2002 was a very good year for out-of-the-mainstream movies. The summer blockbusters came and went, but little films like My Big Fat Greek Wedding had real staying power. Those who heed the reviews found a lot to like this year. Movies like Punch-Drunk Love, Interview with the Assassin, Igby Goes Down, and Dahmer came in with little fanfare, ignored by the megaplex crowd, but wowing the audiences they reached.
We’re also lucky to be in the midst the most ambitious, and possibly most successful, trilogy in a lifetime with Lord of the Rings coming out last year, this year, and next year.
So forget Star Trek, Signs, James Bond, and all his derivatives (XXX, Austin Powers, I Spy) and discover the outstanding movies of 2002.
As always, we hope this list does more for you than just rehash the year in movies. Hopefully you’ll re-evaluate some films you didn’t appreciate the first time around. Maybe you’ll even learn about some good movies that you missed. We hope you are surprised with at least one film on this list, and we hope there’s at least one you haven’t seen yet.
Here they are:
10. Sex & Lucia, Julio Medem
...because of Charlie Kaufman's maddeningly brilliant screenplay
All or Nothing
...because of Mike Leigh's bulletproof filmmaking style, which guarantees good performances and interesting, well-rounded characters
Bowling for Columbine
...for daring to say and ask things that nobody in the mainstream media is saying or asking
Brotherhood of the Wolf
..because of its amazing, haunted look
...because of two great performances and unstoppable energy. Changing Lanes almost made the top ten.
The Count of Monte Cristo
...for being the best "popcorn" picture of the year.
Interview with the Assassin
...because the story and acting overcame the budgetary restrictions of shooting on video. Interview with the Assassin almost made the top ten
...because of Paul Thomas Anderson's wonderfully surreal tale, and Sandler's first performance in a serious role. Punch-Drunk Love almost made the top ten.
...because of its optimistic, follow-your-dreams story, and because it told it with a G rating.
The Two Towers
...because it's part of a trilogy that may prove to be the biggest, grandest, most successful trilogy in a lifetime.
Not on the List
These films were on other top ten lists, but not Movie Habit's. Most were very good, but not good enough. Read on.
13 Conversations about One Thing
...because even with Nicholson giving one of the performances of the year, the film refuses to be taken seriously
Catch Me If You Can
...because as entertaining as it is, it lacks the substance for year-end greatness.
Lovely and Amazing
One Hour Photo
...because Williams' good performance can't make up for the novice filmmaking.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown
...because the filmmaking wasn't nearly as interesting as the subject matter
The Quiet American
Y Tu Mama Tambien
Because even without the sex, it’s a wonderful
tale about love and destiny, told well by a master storyteller.
Lorenzo is an author who has been stalked by Lucia. One day Lucia introduces herself and asks if she can move in with him because she has fallen in love. Out of the blue, Lorenzo agrees. But Lorenzo has a romantic past, including a daughter from another relationship. Between Lucia, his daughter, and his daughter’s babysitter, Lorenzo is trapped in a web of love.
The story’s structure gives a sense of magical delight and the simple joy of a story well told. Two timelines are intercut, and several storylines intersect at more than one point. Part of the fun of Sex & Lucía is tracing these threads back to their origins after the movie.
9. Scratch, Doug Pray
Because it’s an eye-opener to an entirely new form of music, and because Pray found a way to tell a story that didn’t lend itself to film.
Scratch is a great documentary about the birth of a new musical instrument — the turntable. The movie itself, at less than 90 minutes, is packed with informative and interesting interviews. The structure of this film is impeccable, which lends greatly to the quality of this (or any) documentary. The music is interesting, both to fans and newcomers alike. The Palm Pictures DVD adds another 255 minutes of bonus material, most of which is watchably good.
8. Dahmer, David Jacobson
Because it treats its sensational subject with seriousnes, curiosity, and sensitivity, without excusing Dahmer’s terrible crimes.
The movie tells the story of the notorious serial killer in two timelines. The first one is the older Jeffrey. He works in a chocolate factory and picks up gay men after his shift. The other timeline shows a younger Jeffrey trying to convince his father that he’s a normal teenager with typical teenage troubles, even though he has already slipped into murder and madness.
The key to this movie is the portrayal of Jeffrey Dahmer, which is outstanding. Up-and-comer Jeremy Renner looks a little like Tobey Maguire. He has that same shy, everyday, boy-next-door quality, mixed with some repressed energy. Renner brings to life both the older, more self-assured Dahmer, and the younger, terrified, self-loathing teenager.
7. Igby Goes Down, Burr Steers
Because Kieran Culkin’s "Holden Caulfield" character has enough charm and smarts to make his character likeable, and enough of a childish fragility to win your sympathy when necessary.
Igby (Kieran Culkin) is born to an upper class family in Connecticut. He hates his mother (Susan Sarandon), although it feels more like stifled rebellion than hatred. Both his parents are distant and troubled. Both would rather send Igby away to boarding school or military school than actually raise the boy themselves.
Much like Holden Caulfield, Igby leaves yet another school. Rather than go home to his mother and be sent off yet again, he decides to crash in New York wherever he can, wandering the streets, making friends, trying to figure things out.
But there is boredom and friendlessness and a sense of not belonging that speaks to anyone who’s ever been a teenager. Outside of his depression is a sharp, sarcastic wit and a literate intelligence that makes him more likeable and sympathetic.
