2002 is over and it's that time of year when movie fans all over the world throw together their little lists of what they feel are the best films of the year. I, of course, am no exception. I live for this stuff. Before getting to the list, I'd like to mention some films that I was interested in checking out but for whatever reason, I didn't have a chance to: Monsoon Wedding, Kissing Jessica Stein, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Dogtown and Z-Boys, Salton Sea, Hollywood Ending, CQ, 13 Conversations About One Thing, Gangster No. 1, Lovely and Amazing, The Good Girl, Man From Elysian Fields, Tuck Everlasting, The Emperor's Club, and The Grey Zone.
Here's a list of some films I'm looking really forward to seeing, but they're on a limited run at the moment: The Pianist, Quiet American, Rabbit Proof Fence, Adaptation, About Schmidt, 25th Hour, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Sonny, Nicholas Nickleby, Antwone Fisher, Chicago, The Hours, Max and Russian Ark.
As for the movies I did see, there were a lot of them. This list just represents some of my favorite film experiences of the year. If you notice one on the list that you haven't seen, try and seek it out.
25. 8 MILE
Eminem made the jump to the big screen in this film from director Curtis Hanson, playing a loose version of himself. While this certainly wasn't Shakespeare, the rapper managed to hold his own and not surprisingly, he's incredibly dynamic in the energetic rapping sequences.
24. WILCO: I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART
This insightful documentary chronicles the making of the album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and even though this picture will be most appreciated by Wilco fans, music buffs may find this look into the industry very interesting as well.
Dismissed by most as a waste of time, I found Unfaithful to be quite powerful thanks to an incredibly complex performance by Diane Lane as a woman who, despite a happy marriage, impulsively decides to stray.
22. THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES
This creepy little thriller with Richard Gere and Laura Linney, raises more questions than it's willing to answer, but Mark Pellington's brilliant, creative direction kept me involved every step of the way. It plays like a feature length X-Files episode.
Although Jackass isn't really a movie, I couldn't leave it off the list. It's quite simple. This movie was both shocking and hilarious. I laughed my ass off from beginning to end.
20 ROAD TO PERDITION
While this is certainly more of a film to admire than enjoy, I put it on this list for that very reason. Tom Hanks goes out on a limb playing a gangster, but it is the cinematography that is really worth mentioning. Absolutely breathtaking.
19. ONE HOUR PHOTO
Robin Williams turned in one of the best performances of his career as a film developer detached from reality, who bonds with a family through photographs. Creepy and understated.
Neil LaBute fashioned this exquisite adaptation of the novel Possession. His direction is fantastic, particularly the transitions shots from past to present. It features a stellar cast including; Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle.
17. AUSTIN POWERS IN
So what if many of the jokes were recycled. THIS MOVIE IS FUNNY! Mike Myers earns his paycheck playing multiple characters, and the first ten minutes of this laugh fest are absolutely inspired.
Even though this remake lacked the innovation of Christopher Nolan's Memento, it is a realistic morality play featuring Al Pacino as a sleep deprived cop in pursuit of killer Robin Williams (in another subtle performance). Well shot amid stunning, Alaskan locations.
15. GANGS OF NEW YORK
Truth be told, I felt a little disappointed by Martin Scorsese's labor of love, but for every flaw in this epic is something that does work. It should also be noted that Daniel Day Lewis is phenomenal in this picture.
14. SUNSHINE STATE
This little seen gem from independent hero John Sayles is a wonderfully structured character study, and features a stellar ensemble including; Edie Falco, Angela Bassett, Timothy Hutton, Gordon Clapp, and Mary Steenburgen. Slow moving, but worth every second of it's running time.
Many of you may not be familiar with this movie, but you will be. This dark, gritty cop thriller from director Joe Carnahan benefits from an outstanding performance by Jason Patric and a career defining turn by Ray Liotta. This picture is stunning.
12. TALK TO HER
Pedro Almodovar's complex character study about how people communicate with one another handles tough, uncompromising subject matter in a classy fashion. Not only is this movie dramatically powerful and unpredictable, it also features some of the most interesting characters of the year.
11. SOLARIS/FULL FRONTAL
A couple of years back, Steven Soderbergh released two unforgettable pictures (Erin Brockovich and Traffic) in the same year. In 2002, he did it again, but with less than satisfying results in terms of box office revenue. Full Frontal is an interesting experimental improvisation piece, while Solaris deserved a better response with it's challenging ideas and a beautiful performance by George Clooney.
10. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
Soderbergh wasn't the only Steven with two worthwhile films in the same year. Mr. Spielberg had a banner year as well. Catch Me if You Can is a wonderfully light cat and mouse chase with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, who play off of each other beautifully.
Actor Bill Paxton made his directorial debut with this frightening tale of a man who believes he and his children have been chosen to destroy demons that live among us. Told in a jigsaw puzzle fashion (think The Usual Suspects), Frailty has an ominous sense of doom that doesn't let up.
8. SPIRITED AWAY
Easily the best animated film of the year, Spirited Away also emerges as one of the best films of the year period. This fantasy unfolds like a dream and reminds us all what it's like to be a child. This is one of the most ambitious animated features I've ever seen. Thank you John Lasseter for bringing Hayao Miyazaki's Japanese treasure to the states.
7. THE RING
What starts off as a tip of the hat to that whole Scream phenomenon quickly switches gears, becoming a frightening ghost story dripping with style, courtesy of director Gore Verbinski. True, much of this movie doesn't make sense logistically speaking, but I didn't care. The tone of this film won me over. The Ring is what so many other horror films have only tried to beScary!
6. WE WE'RE SOLDIERS
Going into this Vietnam war film from director Randall Wallace, I wasn't expecting much. What I got was a passionate, dramatic and heartfelt depiction of war, featuring some shockingly realistic battle violence. This movie also features another standout performance by Mel Gibson.
5. AUTO FOCUS
Greg Kinnear soars as Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane, in this picture from director Paul Schrader. While this story features Crane, it isn't really about him. This is a down and dirty glimpse into the world of addiction, and Auto Focus is so filthy, I wanted to take a shower after it was over. Kinnear and Willem Dafoe are outstanding.
4. BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE
Michael Moore is perhaps the most known and celebrated documentary film maker of our time, and with Bowling For Columbine, he takes on subject matter that involves us all as Americans. Even though Moore tends to over reach, he raises some valid points on gun control. This movie is shocking, funny, and relevant.
3. FAR FROM HEAVEN
With Far From Heaven, Todd Haynes has perfectly re-created the 50's melodrama. But he's done so with a twist. He injects his take on a decade long since vanished with subject matter that would have been deemed too taboo during that time frame. The end result is a nostalgic and dramatic story that resonates with timeless power.
2. MINORITY REPORT
My man Steven Spielberg delivered the best summer movie with Minority Report, a thought provoking, sci-fi thriller that, at it's heart, was a picture perfect homage to film noir, sprinkled with futuristic elements. Minority Report isn't only a grand scale commercial entertainment, it's also provocative and expertly crafted.
1. LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS
The Two Towers is, hands down, the biggest, most ambitious picture of the year. I wouldn't call Peter Jackson's second installment of J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved series better than Fellowship of the Ring. I think both pictures compliment one another and I'm counting the days until Return of the King. The energy and buzz surrounding these movies is something I haven't felt since the original Star Wars trilogy. And what really makes Lord of the Rings so special is that character never gets lost in Jackson's beautifully colossal vision. Characters come first, and that's how it's supposed to be.