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So long 2002, you served us well...
by Matthew Bartley

When I look back at 2002 it'll be with a warm glow, because I found a hell of a lot to like and a little to love, living in the theatres this year. So here's my 20 picks of the year, and why they pushed all my buttons in the right, fuzzy way. I know some of my picks would be on other critics '20 Worst of the Year' picks, but hell isn't that what we call that little thing called opinion?

There's also the disclaimer to be made that living in Britain, some of these may have been 2001 releases in the US of A and at least one, hasn't been released there yet. And as yet 'Catch Me If You Can', 'Chicago', 'The Ring' etc have yet to be released. But tough, these are what floated my boat.


20) INSOMNIA

You would think the fact that you already know the killers identity going in, would spoil a detective thriller, but no. Although that plotline was thrilling enough, the real juice lay in watching Al Pacino's 'tec squirm in guilt after mistakingly killing his partner.

Although not as great a mindbender as 'Memento' Chris Nolans superior thriller boasted great performances from Pacino, Swank and Williams as a cold killer and a terrific setting. I'm a sucker for murder in the snow...

19) BLACK HAWK DOWN

Jingoistic rubbish you say? Nay, I say when was the last time you saw the US Army so blatantly out of place and over the their heads? No characters, plot or decent dialogue to speak of but what it was, was a riveting, hour and a half battle that thrust you into the battle with the sole intention of leaving you numb.

As a technical accomplishment, stunning.

18) ALI

'A Beautiful Mind' stole all the plaudits and awards when it came to biographies this year, but 'Ali' was the overlooked king.

Unsentimental, powerful and ambitious it wove Ali's boxing prowess into the patchwork of American politics and black nationality in 60's America. Mann's direction was thunderous in the ring, while Smith was born to play Ali. Give it a few years and it's true worth will be re-evaluated...

17) 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE

From biographies of sporting legends to biographies of nobodies in music who somehow made something beautiful and important, this was a world apart from 'Ali'. Rough, improvised and grubby there were belly-laughs, surrealism (Steve Coogan talking to God on a roof) and heartaches. It's a period of music beloved by many, and this proved why.

16) ABOUT A BOY

Surprisingly, not your typically awful Hugh Grant or Sandler-esque 'small boy teaches immature man to grow up' comedy.
Instead, an oddly mature comic/drama that gave us suicide attempts alongside the laughs. This was Grants best performance ever, Chris and Paul Weis belied their 'American Pie' roots and the Badly Drawn Boy soundtrack was a joy.

15) PANIC ROOM

Yes, there was too much CGI and repeated viewings don't hold up the flimsy plot, but otherwise Fincher's idea of a popcorn movie was a belter. His claustrophobic direction slowly drew your breath out, created scenes that bit your nails for you (look out for that lamp!) and inched you towards the edge of your seat.

The best Hitchcock film since Hitchcock, this also had the best use of a sledgehammer since 'Misery'

14) TRAINING DAY

Another film that tended to divide critics, but this was a bent cop thriller that had an edge above most others. Gritty directing and an intelligent screenplay helped it rise above several implausabilities and you can forgot all the bleating about how Russell Crowe lost the Oscar through his petulant behaviour at the BAFTA's. Denzel thoroughly deserved it for his grandstanding, off the rails cop. A villain that will go down as one of the greats.

13) FROM HELL

A stylish, hallucigenic, blood and thunder horror story that had more ideas than your usual 'Halloween: Here We Go Again' rubbish. London has never been more seedy, Jack the Ripper never more terrifying and Johnny Depp never more odd as a cockney detective. Forget Heather Graham's ineffective whore and wallow in the gore and gallows humour.

12) SPIDER-MAN

A rare instance of a comic book character come good. Raimi's dizzying trips through the New York skyline was only one of the joys here. Maguire was perfect as Parker and Spidey, while Dafoe was just the right side of over-the-top as the Green Goblin. Looking back it definitely plays as the first installment of many, designed as a simple lead in to the sequels, but with wit, heart and care.

If all those elements are present in the inevitable sequels we will be very lucky indeed.

11) 28 DAYS LATER

Yet to be released in America, this is one to wait for. Danny Boyles portrayal of a post-apocalyptic London, deserted save for the ravaging hordes of zombies created many haunting moments.
Shot on rough DV to get across the horror and reality of the situation, this will be chiefly notable for the introduction of zombies that hunt (and run) like packs of wolves. I'll save the details for my forthcoming review, but I can safely say it's a future classic and another great British horror film this year.

10) STAR WARS EPISODE 2: ATTACK OF THE CLONES

There was enough horrible dialogue, wooden acting and un-necessary CGI to warrant a place on my worst ten as well, but it still begins my top 10 as well. Mainly because it feels like Lucas was having a whole lot of fun with the saga again, and it was near impossible to not caught up with it.

Gladitorial arenas full of droids, Jedi's, and big, scaly things, chases, space pursuits, slapstick in a factory, Ewan McGregor finally getting some decent action, some clever foreshadowing of future events and the ever lovely Natalie Portman, meant this was possibly the fastest and silliest two and a half hours of my life.

9) OCEANS 11

Hold it. Actually, THIS was the most fun I had at a flick this year. Soderberghs re-make left the rat-pack original in the dust with ten times the glitz, ten times the wit and ten times the star power. Clooney could charm a boulder into bed, Pitt was easily the funniest character this year, Garcia was great again and Roberts was amazingly not annoying.

