The Good, the Bad and the Downright Awful

For the first few months of 2002, it looked like we were in for a very, very dry season of movies. There were for a long time precious few bright spots — The Count of Monte Cristo and the overlooked Crush being notable exceptions. Of course, things finally improved and while I don’t think 2002 was quite up there with 2001, neither was it anything like an outright disaster either. By year’s end, I’d weighed in with a whopping 160 movies. And considering the fact that list includes films like Slackers, Blue Crush and Pinocchio, I think you’ll admit that’s a fairly daunting number. Certainly it’s a sufficient cross-section to come up with a set of Ten Best … and Ten Worst.

It’s always interesting to go back over reviews. The time factor — see a film, review a film almost immediately afterwards — can result in some head-scratching on down the line. For example, The Ring, upon subsequent viewings and further reflection, actually seems better to me now than it did when I reviewed it. On the other hand, Signs looks worse and worse as time goes by.

Unfortunately, certain important — or potentially so — late-in-the-year releases were not available for screening in time to consider them here. As a result, you’ll notice that my Ten Best list is shy of such much-talked-about contenders as Chicago, The Hours and About Schmidt — films that could certainly have skewed things. It’s also worth noting that there were a lot of good — even great — films that couldn’t be included. After all, a list of only ten films is confining. I’d have been far happier with 15 or even 20. Certainly The Cat’s Meow, Enigma, Crush, Femme Fatale, Possession and Last Orders deserve honorable mentions. But when looking over the 2002 releases, don’t pass over such titles as 8 Women, Antwone Fisher, Barbershop, Bloody Sunday, Bowling for Columbine, Bread and Tulips, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, Death to Smoochy, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Frida, The Good Girl, Harrison’s Flowers, Hollywood Ending, The Importance of Being Earnest, Insomnia, Italian for Beginners, Kissing Jessica Stein, Lantana, Lovely and Amazing, Max, Monsoon Wedding, Moonlight Mile, Mostly Martha, Nine Queens, The Ring, Secretary, Simone, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing and The Truth About Charlie.

So here — after much shifting around and refiguring — are the results for 2002.

The Ten Best

1. The Rules of Attraction. This isn’t everybody’s choice for the best film of 2002; in fact, it’s hardly anybody’s choice. And I can understand that. The film is unrelentingly grim and, on several levels, unpleasant. It’s a hard movie to like, but an impossible one to ignore. I think it was very misunderstood, and that it had a lot to say to those willing to get beyond the surface — and it said it with more cinematic invention than just about anything else I can name this year. Try it again after the DVD comes out in February — at which time it won’t be cut by nine minutes to get the R rating it had in the theaters.

2. Lilo and Stitch. Yes, it’s a cartoon — but it’s a cartoon with more heart and invention than most live-action films out there.

3. Gangs of New York. For my money, this is the best movie Martin Scorsese has ever made. It’s big. It’s bold. It’s breathtaking. Yet it’s also recognizably human — and it boasts the performance of a lifetime from Daniel Day-Lewis.

4. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Like Gangs of New York, this is an epic, and no mistake about it — though it’s a very different epic in its use of state-of-the-art technology. Peter Jackson continues the brilliance he evidenced in The Fellowship of the Ring, and what this entry in the Tolkien trilogy loses in emotional resonance, it makes up for in sheer size, scope and imagination.

5. Punch-Drunk Love. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant critique of the screen persona of Adam Sandler was one of the year’s brightest offerings. By turns funny, sad, vicious and outrageously romantic, it’s Anderson’s tightest — and best — film yet.

6. The Emperor’s New Clothes. Almost no one saw this charming, yet far from shallow, little comedy about what “really” happened to Napoleon after his exile. Co-writer and director Allan Taylor crafted a beautiful, funny, touching film with a great Ian Holm performance at its center. If you missed it in the theater (and you probably did), do yourself a favor and rent the tape or the DVD, which is already out.

7. Y Tu Mama Tambien. Alfonso Cuaron’s fantastic rethinking of the “road/buddy” film is quite probably the best movie to come out of Mexico since Luis Bunuel’s heyday. It’s a quietly shattering film that left me in mind of Gertrude Stein’s matter-of-factly disheartening declaration, “Little by little we never met again.” At the same time, the film is life-affirming in its wholehearted embrace of its characters and their humanity. It’s a movie that’s apt to offend some and make others uncomfortable. It’s also a movie that needs to be seen.

8. About a Boy. Chris and Paul Weitz have come a long, long way from things like American Pie and Down to Earth with this wonderful film version of Nick Hornby’s novel. Warm, humorous and real, it’s a lot more than the romantic-comedy you might expect — in fact, it’s not really a romantic comedy at all. It also contains one of Hugh Grant’s most wholly successful performances.

9. Road to Perdition. This is something of a mixed blessing from director Sam Mendes (who made the overrated American Beauty). It’s undeniably brilliant filmmaking. It has strong performances — including a daring one from Tom Hanks — yet it’s also strangely airless and uninvolving. Still, so much is right about it, and it’s all done with such style and panache, that it overcomes its flaws.

10. Far from Heaven. Todd Haynes’ savvy riff on the 1950s films of Douglas Sirk is an amazing tour de force of filmmaking that finally transcends its sheer cleverness by virtue of its own emotional force — and three dynamic lead performances. The film isn’t perfect: Dennis Quaid’s character isn’t as fully formed as it ought to have been to stand next to those of Julianne Moore and Dennis Haysbert, but his performance and the film’s overall power compensate.

Best Foreign-Language Film

1. Y Tu Mama Tambien

2. Bread and Tulips

3. Iitalian for Beginners

Best Director

1. Roger Avary, The Rules of Attraction

2. Peter Jackson, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

3. Brian De Palma, Femme Fatale

Best Actor

1. Daniel Day Lewis, Gangs of New York

2. Adam Sandler, Punch-Drunk Love

3. Dennis Quaid, Far from Heaven

Best Actress

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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