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Critic: Shawn Stone
Best of 2002

1. Italian for Beginners

Love those Danes. They make cinema theory fun. Yes, it’s another Dogme 95 film—but not a wrenching drama like Breaking the Waves. Director Lone Scherfig and her cast deliver a romantic comedy that is giddy, biting, sexy and touching.

2. The Piano Teacher

Devastating chronicle of deepening psychosis. Isabelle Huppert gives a brilliant performance as a disturbed music teacher, trapped in perverse relationships with her mother, her lover and her students. Just plain creepy.

3. 24 Hour Party People

The most fun I had at the movies all year. The rise and fall of Factory records through the eyes of its impresario, Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan in a great performance). The film pays tribute to the Manchester scene and its two dark princes: Joy Division’s tortured saint Ian Curtis (Sean Harris), and Happy Mondays’ sainted devil Shaun Ryder (Danny Cunningham).

4. Far From Heaven

Todd Haynes’ uncanny reimagining of Douglas Sirk’s oeuvre is an eerie reminder of the power of melodrama, and gives its cast—Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Dennis Haysbert, Patricia Clarkson—some of the year’s most emotionally powerful moments.

5. Time Out

Another psychological breakdown courtesy of the French. When Vincent (a poignant Aurelien Recoing) loses his job, he goes into the deepest kind of denial—he pretends, to his family, that he’s still employed. An indictment of corporate culture and personal repression.

6. Punch-Drunk Love

Paul Thomas Anderson gives Adam Sandler the role of a lifetime in this quirky, intense romantic comedy. The film offers many pleasures, not the least being the wacky pillow talk between Sandler and Emily Watson.

7. Drumline

Forget the splashier, more expensive films—the best recent movie musical takes place on campus, and the production numbers all feature college marching bands. Old-fashioned but not dated, familiar but not clichéd, Charles Stone III’s rousing film is one of the year’s biggest surprises.

8. Spirited Away

Disney criminally underpromoted this wondrous animated adventure from Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki. I guess the folks behind Treasure Planet figured that the very idea of an intelligent movie for kids was an oxymoron.

9. Panic Room

A taut, lean thriller from the usually baroque David Fincher. Jodie Foster and Forrest Whittaker are good, but Dwight Yoakam—his face hidden behind a ski mask most of the time—steals the picture as one scary motherfucking dude.

10. Signs

This killer-critters-from-outer-space thriller fits together like an Escher painting. It loses points for recycling its plot from War of the Worlds and its dread from Night of the Living Dead. It earns points for scaring the hell out of audiences anyway.

Critic: Shawn Stone
Worst of 2002

1. 40 Days and 40 Nights

Special props to Josh Hartnett for being in the year’s worst picture for two consecutive years. While this idiotic (and unsexy) sex comedy isn’t as awful as last year’s winner, Pearl Harbor, it’s wretched in its own special way.

2. Hollywood Ending

Woody Allen hits rock bottom. The physical comedy is painful to watch, the romance creepy and the ending unbelievable. Could Allen be nearing his own Hollywood ending?

3. The Adventures of Pluto Nash

If you’re going to blow $110 million on an Eddie Murphy-in-space comedy, at least make the sets and effects look more elaborate than, say, Dr. Who. Ghastly waste of time and money.

4. Tadpole

Why would an otherwise fine film like this rate as one of the year’s worst? Because its digital photography looks like crap. Shame on the Sundance folks for giving director Gary Winick an award for this; Tadpole is like watching something projected through a syrup-filled ashtray.

5. Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones

One cool light-saber battle between a CGI green guy and Christopher Lee does not redeem two hours of poor acting and bad dialogue. Plus, any film with a colon and hyphen in its title goes automatically to cinematic hell.

Critic: Laura Leon
Best of 2002

1. Nine Queens

An intricate, yet believable and thoroughly enjoyable caper film directed by Fabian Bielinsky.

2. Spirited Away

This movie makes the descriptor “beautiful” seem insignificant. This redux of Alice in Wonderland is absolutely stunning in every way, and makes one wonder why Disney, which distributed the film, can’t aspire to such creative and artistic heights.

3. Far From Heaven

Todd Haynes’ moving paen to Douglas Sirk never feels stagey or articificial—quite a feat for a story that’s set in 1950s suburbia and deals with the crinolined set’s latent desires. Featuring a superb, amazingly natural performance by Julianne Moore.

Band of brothers: Elijah Wood and Sean Astin in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

4. the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The saga continues, and expands upon its literary origins. Purists may quibble, but the rest of us will revel in the way that director Peter Jackson is able to combine the spectacular—battle scenes, ents, wizardry—with the humble characters’ fears for humanity. In these days of warmongering, LOTR carries a special resonance, as when the King of Rohan wonders, in desperation, “How did we get here?”

