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A year in review: Matt's Best of 2002

January 20th, 2003

For the past week or so, I've been writing about the best-films-of-the-year lists, written by various critics and organizations, including Roger Ebert and the New York Film Critics Circle. While doing this, I've become engaged to do my own little year-round-up, what I would like to present as the films I feel had an important impact on cinema, visually, emotionally, or both.

Here are my choices for the Ten Best Films of 2002, served with a batch of honorable mentions:

1) The Pianist: Roman Polanski's harrowing telling of the true account of Polish-Jew Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody) through the terrors of WWII. Polanski's talents are at full-throttle with every breathtaking, and heartbreaking, scene, again securing a place in cinematic history as one of the best filmmakers out there. Brody is simply astounding in his performance as Szpilman, his every move and facial expression flawless, the traits of a truly gifted actor in a remarkably difficult role. The Pianist is beautiful movie-making during an age when most films don't have half a brain to think with, or image to show. It's Polanski's best film since Chinatown.

2) About Schmidt: Alexander Payne's heartbreakingly funny and poignant tale of a man in his early '60s (Jack Nicholson) who comes to realize during retirement that he has lived a life of pain and regret. Kathy Bates is fabulous as Schmidt's future mother-in-law, though Nicholson gives the performance of the year, a reminder of why he's one of the greatest artists of our time.

3) Minority Report: Steven Spielberg's visual masterpiece is nothing short of hypnotizing and one of the best sci-fi films ever. Tom Cruise is the future pre-criminal cop who's framed for murder and pursued by Colin Farrell. The cast is good but it is Spielberg who's the star, with Report catching you in the gut the first frame and not letting go until the end. It's his best adventure since Raiders of the Lost Ark and a monumental achievement in visually stunning filmmaking. A modern Metropolis.

4) Far From Heaven: Julianne Moore is wonderful in this homage to 1950's filmmaking, with director Todd Haynes blossoming into a magnificent auteur after a career in independent/underground cinema (Velvet Goldmine). In her role as the wife of a sexually confused Dennis Quad, Moore radiates with an elegance rarely found within actresses today and delivers a performance of stunning beauty.

5) The Hours: An engaging drama starring three of the best actresses alive today: Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman. Based on the novel, The Hours spellbinds us with is superior cast and forces us to watch the downward spiral of emotions that drown these characters in despair. The whole film beams with brilliance.

6) The Quiet American: A lovely adaptation of Graham Greene's novel about the pitfalls that surround an Englishman (Michael Caine) and American (Brendan Fraser) and their shared Vietnamese lover during the Vietnamese War in Saigon, 1952. Director Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger) steeps the viewer in textured atmosphere and some powerful acting - Caine hasn't been this good in a while; Fraser ignites with a sexy, solidly characterized nuance.

7) All or Nothing: Another Mike Leigh gem. All or Nothing doesn't contain the mastery of Secrets and Lies, or Topsy-Turvy, though what it does have is a marvelous cast (including Leigh regular Timothy Spall as a down-and-out cab driver) and that rare way of getting into your skin. A film that puts the mega-budgeted Hollywood gloss to shame.

8) Adaptation: More sheer inventiveness from the makers of Being John Malkovich, this time with a little more fun. Nicolas Cage is daftly funny as twin brothers Charlie and Donald Kaufman, the earlier having major problems in adapting The Orchid Thief into a glitz and glossy Hollywood affair. Meryl Streep is superb as the author as is Chris Cooper as the novel's scruffy orchid lover.

9) Solaris: The most vastly underrated film of the year. Steven Soderbergh's dizzying array of mind-bending story-telling and marvelous direction is this reworking of Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 masterwork with George Clooney trapped in a world where the past can haunt you literally. Where Minority Report is the best science fiction film of the year, Solaris is a definite runner-up and probably the most thought-provoking movie of 2002.

10) One Hour Photo: Robin Williams gives the performance of his career in this nifty little number that is one of the creepiest and most satisfying thrillers since the days of Hitchcock. One Hour Photo delivers its goods in strong direction (from Mark Romanek) and intense situations realized through verbal exchanges and not mindless action.

I was also fond of Gangs of New York, Punch-Drunk Love, The Ring, Read My Lips, Signs, Insomnia, Red Dragon, and Femme Fatale.

Matthew Dalton

January 20

Filed under: About Schmidt, The Hours, The Pianist, Solaris, The Quiet American, All or Nothing, Adaptation