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.
5 – HE LOVES ME… HE LOVES ME NOT (À LA FOLIE… PAS DU TOUT, Laetitia Colombani)
“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.
2 – THE RULES OF ATTRACTION (Roger Avary)
“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.