Leonard Roberts and Nick Cannon in Drumline.

5. Drumline

My choice for sleeper of the year, this little movie takes a great slice of Americana—college band competitions—and builds a compelling movie around it.

6. Lantana

Wonderfully written, with solid performances from an ensemble cast that includes Anthony LaPaglia and Barbara Hershey. Ostensibly a murder mystery, it’s real interest is in the far more complex mysteries of the heart.

7. Catch Me if You Can

A breezy, fun adventure film, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks in top form. Director Steven Spielberg somehow evokes multidimensional themes and performances without sinking the overall buoyancy of the mood.

8. Unfaithful

On the surface a glamorous soap opera, Unfaithful unabashedly asks what happens when a contented housewife and mother gives in to her lustful desires, and it has the gumption to end, quite literally, at a crossroads. PCers blasted the movie for being moralistic, based solely on the fact that the wife feels remorse for not being able to control her libido, but director Adrian Lyne has nothing to apologize for in presenting a compelling, gripping study of truth and consequences.

9. Punch Drunk Love

Flawed, yes, but fascinating.

10. The Man From Elysian Fields

The movie bags out toward the end, wanting everybody to have a happy ending, but overall, it’s a highly original story with marvelously thought-out characters and top-notch performances, including the late James Coburn’s last.

Blood on the streets: DiCaprio mixes it up in Gangs of New York.

Critic: Laura Leon
Worst of 2002

1. Gangs of New York

Overwrought, overblown, overlong . . . Martin Scorsese’s take on how gang warfare shaped modern New York City, Gangs is, literally, a bloody mess. While Daniel Day-Lewis delivers a fascinating performance, costar Leonardo DiCaprio is comically miscast, and Cameron Diaz merely has to look cute with a gun.

2. Austin Powers in Goldmember

Unfunny in the extreme.

3. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

This year’s Steel Magnolias. A bunch of actresses squawking in Southern accents about love and loyalty, none of it making much sense.

4. Treasure Planet

Why transplant Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic pirate adventure to outer space? And why stuff it with all manner of unappealing, weird-in-the-worst-extreme characters? And why waste the chance to combine computer animation with more traditional animation?

5. Snow Dogs

Disney at its absolute worst. It’s hard to believe that Cuba Gooding Jr. and James Coburn—both Oscar winners—could be so bad, but I guess it’s true that you’re only as good as your material.

Critic: Ann Morrow
Best of 2002

1. Rabbit-Proof Fence

A true (and true-life) quest-for-freedom tale set in 1940s Australia in which three Aboriginal girls, abducted from their family and interred in a government dormitory, escape and set out on a 1,200-mile trek back home. Rapturously photographed and scored, the film follows the girls over terrain as treacherous and otherworldly as Middle-earth. Will the fellowship of three hold fast? Will the girls elude the sinister Tracker? Philip Noyce’s social expose is more enthralling than fiction.

2. the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

As the Fellowship of the Ring continues its perilous march to Mordor, director Peter Jackson continues to serve Tolkien’s trilogy with wizardly inspiration and the epic grasp of a great storyteller. The “free peoples” of Middle-earth and the hellish armies of the traitor Saruman clash in battle as though conjured from the page—the physical realities of filmmaking be damned. CGI wonderments such as the ring-rotted Gollum creature and the stirring charge of the Tree Shepherds dissolve the boundary between cinema and sheer magic.

3. Gangs of New York

In Martin Scorsese’s ferocious epic, the territorial imperative turns Victorian-era New York City into a “furnace” of tribal warfare that climaxes with the barbaric Draft Riots of 1863. Although Gangs lacks the arching moral force of Scorsese’s best work, its staggering historical verisimilitude and folkloric plotting—along with Daniel Day-Lewis’ brilliant portrayal of a medievalist gang leader—audaciously re-create the cutthroat entrepreneurship and escalating social organization that gave birth to the 20th century.

4. Far From Heaven

Todd Haynes’s gorgeous reworking of 1950s “women’s films” packs an emotional wallop amid its sumptuous artifice—although not in its central heartbreak of a passive suburban housewife (Julianne Moore) and her hopeless infatuation with a black gardener. It’s the sideline stories of the homosexual husband (a wrenching Dennis Quaid) she hopes to “cure,” and the racist best friend (a scarily perfect Patricia Clarkson) she mistakenly trusts, that put a lasting chill in Haynes’s art-directed Connecticut autumn.

5. 24 Hour Party People

This gonzo, faux documentary on the “Madchester” rave scene of the 1980s is centered on impresario Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan), a glib poseur who nurtured Joy Division, New Order and the Happy Mondays on his Factory record label. Comic exaggerations and uncanny re-creations invoke the era with all the vividness of a drug rush; after the crash, what’s left is this exhilarating testament to creative chaos.

