Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: The Best Films of the 00s: 2002

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Best Films of the 00s: 2002

by Tony Dayoub

Continuing my series of posts assessing the best films of the decade, today I spotlight my favorite films of 2002. Some reminders: I cannot judge movies I haven't seen, so if you feel a film you like was unjustly left out, it might be that I never saw it; also, if I already wrote a review for it, I'll simply refer back to the original review. I'm still on track to post my ten best for 2009 in January when I will have finished seeing this year's films. I will then follow up with my 10 best films of the past decade. And that list won't necessarily feature one picture from each year.

And now, in alphabetical order, the best films of 2002...

25th Hour, director Spike Lee - Lee nails the post-9/11 malaise perfectly in this picture about a Manhattan dealer, Monty Brogan (Edward Norton), spending his final hours with his friends before reporting for a seven-year stint in prison. A truly fantastic supporting cast (Rosario Dawson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anna Paquin, and Barry Pepper) is upstaged by the wonderful Brian Cox as Brogan's dad in a touching climactic monologue that takes a glimpse at his son's future should he allow his father to help him flee. Terence Blanchard's music (which I often find a bit overbearing) is almost like another character in the mix, an ever-present and smothering aural reminder of the prison to which Brogan is headed. It also provides a touching moment of catharsis when Brogan is reunited with Dawson's Naturelle (is that a wonderfully evocative name or what?) in the future-vision sequence.

Adaptation, dir. Spike Jonze - Another significant film featuring Brian Cox, here as legendary screenwriting seminar guru, Robert McKee (who I've had the pleasure of spending some time with). Anyone thinking he exaggerates McKee's personal qualities has obviously never met him. But McKee is just a minor character in Charlie Kaufman's meta-biographical adaptation of Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief. On the mark in its depiction of writer's block—a problem screenwriter Kaufman ran into when adapting Orlean's book—Jonze and Kaufman decide to turn the film into a self-referential depiction of the struggle to adapt the bestseller. Chris Cooper's charismatic Laroche just about hijacks the movie, despite playing opposite Meryl Streep and Nicolas Cage in two of his finest performances as Kaufman and his fictional twin brother.

Auto Focus, dir. Paul Schrader - Sharp, impressionistic look at the rise and fall of Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear). The movie sympathizes with the initially repressed Crane (raised as a strict Calvinist, Schrader knows about repression), implying the womanizing actor later fell prey to impulses which would later be classified under sex addiction. Willem Dafoe's subversive performance as alleged murderer John Carpenter is a bit problematic for the film. His turn as Crane's swinger buddy, an opportunistic—but loyal—video nerd, emphasizes Carpenter's gullibility and Crane's selfish need to use his "friend" to feed his fading star's ego. In the end, your heart really breaks for Dafoe's Carpenter.

Femme Fatale, dir. Brian De Palma - De Palma sets this thriller—a return to form—in France.  Taking full advantage of the locale—and given De Palma's familiarity with the festival circuit—he sets the opening setpiece at the Cannes Film Festival, giving him the opportunity to poke some fun by casting director Régis Wargnier and actress Sandrine Bonnaire as themselves.  Composer Ryûichi Sakamoto does his best Bernard Herrman impression later in the film, but his scoring of the opening heist at Cannes to an approximation of Ravel's Bolero elevates the sequence (and maybe the film) to that of a classic.

Frida, dir. Julie Taymor - Rarely has an actor's vanity project ever turned out so well, even when the actor, Salma Hayek, indulges in casting her friends in supporting roles. But then again, those friends include Antonio Banderas, Ashley Judd, and Edward Norton (who also—go figure—contributed to the script), each burying their ego to support a visionary director's take on the Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo. Taymor's penchant for magical realism is the perfect fit for the surrealist, and she directed Hayek to an Oscar nomination. Alfred Molina's performance as Kahlo's husband—famous artist in his own right—Diego Rivera, is so charming, it begs the question, why wasn't the movie called Frida and Diego?

Hable con ella (Talk to Her), dir. Pedro Almodóvar - Only Spanish director Almodóvar can juxtapose the hauntingly beautiful performance of "Cucurrucucú Paloma" by Caetano Veloso with a amusingly crass dream sequence in which a tiny man runs all over the nude body of Paz Vega. Possibly the zenith in Almodóvar's long career and, dare I say it, maybe Spanish cinema?

Hero, dir. Zhang Yimou - A formalist's dream, this Chinese historical epic uses color to differentiate its shifting narrative viewpoints. Enjoy the lushly photographed Wuxia choreography, and try to ignore the film's celebration of tyranny. Stars Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, Jet Li, and Zhang Ziyi... when else will you have a chance to see them all together?

