The films of 2002 were much darker than the previous year’s. It was a whole new world people were looking at through eyes of suspicion and fear, and while everyone said they wanted something to laugh at no one really was. Part of it was that there were so few choices coming out. “Jackass: The Movie” was the only unabashedly funny movie that I saw from 2002. Most were dark thrillers, or dramas that focus on the general malaise of life. Boy, was that fun. Though while the sensibility was stuck down in the mire, the quality of the movies weren’t. Again it was hard to narrow down to ten, thems the rules, so…
10 BEAR FILMS OF 2002
1. 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE – DIR: Michael Winterbottom Even though I just wrote that there weren’t any funny movies in 2002 this is an exception. Steve Coogan is hilarious in this movie, but definitely in a dark and cynical sort of way. His buffoon character that he has developed into a science is firing on all Bunsen burners, and in typical British fashion, doesn’t let up for one sympathetic moment. I will never forget “Jazz is the last bastion of the untalented.” That could be the line of the decade. Winterbottom has always reminded me of Altman in the sense that his movies, even the unsuccessful ones like “Code 46,” are worth watching, are always interesting experiments that have merit simply in their existence. During this year he put out a much more politically relevant movie, “In This World,” which was great, but more than a little depressing for the time, but an interesting companion piece to this film if nothing else to show the man’s range.
2. 25TH HOUR – DIR: Spike Lee Spike Lee is another film maker who, like Woody Allen, is either really good or really bad. This was a surprising turn for him, and it kind of reminds me “Manhattan” for some reason. It is like his ode to post 9/11 New York, taking these three completely different sides of the, now predominately white, population of Manhattan, and finding this moment in time where life is in limbo for all of them. Barry Pepper pulls off the stock broker dick character without a hitch, out Patrick Batemaning Christian Bale by light years. Even Edward Norton, who can often come off as condescending even to the films in which he stars, fills his character with a pathetic desperation that spoke to a lot of people in New York, let alone the world, at that time. One might like to see the “26th Hour” with Barry Pepper’s character post economic melt down to explore the fiscal paranoia prominent these days in Manhattan.
3. ABOUT SCHMIDT – DIR: Alexander Payne Talk about depressing. This is movie isn’t a comedy, it is a horror movie. This movie is the scariest movie about getting old that I think anyone has ever made. Jack Nicholson has never been so good as the last scene reading the long awaited response from Ndugu. His tears in that scene are heartbreaking, and do nothing but strike fear into anyone who has realized that they aren’t invincible, that loneliness can be worse than death, and either one can be right around any of life’s corners. I told you 2002 was fun.
4. ADAPTATION – DIR: Spike Jonze While Spike Jonze directed this movie it is Charlie Kaufman’s picture through and through. It is the most creative movie about the creative process ever written. Not to say that Spike Jonze didn’t do an amazing job. Out of anyone, even Charlie himself, to bring Kaufman’s work to the screen Jonze has been the most successful, and this is the best example. Nicholas Cage, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper all put up some amazing work, and every time I pick up Robert McKee’s “Story” I feel like Brian Cox is yelling at me.
5. CITY OF GOD – DIR: Fernando Meirelles Someone once describes this film to me as the movie “Gangs of New York” should have been. That’s not accurate. “Gangs of New York” had absolutely no chance of being this good. This movie came out of nowhere and blew everyone out of the water. It has such an amazing voice, such an authentic feel, while staying stylistically brilliant. Despite the huge disappointment that is “Blindness” Meirelles has the goods, and I hope he can come back as strong as this movie in his next project.
6. IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE- DIR: Wong Kar-Wai Based on the scattered, kinetic feel of his other movies this was such a surprise coming from Wong Kar-Wai. Chris Doyle and Pin Bing Lee bring the most vibrant images to screen, and their paring with the simple, beautiful love story make this movie one of Wong Kar-Wai’s best. Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung deliver every once of their souls to the screen with out ever falling into any sort of melodrama. And to be honest there are few better looks than those tight silk dresses Cheung wears throughout the movie.
7. THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE – DIR: Nanette Burstein & Morgan Brett I could listen to Robert Evans tell stories about his adventures in old Hollywood forever. Literally. If both of us were immortal I could sit there and listen to the man go on and on about himself, and his drug habits and the women in his life for the rest of eternity. His candid approach to the people in his life, and his opinions of the events surrounding them are what make this movie such a refreshing change from the usual Publicity Department friendly version we often see. Burstein and Brett do a great job of keeping the film visually arresting, but really this could have been an audiobook and I would have been glued to my ear phones. Oh, wait it was? Doesn’t matter. Still a great movie.
