As with 2000 and 2001, I'm reprinting my original top ten lists and commentary. If I've got something new to say, it'll be in red below.
Please note: This list was based on NYC release dates in the year 2002. Some movies are listed as different years at the IMDb based on when they were produced or released in their home country or in LA or whatnot.
Undervalued: Morvern Callar, Roger Dodger, About a Boy, White Oleander, Panic Room and Kissing Jessica Stein Top 10 Runners Up: Chicago, Monsoon Wedding, Punch Drunk Love and Spirited Away I still am glad I championed most of these movies though I am sad that some of them aren't in the top ten... particularly Morvern, Monsoon and the Miyazaki. The MMMs. Though I'm not sure I'd know what to remove to make room for them.
10. 8 Women (François Ozon)
Ever since I a French teacher took my friends and I to see french movies on a field trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts in high school, I have been in love with French cinema. So, you can imagine I was in heaven watching icons of French cinema sing and dance through this spiked-punch celebration of femme-fatale cinematic archetypes. My only real regret is that this giddy movie wasn't called 11 Women. You see, in my throes of Gallic ecstasy I accidentally shouted out "Binoche" "Adjani" and "Bonnaire" before being bitch-slapped back into submission by the inimitable divas that were on display: Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Beart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Danielle Darrieux, Ludivine Sagnier, Firmine Richard. A terrific, campy, twisty, and finally poignant film. (Full Review)
Maybe overvalued this. I still think it's great fun but...
09 Lovely and Amazing (Nicole Holofcener)
When I first saw this scathing comedy of self-image I admired it a lot but thought it little more than a well written indie. Trouble was, it wouldn't let me be. It kept playing again and again in my head until I returned the following week for another look. At that point I began to notice how marvelously it was put together. Its haphazard lack of plot felt instantly right. This film has bigger fish to fry than to live in subservience to the almighty plot. Upon a recent third viewing it felt churlish to leave something this direct, memorable, and incisive off of the list for something with flash or size. Despite its surface hostility there's something really lovely, humane, and 'just right' about this minor gem.
I rarely think about this movie now but when I do something really vivid usually springs up.
08 The Hours (Stephen Daldry)
In almost any article you'll read about this motion picture, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel upon which it is is based is mentioned as "unfilmable." Never mind all that. Unfilmable novels get made into movies every year. With actresses as talented as Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and Julianne Moore onboard... unfilmable was always an inappropriate adjective. Who better than this exceptionally talented A list team to illuminate the interior monologues that this magnificent book is riddled with.
Though the film falls short of the masterfully complex feeling of Michael Cunningham's source material, it's a sophisticated, perceptive and fascinatingly assembled triptych. It casts a rarely seen thematic light on the generational progress of female as well as gay liberation. The carefully rendered and ambitious portraits of sadness illustrate how emotional struggles can be passed down and reverberate through bloodlines, art, and relationships.
07 Spider-Man (Sam Raimi)
Popcorn flicks are famous for their fast fade. But Spider-Man truly comes to life before your eyes while you're watching it. I kept reliving the film's terrific setpieces and thinking about the iconic characters afterwards. Sam Raimi's unashamed affection for his source material and the lead actors' sincere commitment to their characters breathes life into the legendary romantic coupling of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. The film's elated peak comes upside down with a passionate sure-to-be classic kiss in the rain. My passion for it didn't fade at all.
Some months later, I'm convinced that Raimi's Spider-Man has left the 70s Superman in the dust. I'm more and more prone to think that this inventive director has also surpassed even the weird grandeur of Tim Burton's Batman Returns. Spider-Man may well be the cinema's best superhero flick. Ever. (Review & Kirsten Dunst appreciation)
It's funny. I love Spider-Man 2 so much more than this one that I had altogether forgotten how much I loved this. Spider-Man 2 is easily my favorite superhero picture ever made. It gets everything about the fun, color, style, superpowers, and heightened emotions of comic book heroism just right. And it's got a better villain.
06 Late Marriage (Dover Kosashvilli)
My sixth choice is the most obscure selection to make my top ten list. Seek it out on DVD. This searing emotionally truthful drama from Israel was submitted for the foreign language Oscar race last year but it didn't make the shortlist. But never mind about the Academy. The truth is that it's better than any of the films that were nominated in that category last year. Late Marriage achieved a small degree of fame for its relatively explicit sex scene. But the film packs a powerhouse emotional punch that you won't soon forget. If debuting writer/director Dover Kosashvilli's subsequent efforts are this strong, watch out... (Review)
I wish this had been one of my "best picture" nominees. I think of it often. It has such potency. Sadly, Kosashvilli seemed to vanish afterwards. His follow up feature never made it to the States... never made it much of anywhere, actually. Though I guess there's hope still. He has two features in the works.
05 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Peter Jackson)
Last year's opening chapter in Jackson's astonishing interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth saga left my mouth agape. I have been an ardent fan of Peter Jackson since 1994's Heavenly Creatures and he continues to amaze. Filmmaking, storytelling, and grandeur are in his blood. Even his small guerrilla features have "scale" for lack of a better word. Whether Jackson is filming fornicating puppets or murderous schoolgirls, his commitment to showing you the world within his film is immense.