Yes it was shallow and all style over substance. But what style. It slid down the pleasure glands like a high-class hooker.

8) MONSTERS, INC.

I laughed, I cried, I laughed another 50 times. This was animation at its very glorious best. Funnier than 'Shrek' more heartfelt than 'Toy Story' this signalled another milestone in animation and a further standard set by Pixar.

Crystal and Goodman were the comic pairing of the year, in what had possibly the best characters of the year. And whose jaw didn't hit the ground at the climatic chase on the doors?

7) ONE HOUR PHOTO

This was Williams second psycho after 'Insomnia' and by far the most memorable. If Washington deserved the last Best Actor Oscar, Robin Williams deserves this years for what has been the absolute standout performance this year. Chilling, yet heartbreaking, he was convincingly disturbed while always sympathetic.

This superb tale of a lonely man gone too far, may have had a slight story but Williams performance combined with Romanek's sterile and brittle direction, gave the shivers for a good hour and a half. The last shot alone gave the mind something to chew on for days.

6) SIGNS

Equally loved, equally hated but my admiration for Shyamalan's sci-fi thriller is undiminished. Slow and self-important it may have been, but shriek for shriek it gave the best scares all year.

Try watching Mel's eerie midnight trip into the cornfields, the childrens birthday party or the barricading of the basement without peeping through your fingertips.

Yes, the finale was as unwieldly and absurd as they come with a cod-religious message to put off many, but this, along with 'Panic Room' proved the spirit of Hitchcock was alive and well.

5) MINORITY REPORT

Now this was the Spielberg we all knew and loved. After the ponderous and puzzling 'A.I.' The Beard got back to his action roots with this sci-fi detective story, containing some of his finest sequences (watch out for those spiders!) since Indy ran away from that boulder.

Cruise proved his action credentials in a tale of predictive crime deterrent gone wrong, that tipped its hat to 'The Maltese Falcon' and 'Blade Runner' among others. Because for all it's flexing brawn, this futuristic puzzler tickled the brain and asked teasing questions about how our decisions affect future events, as well as being a good old fashioned whodunnit.

4) DOG SOLDIERS

Since when were horror movies allowed to be this much fun and British as well? A perfectly cast group of Squaddies trapped in a cottage in the Scottish highlands, surrounded by werewolves with rapidly diminishing ammunition and friends who aren't all that they seem...

Could have been horrendous schlock, was actually great. Capturing the spirit of 'Evil Dead' and 'Aliens' among many others, this ripped off many but with a charm all of its own. Hilarious, horrific, hella good. The British horror movie revival starts here!

3) DONNIE DARKO

Otherwise Lynch in a highschool. Actually scrub that. Because where Lynch is pretentious without reason, and smugly obscure, debutant Richard Kelly's mind melter was none of these.

It had heart, intelligence and passion. It was practically begging to engage our little grey matter instead of munching popcorn. And what was best about it, was the fact that the answer to all the questions and conundrums lay tantalisingly out of reach, ensuring repeat viewings.

Mixing time-travel, high school romance, coming of age parables, Patrick Swayze in the most inspired cameo of the year, giant bunny rabbit costumes, bits falling off aeroplanes and arson, this was inspired and the best debut of the year. Kelly and Gyllenhall will be stars. This is just the beginning.

2) LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS

So what do you want? Spectacle? How about the hour long siege of Helms Deep intertwined with the attack on Saruman's fortress by walking, giant trees, while the city of Gondor fends off dragons? That enough for you?

After 'Fellowship' we all knew that Peter Jackson had nailed the trilogy, so this didn't dissapoint. The fact that it still stunned and surprised was just the icing on the cake. With the most perfectly cast characters since 'The Godfather' all back for the middle part of the Middle-Earth saga, this was always destined to join 'Fellowship' in classic status. What else can be said about it? Sheer visionary, epic genius. Expect 'The Return of the King' to occupy a similiar spot next year.

1) BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE

It was going to take something mammoth to knock 'The Two Towers' from the top spot. And something mammoth it was. A fat, beardy, bespectacled film-maker who could easily pass as Peter Jacksons American cousin. It was Michael Moore and his examination of American gun culture and the offshoots of it.

Perhaps ironic that my movie of the year was actually a documentary, but nothing else made me think, cry, laugh, get angry, disturbed, and want to just talk to someone else about what I just had seen, more than this.

Pitch-perfect, precise editing (see the insertion of Columbine High School shooting CCTV footage right after you've just laughed your guts out) and a wonderfully dry voice-over from Moore himself were just some of the wonderful aspects of this. A cartoon version of American history was the funniest thing all year, Marilyn Manson was surprisingly intelligent and thoughtful in interview, while the brother of one of the Oaklahoma bombers had you yelling for the police.

And it had the conflict of the year as Moore challenged Charlton Heston over the NRA's position in American culture. As Heston slank away, we knew we could never look at him in admiration again.

Moore picked up the rock of American culture and poked and prodded until all the maggots came crawling up blindly.

We can only hope that some lessons can be learnt from 'Bowling For Columbine'. It was so much more than gun culture at fault here.





So there you have it. Unite in agreement if you want or punch the PC monitor while bellowing 'Unworthy of the HBS seal of approval!' if that's what you think of my choices. Some controversial, some obvious and some I hope made you reflect and ask yourself why you had forgotten that particular film since it came out.

Let's look forward to 2003

MP Bartley.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=668
originally posted: 01/15/03 05:40:20
last updated: 01/01/04 14:06:59
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