2002 will go down as a year of an extraordinary number of good movies. With a longer list, I would have also included among my best: Gangs of New York, Italian for Beginners, Stuart Little 2, Frida, One Hour Photo, The Good Girl, Antwone Fisher, Ice Age, The Bourne Identity, White Oleander, Drumline, A Shot at Glory and the re-release of E.T. The Extraterrestrial.
The Ten Best
1. The Rookie. Dennis Quaid shines as the over-age pitcher who follows his dream to the major leagues. It’s a classic example of true-story, low-budget American filmmaking.
2. Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. A mature, unforgettable and sweeping tale of the Old West told from the perspective of a noble, courageous horse. This is animated storytelling and technology at its best.
3. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Harry and his wizardly gang are a year older than in Sorcerer’s Stone, and a year braver and more clever — and so are their enemies. A wonderful heroic adventure that will only improve with age.
4. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. This is majestic filmmaking of a mythic story where the good guys are clearly delineated, and all the women are mesmerizingly beautiful. The computer-generated character Gollum haunts the screen with his internal war between good and evil.
5. Road to Perdition. Tom Hanks and Paul Newman have never been better in this tale of loyalty conflicting with gruesome truth, where a father and his son set off on a road to revenge. A multi-layered, morally complicated, big-action tale.
6. Insomnia. Robin Williams and Al Pacino fight to the finish as equally guilty men on opposite sides of the law. Fascinating, unnerving and masterfully done.
7. NARC. Ray Liotta and Jason Patric star in this dark, violent, complex tale of cop corruption at its most insidious. Too intense for the naive.
8. Catch Me If You Can. Leonardo DiCaprio is the outrageous and charming young imposter who keeps FBI agent Tom Hanks on the hunt in this true-life story that improves on the screen. It’s impossible to not like this movie.
9. The Wild Thornberrys Movie. A surprisingly terrific kids’ animated film with a rare species as the lead character: a little girl. Funny, exciting, clever, it’s worth renting a kid to go see it.
10. Bowling for Columbine. Michael Moore’s expertly done no-holds-barred commentary on America’s culture of violence. Don’t believe anybody who tells you it’s objective.
The Ten Worst
1. Jackass: The Movie. Complete doo-doo. Ken Hanke will owe me for life for making me review this dreck.
2. All or Nothing. A lazy, slobby husband and his son in England blame the boy’s hard-working mother for the family’s troubles. Jerks, get a life!
3. Master of Disguise. Despite great costumes and makeup, ordinarily amusing comic Dana Carvey is merely puerile in a part that should have been played by a real kid.
4. Half Past Dead. Steven, honey, who knee-chopped you to do this stupid project? Great action scenes, but the rest of it is brainless.
5. XXX. Vin Diesel, the sexiest bald guy on the screen, hasn’t yet figured out that he needs to shave off the ugly excess in his films as well as whatever crops up atop his head.
6. Tadpole. A know-it-all rich kid concludes that older women aren’t really everything he dreams them to be. It’s the wrong conclusion, of course, but the kid is too self-absorbed to ever find out the truth.
7. The Banger Sisters. Oh, Goldie and Suzie, why didn’t you insist on a re-write of this script? It’s a great grownup-chick-flick premise trivialized by one-minute soap -psychology.
8. Legend of the Red Dragon. Fantastic kung fu choreography ruined by a mindless script, and the worst dubbed dialogue in the history of filmmaking.
9. Signs. A major disappointment. Who cares about Mel Gibson interpreting crop circles with half-baked spiritual philosophizing? Just give us the darn aliens.
10. Adaptation. I know everybody else is raving about this movie — but did they really watch the whole thing and see how it completely fell apart halfway through? At least Meryl Streep doesn’t have an accent.