Revisiting the Ten Best Films of 2002
In a few weeks, film critics everywhere will begin unveiling their lists of the best films of 2012. I’ll be doing mine as well. (Spoiler: The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure probably won’t make the cut.) Every year at this time, though, I like to take a look further back than twelve months. I’ve long been fascinated with how our perception of films changes over time. Some movies look great in the moment, but don’t hold up. Others grow on you, or turn out to be a little bit ahead of the curve. It’s always interesting for me to look back over my Ten Best list from a decade prior, to see if my choices seem solid or if they’ve changed. So here, then, is my annual excursion into the past. It’s time to revisit my list of the best films of 2002.
10. Chicago – Time hasn’t been kind to this musical, probably because it won the Best Picture Oscar that year, an honor it’s now clear it really didn’t deserve. I remember enjoying the movie immensely, though, and I’ll stand by that. Still, I had to make some painful cuts in 2002, and for reasons I can no longer recall, Chicago won out. The movies that were also in contention for the #10 slot were Bill Paxton’s uber-creepy Frailty, Christopher Nolan’s remake of Insomnia, and Spike Lee’s 25th Hour. It hadn’t opened in the market I cover when this list was made, but I later saw Paul Schrader’s Auto Focus on DVD and couldn’t shake the feeling that it deserved a spot on my list somewhere. Having seen none of these films since my initial viewings, I can’t honestly say what I’d put in this slot today, but it’s safe to say that Chicago wouldn’t be a sure thing.
9. About Schmidt – I’m a huge fan of Alexander Payne’s films. He’s one of my favorite directors. So far, he’s never made a clunker. This Jack Nicholson-starring dramedy made me laugh while simultaneously touching my heartstrings. If anything, it might be too low at #9.
8. Adaptation – 2002 found cinephiles in the middle of Charlie Kaufman mania. He was being heralded as the Next Great Screenwriter. He doesn’t crank out a lot of scripts, but the ones he does are still gold. With Adaptation, Kaufman wrote a movie about his own inability to write a movie, namely one based on Susan Orlean’s book “The Orchid Thief.” The end result was mind-bending, funny, and completely original. At the time, I made the following confession: “After I see Adaptation again, I may regret not putting it higher on my list.” Prophetic words, indeed.
7. Gangs of New York – They say a “lesser” Martin Scorsese movie is still better than the best movie from most directors. I’d say that’s true. Gangs is probably considered a lesser Scorsese, as it has undeniable moments of brilliance tempered by a few undeniable flaws. Still, I responded to a master filmmaker taking risks – something that should always be commended. And really, in spite of the flaws, I found this a stirring drama with more than enough admirable qualities to make it a must-see. If I’m bumping Adaptation up on my list, this one would probably drop down at least a notch.
6. Far From Heaven – Todd Haynes’ exploration of racial and sexual intolerance drew inspiration from the films of Douglas Sirk. It was a bold experiment that worked. I thought this movie was really emotional, with powerhouse performances from Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid. It definitely belongs somewhere mid-list.
5. About a Boy – I was a huge fan of the Nick Hornby novel on which this movie was based, and that honestly played a part in my ranking About a Boy so high. Something about the story’s themes spoke to me. Co-directors Chris and Paul Weitz and writer Peter Hedges took those themes off the page and transferred them onto the screen fully intact. Part of my list-making process is to include the movies that mean the most to me, even – and especially – if they don’t fit the stereotypical definition of what should go on a Ten Best list. So I like the #5 slot where this one is sitting.
4. One Hour Photo – My first viewing of this picture, which brilliantly casts Robin Williams against type as a creepy/obsessive photo clerk, left me with chills. It’s a this-could-really-happen psychological thriller that makes you look twice at the people who wait on you in stores. My second viewing didn’t have as powerful an impact, but I think that was because I already knew all the twists and turns that initially caught me off guard. I have to say, though, that in a time when so many thrillers are preposterous (hello, Man on a Ledge!), there is something appealing about one that gives off a whiff of credibility. I still think it deserves top five placement.
3. Changing Lanes – Here’s a picture that deeply divided people when it was released. Some felt it was manipulative and false. Others found it to be a provocative meditation on modern morality. Obviously, I was in the latter camp. And really, this is one of the most under-appreciated films of the aughts. Changing Lanes captures the sense of interpersonal disconnect that allows things like road rage (the story’s main plot device) to occur on a daily basis. My feelings on it haven’t changed over the course of the past decade. If anything, it may be even more relevant now than it was in 2002.
2. Minority Report – It’s a genuine genre classic, as far as I’m concerned. Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of a Phillip K. Dick story may not have been completely faithful to the source material, yet it addressed some important societal issues while also giving us a glimpse of how scary things could get in the future should certain ideas be allowed to progress unchecked. I remember debating whether Minority Report should be my #1 or my #2 movie in 2002. Was I reluctant to put a big Hollywood sci-fi picture in my top spot? I don’t think so; I did it before and I’ve done it since. No, I think that the movie that earned my top spot just had a bigger gut-punch reaction. And that movie was…
1. Bowling for Columbine – Yes, Michael Moore shapes things to fit his point of view, and sometimes he picks on the wrong people. (Harassing Dick Clark in a film about gun control? Really?!) Nonetheless, Moore delivered a powerful treatise on our nation’s weaponry fascination, using the Columbine tragedy as its center. There’s no denying that the documentary stirred up thought and debate, making you realize with chilling intensity that America’s massive gun problem leaves no one safe, not even children. Last year, I started a new tradition of creating a separate Ten Best list for documentaries. By those rules, Bowling for Columbine wouldn’t make this traditional list. But in 2002, it did, and I stand by it as my #1 film, although, if anything, it’s really in a two-way tie with Minority Report.
All things considered, I seem to have gotten my 2002 list right. How will I feel about my 2003 list a decade later? We’ll find out in another twelve months.
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