Was it my imagination or were movies actually better in 2002? Certainly, the record-breaking box office reflected the willingness of moviegoers to give an big thumbs up (and all their disposable income) to Hollywood. Still, most of the mammoth moneymakers — like Spiderman and Attack of the Clones — were of the usual commercially-driven sort, hyped beyond all comprehension, and really had very little to do with art or artistry. Unless you consider the amazing advances in digital enhancements art.
While many of my favorite directors — Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg — turned in respectable additions to their cannons (Hollywood Ending, Gangs of New York, Minority Report), their films were not quite good enough — by their own directing standards, to make the final cut.
What did make the cut? Let’s take a look.
1. Igby Goes Down — This quirky and acrid comedy, with a pungent aftertaste gets my vote for top film of the year. As a disaffected, rebellious teenager struggling to slice himself free of his upper-crust upbringing, Kieran Culkin was astonishing. Let’s just say a true Culkin star is born — and it ain’t Macauley.
2. The Cockettes — Bill Weber and David Weissman’s documentary about the gender-bending, dubiously talented performance troupe who became a pop culture sensation in the ’70s was as immensely entertaining as it was informative. If you missed it, fear not, it’s about to be released on DVD. Best viewed on LSD, for the complete experience.
3. The Road to Perdition — They don’t make ’em like this anymore: a real movie’s movie. Tom Hanks starred as a mob hit man trying to keep himself and his son, who witnessed a hit, from a similar fate. Powerful and compelling, with virtuoso direction by Sam Mendes.
4. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers — Part two of the trilogy has an epic sweep that hasn’t been experienced in movies since — well, since the days of David Lean. It is beyond brilliant — it’s a movie marvel, one that shatters your emotions and pumps your adrenaline.
5. Chicago — It’s good, isn’t it grand, isn’t it great, isn’t it swell? Oh yes, oh, yes, oh, yes, oh, yes!
6. About A Boy — Hugh Grant is still as appealing as ever. And this sweet-tempered, funny, intelligently-executed movie about an immature ladies’ man given a lesson in what’s important in life by a pre-teen boy just swept you off your feet.
7. One Hour Photo — Robin Williams was chilling as a bland-on-the-outside, deranged-on-the-inside photo lab technician obsessed with a family in this stark, unsettling thriller. Creepy.
8. The Ring — The scariest movie of the year. Maybe of the decade. Maybe of all time. Okay, maybe not. Still, it made Blair Witch seem like Bambi.
9. Bowling for Columbine — Three cheers for the irritating yet loveable provocateur Michael Moore, back on top of his game with this documentary about Americans and their love of guns. Featuring Charlton Heston’s most honest performance ever.
10. 8 Mile — Well, I never thought I’d say this, but Eminem is a genius. Choosing Curtis Hanson as a director was the best move he could have made. The movie was slick, heartfelt, and uplifting. It worked like a charm. Thanks Em, for showing us your sensitive side. Let’s hope it sticks.
Honorable mentions to Barbershop, Signs, and The Good Girl.
And now, very briefly, the worst: The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Swept Away (please, Madonna, no more movies), The Sweetest Thing (Cameron Diaz at her lowest), Swimfan, 40 Days & 40 Nights, Scooby Doo, XXX (one word: Vin), Star Trek: Nemesis, Dragonfly (two words: Kevin and Costner), and Tadpole (overrated, overarching independent tripe).