8. PANIC ROOM – DIR: David Fincher It would be hard to call Fincher out on a bad movie. Some say “Alien 3.” I say rewatch “Alien 3.” Some say this is too light after the heady, brutal “Fight Club,” but I say this is one of the tightest thrillers ever made guided by a master’s hand. The scenes are sculpted, chipping away any excess, leaving only the barest essentials. If anyone ever calls into the question the skill put into this film I refer them to the nail biting scene, filmed entirely in slow motion, where Jodi Foster goes for her phone while the robbers are downstairs arguing. No sync sound, just images of the frantic enterprise. This movie is the complete package.
9. PUNCH DRUNK LOVE – DIR: Paul Thomas Anderson This is definitely my favorite movie this guy has ever made. I watched the whole thing with my jaw on the floor. It is one of the most unique, touching films ever made. It has a sense of darkness, romance, and whimsy that few other films have ever approached. Adam Sandler found something inside himself that put a great performance on screen, and has never gotten back to that place since. From the car crash at the beginning to the confrontation with the hilarious Phillip Seymour Hoffman at the end this movie takes so many chances it is surprising to think it was even made in this country.
10. ROAD TO PERDITION – DIR: Sam Mendes Another favorite from a director. Tom Hanks as a bad ass really gave me a shock. This was the last time Paul Newman appeared on the big screen, and I love his John Rooney, the cold hearted Irish patriarch of an Illinois crime family. The script by David Self is a heartbreaking tale of the sins passed down from fathers to sons, and the bonds between them. It intertwines the brutal violence of the original graphic novel with much bigger themes of redemption and damnation. This picture is more visually interesting than Mendes’ other films, the production design is perfect, as are the costumes, but the sound design in particular is something to hear, or not. The use of silence and music is inspire particularly in Newman’s death scene, which shares a lot of aesthetic similarities to the one in “Panic Room” detailed above.
10 WORST FILMS OF 2002
1. DEATH TO SMOOCHY – DIR: Danny DeVito Man is Danny DeVito funny on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” I had to compliment the guy before saying that “Death to Smoochy” is one of the worst movies ever conceived of. Not just made. Out of all the terrible ideas that stoners, drunk friends, and just plain dumb people come up with in the, “It would be funny if…” conversation, this movie takes the cake. Sadly I made it all the way through this movie, which I can’t say for “Duplex,” though I wish i had just flatly refused to watch “Death to Smoochy.” That is neural space it is taking up that it really doesn’t deserve.
2. EXTREME OPS – DIR: Christian Duguay This is Mr. Duguay’s second appearance on my list, after “Art of War” and they are getting worse. No one saw this movie but my brother and I at a dollar theater, and it wasn’t worth every penny. It is laughably bad. Bridget Wilson-Sampras has to overcome her fear of extreme skiing by out running an oncoming avalanche started by an infamous Bosnian terrorist (a stunt used the same year in almost equally atrocious “xXx”). The funniest part is in the end you don’t even get to see how she escapes the avalanche. One of the other people in the party, the commercial director films their escape, so it just cuts the the commercial footage, and everyone watching it. Then they hi-five! Roll credits. The end. Huh?
3. THE GURU – DIR: Daisy Von Sherler Mayer She has the best name, hands down. I liked her debut film, “Party Girl” where Parker Posey has to become a librarian, and her biggest challenge is learning the Dewey Decimal system. I’d rather write about that movie than this one because there is little more to say about it than it was miserable. Jimi Mistry is an out of work dancer who finds that Americans will pay him to be a Guru for no other reason than he is an Indian. It is not only badly executed there really isn’t anything funny about the idea. It is only noteworthy for being a precursor to Michael Meyers’ “The Love Guru,” and it has to be respected for opening those doors.
4. IMPOSTER – DIR: Gary Fleder This movie came out in the dead zone that exists between the first of the year and Valentine’s Day. Never a more opportune time to dump this low rent Sci-Fi blunder on the world. “Blade Runner,” “Total Recall,” “A Scanner Darkly.” These work for me as adaptations of one of this century’s best Science Fiction writers. “Screamers,” “Paycheck,” “This” don’t compare. This picture boiled down Dick’s themes of self knowledge to such a remedial sense that it was impossible to see any of his genius anywhere close to this picture. And blanket statement: Gary Sinese can’t carry an entire movie.
