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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Best and Worst Films of 2002

My picks for the top and bottom films of 2002

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 1, updated February 18, 2003 -- The year 2002 came and went slowly since it was a very busy year for me. Now it is time to look back. It seemed like a good year for movies. I skipped most of the bad ones and I wound up with more "A" (four star) movies on my list than I have had in any year since I've been keeping track of such things. Usually, there are six to eight A films, but this year, there were 12 A-grade films on my list.

As usual, many of the top 10 films were released in December (including six of my top 10), so I watched about 50 films in December, including some playing in less than 30 theaters nationally. I saw a number of these films on screeners (thanks to the studios, publicists and the Online Film Critics Society). The rest, I saw in Laramie, Cheyenne or Denver. Don't feel left out if you haven't seen all these films. Lots of people haven't seen them all yet.

Below the list of top films are a list of honorable mentions, followed by lists of my picks for top director, top actor, top foreign film, etc. Those lists are followed by a list of the worst films I saw this year. In all these lists, the name of the film comes first, followed by the name of the person who directed the film, or who appeared in it. The names of film and sound editors and screenwriters are not on the list yet. I plan to add them later. Here's the list of the best 10 films of the year, along with a link to my review of each film:

Best 10 films of 2002

1. Road to Perdition[4 stars]

A savage, hard-edged tale of a struggle for survival inside organized crime in the 1930s. Enriched by the close relationships of two fathers (played by Tom Hanks and Paul Newman) and two sons, this is a meticulously crafted movie with terrific acting and a logical, compelling story. The best film of the year.

2. About Schmidt[4 stars]

A rich, dark comedy about a late life crisis, featuring a wonderful performance by Jack Nicholson as a recently retired insurance company executive. Hits universal themes about life's meaning right on the mark.

3. Adaptation[4 stars]

A hilarious comedy about a screenwriter so desperate to solve a writing problem he writes himself into the screenplay with near fatal results. Great acting job by Nicholas Cage in a dual role.

4. We Were Soldiers[4 stars]
A shattering view of a pivotal early battle in the Vietnam War. Horrific war scenes are balanced by good character development of the soldiers, especially the leader of the U.S. forces in the battle, played by Mel Gibson. Also gives a poignant view of the soldiers' wives back home, and even gives a fairly even-handed portrayal of the North Vietnamese soldiers attacking the Americans. One of only a few films to give a sympathic portrayal of a member of the news media. Based on a true story.

5. The Pianist[4 stars]

A fantastic story of survival set against the horrors of occupied Warsaw during World War II. Based on an autobiographical book by pianist and composer, the late Wladyslaw Szpilman. Uses point-of-view photography to draw you into Szpilman's story. A masterpiece by a master filmmaker, Roman Polanski.

6. One Hour Photo[4 stars]
Outstanding photography, production design and direction make this one of the best films of 2002. A great performance by Robin Williams as a man nobody notices, at their peril. Williams supplies plenty of intensity to his role as the one hour photo guy with a very dark secret.

7. Gangs of New York[4 stars]
Daniel Day-Lewis might well get another best actor Oscar for his performance as William "The Butcher" Cutting in this mythic tale of gang warfare in New York City in the early 1860s. Story of revenge includes a deliciously complex relationship between Cutting and Amsterdam Vallon (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), the man who wants to kill him.

8. Antwone Fisher[4 stars]
An inspiring tale, based on a true story, about a man who overcome severe emotional problems to become a success. In fact, he wrote the screenplay for this movie and named it after himself. A star-making performance by Derek Luke, who plays Fisher, and a great acting and directing job by Denzel Washington.

9. Minority Report[4 stars]
This film explores ideas the way that science fiction films are supposed to, but seldom do. One of the few sci-fi films not to follow the strict "Blade Runner" type of dystopian model of the furture and one of the few with an even-handed approach to the notion of determinism. Complex characterizations and dramatic action sequences round out this top-notch film directed by the only man to direct two films in this list, Steven Spielberg.

10. (tie) Spirited Away[4 stars]
(Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi)
Another classic movie from the master of Japanese animation, Hayao Miyazaki ("Princess Mononoke"). This gentle, heartwarming, uplifting film tells the story of a 10-year-old girl who learns responsibility when trapped in a magical kingdom.

10. (tie) Catch Me If You Can[4 stars]
A clever cops and robbers tale, based on a true story, about a teenage forger, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who leads the FBI on a merry chase for several years. His chief pursuer is a determined FBI agent played by Tom Hanks. The complex relationship between these two adversaries forms the heart of this fascinating film. Directed by Steven Spielberg.