The only reason that The Two Towers isn't higher on the list is that I had a little trouble jumping in this time. I found the opening off-putting and consequently I had a little trouble with the initial rhythm of the crosscutting triple narratives. But one can't complain too much about a stop-and-go momentum when there is so much to see at every stop and so much momentum in every go. These films are the greatest the fantasy genre has ever offered. And more than that, irrespective of genre, the Lord of the Rings trilogy will eventually be taking its rightful place in history alongside other acknowledged masterworks like Kieslowski's Trois Couleurs and Coppola's Godfather films once the journey is complete. Though I'm anxious for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King I'm also a little sad to see it arrive. The journey is filled with sorrow but I wouldn't trade it for the world and I'll be sad to see it end.
Towers might be my least favorite of the LotR films though I think it's maybe a "better" film than Return of the King and it contains some of the greatest moments in the series. That's a puzzle. Is it because it's all middle -- no thrill of beginning or catharsis of ending? And I've lost a lot of faith in Peter Jackson since.
04 25th Hour (Spike Lee)
A bold, provocative work from one of America's most controversial directors. Spike Lee's latest joint is both a bracing portrait of a city in mourning and an intimate character study of a man approaching unavoidable crossroads. Responsibility is the larger theme and Lee approaches it with dry honest eyes and fearless maturity. This film hit me in the gut. It's a rarity...a 9/11 related piece that doesn't feel like a cheapening of the tragedy, but a tough love gift to a wounded beautiful city.
One of many films each decade to be undervalued primarily because it makes the mistake of opening when 70 other shinier films are opening and when everyone is too busy to think and when the media has too many other things going on to give it any due. Oh, Christmas time at the movies! You give but you take take take.
03 Talk To Her (Pedro Almodóvar)
I have been a devotee of Almodovar since I first saw Law of Desire in the 80s. I was scared, fascinated, and deeply in love with that movie... and I've eagerly awaited each subsequent film. There's been a lot of talk in recent years of Almodovar's "maturation" as a filmmaker but he's always been a great auteur. It's just that his recent films have more of a surface veneer of respectability. Thankfully he's retained his subversive edge. Almodovar's compassion for even the lowliest most morally reprehensible characters give his films an utterly moving humanism. Talk to Her is the perfect embodiment of this trait within his work. Depending on which angle you're seeing it from, this narrative of two comatose women and the men who love them is either a disturbingly pitch-black comedy or a highly effective melodrama (or both). But regardless of what genre from which the film springs, it's a great one. The auteur has again crafted another mysterious jewel. He's the kind of filmmaker who can move people to tears with a single shot; a man swimming underwater or a comatose woman whose sheets are being changed. He's the kind of filmmaker whose films grow richer on repeated viewings. He's the kind of filmmaker who can slyly drive his narrative straight through even the most diversionary moments like dropping a silent film right into the flow of the film. He's that kind of filmmaker. There aren't enough of them.
02 Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón)
By now it's already clear that Y Tu Mamá También has achieved classic foreign film status here in the States. Cuarón's take on the rowdy road movie is one of those rare film experiences where every element adds up to make the whole much greater than any of its individual parts. It moves rapidly on several layers and works on every last one of them: road movie, coming of age drama, teen sex comedy, sociopolitical statement. The recipe itself is deceptively simple: One gifted director + two randy boys ÷ one woman with a secret x a mythical beach = movie paradise. Like "Heaven's Mouth", the beach the boys invent only to discover in reality, this movie is a more magical thing than even Alfonso Cuarón probably imagined while dreaming it up.
I might reverse the order of this and the Pedro film now. They're so different, one is magic the other is a masterwork. But both are treasures.
01 Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes)
We begin and end with Douglas Sirk, you see. If nothing else, this was the year of the great melodrama director. His name popped up all over the place in film conversations, in retrospectives, in essays, and his films on television screens in the background of the most unrelated films (like 8 Mile). Sirkian tropes and homages were in the air. 8 Women was a comic primer for one way of looking at that world but with Far From Heaven, the renewed interest in melodrama and Sirkian emotionality reached its apotheosis.
The most infrequently understood yet most crucial to understand thing about Far From Heaven is that its replication of a bygone era is only the jumping off point for a film that is resolutely about the here and now. Among the film's many wonders is the extraordinary alchemies that Todd Haynes performs. While fashioning a replica and homage, he creates a thing beautifully his own. While hypnotically immersed in 50s minutiae, Far From Heaven offers a looking glass for the neo-conservative now. It's a film for the eyes, intellect, and heart. Like Moulin Rouge! which topped last year's list, Far From Heaven has gloriously resurrected and elevated a lost and potent genre.
Here's to all artists like Todd Haynes who when looking at the past find in it not rusty templates or stagnant by-the-book filmmaking, but timeless truth and the impetus to experiment artistically. Haynes dives into the past to show us the relevant present. His experiment pays its respect then moves divinely forward, like its heartbroken protagonist, into the uncertain future.
Far From Heaven is so familiar to me now, after multiple viewings, that it strangely feels a bit stiffer. It's like I didn't break it in so much as break it by obsessing on it so shamelessly and for so long. Still love it though. "I just adore it... that feeling it gives."
How was 2002 for you? They weren't mentioned in this article but some of the movies people really cared about that year were Adaptation, Bowling For Columbine, Minority Report, The Pianist, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Signs, About Schmidt, Road to Perdition, The Bourne Identity, 8 Mile and Gangs of New York. Which movies still mean the most to you? Which have you cooled on or forgotten all about?