Top ten films of 2002
By JOSHUA TANZER and DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
This is the place where we introduce our top 10 lists every year by making some crack about
the latest incredibly lame vehicles for unfunny "Saturday Night Live" alums like Rob Schneider
and David Spade and . . . uh, wait a minute, what's Adam Sandler doing on both our
top 10 lists? It may not have been a great year at the movies but there were certainly a few
(NOTE: Every year we ponder whether to
include those last-week-of-December award-bait flicks with the prior year or the following year,
so usually we just list them in the year when we and the rest of the country had a chance
to see them. Conversely, if we see a terrific film in a festival or a onetime screening, we
don't wait around for its official release if we think it's so great.)
See Joshua's list |
See David's list
Other Top 10's: 2003 | 2001 | 2000 |
1. The Slaughter Rule (unreleased)
The perfect example of how a low-budget independent can have more impact than most
star-driven Hollywood blockbusters by telling a small story that feels original
and different because it comes from a corner of human existence where nobody was
looking before. In this case, it's a story about six-man football in rural Montana
and before you decide you're not interested in that, know that it's not a
"football movie" about who wins the big game, it's a people movie about complex
human relationships, masculinity, love and brutality at the edge of America. Actor
David Morse is brilliant to the point of frightening. Look for this movie in selected
cities in early 2003. (New Directors, New Films festival)
2. Punch-Drunk Love
The best surprise about "Punch-Drunk Love" is that Adam
Sandler is not ADAM SANDLER he doesn't mug or rant or yuk
it up. He plays his character down the middle, giving him room to be his
unpredictable self alternately funny, odd, pathetic and
dangerous. Paul Thomas Anderson's filmmaking is also unpredictable at
every turn, defying expectations without ever having to announce its own
3. Waydowntown (Canadian)
This Canadian black comedy didn't stick around long in
theaters but it's a workplace satire subtler and sharper-witted than
"Office Space" or "Clockwatchers." Four young cubicle dwellers who live,
work, eat and fool around under cover of Calgary's mall-like downtown
make a bet about which one can go the longest without ever setting foot
outside. Their creeping insanity is a mirror of the life all of us take
for granted in office parks and shopping malls everywhere.
4. Read My Lips (French)
Starts as the kind of hyperreal cinema-verite workplace drama that the French have been specializing in
in recent years, with the added complication that the heroine is deaf. Turns into an exciting
thriller with obvious references to Hitchcock, with the added complication that the heroine
is deaf. Terrific.
5. Scotland, PA
You don't have to even know you're being told the "Macbeth"
story set in a 1970s fast-food restaurant to enjoy "Scotland, PA" but
it doesn't hurt. Shakespeare's tragedy is reinvented as a contemporary
comedy that works beautifully on its own terms. (Though admittedly my
colleague David didn't think
so.) Among the many clever '70s-nostalgia touches, Christopher
Walken is terrific as a "Columbo"-like Macduff, and the leads James
LeGros and Maura Tierney are excellent too.
6. The Pinochet Case (Chilean)
Alongside the same filmmaker's documentaries "The
Battle of Chile" and "Chile, Obstinate Memory," this film completes the
history of the 1973 Chilean coup and its aftermath. Following the
efforts to bring dictator Augusto Pinochet to justice, the film gives
voice to surviving torture victims who had never told their stories up
to now, and gives glimpses of the official culture that puts the
nominally democratic governments of the West in bed with vicious dictators.
7. Justifiable Homicide
Filmmakers Jon Osman and Jonathan Stack follow the
story of a triple shooting by police in the Bronx, officially ruled a
justifiable homicide despite considerable evidence to the contrary, and
the subsequent founding of Parents Against Police Brutality. A must for
anybody who's forgotten how the NYPD earned its pre-9/11 reputation and
why a lot of people hated Rudy Giuliani before he was anointed a
8. Late Marriage (Israeli)
It would be hard to recommend a film with a plot this slim
the same old story about the boy with the secret love affair that
his controlling family forbids if not for a couple of outstanding
ingredients. Number one, a sex scene that must last half an hour and
leaves you saying, wow, yeah, that's exactly what it's like. The actors
are neither posing nor concealing. It just feels like life, not a movie.
And number two, I left the theater just plain mad at the characters. All
of them, the bastards. It's in some ways the feel-bad movie of the year,
but it definitely touches some nerves too. Give it credit for
9. Comeuppance (Hong Kong, unreleased)
It's the mafia movie for people like me who
hate mafia movies. Somebody's mysteriously bumping off the most
untouchable mob bosses in Hong Kong and the police are having trouble
figuring out who in fact, they're not sure they want it to stop.
