Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Years in Review: 2002

Low Resolution celebrates the end of the Double-Ohs Decade with a year-by-year retrospective of the movies I watched and (sometimes) loved. All due apologies to Nick Davis and Nathaniel Rogers for co-opting portions of their own decade-end features. I crib with love!

[Previously: 2000; 2001]

Upon graduating college and moving on to ... part-time employment at that very same college, I nevertheless found myself utilizing the close proximity of the suburban-Buffalo arthouse theater much more than I had as an undergrad. And my late-afternoon shift times led to a string of delightful matinee screenings -- I vivdly recall the first one being a lunchtime sneak-out to see Rabbit-Proof Fence, which I felt was very arthousy of me -- that would carry me through the next several years.

The story of 2002 -- one of them, anyway -- was one of striving to meet great expectations. By the time Gangs of New York finally screened for the public, it felt like we'd been through years and years of production hype, release-date changes, and most prominently, insane Scorsese Oscar hype. It's amazing how quickly that particular hysteria dissipated afterThe Departed, but it was all the Oscar blogosphere (such as it was) could talk about at the time. It's not at all surprising the movie couldn't sustain the hype (perhaps if DiCaprio had painted himself blue? Would Cameron Diaz's flim-flam scams have popped more in IMAX 3D?), but despite severe unevenness, it does have its moments (it's kind of sad that Daniel Plainview has completely eclipsed Bill the Butcher in the annals of great '00s performances).

In other news of crushing anticipation, critics and audiences had fun hurling the occasional spitball at the pristine gloominess of Road to Perdition (whatever, it's still my favorite Sam Mendes movie); the second Star Wars prequel got a bit of mileage out of "not as bad as Phantom Menace!" ... until people realized they were watching an hour and a half of Hayden Christensen emoting in a wheat field; and while it's more than passed into obscurity by now, the anticipation for Shekhar Kapur's The Four Feathers was pretty significant, though trying now to imagine a costume epic starring Heath Ledger, Kate Hudson, and Wes Bentley seems pretty bizarre.

Click below for the best movies of 2002...

Of course, not everything disappointed. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, while often brushed off as the weak middle chapter of the trilogy, met every expectation that Fellowship had raised, and I still cannot tear my eyes away from the Battle of Helms Deep. Also, arguably, the fact that Chicago met all expectations for being a return to glitzy, A-list fun for musicals paved its way to the Oscar win.

The Year in Matt Damon: This was a pivotal year for Damon's career, and one which set the template for the rest of his decade. He re-teamed with Gus Van Sant for the super-arty Gerry (though it would not be released wide until '03), and also took the lead role in Doug Liman's The Bourne Identity. [Also, though it wasn't a film appearance, this was also the year he guested on Will & Grace, which is a totally underrated moment in terms of getting audiences on his side.]

The Year in Tilda Swinton: Tilda took a small but enjoyable role in Spike Jonze's Adaptation, but more importantly, though I never saw it, she was in a Canadian movie called Teknolust in which she plays a scientist named Rosetta Stone who creates human/robot clones of herself. Awesome!

Best Theater Experience:
While I'm not about to slight the bizarre show-and-tell aspect of seeing The Hours on a Thursday and then dragging my mom, of all people, to see it again on Sunday ("Everybody was just so SAD..."), it's hard not to give it up for the screams and thrills had seeing The Ring for the first time. Nothing better than feeling a room full of snickering teens slowly scared into silence.

My Top 10
1. The Hours
2. LotR: The Two Towers
3. 25th Hour
4. Far From Heaven
5. Minority Report
6. Adaptation
7. Road to Perdition
8. Spirited Away
9. About Schmidt
10. Chicago

So many of this year's best movies have aged remarkably well; none better, perhaps, than Minority Report, which wouldn't have been close to my Top 10 at the time, but is probably the best depiction of Spielbergian spectacle since Jurassic Park combined with one of his more intellectually rich and emotionally resonant stories as well. 25th Hour and Spirited Away have been appearing on numerous decade-end lists, and with good reason, and I feel particularly vindicated that even with only seven years of perspective, Spike Lee's movie is getting its due. I'll get to work on making sure The Hours' reputation ages as well over the next decade.