6. Minority Report, Steven Spielberg
Because even though it is flawed, the visuals and story are strong enough to earn it a little forgiveness.
Despite some flaws, Minority Report has a good story that raises many interesting ethical issues. Three human mutants have the gift of precognition when it comes to murder. They are kept floating in a pool in a hypnotic state, connected to an elaborate system of computer displays, laser lathes, and glass tubing. This machinery is the interface to t he brains of the three “precogs,” and the master of the interface is John Anderton (Tom Cruise). His Precrime division has made hundreds of arrests for murders that were never committed, and Washington, D.C. is now the safest city in America. One day Anderton gets an indicator of a premeditated murder that will happen in a day and a half. As Anderton begins to investigate the scene of the future crime, he discovers that he himself will be the killer.
Director Steven Spielberg seems to have learned much from his collaboration with Stanley Kubrick. (Spielberg inherited A.I.: Artificial Intelligence from Kubrick). The movie has several tips of the hat to the great director, and a general visual style that is reminiscent of Kubrick. For better or worse, some Spielbergian pap seeps in to balance the Kubrick-style gravity.
5. Spirited Away, Hayao Miyazaki
Because Miyazaki’s animation has not been homogenized by Disney. It features places and creatures and spirits that you have never seen before, let alone imagined.
Young Chihiro gets lost in an amazing and dangerous fantasy world. Her parents who were turned into pigs when they ate a banquet meant for the spirits. At the center of this world is a bath house where flesh-and-blood creatures serve spirit-world customers.
The animation is a little choppy; it is not perfectly smooth, but that’s part of its appeal. It hasn’t all been computerized. It leaves plenty of room for human craftsmanship. The colors, textures, and settings are impressively beautiful, and the overall effect is mystical and magical, familiar and dreamlike.
4. Chicago, Rob Marshall
Because of all the great movies that came out this year, few have been as downright fun as this one.
Chicago is the film version of the stage musical that rose to popularity with a revival tour in the ’90s. It tells about the fall and rise of Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger), a young woman who dreams of being a big stage singer. She is arrested after killing her lover in a fit of anger. With the help of a brilliant, dishonest lawyer (Richard Gere), Roxie plays on the sympathies of the jury and the media to win a “not guilty.”
The fun corruption of morals allows for some wonderful, larger-than-life characters, and it’s fun to see movie stars — Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and character actor John C. Reilly — sing and dance. They don’t make them like this anymore. But with Moulin Rouge last year, and 8 Women and Chicago this year, maybe we’re in for another golden age of musicals.
3. Gangs of New York, Martin Scorsese
Because its sheer size and ambition earn it a recommendation and
possibly an Oscar or two for the art department. There is room for criticism on the densely-packed screen, but not a lot.
Gangs of New York is epic. The words “sweeping” and “spectacle” probably ought to be used too.
The real star of the movie is production designer Dante Ferretti, working under Scorsese’s careful eye. Together, they bring this Dickensian paean to NYC to life. Their obsessive attention to detail — particularly costumes, sets, and props — pays off. The sum total of their efforts is something amazing: a living, breathing, bleeding portrait of old New York, as colorful and violent as the old west.
2. The Piano Teacher, Michael Haneke
Because the drama, though largely unspoken and "unexplained," is exactly and believably conveyed by two outstanding actors under a director who knows how to use them.
Erika is a piano teacher, and a figure of sexual repression. Her desires are quite abnormal. We are privy to a couple of Erika’s sexual outlets. Neither one makes sense, any more than a Catholic priest’s molestation of a child. But like the priest, Erika never learned about sex, either physically or emotionally. The few things that give her pleasure might seem “disgusting,” but given her repressive background, it may be all she knows.
A student named Walter tries out for Erika’s master class, hoping to score with the teacher. Walter is a healthy, red-blooded French boy, in stark contrast to Erika’s dark sexual persona. What emerges is an outstanding dramatic story in which the conflict is unspoken and actions are unexplained. The demanding roles are filled by Isabelle Huppert and Benoit Magimel, both of whom won best acting honors at Cannes for this film, causing the organizing committee to change the rules to keep this from happening again.
1. Far from Heaven, Todd Haynes
Because Haynes approaches his elaborate style with sincerity, skill, and an eye for detail. He finds a way to make this type of movie relevant, even fifty years later, without modernizing it too much.
Many modern films have been set in the fifties, but Todd Haynes takes it a step further. He makes a movie that looks like it was made in the fifties. The difference is that issues of race, sexuality, fidelity, and alcoholism were used obliquely, if at all, in the cinema of fifty years ago. Nowadays, filmmakers are freer to openly discuss these issues.
In this perfect setting lives a perfect family. Carol and Frank (Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid) are raising two perfect children with the help of their colored maid Sybil. Frank works for Magnatech, a company that makes TVs and radios, while Carol stays home with the kids, running errands and setting up social functions.
But Frank is having an affair (and not with another woman), and Carol is becoming dangerously close friends with their black gardener.
Visually, the film is outstanding. In every corner is some well-observed artifact of the era. Even the setting is carefully controlled to reflect the mood of the film while still maintaining a visual integrity. The opening technicolor autumn (borrowed from All that Heaven Allows) transitions into a lifeless and dreary winter.
Maybe by telling a story as though this were the fifties is his way of showing us just how far we haven’t come. Perhaps all that’s changed is that these problems face us more directly, less subtly than they used to.