Best Films of 2002



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Cinematically Speaking, This Is a 'Face/Off'...

Holy cow-Spielberg, Scorsese, and DePalma on the same top 10 list? What is this, 1977? All we need now is for Coppola to leave his kids alone and Lucas to get his head out of his digitally enhanced ass, and the brats will save Hollywood again!

Of course I'm just dreaming. Steven Soderberg and Julie Taymor made the worst films of their careers, and they'll be back with Oscar bait next year. Lucas will not stop playing with his toys, and Coppola will not finish "Megalopolis" anytime soon.

But this list is a sign that there really are people in the biz who believe in delivering the world's best films to our google-plexes and arthouses.

"Y Tu Mamá También" (Alfonso Cuarón)-I don't think it's at all paradoxical that the funniest and most entertaining film of the year is also the most intelligent and elegant. The humor and excitement of the two boys' sexual naïveté is so raw it's disturbingly familiar in a way the cinema hasn't seen since the 70s. Yet with all the emphasis on hormones, the film has the courage to patiently zoom out to picture scattered cops on a dirt road or an enchanting lake to situate adolescence within a nation's moral struggle. Cuarón directs this coming-of-age story as tenderly as his G-rated fable "The Little Princess" but in a mode that joins "The Piano Teacher" and "Sex and Lucía" in making 2002 a bold step forward for big screen sex.

"Spirited Away" (Hayao Miyazaki)-During the SF International Film Festival, Berkeley was lucky to get Miyazaki's masterpiece in its original subtitled glory, the version that became Japan's all-time highest grossing picture. This is a film soaring with hope and life that its spirit and imagination silence anything American animators are putting out these days.

"What Time is it There?" (Tsai Ming-Liang)-Tsai's rancid universe of loneliness and human decay is gelling into one of the great visions of the cinema, and here we get a worldview at once dreadfully despondent and devilishly giddy. Throw in some Harold Lloyd, some Truffaut, some Buddhism, and some cross-country masturbation, and you'll get Kafka in Taipei.

"Minority Report" (Steven Spielberg)-It's not as philosophical as critics would have you believe, but boy did this movie have me nailed to the edge of my seat for a solid two hours. The awesome sets and cinematography are up there with "Blade Runner" and the overhead shots of the mechanical bugs roaming the apartment complex blew me away. Samantha Morton is perfect as always and though Spielberg's attitude is as mature as ever, his spirit for making movies is like the little boy's who brought us "Close Encounters" and Indiana Jones.

"The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat)" (Zacharias Kunuk)-For simply the epic sequence when our naked hero runs across the arctic terrain, this landmark film could have made my list. This first Inuit-language film spits in the face of Flaherty by challenging the ways we look at a race consistently marginalized by both Hollywood and art cinema. Being beautiful, funny, and tirelessly exciting doesn't hurt either.

"About a Boy" (Chris & Paul Weitz)-This is Hugh Grant's first movie where he does not play his "Four Weddings and a Funeral" character, and I'm appalled a bigger audience didn't show up to admire it. "Killing Me Softly" has never sounded better. If we're lucky, Nick Hornby will be Hollywood's next Jane Austen.

"Femme Fatale" (Brian DePalma)-How did this not make money? Are audiences turned off when they get intelligence mixed into an erotic heist film starring Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Antonio Banderas? With serpentine plot twists, trashy characters, and split-screen suspense, this could be my favorite DePalma film.

"Talk to Her" (Pedro Almodovar)-During the long drive home from the theater after seeing "Talk to Her," I suddenly shut off the radio. The movie had just hit me. The sacrifice a good-hearted male nurse makes for the sake of love. How a masterful director like Almodovar expresses his love by loving every moment his camera is turned on to allow his characters to live forever.

Brian Hu

...Of Our Critics On the Year's Screen Scene

Reviewing the year in movies has been an arduous journey. The studios like to send their award contenders all at the same time, which makes it very difficult to see every worthy film, but I try nonetheless. Overall, the year was not an outstanding one. But once again, the best films before you are a mixture of manhood, music, melodrama, and just plain, good, old movie-making. Here they are in alphabetical order:

"About Schmidt" is a movie about retirement, which is far from the minds of college students. The movie poster of Jack Nicholson alone can make someone depressed. Yet above all that, the film simply works. A man finds solace in a Winnebago going across Middle America. Somehow this is humbling. Despite a contrived ending, Nicholson lets us enter into life's ambiguity with satire and delicacy.

"Adaptation" is about adapting to life as well as the evolution, if you will, of flowers, humans, and emotions. Nicolas Cage plays Charlie Kaufman, a struggling screenwriter trying to understand the book he is adapting, "The Orchid Thief," as well as himself. Under the studio system, Kaufman battles between selling out and writer's block. By blending two storylines of love, loss, and loneliness, the world of Hollywood becomes intertwined with the murky swamps of Florida.

"Bowling for Columbine" explores guns and paranoia in the US. Michael Moore, famous for attacking corporate America, now uses the Columbine shootings as a central theme in understanding our armed Americans. Oddly, after listening to a multitude of society, Marilyn Manson seems the most reasonable. It presents us all as paranoid consumers, marketed to fear almost everything. I now have a new found love for Canadians.

"Chicago" makes the most of Moulin Rouge's popularity, but is much truer to the movie musical's beginnings. The theater design still remains center stage. The performances of Zelleweger, Zeta-Jones and Gere are all wonderfully strong and stylish. The story of a woman's dream of stardom is a classic. And by the end, you love to hate everyone in Chicago.

"8 Mile" is about a wanna-be rapper, yet Curtis Hanson creates a world deeper than simply Eminem, before he was famous. The mood of the inner city, immersed in poverty and despair, is clear in the cinematography. Music becomes both an illusion and a spirit of defiance. 8 Mile makes a movie about rapping honorable, which could not be said thus far.

"Far From Heaven"-1950s melodrama comes to life where all are pained by a society of prejudice. In their quiet isolation, a gay man, his wife, and their black gardener all must come to terms with the world they live in. Yet it is Julianne Moore's character which remains at our attention and agony. The set design, the subtle dialogue, and the costumes all flawlessly present a time of suppression. The naïve notion that respectability lies in conformity is skillfully unraveled.

"Gangs of New York"-As shown with Scorsese's newest mob movie, the price of honor comes with bloodshed. Yet the constant battling leads towards an unexpected anti-war message. A desire for redemption takes a larger scope as not only a city, but a nation is torn apart. Though, it is Daniel Day-Lewis, after a long absence, who returns in this film with the finest performance. Gangs of New York is in top form with a beautifully bloody epic.

Elaine Kovacs

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