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A Change Will Do Us Good? 2002 Year in Review

by Jerry Salisbury

We are one year removed from the tragedy of 9/11, and Hollywood is beginning to show the sensitivities and impact of the events and repercussions. Some films, like 25th Hour and The Guys dealt directly with it, while Gangs of New York and other Gotham-set films gave an honoring nod in their own way. Still, 2002 was a better than average year in films, once again back loading the good movies into November and December. But there were a fair share of movies, sure to be forgotten by the short-term memory loss affected Oscar voters that came in the early and middle parts of the year. We Were Soldiers, 13 Conversations about One Thing, About a Boy were just three examples of how amnesia can be detrimental to the fair assessment and rewarding of yearly achievements.

But of course, we had our share of rehashed drivel, sequels that should never have seen the light of day (Halloween, Men In Black), others with high expectations that were a let down (Lord of The Rings: The Towers). For each of those however, we were blessed with films that lived up to their hype (Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, Spiderman) and films that were pleasant surprises and future guilty pleasures (Barbershop, xXx, Undercover Brother, Eight-Legged Freaks).

An overall analysis showed the typical trends and tendencies, but with a caution and hypersensitivity of sorts which may ripple through movies in the years to come. 2002 may not be a memorable year in movies now, but it could be a bookmark in years to come as the date when things began to take a turn for the better. In the pages below, I will give my analysis of the 2002 movie season, broken down into best and worst movies, best performances and some miscellaneous categories. Some categories will have analysis, others will just have the listings. So sit back, grab some popcorn and your favorite chocolate, and prepare for my cinematic ramblings.

Chart of numbers:

Analysis is for movies seen between January 16th, 2002 and January 25th 2003
Total movies seen: 131. (Movies not seen, therefore not evaluated: The Pianist, Nicholas Nickleby, Roger Dodger, Frida.

10. We Were Soldiers

Mel Gibson's Vietnam tribute that came out early in the year was forgotten by most but should not have been. It was powerful, poignant and in my opinion the most realistic depiction of not only the Vietnam experience, but of warfare, leadership and camaraderie in general.

9. Y Tu Mama Tambien

At first glance, this would seem to be little more than a coming of age sex romp full of carefree behavior and debauchery. But Alphonso Cuaron has added naturally flowing dialogue, discussions about fate and living life to its fullest, giving the film a surprising emotional depth.

8. Donnie Darko

Whether you figured out what it meant it or not, there is no denying that this was a memorable film. Be it falling plane engines, monotone Oriental students, child pornographer motivational speakers, over zealous dance squad mothers or a 6-foot talking rabbit named Frank, Darko is indeed an unforgettable movie experience and the breakout for Jake Gyllenhall.

7. About A Boy

Playing an insensitive jerk comes as easy to Hugh Grant as controversy does to Michael Jackson. However About A Boy captures this, harnesses it, and makes it his most fitting vehicle, and best performance to date. Based on the Nick Hornby book, the film captures the frustration and jubilation of single life, while showing that there is hope for even the most lonely soul.

6. My Big Fat Greek Wedding

I normally shun movies that people rave as must see, but in this case, you should believe the hype. Sure to boost the healing powers of Windex, Wedding is a riotous, truthful realistic love story that balances sentiment, culture and romance with an admirable ease.

5. Catch Me If You Can

Lighthearted and breezy, yet emotional and touching, Steven Spielberg's tale of master impostor Frank Abagnale was a refreshing tale that was never too complicated, yet intricate and patient in all aspects of things. Leonardo DiCaprio showed once again that he can act; Tom Hanks showed he can thrive out of the limelight, and Spielberg showed why he is indeed one of the best cinematic storytellers today.

4. Chicago

The pinnacle of the rebirth of the modern musical, Rob Marshall's interpretation of the successful Broadway musical hits all the right notes. This is the whole package, complete with an unexpected depth and social commentary about the glorification of criminals. The look is explosive, the mood is seductive and incendiary, the musical numbers are well done and the performances are effective and fitting.

3. 13 Conversations About One Thing

This film is proof that shortsighted critics and Academy voters should pay attention to movies released before the fall. Jill Sprecher's complex, multi-layered character study about the search for happiness from many perspectives is well-written, well diagramed, powerfully acted (especially the award-worthy Alan Arkin and the resurgence of Matthew McConaughey) and an intense emotional cinematic experience that is not, and will not be, easily forgotten. Based in deeper philosophies and personal experiences, this is a film that can cause the viewers to reevaluate themselves and appreciate the power that a movie can have.

2. Antwone Fisher

This one hit close to home for me for several personal reasons, but it makes the list because plain and simple, it is an incredible cinematic experience. The debut effort of Denzel Washington is the story of an angry young Navy man seeking the answers to the mysteries of his life and who he is. Fueled by the intensity of newcomer Derek Luke and anchored by the solid support and direction of Washington, this is a deeply moving film that will touch the very depths of your soul. And if you don't shed a tear by the conclusion, then you may just be a heartless soul.

1. Bowling for Columbine

A bank that gives away a gun for opening an account? A calendar of militia babes? Charlton Heston's "old white guys" comments and an animated history of America that has to be, and should be seen by everyone. Those are just a few of the highlights of Michael Moore's incendiary and no holds barred commentary about gun control, violence, racism and the culture of fear. The film touches on issues that most films are afraid to even broach, while delivering them in a manner that isn't as much political grandstanding, as it is slicing the wounds of reality open for all to see and pay attention to. Filled with societal commentary, painfully honest humor and the strongest insight of the film from Marilyn Manson, this is the film that 2002 and years to come, should be remembered for.