5. MEN IN BLACK II – DIR: Barry Sonnenfield I was obsessed with UFOs in high school. I had gone to the UFO convention in Roswell, NM, and I was a fiend for any lore about Project Bluebook and the Men in Black. Then they made a movie about it, and I was chomping at the bit to see what they did. “Adam’s Family” was great so I was so excited to see “MIB.” Then it came out. Two acts. Nothing more. There wasn’t enough of the picture to actually call it a whole movie. It is even a wonder I even saw the second. It was just as bad, if not worse. It is nothing more than special effects, and… and… and…
6. ONE HOUR PHOTO – DIR: Mark Romanek Who didn’t love the NIN “Closer” video when it came out? But that is the biggest problem with music video directors when they get the chance to make feature film; hey either come up with what is “cool” looking, or something that is a “cool” idea. This movie is victim to both. Sure it looks nice, like an Andreas Gursky print come to life, the Wal-Mart-esque store in which Robin Williams’ character works is really neat, but it reminds one more of the Jonathan Glazer video for Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees” than anything resembling character development. By the end of this movie did anyone care about Williams’ supposed struggle, or was this just the case of a poor director mistaking the antagonist for an anti-hero? Don’t watch it, just guess what happens, you’ll be better off even if you are wrong.
7. RED DRAGON – DIR: Brett Ratner I’ll give Ratner the fact that the first “Rush Hour,” and “Money talks” were slightly above par action-comedies, mostly due to Chris Tucker’s timing. This was a travesty. Letting this guy direct any sequel to “Silence of the Lambs” is akin to lighting Johnathan Demme’s mother on fire in front of him. With no inherent creativity Ratner reuses the same title font, the same stage, and tries to recreate the style of the first. It is continuously confusing why Hollywood remakes good movies with bad ones, but “Manhunter” is such a solid picture, this movie having any association with it is nothing less than an insult.
8. SPUN – DIR: Jonas Akerlud Generally I don’t like movies about drugs. It seems too easy to be entirely about the struggles, the hardships of someone who dug his or her own grave. I will say that casting MIckey Rourke as a Meth Cooker/Dealer seems like perfect casting, but Jason Schwartzman as the meth-head was a real error in judgement. His Johnathan Ames in “Bored to Death” is the perfect role for him, but the meth-head thing no one is buying. The picture also sported that rock-n-roll editing, the fast paced, flash frame, style that does less to tell a story than it does to annoy.
9. STORYTELLING – DIR: Todd Solondz This is one guy that used up all the goodwill built up by his first two movies with one atrociously bad one. The whole of “Storytelling” is like the way John Waters tries to push buttons, finding those things that are so taboo in modern society and trying to play them for comedy. Unfortunately he doesn’t have the sense of irony that Waters possesses, as such his later films just come off as horrible, arty gimmicks, and there is little worse than that.
10. THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE – DIR: Jonathan Demme Yikes. That’s the best statement possible for this terrible remake of Stanley Donnen’s great, “Charade.” Absolutely nothing works in this movie, not even Thandie Newton, who has promise to live up to Audrey Hepburn’s role in the original, but never delivers. Rumor had it that Demme was much more interested in the editing of his passion project documentary, “The Agronomist,” than actually directing this bad idea, on which he was a hired gun. His lack of attention shows through when, during the climax that was reshot, it switches format to digital video for no reason. Someone has to have written a project off entirely to care that little about the final product.
MOST OVER RATED FILM OF 2002
THE GOOD GIRL – DIR: Miguel Arteta Jennifer Aniston is great for TV. “Friends” was a great show, but I just don’t think she’s right for films. And especially not dramas or dramadies. This was supposed to be her breakout role, the one that secured her relevancy in a post-“Friends” world, but unfortunately the only thing that did that was her love life. Mike White’s script is solid, but easy, and that is just about it for the whole movie. Being a darling at Sundance doesn’t usually translate to box office bucks, and there is a reason for that. Most of the films championed at the festival are designed to please that crowd, just not anyone else, and while this picture might have put smiles on the faces of the erudite festival junkies and power brokers, it elicits a shrug from me.
MOST UNDER RATED FILM OF 2002
THE ROOKIE – DIR: John Lee Hancock Where I don’t watch a lot of sports I’ll admit I’m a sucker for sports movies, and for some reason Disney has figured out the right formula. “Miracle,” “Remember the Titans,” and this film, “The Rookie,” are just solid pictures about the love of a game. A good sports movie is more of a romance than anything else, and baseball, with it’s place in the myth of American Culture, is the perfect vehicle for a love story. Dennis Quaid is an excellent fit for the aging High School baseball coach who turns pro in his 40s. Much like his performance in “Any Given Sunday,” he gives off the air of that All-American dad type who you just want to root for. The father/son B-Story is definitely manipulative, but here it plays well between Quaid and Brian Cox. This movie doesn’t offer a lot of surprises except how moving it actually is.
And there they are. But if you want to talk about downers, 2003 had probably the most depressing movie of the decade. Stay tuned…
By Paul S. Myers