My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2002

09 Jan

After the somewhat weak year that was 2003, we come to 2002. What is there to say about this year? Not much. It was a good year, thus making for a solid top 10. So with little to pontificate about regarding 2002, I’d like to take this space to talk about the fleeting nature of these lists.

I am by no means done with any year film-wise. Not yet, and I don’t think I ever will be. There are always more movies to see, from critically hailed modern classics to gems that have gotten lost in the shuffle and are waiting to be discovered. So it’s no wonder that the lists can get slightly dated with time. Not just in terms of the ranked order (which can change from day to day), but also in which films are included. For example, I hadn’t seen A Single Man when I made my 2009 list, but if I had, it would definitely have made the cut. The same goes for the wonderful documentary Best Worst Movie. Rather than going back to updating the lists when necessary, I’m fine with just leaving them as they are. All lists are windows into brief moments in time. “This is how Emil felt on this day”, is what they proclaim. Even if I see some 2002 movie later this week that would make the cut for this list, it doesn’t change the fact that this here is a collection of 10 movies I really enjoyed. To offer a general view of what kind of films I like has always been the purpose of these lists, and this goal is still accomplished by leaving them as they are.

So now, on to the list for 2002. As always, this goes by the release dates listed on IMDB.

10 – CHANGING LANES (Roger Michell)

“I can live with myself because at the end of the day I think I do more good than harm. What other standard have I got to judge by?”

Two strangers collide in a traffic accident. One is a lawyer at the cusp of his big break, the other a recovering alcoholic trying to gain custody of his children. The meeting causes a delay for both of them, setting them off on a spiralling path through the day where both will try to exact revenge on each other and struggle with determining who is right and who is wrong. A cleverly written film where we can sympathize with both sides of a conflict. Ben Affleck puts in one of his best performances, while Samuel L. Jackson is as fun as always.

9 – ONE HOUR PHOTO (Mark Romanek)

“No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget.”

A thriller that really gets under your skin, through a protagonist who’s troubled both psychologically and socially. Loner Sy (played expertly by a subdued Robin Williams) lives through the photos he developes for his customers, experiencing their joys that he himself has none of in his own life. But when he discovers that injustice is done to people he care about, he gradually snaps. It’s a story of morality and a reminder of how little we know of others, of the things we keep from them ourselves, and of how the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

8 – CHICAGO (Rob Marshall)

“Would you please tell the audience… err… the jury what happened?”

Sometimes I start to wonder whether I have unjustly fond thoughts of this film just because I keep listening to songs from the soundtrack fairly often. But then I go back to watch the film again, and I find myself liking it even more than before. A treat for both the ears and the eyes, Chicago also packs a smartly told story about the corrupt nature of the law and the fickleness of fame. And, yeah, there’s plenty of great tunes.

7 – PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (Paul Thomas Anderson)

“I have to get more pudding for this trip to Hawaii. As I just said that out loud I realize it sounded a little strange but it’s not.”

In a way, this film legitimizes Adam Sandler‘s entire career. Not merely by providing a platform for the actor to put in a great performance on, but by taking his typical character seen in so many other films, turning it inside out and revealing unseen sides to it. Yes, the story is quirkily different, there are plenty of big laughs to be had, the directing is great and the supporting players are all rock-solid. But Punch-Drunk Love could not have worked without Sandler, his willingness to reexamine his career work and his fearlessness in bringing the new things he found to the camera. I’m no big fan of his, but he deserves serious credit for his work here, as does Paul Thomas Anderson for coaxing it forth.

6 – SECRETARY (Steven Shainberg)

“I feel more than I’ve ever felt and I’ve found someone to feel with.”

Speaking of fearlessness, how about this surprisingly heartfelt yet intense portrayal of a burgeoning S&M relationship? As courageous as the film itself is Maggie Gyllenhaal in the role of Lee, a troubled young woman with a history of self-harm who’s going through a sexual awakening of the unconventional kind. Erotic, cringe-worthy, wryly funny and certainly with its own identity, Secretary is a many splendid things.


“My heart is yours forever.”

I won’t say much about this movie. I fear any single word might diminish it for those who haven’t seen it (which I suspect is most of you). It’s one of those films that should be seen with no knowledge of it whatsoever. I will say that it’s clever, it’s a really fun watch, and Audrey Tautou of Amelie fame is in it. If you’re feeling brave, you let this be enough and go find the film. Don’t read any description, plot summary, blurb or review anywhere. Just find the movie and watch it. You can thank me later.

4 – ADAPTATION (Spike Jonze)

“Find an ending, but don’t cheat, and don’t you dare bring in a deus ex machina.”