Honorable Mention

The Hours[4 stars]
White Oleander[3.5 stars]
Insomnia[3.5 stars]
My Big Fat Greek Wedding[3.5 stars]
Mostly Martha[3.5 stars]
Chicago[3.5 stars]
Possession[3.5 stars]
Changing lanes[3.5 stars]
The Emperor's Club[3.5 stars]
The Count of Monte Cristo[3.5 stars]

Best director

1 Adaptation -- Spike Jonze
2 One Hour Photo -- Mark Romanek
3 Insomnia -- Christopher Nolan
4 Chicago -- Rob Marshall
5 Road to Perdition -- Sam Mendes

Best actor

1 About Schmidt -- Jack Nicholson
2 Adaptation -- Nicolas Cage
3 The Emperor's New Clothes -- Ian Holm
4 Insomnia -- Al Pacino
5 We Were Soldiers -- Mel Gibson

Best actress

1 My Big Fat Greek Wedding -- Nia Verdalos
2 Secretary -- Maggie Gyllenhall
3 Read My Lips -- Emmanuelle Devos
4 Chicago -- Renee Zellweger
5 Unfaithful -- Diane Lane

Best supporting actor

1 Road to Perdition -- Paul Newman
2 Roger Dodger -- Jesse Eisenberg
3 Read My Lips -- Vincent Cassel
4 My Big Fat Greek Wedding -- Michael Constantine
5 Adaptation -- Chris Cooper

Best supporting actress

1 Chicago -- Queen Latifah
2 Moonlight Mile -- Ellen Pompeo
3 Chicago -- Catherine Zeta-Jones
4 Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, The -- Jena Malone
5 Gangs of New York -- Cameron Diaz

Best ensemble acting

1 About Schmidt
2 Gangs of New York
3 Chicago
4 The Count of Monte Cristo
5 Road to Perdition

Best adapted screenplay

1 Road to Perdition
2 About Schmidt
3 Adaptation
4 We Were Soldiers
5 Gangs of New York

Best original screenplay

1 One Hour Photo
2 Antwone Fisher
3 Changing Lanes
4 Read My Lips
5 Evelyn

Best foreign language film

1 Mostly Martha
2 Read My Lips
3 Monsoon Wedding
4 Elling
5 The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat)

Best cinematography

1 One Hour Photo
2 Gangs of New York
3 Road to Perdition
4 Chicago
5 The Pianist

Best original score

1 Catch Me If You Can
2 Chicago
3 Road to Perdition
4 Gangs of New York
5 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Best breakthrough performance

1 My Big Fat Greek Wedding -- Nia Verdalos
2 Secretary -- Maggie Gyllenhall
3 Moonlight Mile -- Ellen Pompeo
4 Antwone Fisher -- Derek Luke
5 -- 8 Mile -- Eminem

Best breakthrough filmmaker

1 One Hour Photo -- Mark Romanek
2 Chicago -- Rob Marshall
3 Read My Lips -- Jacques Audiard
4 Secretary -- Steven Shainberg
5 Frailty -- Bill Paxton

Best documentary film

1 Bowling for Columbine
2 The Kid Stays In The Picture
3 Dogtown and Z-Boys
4 Standing in the Shadows of Motown
5 Family Fundamentals

Best animated feature

1 Spirited Away
2 Ice Age
3 Lilo and Stitch
4 Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
5 Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis

Best visual effects

1 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
2 Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
3 Minority Report
4 The Sum Of All Fears
5 The Time Machine

Best art direction

1 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
2 Far From Heaven
3 Chicago
4 Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
5 Road to Perdition

Best costume design

1 Far From Heaven
2 Road to Perdition
3 Possession
4 Chicago
5 Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Best film editing

1 Chicago
2 Ring, The
3 Read My Lips
4 Dogtown and Z-Boys
5 Insomnia

Best sound

1 Chicago
2 Read My Lips
3 Road to Perdition
4 The Rookie
5 We Were Soldiers

[strip of film rule] Links to reviews of all the films:
A through B   C through D   E through G   H through I
J through L   M through N   O through Q   R through S   T through Z

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The Worst Films of 2002

While I saw most of the best films of the year, I purposefully missed most of the worst films, including such stinkers as Rollerball, Bad Company, Serving Sara, The Master of Disguise, Slackers, Stealing Harvard, Ghost Ship, The New Guy, I Spy, Half Past Dead, Crossroads, Fear Dot Com, Mr. Deeds, Deuces Wild, Abandon, Juwanna Mann, Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights, Pinocchio and Swept Away.

I did not entirely escape the stinkers, however. My wife and I both groaned through "The Tuxedo," even though we are both Jackie Chan fans. I even saw the film that was named worst film of the year by Roger Ebert, "Death to Smoochie." I also saw another much-hated clown movie, "Vulgar." Unlike most people, I liked both of those movies about twisted clowns. I also saw the much-hated "Dragonfly," and didn't think it was that bad. I gave it a C. I saw "The Adventures of Pluto Nash" and gave it a C, too. Eddie Murphy had a hat trick of critical and box office failures in 2002, "Showtime," "The Adventures and Pluto Nash" and "I Spy." A couple of films of the foreign and art film variety flopped pretty badly too, "8 Women," a nonsensical French musical, "Personal Velocity," three stories of feminist angst, and "Dahmer," a dicey story of a cannibalistic killer.

Here, then, are the worst films I saw this year, with the caveat that I skipped most of the bad films.

1. The Queen of the Damned[1 star]
2. Showtime[1 star]
3. The Tuxedo[1 star]
4. Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever[1 star]
5. Dahmer[1.5 stars]
6. 8 Women[1.5 stars]
7. Personal Velocity[1.5 stars]
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Copyright © 2003 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]