Critic: Ann Morrow
Worst of 2002

1. Bad Company

Ha ha ha—let’s pair Sir Anthony Hopkins as a sophisticated CIA operative with comic-from-da-‘hood Chris Rock, and show how easily a b-boy can be manipulated into giving it up for his country. Rock deserved better for his first starring role than this preposterous and sloppily directed (by Joel Schumacher) “comedic thriller,” in which he plays a street hustler forcibly recruited by the CIA and laboriously made over to a true-blue government goon. As for buddy-cop chemistry, Hopkins appears to have been digitally spliced in.

2. Serving Sara

Take two troubled stars—such as serial rehabber Matthew Perry and tabloid fodder Elizabeth Hurley—add cut-rate gross-out humor, a moronic script the copy boy wouldn’t own up to, and lots of ogling camera shots, and you’ve got a load of crap so worthless it should be served with a summons from a consumer protection agency.

3. Blade 2

The sequel to Blade, the grisly comic-book story of a half-vampire superhero (Wesley Snipes), isn’t so much a splatter flick as a slice-and-dice and incinerate-and- eviscerate flick. For sadists only.

4. Rollerball

Sweet-faced Chris Klein is too much of a softie to be taking on a James Caan role, but the bigger problem in this glitzy remake of the 1970s lowbrow classic is action maven John McTiernan, who rolls a gutterball with his ridiculous inclusion of an Eastern Bloc labor revolt.

5. The Truth About Charlie

Updating Charade as a contempo homage to the French new wave may sound like a très chic idea, especially when the director is Jonathan Demme, auteur of the edgy Something Wild. But for some reason—maybe it’s the trendy, Euro-style camera work—the film’s hipster flippancy falls as flat as Mark Wahlberg’s beret. And casting Wahlberg in the Cary Grant role is only one of the film’s many misfires.

Critic: Ralph Hammann
Best of 2002

1. Bowling for Columbine

I don’t care if Michael Moore is unfair to the sewer scum he skewers in this sobering, trenchant, in-your-face observation of Americans’ propensities for violence and fear—somebody has to do it! And I don’t care if Charlton Heston has Alzheimer’s; he should consider it a blessing.

2. Insomnia

Al Pacino is brilliant as a detective who achieves modern tragic status under the unending, unforgiving light of the Midnight Sun. An adaptation superior to the too-remote Scandinavian film of the same title on which it was based.

3. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Forget the periodic confusion as to who is aligned with/against whom; this is spellbinding filmmaking from the prodigiously gifted Peter Jackson. Vistas that recall the masters, Kurosawa and Lean.

4. 8 Women

A tart, deliberately theatrical murder mystery that plays with perceptions as deftly as the eight exquisite actresses assay their changing roles. A black comedy done up in a lovely palette of ’50s colors.

5. Charlotte Gray

Another neglected gem. Cate Blanchet is at the top of her form (but when isn’t she?) creating two identities in Gillian Armstrong’s smartly directed drama about a female secret agent during World War II.

6. One Hour Photo

Robin Williams is genuinely creepy, but even more so is the antiseptic environment that spawns his madness: a bland, soul-sucking department store obviously modeled on Wal-Mart.

7. Unfaithful

Proof to naysayers that Richard Gere really can act. As can Diane Lane. Genuine, heartfelt and disturbing, the film consistently finds the right imagery and tones to suggest the characters’ emotional states.

8. Simone

Pacino again. Wonderful again. A shrewdly observed comedy/morality play that melds the Pygmalion theme with digital actors. Very funny and terribly underappreciated.

9. Frida

Julie Taymor finds a soulmate in Frida Kahlo and unleashes an art film that is ravishing and as unique as its subject who is brought vividly to life by Salma Hayak.

10. Road to Perdition

A seductive tone poem that demands to be seen on a massive screen. An unexpected example of the beauty of melancholia.

Critic: Ralph Hammann
Worst of 2002

1. Master of Disguise

Master of nothing! Unsuitable for adults and children in its very ineptness at telling a story and characterization. A total waste of Dana Carvey’s talent.

2. Bad Company

Bad casting. Sir Anthony Hopkins sinks like a stone when paired with Chris Rock in this stupid film about terrorists and bombs.

3. The Sum of All Fears

That the petulant boy wonder, Ben Affleck, could follow in Harrison Ford’s footsteps as Jack Ryan is the height of all improbabilities.

4. Men in Black II

Dull too.

5. The Tuxedo

It was too constricitng a fit on Jackie Chan, and it violated the first principal of his films: We go to see him do his own stunts without the aid of a digital effects suit.

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