I have always been a big fan of Nicolas Cage for all his fun and crazy performances, but I think Adaptation was the first movie where I realized just how great an actor he is. Here he plays two roles: anxious screenwriter Charlie Kaufman who’s struggling to write this very film, and his fictional carefree twin brother Donald. He’s teriffic as both characters. Add in a deliciously meta-stuffed story and great supporting turns by Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper, and you have one brilliant movie.

3 – HERO (YING XIONG, Yimou Zhang)

“People give up their lives for many reasons. For friendship, for love, for an ideal. And people kill for the same reasons.”

One of those gorgeous-looking films where you could probably take a screencap at any time and end up with a pretty badass desktop wallpaper. Oh, and the Rashomon-like multiple viewpoints make for a fun story to follow. Oh, and there’s plenty of awesome fight scenes.


“That shit makes your spinal fluid run backwards.”

Forget American Psycho. The Rules of Attraction is the best movie adaptation of a Bret Easton Ellis novel yet. Deal with it. Rock & roll. By staying true to characters, setting and tone rather than events, Roger Avary finds the space needed to toy with the material and come up with interesting ways to bring it to film. Split screens, rewinding and hyperactive montages are but a couple of the tools he uses, and it makes for an entertaining ride through a college campus where despair and depravity are everywhere. Yes, the characters are unlikable, but by design, not accident, and the actors do a fine job in delivering the black comedy that permeates the material.

1 – 25TH HOUR (Spike Lee)

“No. No, fuck you, Montgomery Brogan. You had it all and you threw it away, you dumb fuck!”

The above quote is from a monologue by Montgomery (Edward Norton) to his own reflection in the mirror. It’s his last day of freedom before going to prison to serve 7 years for drug-dealing, and while there’s plenty of things for him to do, there’s also time for reflection on what has led him to this point. The film doesn’t focus exclusively on Monty, though. Equally important are his two best friends (Barry Pepper and Philip Seymour Hoffman). How do they feel about Monty’s impending fate? And what about his father (Brian Cox) and his girlfriend (Rosario Dawson)? They all have their own stories, and 25th Hour allows everyone time to share their own. Spike Lee provides the movie with his knack for stylistic flare and shows us scenes and characters of tremendous power. A short paragraph like this feels insufficient to explain how great the film really is as there are a lot of layers to it. But it’s my #1 for its year, and it’s fully deserved.

What are you favorite films of 2002? What do you think of the movies on this list?


Posted by on 9 January, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year


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20 responses to “My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2002

  1. Jessica

    10 January, 2012 at 14:05

    I’ve seen very little of what you have on your list. A quick glance at IMDB gave me a number of other movies that I liked from that year: Minority Report, Bend it Like Beckham, Far from Heaven, LOTR: The tale of the two towers, Catch me if you can, About a Boy.

    • Emil

      10 January, 2012 at 14:32

      I was fairly underwhelmed by Minority Report. I could see it improving on a rewatch for me, but it’s not something I feel much like trying out. Catch Me If You Can was a solid film with some fun acting, but not what I would call great. The Two Towers, much like Return of the King “last year”, is looming right outside the list. All the Lord of the Rings movies are very good.

      The others you mentioned I haven’t seen yet. I’m particularly interested in About a Boy, as I’ve heard good things about it and have enjoyed the Nick Hornby books I’ve read so far.

  2. Movies - Noir

    10 January, 2012 at 15:56

    Interesting mix as always. I’ve seen all but one from the list. Looking at the movies from the year that I’ve seen, it was a pretty strong year with many good movies. I’d probably not have a single one of your movies in my top ten, but perhaps one or two could make it.

    10. Changing Lanes – I remember I thought it was different and better than I had thought it would be, but don’t remember much from it.
    09. One Hour Photo – Robin Williams gives one of his better performances in a chilly character study. The performance alone makes it worth seeing the movie.
    08. Chicago – The only one I haven’t seen is the Oscar winner, haha.
    07. Punch-Drunk Love – Could possibly make my list as I remember liking it, but not loving it.
    06. Secretary – Some good acting, but nothing that would make my list.
    05. He Loves Me… He Love Me Not – Enjoyable movie that I liked, but felt could have been better. Audrey Tautou is wonderful though.
    04. Adaptation – I wasn’t too impressed as I had heard it was a very good movie. I didn’t really enjoy Cage in it which obviously was a major reason.
    03. Hero – Remember enjoying it at the cinema, but haven’t seen it since. Could possibly make the list if I saw it again.
    02. The Rules of Attraction – Funny thing, I talked about this movie with a friend just a few days ago. A good movie, a bit underrated I’d say. Wouldn’t make my list, but a good watch it is.
    01. 25th Hour – I wasn’t entirely sold on it when I saw it way back, but would like to give it another shot. I did like it, but it wasn’t a “wow” experience. Thanks for reminding me to watch it again !