A little genre-required gore and machismo go a long way in this dark
10. 25th Hour
Spike Lee revisits the question of doing the right thing with
the story of a drug dealer's last day of freedom and what he's learned
from life so far. Sept. 11 is a presence in the movie, but I think
that's because it was a presence in the life of New York at the time,
not because there's a definitive statement on the subject here. Except
this: The trademark Spike Lee digression in which Edward Norton rants,
"Fuck the Korean shopkeepers. . . . Fuck the NYPD.
. . . Fuck the Dominicans. . . . Fuck the uptown
brothers. . . . " begins to sound like its opposite
a big love letter to the city, like a backhanded version of Woody
Allen's paean to Manhattan in "Manhattan."
Honorary member: The Isle
This Korean film was on my list last year
when it appeared in the "When Korean Film
Attacks" festival and landed me
Page Six as the queasy critic who passed out at a
press screening. It enjoyed an extended run this spring and summer, and
deservedly so because it's a stomach-churningly beautiful film.
Talk To Her.
More honorable mentions:
Kissing Jessica Stein,
Y Tu Mama Tambien, Insomnia,
All About Lily Chou-Chou, Dinner Rush, The Sunshine State,
Devils on the Doorstep.
Yugoslavia, the Avoidable War,
followed by Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Pumpkin.
Most overrated: Far From Heaven
As one of the only two critics
in America not fawning over "Far From Heaven" (the other being
David, below) I feel compelled to comment that it is just not a very good
movie. A shallowly written melodrama with caricatures instead of
characters, it feels about as real as a Nancy Drew mystery. Dennis
Quaid, in particular, is given nothing to do but look dour and anguished
and that just reflects the fact that the movie is not truly about
his character's struggle as a 1950s gay husband. (I wouldn't mind seeing
that movie, actually, if somebody made it for real.) So what is it
about? It's a movie about nostalgia, fabulous outfits and interior
decoration, which skims the no-longer-so-dangerous issues of anti-gay and racial
discrimination to give itself a patina of social significance that it
hasn't really earned.
Also overrated: Real Women Have Curves, Thirteen Conversations About One
(In alphabetical order.)
About a Boy
Nick ("High Fidelity") Hornby's acerbic, best selling novel is lovingly and articulately
brought to the screen by screenwriters Peter Hedges ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape") and the
brothers Weitz (who also direct). In a role he wasn't exactly born to play, Hugh Grant is
staggeringly good as a narcissistic 30-something do-nothing who cruises single-parent support
groups looking for chicks until he meets his match in 12-year-old Marcus (Nicholas Hoult),
the misfit son of one such emotionally vulnerable woman (the ever dependable Toni Collette).
"About a Boy" is an irresistible coming-of-age story that convincingly mixes wit with substance.
As for Grant himself, it's simply the best work he's ever committed to celluloid.
Bowling for Columbine
Incendiary filmmaker Michael Moore ("Roger & Me") is at it again in
"Bowling for Columbine," an arch, humorous, and altogether scary look at
American gun culture. Taking the Littleton, Colorado high school tragedy
as his catalyst, the cuddly, disheveled Moore interviews Columbine
survivors, prominent officials, and celebrities (among them Marilyn
Manson, Matt Stone, and National Rifle Association president Charlton
Heston) and blends these commentaries with a deft mix of archive
footage, media coverage, "South Park"-inspired animation, and his own
inimitable, confrontational style (K-Mart stopped selling ammunition in
their stores as a direct result of Moore's attempts to return some
bullets still embedded in a pair of Littleton teens!). "Bowling for
Columbine" a documentary which forces you to think even if you'd prefer
not to isn't always pretty, but it's never less than disarming.
Hilary Swank ("Boys Don't Cry") is a principal among men in "Insomnia,"
Christopher Nolan's straightforward (compared to last year's "Memento"
that is) yet beautifully acted, edited, and photographed film based upon
a 1997 Norwegian thriller. "Insomnia" also stars Al Pacino as an L.A.
detective who journeys to Nightmute, Alaska to solve a local murder of a
young girl and Robin Williams as lead suspect Walter Finch, a Nightmute
novelist who was one of the last people to see the girl alive. The
spectacular Alaskan scenery, with its mile-high pine trees, encroaching
glaciers smooth as glass, and the desolate, rain-swept streets of
Nightmute, is awe-inspiring, but so too is Swank as rookie cop Ellie
The Kid Stays in the Picture
A captivating documentary about movie mogul Robert Evans "Rosemary's
Baby," "Love Story," "The Godfather," etc. Producers Brett Morgen and
Nanette Burstein chronicle Evans's rise (and subsequent fall, including
a failed marriage to actress Ali MacGraw, a cocaine bust, and rumored
ties to a "'Cotton Club" murder) through a variety of effective
techniques, including the use of 3D cutouts, computer animation, archive
photographs, newsreel footage, and a smoky voiceover from Evans himself.