Minority Report, dir. Steven Spielberg - Not only is this a hell of a science fiction movie, it is one fantastic neo-noir. All the elements are there, from the wrongly accused pre-crime cop played by Tom Cruise to the innocent femme fatale at the heart of the conspiracy (Samantha Morton); from the underworld doctor (Peter Stormare) to the expressionistic desaturated (it could almost pass for black and white) photography by Janusz Kaminski. Spielberg revels in the chance to contribute to the noir tradition. The film would be perfect were it not for the weak confrontation between Cruise and the film's villain at the climax, a scene directly lifted from The Fugitive (1993), where it didn't work either.

Punch-Drunk Love, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson - A maddeningly oddball romantic comedy thick with non-sequiturs passing for symbolism, it marks a departure for director Anderson.  Lead actor Adam Sandler proves he's got the chops for drama, playing a repressed lunatic who explodes with rage whenever he's embarrassed, a result of years of emotional abuse by his seven sisters. The use of  the sweet "He Needs Me"—sung by Shelley Duvall in Robert Altman's Popeye (1980)—closes the deal. This is a startlingly endearing movie in spite of it pretensions.

Road to Perdition, dir. Sam Mendes - Review here.

For more of this ongoing series, click here.


Kevin J. Olson said...

Man, that two-shot from Minority Report is still one of the best I've seen in a movie. Great picture to lead your post. We share a lot of choices, and I can't tell you how glad I am that you have Auto Focus on there. That was my number one choice for that year. Anyway, here's my list for 2002:

1.) Auto Focus (Paul Schrader)
2.) Minority Report (Steven Spielberg)
3.) City of God (Fernando Meirelles)
4.) Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson)
5.) Adaptation. (Spike Jonze)
6.) Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes)
7.) Catch Me if You Can (Steven Spielberg)
8.) Russian Ark (Aleksandr Sokurov)
9.) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Chris Columbus)
10.) Orange County (Jake Kasdan)

Honorable Mentions:

About a Boy, Changing Lanes, Femme Fatale, Gangs of New York, Solaris, Talk to Her, Whale Rider.

And pains me to have a movie by Chris Columbus on there...but I really do love that second Potter film. Although I would have no problems placing any of the "Honorable Mentions" in that slot...especially something as unique and fun and aesthetically beautiful as Femme Fatale or Talk to Her...what can I say?

Sam Juliano said...

Oh boy, this is one year where we don't agree much at all. I particularly am no fan of the Spike Lee film that is listed there on top. But's that's cool. Everybody takes something different to the table of assessment. My #1 film (Kevin's #6) is Haynes's FAR FROM HEAVEN, which is also my top film of the decade. But Almodovar's TALK TO HER is also one of the decade's geatest films, and I would make room for Daldry's THE HOURS in the mix, as well as CITY OF GOD, Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN and some others.

Terrific presentation in every regard.

Tony Dayoub said...

I hate to admit it but I have yet to see CITY OF GOD, FAR FROM HEAVEN, or THE HOURS. I'm a big Cuarón fan, but personally, I can't stand Y TU MAMA TAMBIÉN. It just strikes me as contrived from top to bottom. I might revisit it, because so many people I respect are fond of it.

So what is your issue with 25th HOUR, I'm curious?

Kevin J. Olson said...

If I may add to Tony's curiosity, Sam, I think you should five 25th Hour another try. It's a film that gets better with subsequent viewings. I think it's one of the more underrated films of the decade and resonates each time I watch it.

Adam Zanzie said...

Happy to see Minority Report and Femme Fatale on here- Spielberg and De Palma truly did pump more juice into the noir genre just when we thought it was dead. About (SPOILERS) the ending of Minority Report, I know a lot of people are bothered by it and think that it's just too good to be true... but you see, I like it for two reasons: a) Max von Sydow's performance as Lamar Burgess is both chilling and, well, heartbreaking, since his suicide scene is so painful to watch, and b) with Burgess' death comes the death of both Precrime and the entire American justice system. The only people who really benefit are Anderton and his wife, since they're especting another child- however, the bittersweetness of it all is that their son Sean was never found. Agatha and the Precogs, meanwhile, are still going to have to live with their tortured visions, even when off in a secluded area. And again, the country is left without a justice system, which I find amazingly pessmistic.

Burgess' end is a lot like John Hammond's downfall at the end of Jurassic Park, actually. Both are Spielbergian characters with good scientific intentions who let their exaggerated ambitions corrupt their common sense.

