This piece was originally written for Epinions.com. An archive version of it can be found here. Links have been updated.
I’ma just say it…
The last 3 or 4 months of 2002 were a big f*cking letdown. I wasn’t impressed by any of the late offerings. They were predictable, well made mostly, but predictably cloying, melodramatic, and sweeping (down to the score, kids). Even the Sundance offering had the feeling of wanting to be independent, without actually achieving it.
In short…it all seemed to be business as usual dressed up as great filmmaking.
But strangely, the movies I did adore weren’t mind-blowing technically. Weren’t original in the sense of screaming their conceit to you a la Adaptation, daring you to hate them for being self-consciously in love with their own cleverness. Weren’t showy in the casting of great actors who cry, scream, loose or gain weight, play down or play up and off of beauty. Weren’t Big Films, with all the fanfare and hype that ensures that you’ll either automatically love it upon purchase of ticket or hate it just to be “different” and “original”. (I wonder if this list’ll make me the latter).
While 1999, for instance, was a flashy year, their seemed to be heart and soul underneath the pomp and circumstance. American Beauty might have been doggedly linear and showy, it still resonated in the way in which the characters interacted. In films like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Adaptation the characters seemed to suit the whims and egos of the writers, directors, and movie star/actors who wanted a “cool” Gen-X Kaufmann film on their resume to remind the public that it, after all, is really about the craft.
All that said, here is my list of enjoyable and well made and flat out stellar films of 2002.
Note: I chose 13 films because I thought it would be fun, because I can (it’s my list) and because even though I hated most of the films I saw this year, I still saw more than 10 superb films.
13. Tim Story’s Barbershop
Barbershop is the kind of film Hollywood wants you to believe are what they are really about. Relevant, but not too relevant. Formulaic, without being mindless. A crowdpleaser, without pandering too much. And it is all those things. But it represents a benchmark in the black comedy…one that is rooted in the humor of our people, the culture of our people, and the struggle of our people. Oh, and Ice Cube gives a strong nuanced performance that proves Three Kings wasn’t a fluke.
12. Sandra Goldbacher’s Me Without You
Michelle Williams is the kind of actress who continually surprises you because she never seems to be acting. She is the actress who is beautiful but can just seem to fit in whatever film environment she is given. That, admittedly, has next to nothing to do with her acting at all. Luckily, she can do that in ways the talented, but overrated Katie Holmes, can’t. Me Without You is a film about the friendship of two British girls (Williams and Anna Friel). It’s not really anything new but the levels of said friendship are so unique to who these girls are that you will be surprised how you will forgive the somewhat predictable plot (which is really just incidental).
11. Peter Bogdanovich’s The Cat’s Meow
Damn if Kirsten Dunst isn’t the most amazing young actress working. Not because she’s the best…she isn’t. But just because she will take a part that you wouldn’t expect her to be able to do and nails it. Her Marion Davies is not quite as dumb or disloyal as one might first think. Dunst always keeps you wondering. The fun of the film lies in watching these characters become more and more ridiculous and self-conscious. It makes for a difficult and oddly prurient film experience.
10. Rob Marshall’s Chicago
Just plain fun. Not much else really. Great casting. Great singing and imaginative structure make for a surprisingly weighty musical. Even with Mya. Kudos to John C Reilly and Queen Latifah for reminding me there really isn’t anything they can’t do.
9. Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven
I was a fan of Velvet Goldmine and from that I watched Safe. All hail visual stylists who can find the heart in scripts too. I’ve heard many interpretations of the film, but to me I found that by making the film as authentic to the style of 50’s filmmaking and moires, Haynes used Moore’s character to poke holes of reality into it. It’s subtle and not overbearing which can make it drag in places, but it’s important in making the point that film doesn’t really represent life, but an idea of what life could, should, or would be depending on the filmmaker.
8. Roger Avary’s The Rules of Attraction
Damn if this film isn’t more impressive now that I’ve seen it on DVD. Unlike the self-consciousness of some of the late 2002 entries, the style serves the characters, the story, and what I see as the message of the film…that yes the 20’s are hard, but only because it is hard when you realize you aren’t the center of the universe. James Van Der Beek’s performance is quite good, but it’s really Ian Somerhalder who makes the film. Daring, bold, and remarkably nuanced, Somerhalder defines the role of the self-loathing 20-something. (That really is a compliment, most actors can’t do it)
7. Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Anyone who uses “It doesn’t have an ending or a beginning” as a reason to slight Jackson’s masterpiece is really stupid. It’s like going ice skating and complaining about the cold. You knew it would be cold. That said, really all there is to say is that Legolas is f*cking cool.
6. Spike Lee’s The 25th Hour
I absolutely can not understand how Spike’s style and design are continually maligned, when the prevailing styles of anyone from Scorsese (sweeping, almost ungainly, films) to Spielberg (self-righteously sentimental at the expense of common sense and character) to Allen (nebbish Jewish guy infatuated with younger women) define their genius and the adoration they enjoy, but with Spike (the didactic structure, casting himself, and dolly shot) are what he is crucified with. I’d scream racism, but that isn’t it…not entirely. It’s simply the fact that Spike doesn’t have the answers, knows it and will make you realize you don’t either. And isn’t that kind of depressing…America is so great.