    Some movies that would probably make my list include:
    City of God, The Pianist, Irréversible, L’adversaire, The Bourne Identity, Equilibrium, The Ring and Insomnia. A bit of a mixed bag, I know ;)

    • Emil

      10 January, 2012 at 16:18

      Ha! When I saw you saying that you’d seen all but one on this list, I figured it would be #5, which seems dreadfully underseen. Seems I was wrong. :)

      Definitely give 25th Hour another watch if you get the chance. I keep finding new things I like about it each time I see it.

      Your suggestions are a solid bunch, I must say. Equilibrium and The Ring in particular are two films I really enjoyed. The former for its stylishness, the latter for actually being really scary. Irreversible was certainly an unforgettable experience, with gruesome violence and mesmerizing camera work. Still, not enough to make my list. City of God I liked just fine, but not to the extent that others have. I found it to lack forward momentum in a way. There’s only so many times you can show that vengeance begets vengeance. I was expecting more from it. And then you have Bourne Identity and Insomnia, a solid action film and thriller respectively, but nothing exceptional in my book.

      I haven’t gotten around to seeing The Pianist, but I’m definitely a fan of Polanski’s films, so I’m looking forward to it. And L’adversaire is also on my rental queue, probably due to me reading about it on your blog, I suspect.

      Thank you for your comment, MN!

  3. Pete

    10 January, 2012 at 20:43

    City of God and LOTR2 would be up there for me but Rules of Attraction was wonderfully stylish! Good call on Adaptation also. Never got round to Hero and always wanted to!

    • Emil

      10 January, 2012 at 21:02

      Lots of love for The Two Towers here in the comments, it seems. Well deserved as it’s a really good movie, if not my favorite of the trilogy. I’m thrilled to see some more appreciation for The Rules of Attraction. That’s a film that really blindsided me with how good it was. And make sure to check out Hero at some point. It’s a feast for the eyes.

  4. Travis McClain (@TravisSMcClain)

    10 January, 2012 at 22:05

    Re: your list (the ones I’ve seen)

    9. One Hour Photo – Just about the only Robin Williams performance I actually like.
    8. Chicago – One of the few musicals I enjoyed. Queen Latifah’s performance in the jail was surreal.
    7. Punch-Drunk Love – One of those rare movies that has largely gone unseen…but tends to be “overrated” by those who have seen it. I liked it, though.

    And now my Top 10 of 2002…

    10. Barbershop
    9. The Good Girl
    8. 28 Days Later
    7. Bowling for Columbine
    6. Die Another Day – love the first half, anyway
    5. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – easily my favorite of the trilogy
    4. Frida
    3. Gangs of New York – Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill the Butcher; ’nuff said.
    2. Catch Me If You Can
    1. Super Troopers

    It doesn’t look entirely solidified to me, but honestly, I don’t see anything in my #11-20 range that “should” be a Top 10 selection. ’02 wasn’t a terribly compelling year for me, apparently.

    • Emil

      10 January, 2012 at 23:47

      So what you’re saying is that you’d love to see a musical starring Robin Williams, then? Or am I misinterpreting you? ;)

      Some nice choices there in your list, Travis. 28 Days Later was another one of those films I contemplated putting on my list, but it didn’t quite make the cut. Great film, though. I was also really fond of Bowling for Columbine, moreso than any other Michael Moore film I’ve seen. Gangs and Catch are also solid flicks. Super Troopers wasn’t my cup of tea, sadly enough. The opening scene was lots of fun, but after that, the laughs were scarce.

      I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of Barbershop before. I’d say the same for The Good Girl, but apparently I’ve put it on my rental queue at some point, so I guess it must have been brought to my attention at some point. The cast seems fun. I can always go for some Reilly, Gyllenhaal and Deschanel.

      • Travis McClain (@TravisSMcClain)

        10 January, 2012 at 23:51

        You know, I don’t think there’s a motivation powerful enough to make me consider seeing a musical starring Robin Williams. Aladdin was close enough to one, and I never liked that.

        As for Super Troopers, it’s one of those movies that becomes more powerful with subsequent viewings. I thought it was a harmless guilty pleasure at best when I first saw it. Now it’s my top ranked movie of 2002. I didn’t even know about it until sometime in 2003 or so when my brother brought it to my attention on DVD.