It's a motion picture of which the film's subject should be eminently
proud, an entertaining, slickly produced, and eminently satisfying
Lucia Y El Sexo (Sex and Lucia) (Spanish)
Call it "Y Tu Mam‡ Tambiˇn" lite, but "Sex and Luc’a" was the
year's other sexy foreign road movie . . . and a fascinating one at that!
Spanish director Julio Medem's narratively challenging film (culled,
apparently, from two separate shooting scripts) starts at the end,
almost, and tells the bulk of its story through flashbacks coming back
upwards through the middle and then dropping, like a stone, into a hole
at the end (to start all over again?). Medem shoots most of the
Mediterranean island scenes (and the very naked Paz Vega, who turns in a
brave and controlled performance as the eponymous Luc’a, seeking out
life's meaning after her boyfriend appears to have been killed in an
automobile accident) in this white hot bleached-out digital style that
brings his picture to life, arousing the senses and the imagination in
Le Pacte des Loups (Brotherhood of the Wolf)
OK, so it's not exactly Art (although sometimes it aspires to be)
but in terms of sheer escapist fare "Brotherhood of the Wolf" was
probably The most fun I've spent in a movie theater this year (in that
Saturday morning serial/comic book tradition that out muscles Spidey,
Bond even Indiana Jones!). Bloody, busty, and just plain bizarre,
"Brotherhood of the Wolf" features Samuel Le Bihan as
naturalist/philosopher cum beastmaster Grˇgoire de Fronsac, the
strikingly handsome Mark Decascos as his mysterious Iroquois shaman
Mani, and Vincent Cassel ("Birthday Girl") as the bitter, one-armed
Jean-Fran¨ois de Morangias, all out to slay the mystical Beast of
Gˇvaudan that's been tearing hapless French peasants limb from limb.
"Brotherhood'" is an extravagant and unashamed crossover hit, part
period piece, part werewolf movie, part martial arts actioner, and even
though the telltale beast, when it finally does appear, is a dud, this
highly entertaining (if gory) romp is anything but. File under O (for
Adam Sandler starring in the best film of 2002!? Who'd have thunk it.
Few filmmakers challenge, surprise, and excite us quite like P.T.
Anderson but the writer/director of "Magnolia" and "Boogie Nights" does
it again with "Punch-Drunk Love," a brilliantly twisted romantic comedy
in which a slightly dim-witted novelty toilet plunger salesman (Sandler)
falls for wide-eyed Emily Watson. No frogs this time, just a phone-sex
ring, a harmonium, and enough Healthy Choice pudding snack coupons to
earn this fabulous film the byline of "frequent flyer." Simply put, it's
An electrifying film debut from writer/director Dylan Kidd, "Roger
Dodger" features Campbell Scott ("Big Night") as a suave, witty,
smooth-talking ladykiller who takes his 16-year-old nephew Nick under
his wing one night in order to show him the tricks of his trade. Kidd's
film is claustrophobic and crafty; Scott is razor sharp and remarkable.
But hats off too to Jesse Eisenberg (as Nick), Isabella Rossellini (as
Roger's boss Joyce), plus Jennifer Beals and Elizabeth Berkley as a pair
of nightclub patrons who find themselves on the receiving end of some of
Roger's tantalizingly outrageous come-ons. Talky and terrific.
As conceived by the great Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki
("Princess Mononoke"), "Spirited Away" is an incomparable blend of solid
storytelling and endlessly imaginative visuals. Known as the Japanese
Walt Disney, Miyazaki reminds us constantly that we're not in Hollywood
anymore his film has elements that surprise and amuse at every turn,
images that are consistently fresh and original. There's depth and
complexity to Miyazaki's tale: it's artful and courageous, haunting and
evocative a breathtakingly magical animated fable that truly lifts your
spirits and carries you away to a world far beyond your wildest
Y Tu Mama Tambien (Mexican)
"Y Tu Mam‡ Tambiˇn" proves that Alfonso Cuar—n's delightful "A
Little Princess" (one of my top films of 1995) was no fluke. It's a
dynamic and dynamite coming-of-age road movie filled with laughter,
charm, eroticism, self-discovery, sadness, juvenile high jinks . . . and is
one of the most honest depictions of youth, of adolescence approaching
adulthood, to have come out of Mexico (or any other country for that
matter!). Cuaron's film excites from the first frame to the last but
what makes "Y Tu Mam‡ Tambiˇn" so rewarding is its complexity the depth
of its political convictions, the lush cinematography, the attention to
detail, the cleverness of the writing, the boldness of the sex scenes,
and the inventiveness of its narration. Starring Diego Luna and "Amores
Perros"?s Gael Garcia Bernal as a pair of libidinous teens and the
outstanding Maribel Verdu as the sexy distant cousin ten years their
senior who teaches them to be men.
|DECEMBER 31, 2002|
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