Now, what about Polanski's The Pianist? I'd say that was the best film of the year.

Adam Zanzie said...

I've always considered City of God to be a 2003 film. I know it premiered during those 2002 festivals, but I remember back when Roger Ebert got a lot of complaints about why he didn't put the film on his Top 10 of 2003 list (since it was nominated at the Oscars for 2003), and he replied that he had placed the film on his Top 10 of 2002 list. But since I didn't even know about the film itself until 2003, I've always associated it with that year- of which it was one of the best.

Tony Dayoub said...

Truth be told, Adam, I haven't yet seen THE PIANIST. I've owned it on DVD for years and still can't bring myself to see it, and I'm a Polanski fan. But something about it strikes me as particularly heartwrenching. I have to get to it.

As for the ending of MINORITY REPORT, you make interesting points that were not lost on me. Though I think you exaggerate when you say it brings down the whole American justice system, since it is clearly stated in the film that Precrime is still strictly confined to the DC area (I like that, since it addresses the duality of it as the nation's capital while being a hotbed of corruption... much like today). I still find it inescapable that all of the interesting points you bring up are marred by the fact that the film cribbed its ending from THE FUGITIVE.

James Hansen said...

Interesting list. Wouldn't have much overlap with mine, but I like most of these well enough. Russian Ark is the 2002 stand out to me, along with Punch Drunk Love and 25th Hour. I actually just watched HERO for the first time (and beautiful it is, yes, but I can't get past the tyranny) and I think Taymor is a pretty terrible [cinema] director. Haven't liked any of her stuff. She should stick to theater where her assets remain assets rather than turning into distractions. But that's just me.

I still need to see Minority Report. I own it somehow, but never watched it. Might do that over Xmas. Keep up the good work, Tony!

Tony Dayoub said...

Never saw RUSSIAN ARK.

As for HERO, my politics tend to run kind of leftish, but I seldom have a problem seeing opposing viewpoints in films. In this case, one could argue that the film supports socialism, but in reality it champions the virtues of an autocrat, which I completely disagree with.

However, as long as said opposing viewpoint is expressed artfully I can still appreciate the beauty of the film, that is the expression of its text if not the text itself.

Why do you have a distaste for Taymor? I love how her theatricality flavors her films (especially FRIDA and TITUS).

Ratnakar Sadasyula said...

From your list, i have yet to see Adaptation, Femme Fatale,Auto Focus and Talk to Her.

Road to Perdition is a classic for me in the gangster genre.

Regarding the pro-authoritarian streak in The Hero, i had written on this earlier at Take a look if u can.

Some other good ones in the year

Bourne Identity- Though the trilogy had no relation to Ludlum's original novels, it neverthless worked well as a summer popcorn entertainer.

Pianist- One of the best Holocaust movies.

Insomnia- Christopher Nolan's transition from an indie environment to a more mainstream one, worked well. The opening shot of the plane flying over the barren Alaskan wasteland, was one of the best in recent times. As also the awesome shots of the Alaskan landscape, and also it's exploration of the hero's inner demons. And not the least for managing to get wonderfully restrained performances from Pacino and Williams, two actors who can be complete loose cannons at times.

About Schimdt: Warm,fuzzy look at the post retirement blues of an Insurance executive. Wonderful to see Jack Nicholson in a role, where he is not required to bluff or bluster around.

---- Ratnakar

Ratnakar Sadasyula said...

Other good movies in 2002, which i had seen

Russian Ark- Awesome.

Lord of Rings, 2 Towers.

Signs- Last good movie Shyamalan made.

Ring-One of my favorite horror flicks, just love that shot of Samara walking out from the TV in the ending.

City of God- Classic. The opening shot of the chicken being chased by a street gang, and then the way the camera transitions to the protagonist's childhood days, just too good.

-- Ratnakar

-- Ratnakar

Tony Dayoub said...

SIGNS had potential, but the resolution was idiotic, and the film itself too derivative of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD for me to give any consideration to.

I agree with you on INSOMNIA, a remake I like as much as the original.

BOURNE IDENTITY was okay, but the series didn't really take off until Greengrass brought in some kineticism.

A fan of the master like yourself has yet to see FEMME FATALE? Get thee to a DVD store pronto, and pick up ADAPTATION while you're at it.

Ratnakar Sadasyula said...

@ Tony

Femme Fatale, came at a time, when my faith in BDP was at the lowest. So missed it out, anyway considering what i heard about it, this one and ADAPTATION are on my must see List.

-- Ratnakar