou’s own follow-up to Hero, The House Of Flying Daggers. The cast is equally outstanding, with Jet Li finally getting the chance to star in an art movie, along with the great Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Donnie Yen and, of course, Zhang Ziyi. One of the higher priorities on my film to-do list is to watch Zhang Yimou’s earlier films, none of which I have, to my shame, ever seen.

Another year where the Unseen outnumbers the Movies I’ve seen. Despite playing My Big Fat Greek Wedding at my theatre for a year, I’m proud to say I have never, and will never, see it:

Infernal Affairs
Far From Heaven
In America
The Scorpion King
Whale Rider
The Transporter
Talk To Her
Bend It Like Beckham
Changing Lanes
Roger Dodger
The Quiet American
Dirty Pretty Things
Bubba Ho-Tep
Igby Goes Down
Death To Smoochy
The Good Girl
The Hours
One Hour Photo
About A Boy
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Panic Room
Road To Perdition
The Ring
The Pianist
To Be And To Have
The Powerpuff Girls Movie
Mr. Deeds
The Kid Stays In The Picture
Lost In La Mancha
The Four Feathers
The Truth About Charlie
Auto Focus
Femme Fatale
Personal Velocity
Star trek: Nemesis

3 thoughts on “Movies Of The Year: 2002

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