Best Director
Stephen Daldry - The Hours
Todd Haynes - Far From Heaven
Peter Jackson - LotR: the Two Towers
Spike Lee - 25th Hour
Steven Spielberg - Catch Me If You Can / Minority Report

Best Actor
Adrien Brody - The Pianist
Nicolas Cage – Adaptation
Daniel Day Lewis - Gangs of New York
Jack Nicholson - About Schmidt
Jeremy Renner - Dahmer

Best Actress
Nicole Kidman - The Hours
Diane Lane - Unfaithful
Julianne Moore - Far From Heaven/ The Hours
Meryl Streep - The Hours
Renee Zellweger – Chicago

Best Supporting Actor
Jim Broadbent - Gangs of New York
Chris Cooper - Adaptation
Brian Cox - 25th Hour / Adaptation
Paul Newman - Road to Perdition
Christopher Walken - Catch Me If You Can

Best Supporting Actress
Samantha Morton - Minority Report
Michelle Pfeiffer - White Oleander
Susan Sarandon - Moonlight Mile / Igby Goes Down
Meryl Streep - Adaptation
Catherine Zeta Jones - Chicago

Five Films That Have Endured (outside my Top 10)
The Ring
About a Boy
Y Tu Mama Tambien
Me Without You

The Ring boasts one of the three scariest movie moments of the decade, and while we're speaking about terrifically unsettling movies, give Frailty a look. The final half-hour could feel gimmicky, but I was too busy trying to keep the hairs on the back of my neck from standing up. Me Without You and Y Tu Mama Tambien are interesting to think about in conjunction, given that both feature compelling duos intertwined on deep emotional/sexual levels (Michelle Williams and Anna Friel in the former, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna in the latter). And even if Alfonso Cuaron hadn't gone on to do pretty damn well for himself as the decade went on (he did), Y Tu Mama would still linger on if only for the single hottest scene in cinema all decade. As for About a Boy, it remains the best film product associated with Nick Hornby and Hugh Grant's all-time best performance, and it's best not to think of the current incarnation of Nicholas Hoult (A Single Man) as connected in any way to the child in this movie.

Five Films I Should See Again
Catch Me If You Can
Roger Dodger
Lovely & Amazing
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

The first four movies on this list are all movies I quite liked at first blush, but with aspects that probably deserve closer scrutiny. Like whether Lovely & Amazing has anything to say beyond the strong ensemble cast. Or where Insomnia fits among Christopher Nolan's themes of compromised heroism (The Dark Knight) and disorientation (Memento, The Prestige). Or if Campbell Scott's Roger Dodger performance brings anything distinctive to the Tutoring Cad persona that would be revisited countless times throughout the decade. Or if Catch Me if You Can feels just as buoyant as before, but hopefully less repetitive. As for Altar Boys, it'll be worth it to revisit Emile Hirsch's performance, in light of the pretty rockin' decade he's had, and I'll be honest -- Nick Davis's enthusiastic take on it makes me wonder if I narrowly missed something special.


Anonymous said...

About a Boy is on my list of films I have to watch if I stumble upon them on tv even though I have the DVD. I love the group Hugh sneaks into, SPAT: Single Parents Alone Together.

jessica said...

I will watch Chicago over and over and over again without tiring. The music is spectacular, the performances buoyant, but the multi-layered story -- about fabricated celebrity and materialism and justice -- is unbelievably rich, undeniably relevant and positively riveting. Even on the fiftieth viewing.

I really should rewatch The Hours, though, because it was so masterfully structured and directed, and the performances were so strong. I clearly recall loving it, but I don't have the DVD and haven't seen it since its theatrical release. Still, Julianne Moore in the beautifully rendered Far From Heaven was my favorite singular performance that year.

Jon said...

I love The Hours, but my memory of it has become scarred by the fact that Joe Lieberman was one row away from me in the theater when I saw it. All I can think about is how I missed my chance to save the nation from his stupidity by smothering him in a tub of buttered popcorn.

Joe Reid said...

Robin: I never seem to stumble upon it on TV, which seems wrong.

Jessica: You should get the Hours DVD if only for the Streep/Kidman/Moore commentary track. Nothing exceptionally wild, but it's a wonderful little powwow.

Jon: Joe was probably a big fan of Ed Harris's drama-queen sad-sack.

NicksFlickPicks said...

Rent Teknolust! An unexpected hoot. Very weird, admittedly, but when I taught it in one of my classes, the students totally went for it. And Tilda has this great scene where she, as one of the clones who is made of robot-engineering and tea made of dipping used condoms into boiling water... anyway, she has this great scene where, playing that kind of being, she has to eat her first sprinkle-covered donut. World class!

Joe Reid said...

I put it on the Netflix list even before you got to "sprnkle-covered donut." Amazing.