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Favorite Films of 2002

by Dan heaton

2002 was another strong year for films, but it also continued the rising trend of Hollywood junk reaching prominent status at the box office. While this is far from a new phenomenon, it seems more prevalent each year as marketing usually controls the audience.

Notable exceptions arose, including the astounding success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which sold out theaters for countless weeks almost solely through word of mouth. While this picture does nothing groundbreaking, it does reveal that viewers will still flock to an identifiable human story. Instead of resorting to unnecessary sequels (Men in Black II) and awful star vehicles (hello, Pluto Nash!), money can be made by presenting accessible characters. Unfortunately, instead of searching for better story-driven pieces, producers will again try gimmicks to discover the next My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

The Oscar nominations once again picked a few decent films and ignored a score of memorable pictures. I have nothing against Chicago, but did it deserve so many nominations? Academy voters continue to have ridiculously short memories and fall prey to marketing from award-grabbers like Miramax's Harvey Weinstein. While a solid drama like Road to Perdition was not perfect, it almost certainly would received more acclaim with a December release. Can voters not write down films on a notepad and remember them?

Enough ranting. In an effort to showcase lesser-known films and some deserving studio pictures, I have created a list of my ten favorite movies of the past year. This group is not definitive, as I did miss a significant portion of the released pictures. However, it will hopefully provide a helpful guideline when visiting the video stores in the upcoming months.

1. Thirteen Conversations About One Thing

Sisters Jill and Karen Sprecher have crafted one of the more insightful human stories of recent years. The touching screenplay brings together a group of characters all searching for happiness within the troubles of daily life. Alan Arkin, Clea Duvall, and Matthew McConaughey stand out among the ensemble cast.

2. Far From Heaven

Julianne Moore shines as a '50s suburban housewife who discovers there's more than her sheltered life. Much of the illumination stems from a burgeoning relationship with gardener Dennis Haysbert (24). The gorgeous cinematography reflects the films of Douglas Sirk while also subverting them for a new generation. Director Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine) is a definite talent to watch and reaches a new pinnacle with this film.

3. Punch-Drunk Love

Could a Paul Thomas Anderson/Adam Sandler collaboration really succeed? Definitely. This charming picture showcases the similar traits that have worked for Sandler in his past films, but they also reveal a sadder side to his persona. Anderson has crafted an equally funny, poignant, and just plain goofy movie that works on all levels.

4. Sunshine State

John Sayles continues to create wonderfully rich stories that delve into the lives of a specific community. This touching ensemble picture tackles the encroachment of real-estate developers into a small Florida town. However, it merely forms the outline for an excellent character study. Angela Bassett and Edie Falco provide superb lead performances, and Timothy Hutton, James McDaniel, and Mary Alice contribute in impressive supporting roles.

5. Lovely & Amazing

Emily Mortimer and Catherine Keener star as sisters in this morose comedy about low self-esteem and its possibly destructive power. Their troubles play out in a fascinating manner while providing some amusing real-life moments.

6. Minority Report

Steven Spielberg has once again struck gold in the science fiction genre with this spellbinding thriller. The effects are amazing, but they merely provide the backdrop for an intriguing futuristic tale where law enforcement may not be as perfect as it seems. Samantha Morton steals the film from Tom Cruise and Colin Farrell, who also deliver solid performances.

7. Bowling for Columbine

While slightly overblown, Michael Moore's lengthy documentary on our country's obsession with guns grips you and won't let go. Instead of merely deciding on a stance and supporting it, he actually explores the differing sides of the issue. The result is a memorable picture that conveys significant power.

8. The Man From Elysian Fields

George Hickenlooper has often flirted with greatness, and he finally succeeds with this compelling drama. Andy Garcia stars as a struggling novelist forced to join an escort service to make ends me. Mick Jagger showcases remarkable acting ability, and James Coburn bows out gracefully in his final screen role.

9. The 25th Hour

Spike Lee tackles New York City's post-9/11 environment by focusing on a smaller emotional tale. Edward Norton is going to jail in 24 hours, and has plenty of issues to resolve before entering. Lee's direction has rarely been better, and Barry Pepper delivers another stunning performance.

10. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Following the gargantuan success of its predecessor, there was bound to be a letdown, but it's very slight. The epic battle scenes offer even more grandeur this time, and the computer-generated Gollum sets the standard for future digital creations. The acting is all first-rate, even while they are dwarfed by the amazing effects.

Honorable Mention

About Schmidt: Jack Nicholson nicely plays against type as a retired businessman struggling to find himself after losing his wife.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: The effects are even better, and the story moves even swifter, leading to another enchanting picture.

Insomnia - Christopher Nolan creates a deeper film than Memento and pulls another great performance from Al Pacino.

Gangs of New York - While the end result is too long and uneven, Daniel Day Lewis' Oscar-worthy role makes it a definite choice.

24 Hour Party People - Michael Winterbottom energetically depicts the Manchester music scene that sprung Joy Division and the Happy Mondays.

Issue 12 1/2, February 2003 | next article

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