Anyway, The 25th Hour isn’t really a typical Lee flick. It is more about one man’s reevaluation of his life and less about society’s involvement in making us who we are (although that is there a bit too). It makes for a film that critics loved just because. Lucky for Spike, it really is that good. I enjoyed the dynamics of the characters and it is sweet when you find that Spike can still be great with actual three-dimensional characters. Big ups to Barry Pepper for a truly astonishing performance…who knew?
5. Todd Solondz’ Storytelling
I loved this film, good Lord, I did. I love when the curtain we place around our security and sheltered existence is ripped away. No one does that better than Solondz. He did it with adolescence in Welcome to the Dollhouse and suburban sprawl in Happiness. Now he takes it to the abstract with Fiction and Non-Fiction. Playing with the ideas of how we define it, how it manifests itself and, ultimately, what it means, Solondz exposes our society’s hypocrisies (none more so than the infamous “rape” scene). Kudos to Mark Webber for a truly stunning performance as Scooby.
4. Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mama Tambien
Teen comedy, my ass! This film was sadder than most films that were shoved down our throats as weepy dramas (The Hours, anyone?). It was poetic, lyrical, and honest. It’s the kind of film that is frank without being aware of it and funny without being obnoxious. Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal make adolescence look like more joy and pain than any actors in recent memory.
3. Almodovar’s Talk To Her
You know what. I loved it. It was flawless and if you want to know why read d_fienberg‘s review. I couldn’t have said it any better. I told Dan I was working on a review, but I never finished it. It’s sitting on my computer. But the gist is that Almodovar loves to find the humanity in what is most disturbing and off kilter to the mainstream. He enjoys examining how people rationalize their fetishes, their desires. He does it without once belittling and few can say that.
2. Burr Steers’ Igby Goes Down
Finally a film that makes me feel some sympathy for spoiled self-centered rich white boys. It never seemed earned before. But Steers has made a film that exists in the world of the upper class without really defining the film by it. It’s a film defined almost entirely by the ghost of one character, Bill Pullman’s Jason. Through that absence one is supposed to filter Igby’s experience. Why wasn’t Culkin nominated? Or Sarandon? Shit even, Ryan Phillippe, who proves in the DVD deleted scenes, that his portrayal was more nuanced that I’d previously believed…he keeps this up I might forget 54.
1. Peter Care’s The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
I enjoyed that this film didn’t make fun of religion. I enjoyed that the characters were believably awkward and not that scripted stammering crap TV actors do with adolescents. I liked that there has never been a young girl as tragic and complex for me as Jena Malone’s Margie Flynn. I loved that the animation complemented and broadened the depth and meaning of the boys, the film and religion. I loved that it was so good you had to hate it for being predictable. I loved it because Kieran Culkin is clearly more deserving of all the hoopla Jake Gyllenhaal is getting but, because he is not, will probably keep on making great films.
THE INDIE OUTPUT…Tadpole, The Good Girl, Moonlight Mile, and Pumpkin
I bet on paper, these all seemed like great flicks. Mike White proves with The Good Girl that I wasn’t wrong about Chuck and Buck he does sacrifice three dimensional characters for the sake of making a point. Moonlight Mile forgot to tell the audience what it was about until Jake Gyllenhaal brilliant crying scene about 2/3 of the way into the film. Tadpole did have Bebe Neuwirth (and that brilliant restaurant scene) and that makes everything better. And well, as far as Pumpkin…lets just remember 1998 as Christina Ricci’s year.
Minority Report and Punch-Drunk Love
Simply put, you fell for the hooks. The Intelligent Popcorn Flick. The Branching Out of Adam Sandler a la Jim Carrey. And you were baited, gutted, and fried up with some lemon and butter. Really people, Minority Report…why did home granny kiss Tom and why did the nurse chick grab Tom’s butt…no one can give me an acceptable reason. And yes, I realize that you have to accept that Sandler’s persona fuels the film, but once the tank is full, shouldn’t someone steer? Worth seeing? Yes. Worth all the love and hoopla? HELLS NO!!!!!!!!!!!!
3. Catch Me If You Can
5. Gangs of New York
6. The Bourne Identity
7. Brown Sugar
8. About Schmidt
9. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
10. The Importance of Being Earnest
Best Actor-Kieran Culkin Igby Goes Down
runner up-Mark Webber Storytelling
Best Actress-(tie) Julianne Moore Far From Heaven
runner up-Jena Malone Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys
Best Director-Almodovar Talk To Her
runner up-Peter Jackson
Best Supporting Actor-(tie) Michael Ealy Barbershop Christopher Walken Catch Me If You Can
Best Supporting Actress-(tie)Queen Latifah Chicago and Susan Sarandon in Igby Goes Down and Moonlight Mile
Award for Actor who made a lot of bad movies but was fine in them. Jake Gyllenhaal.
1. Emilie Hirsch The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
2. Mark Webber Storytelling
3. Maggie Gyllenhaal Secretary
4. Michelle Williams Me Without You
5. Emily Mortimer Lovely and Amazing
6. Bill Pullman Igby Goes Down
7. Adam Sandler Punch-Drunk Love
8. Salma Hayek Frida
9. Matthew McConaughey Frailty
So that’s it. And yes I saw About Schmidt and all these other flicks..they were aight.