Hollywood’s best take center stage

Todd Vanderwerff

Todd Vanderwerff

2002 was the best year for film since 1999. Here is why.

1.) The Pianist (Roman Polanski) Polanski survived the Holocaust, but he has done nothing since 1974 to even suggest the power and beauty of this epic work. It is a film full of long takes and silently powerful acting from Adrien Brody, who plays Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jew and the titular pianist who survives the Holocaust. Polanski’s camera almost journalistically follows the action, daring us to watch what happened during one of man’s blackest periods without allowing us to distance ourselves. The Pianist is, in short, one of those instant masterpieces one hears about every so often.

2.) Adaptation (dir. Spike Jonze) If The Pianist hearkens back to old-school filmmaking, Adaptation points the way forward, blending meta-humor, surrealism and post-modernism into the ultimate movie about making movies.

It provides numerous interpretations and raises ideas about the purpose of art, the nature of reality, the need to find happiness and the purpose of life like the best fiction does. The whole movie makes a kind of twisted sense, culminating in a third act that will either move you deeply, make you laugh out loud or leave you cold and indifferent. However the third act makes you feel, Adaptation must be seen to be believed.

3.) About Schmidt (dir. Alexander Payne) Alexander Payne seems hell-bent on becoming the American cinema’s Sinclair Lewis.

Nebraska-born Payne makes satirical films about people you know. While Payne’s previous films have been out-and-out comedies, this movie comes tinged with the drama of regret. For Warren Schmidt, life is coming to an end without revealing its purpose. While some have complained the film is slight, the point of the film is that much of life is slight and we must look for something to hold close to us.

4.) Far From Heaven (dir. Todd Haynes) Haynes’s latest film, however, is a loving recreation of films of the 1950s, telling the story of a housewife (Julianne Moore, in the finest performance of the year) who finds her life torn apart by her husband’s unexpected liaison and her friendship with her African-American gardener. Far From Heaven goes beyond its glitzy exterior to reveal a real human heart.

5.) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (dir. Peter Jackson) Peter Jackson keeps the Lord of the Rings cycle moving along at a stunningly brisk pace, all the while allowing for human moments like the scene outside of the tomb or the re-introduction of Gandalf.

It also contains moments of raw power and beauty and one of the best battle sequences ever filmed in the climactic battle of Helm’s Deep.

6.) About a Boy (dir. Chris and Paul Weitz) No film released in 2002 makes me as happy as this one.

Perhaps the most accessible film on this list, About a Boy tells the story of a man who needs to change and how he opens the door to that change.

About A Boy is the warmest, most human movie released in 2002.

7.) Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (dir. George Clooney) This film seems to be the 2002 release most likely to attract a cult following someday, and one of the few films to capture some of the sweep of American history in the 20th century. Clooney proves a capable director and the whole film is full of wonderful performances.

8.) Minority Report (dir. Steven Spielberg) Providing the first original view of the future since Blade Runner, Minority Report offers some of the best action sequences of the year wrapped around a story which seems unusually appropriate in a world where people may be convicted before they commit crimes. All great science fiction is really about the present and, forced ending aside, Minority Report is a darkly cynical mirror image of our life and times.

9.) Chicago (dir. Rob Marshall) No other film of 2002 provides more sizzle or sass than this one.

The story’s a bit thin, but that’s not the point here. The points here are great singing, great dancing and great entertainment. Chicago provides all three in spades.

10.) Catch Me if You Can (Steven Spielberg) I still like this film’s groovy 60s’ sensibilities, its fun cat-and-mouse games and its jazzy music.

I think it’s about 15 minutes too long and Tom Hanks seems a bit forced at times, but Christopher Walken and Leonardo DiCaprio make the film worth seeing, and one can tell that Spielberg is having more fun than he has had in a long time.

11-20, in alphabetical order:

The Bourne Identity, the first movie to do something new with the action genre in years; Bowling for Columbine, a wonderful documentary from Michael Moore; Changing Lanes, a good old-fashioned morality play with a marvelous turn from Samuel L. Jackson; Gangs of New York, a wonderful movie with some deep third-act flaws; Narc, a nicely gritty cop thriller with some original ideas; Punch-Drunk Love, making the world safe for dramatic Adam Sandler performances; The Ring, the most frightening movie in quite some time; The Rookie, a wonderful little family drama about dreams and baseball; Spider-Man, the best comic book movie ever; Y Tu Mama Tambien, a teen sex comedy that actually manages to say something about the human condition.

Other films that are well-worth seeing: Ice Age, not quite Toy Story but darn close; Insomnia, proving Memento wasn’t a fluke; jackass: the movie, essentially a movie-length TV show, but an extremely funny one; Lilo and Stitch, the first good non-Pixar Disney movie in years; Road to Perdition, beautifully filmed and finely acted, if a bit long; Solaris, thoughtful science fiction, even if it did make me keep thinking,

“Hey, kids! Let’s clean out the barn”:

Talk to Her, a hauntingly beautiful foreign film; Unfaithful, another good old-fashioned morality play with a stunning Diane Lane performance.