erasing clouds

My Favorite Films of 2002

by Dave heaton

While the awful system of distributing movies in the U.S. these days guaranteed that I missed out on a lot of great films (that either didn't show in my area at all, or not for very long), I still saw plenty of films that I flat-out loved this year.

My 15 Favorite Films of 2002

1. Punch-Drunk Love (US, Paul Thomas Anderson)
Punch-Drunk Love is a film I feel like I could watch again and again until infinity and never get tired of. To me it was by far the funniest, most touching, and most visually exciting film of the year. A love story about two messed-up people finding each other amidst a sea of complications, the film is a giddy, bright romantic comedy at is center, with stylistic nods to movie musicals and silent film comedy, yet is one of the more intense comedic love stories you'll see, exuding a palpable sense of uneasiness to match that of its lead character. Above all Punch-Drunk Love is a film that deftly combines sadness with joy in the same moments, while simultaneously tapping into the anger-issues personality its main actor Adam Sandler uses for laughs in his less artistic-minded films. In that way the film reads on several levels at the same time. Sandler's expressions of anger are at once funny and sad, suprising and expected. Punch-Drunk Love is a film I could write about until my hands fall off and think about until my brain cries for help. Yet it also makes me laugh just thinking about it.

2. Spirited Away (Japan, Hayao Miyazaki)
The creativity gap behind art aimed at adults and art aimed at children is dumbfounding. Spirited Away is a sublimely imaginative film which uses animation to all sorts of joyous, beautiful and bizarre ends, telling a fable about growing up (as people, and as communities) which viewers of all ages will relate to and learn from.

3. Far From Heaven (US, Todd Haynes)
Even if regarded on a purely visual level, Far From Heaven was one of this year's most pleasurable films, reveling as it did in the color-laden dreams of Hollywood past. Yet the film hit deeply on a few more levels by telling such a heartwrenching story so well and using that story to comment not just on the judgements and misdeeds of the American past but on the social climate of American society at all times, including now.

4. What Time Is It There? (Taiwan, Tsai Ming-liang)
No visual image from 2002 has stayed in my head quite as vividly as the final moments of this film, a deceptively poetic, quietly comedic love story about two people who barely know each other and live partway around the world from each other.

5. 13 Conversations About One Thing (US, Jill Sprecher)
A film that is both exceedingly friendly and aware of the darker forces at war within the human psyche, 13 Conversations is a masterful portrait of a handful of people who each seek happiness. It is, as the title suggests, more a probing into the interior and exterior struggles of its characters than a neatly wrapped-up conventional Hollywood-style film. And at every step of the way it works, charming you and making you feel.

6. The 25th Hour (US, Spike Lee)
One of the most powerful straight-ahead dramas of the year, The 25th Hour takes people you wouldn't be expected to care about and makes you care about them simply by drawing you fully into their world. And by leaving room for ambiguity, withholding moral judgements of the film's characters and setting the film vividly in today's post-9/11 New York City, Spike Lee takes a small story of a drug dealer about to enter jail and expands it outward, imbuing it with universal emotional impact.

7. Bowling for Columbine (US, Michael Moore)
Hilarious and thought-provoking, Bowling for Columbine is a personal essay on the state of America today. Not the gun control rant it's often made out to be, the film instead probes thoughtfully into the subject of fear in American life today, pointing fingers at the media, politicians, corporations and the people themselves without ever preaching or offering simplistic conclusions.

8. Mysterious Object at Noon (Thailand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
This loose, fascinating film blurs the line between documentary and fiction in interesting ways, taking inspiration from the Surrealists to get disparate people to write a story together, and then having various non-professionals act parts of the story out. But while the film is a freewheeling meditation on the act of creating fiction, it is simultaneously a moving, poetic portrait of life in modern-day Thailand.

9. Scratch (US, Doug Pray)
Doug Pray's documentary about hip-hop DJs tells their story in an involving way that will captivate viewers who don't care about hip-hop just as easily as it will the music's biggest fans. More than just offering information about the subject, Scratch leaves you with memorable themes and images, from DJs' infatuation with sci-fi imagery to DJ Shadow sitting amongst thousands of records, looking for the right sound.

10. In Praise of Love (France, Jean-Luc Godard)
One of the most visually enticing films legendary director Jean-Luc Godard has made, In Praise of Love uses both black-and-white film and over-saturated, hyper-colorful video to spotlight the emotional power of the visual image, while stimulating the intellect through a discussion of history: how we react to it and how we create it.

11. Monsoon Wedding (India, Mira Nair)
Both one of the most fun movies of the year-an upbeat film with bright colors and equally bright music-and a moving drama, Monsoon Wedding incorporates elements of disparate Indian film traditions (family drama and Bollywood musical) while poking into patriarchy and family hierarchy in a smart and entertaining way.

12. Time Out (France, Laurent Cantent)
A spellbinding film about work, and how it erases identity, with a vividly bland corporate setting, interesting characters, and a wealth of ideas.

13. Storytelling (US, Todd Solondz)
Perienally mis-interpreted by critics as hateful and mean-spirited, Todd Solondz's films satirize human foibles in a touching, if often unsettling, way. Storytelling examines the ways we create stories from our lives, and mold our lives around stories. The second tale of the two told in the film is especially intriguing, a rich inquiry into the ways documentary filmmaking treats it subjects.

14. Pulse (Japan, Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
An involving, spooky film that's part "technology gone amuck" horror film, part apocalyptic love story. It might be higher on my list if it was in any way officially available in the US (word is that Dimension has the US rights and is using them for a Wes Craven-directed Hollywood remake). Discovering that my local video store has three Kyoshi Kurosawa films (Pulse and the almost-as good Cure and Charisma) was one of this year's movie-related highlights.

15. Going Forth By Day (US, Bill Viola)
The line between "movie" and "art" is a blurry one now that so many artists use video as a medium. Bill Viola falls into the "art" category, meaning his work is shown mostly in museums and is hard to find for sale on video, yet he deserves mention here, as one of my high points of the year was seeing his film Going Forth By Day projected on four walls around me at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. A complex, visually stunning work about the cycle of life and death, Going Forth By Day deserves a wider audience, as do so many works classified as video art and relegated to museums.

Though some of these films have flaws (bad acting here, plot holes there), I also really enjoyed:

Chelsea Walls (US, Ethan Hawke)
Cherish (US, Finn Taylor)
Chicago (US, Rob Marshall)
Femme Fatale (US, Brian DePalma)
Gangster No. 1 (UK, Paul McGuigan)
The Good Girl (US, Miguel Arerta)
Lovely and Amazing (US, Nicole Holofcener)
The Mothman Prophecies (US, Mark Pellington)
Senorita Extraviada (Mexico, Lourdes Portillo)
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (US, Robert Rodriguez)
The Amazing Race (TV series)
A Cook's Tour (TV series)

Issue 12 1/2, February 2003 | next article

this month's issue
about erasing clouds

Copyright (c) 2005 erasing clouds