        (On a side note: I have recently determined that there is an allegory to be made between Farva and someone we both know.)

        • Emil

          11 January, 2012 at 00:25

          I don’t see Super Troopers improving much for me on a rewatch. Many types of films do, but comedies whose only goal is to make you laugh have a hard time with it. If it’s not funny the first time, odds are it won’t be the second either. I did like the group’s following effort Beerfest, though. That one was solid.

          Also, I think you might be on to something with the Farva thing.

          • Travis McClain (@TravisSMcClain)

            11 January, 2012 at 02:42

            I’ve found several comedies over the years that underwhelmed me the first time, but improved with subsequent viewings. Super Troopers is one of my favorites (obviously). The inanity of it all just makes me laugh, and I found the chemistry and dialog quite sharp throughout. Beerfest is another one where I wasn’t really sold on it at first, but have come to really like it. (I rank Club Dread between the two.)

            • Emil

              11 January, 2012 at 10:07

              I haven’t seen Club Dread. In fact, I don’t think I even knew it existed. That’s going on my rental list. Thanks for the heads-up.

  5. Nostra

    11 January, 2012 at 09:06

    There are a lot of movies in there which I haven’t seen/heard of! I’m a bit shocked by that :) I agree with your number one though as it is such a great movie. The mirror scene is very memorable (it shocked some people in the theater I was in who walked out). Also am a big fan of Hero, the use of color in that movie is something I remember fondly.

    • Emil

      11 January, 2012 at 10:05

      Ha! Looks like even I can pull out some unexpected rabbits from the hat, it seems. :P

      The mirror monologue in 25th Hour is awesome, agreed. I’m also a big fan of Brian Cox’ big moment later on when he talks about a possible future for Monty. Powerful stuff.

  6. illuminati7590

    13 January, 2012 at 23:07

    Like everyone said your list looks some what unique. But it’s always good to know a movie lover with different taste. I haven’t seen most of the movies in your list so I can’t comment but my list would be:

    1.Lord Of the Rings: Two Towers
    2.Gangs Of New York
    3.Road To Perdition
    4.25th Hour
    5.Catch Me If You Can
    6.The Bourne Identity
    8.Changing Lanes
    9.A Walk To Remember

    LOTR is definitely the top but others order is random. It became hard to find good movies out of 2002.

    • Emil

      13 January, 2012 at 23:28

      I’ll take unique as a compliment, although that’s never my goal with these lists. I just try to look at what films I enjoyed the most. Some years this turns out to be somewhat cookie-cutter selection of the expected, but this 2002 list found room for some interesting outside-the-box movies, I feel.

      It’s also helpful to have some distance to the year, I reckon. When you look at the 2011 lists everyone have been putting together the last few weeks, you see a lot of similar picks. Everyone’s scrambling to see the movies everyone’s talking about to see if they live up to the hype. With a lot of heavy-hitters being released late in the year for awards season, there’s less time to remember and reflect on the odd little films one saw early in the year. Had I been as into movies 9 years ago as I am today and was making this list, it would probably have looked a lot different.

      Your list is a solid one (though I haven’t seen A Walk To Remember). I like that Changing Lanes is on there, as that’s a film nobody seems to remember much these days. The Two Towers and Road to Perdition were both close to making my own list. The latter in particular really impressed me. Beautiful movie. And Catch Me If You Can deserves singling out for having one of the all-time best knock-knock jokes.

      Thank you for your comment, Illuminati!

  7. Alex

    16 January, 2012 at 15:47

    Rules of Attraction! YES! Great list. 2002 (like 2007) was a fantastic year for films. Four films from 2002 (25th Hour, Antwone Fisher, The Pianist and Irreversible) made it on my Top Films of the 2000s list.

    • Emil

      16 January, 2012 at 16:53

      Haha! Glad to see more love for The Rules of Attraction. Wickedly hilarious movie, that one.

      I still haven’t seen The Pianist, strangely enough. I’m certainly a fan of Polanski and I do intend to see it, but… I don’t know. The subject matter sounds kind of drab-ish. It’s not top priority for me. There are other Polanskis that sound more intriguing to me.

      • Alex

        17 January, 2012 at 16:13

        Oh it’s definitely intense, but in my mind, it competes with Chinatown as his best.

        • Emil

          18 January, 2012 at 12:52

          Sounds like high praise indeed. I’m partial to the Apartment Trilogy as far as Polanski’s best goes. Repulsion in particular is creepy as all hell.


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