Honorable Mention:

8 Mile
Dancing at The Blue Iguana
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets
The Rookie
The Salton Sea

Guilty Pleasures (Remembering that movies are supposed to be fun)

Big Trouble
Reign of Fire
Eight-Legged Freaks
Undercover Brother
Blue Crush

The Worst of (Unworthy of numbering and ranks)

Star Trek: Nemesis
Men In Black II
Halloween: Resurrection
Corky Romano
Jason X
Orange County
Death to Smoochy


Best Actor - There were so many good performances by actors that it was really difficult to narrow down to a Top 5. The performances ranged from intense and emotional (Derek Luke and Val Kilmer) to dark and creepy (Robin Williams and Bill Paxton) to lighthearted and touching (DiCaprio, Grant and Dennis Quaid). Quaid deserves special recognition (as will a couple of other performers below) for their great work in more than one movie.
Hugh Grant (About A Boy)
Derek Luke (Antwone Fisher)
Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York)
Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt)
Sam Rockwell, (Confessions of A Dangerous Mind)
Best of the Rest: Leonardo DiCaprio (Catch Me If You Can), Dennis Quaid (Far From Heaven and The Rookie), Val Kilmer (The Salton Sea), Bill Paxton (Frailty), Robin Williams (One Hour Photo and Insomnia), Al Pacino (Insomnia).

Best Actress - For the surplus of great actor performances, there was for some reason a drought of good female performances. Like most critics lists, one movie has two entries on this list. Unlike most, it's not from the same movie as they do. Nicole Kidman's performance in The Hours seemed to be more supporting than lead, hence she ends up in that category, while the extremely overlooked and under appreciated anti-female chick flick Lovely and Amazing lands two deserved entries.
Emily Mortimer (Lovely and Amazing)
Alison Lohman (White Oleander)
Julianne Moore (Far From Heaven)
Julianne Moore (The Hours)
Catherine Keener (Lovely and Amazing)

Best Sup Actor: - This is the area of analysis that I like to fly in the face of conventional picks and experts. I still steam over the Osment loss; hence I execute my vengeance by striking against most normal critical accolades. However some are just impossible to deny so there are some consistencies between my observations and their often misguided, so-called expert opinions. Just a note, there were some very good performances and movies that came out BEFORE the month of November.
Alan Arkin (13 Conversations About One Thing)
Christopher Walken (Catch Me If You Can)
Vincent D'Onofrio (The Salton Sea)
Noah Taylor (Max)
Patrick Fugit (White Oleander)
Jake Gyllenhall (Lovely and Amazing), Ed Harris (The Hours) , Dustin Hoffman (Moonlight Mile), Cedric The Entertainer (Barbershop)

Best Sup Actress - Further supporting controversy abounds here as the lines are blurred even further. Most have placed Kidman as a lead, yet she has the least amount of screen time in The Hours compared to Streep and Moore, yet Streep is pushed as supporting and Kidman as lead. Neither of these will matter though in my opinion because Latifah walks away with the honors (even though Bates bold nudity turn deserves note)
Queen Latifah (Chicago)
Cameron Diaz (Gangs of New York)
Kathy Bates (About Schmidt)
Michelle Pfeiffer (White Oleander)
Nicole Kidman (The Hours)
Best of the Rest: Meryl Streep (Adaptation and The Hours), Hilary Swank (Insomnia)

The Sounds of Darkness - As we sit in the darkness, reveling the directors and screenwriters vision and words, there are often times when the dialogue simply isn't enough, or just isn't necessary. Often the combination of images and/or themes, set to familiar, catchy or fitting music can have a powerful influence on us. Be it in the movie itself, beginning, middle or end, or even by just grabbing our attention in the trailer. These are the sounds that pervaded the darkness, grabbed us, held our attention and made us take notice.

Best Song used in a Movie - Yes there are some obvious choices in this category, like anything from Chicago (namely "When You're Good to Mama" and "Razzle Dazzle") and Eminem's powerful but over played "Lose Yourself." Instead, I picked some eclectic, maybe lesser noticed, but nonetheless just as effective and reflective musical numbers for my list.
"Do Something Real" - Robert Pollard - (Full Frontal)
"Stop!" - Erasure - (The Rules of Attraction)
"Mourning" - Tantric - (The Salton Sea)
"Mad World" - Gary Jules - (Donnie Darko)
"Itsy Bitsy Spider" - Joey Deluxe - (Eight Legged Freaks)

Best Songs used in a Trailer - It is no coincidence that two of the songs on this list are for movies that actually made the worst of the year list. As more the norm than the exception on this list, the music for the trailer often supercedes the actual success and quality of the movie itself. It often makes me wonder why the creative minds that generate the trailers don't actually have something to do with the creative aspects of the movie itself.
"White Lines" - Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five (25th Hour)
"Pump It Up" - Elvis Costello & The Attractions (I Spy)
"Youth of A Nation" - P.O.D - (Blue Crush)
"Rollin" - Limp Bizkit (Rollerball)
"Bodies" - Drowning Pool (Jason X)

Best Lines
"Was that a goat?" - Officer Walter Kramitz (Patrick Warburton), Big Trouble
"There's a monster outside my room, can I have a glass of water?" Bo Hess (Abigail Breslin) - Signs
"If Jesus Christ had lived in Chicago, and if he'd had $5000, things might have turned out differently" - Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) - Chicago
"We are what we love, not what loves us" - Donald Kaufman (Nicholas Cage), Adaptation

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