The lord of the screens

Bob Grimm names his favorite and most reviled movies of 2002.

The Best Movies of 2002

From top to bottom: Jack Nicholson in Schmidt, Julianne Moore in Hours, Leo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can. The backgrounds are from top: Minority Report, Signs, Lord of the Rings.

From top to bottom: Jack Nicholson in Schmidt, Julianne Moore in Hours, Leo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can. The backgrounds are from top: Minority Report, Signs, Lord of the Rings.

It was somewhere around mid-October that I started bitching about the films of 2002. We were being subjected to a year in which there were fewer than five excellent films, a shocking number considering the record number of movies being chucked at us.

Bruce Van Dyke, morning man and professional wise-ass over at KTHX radio, made some keen observations during one of our Wednesday morning radio segments. (He is, in fact, capable of keen observations in the wee hours of the morning—if he has had his big bran muffin.) When I whipped an excellent rating on a movie, he correctly asserted that it was the first time I had given that rating in nearly four months. That shocked me because 1) I couldn’t believe Bruce could remember back that far and 2) 120 days is a long time to wait for an excellent movie.

Sure, there were a lot of films I would define as “fun crap” during the spring and summer, for example, Blade 2 and Austin Powers: Goldmember, but there were few films that inspired me to stand up at a screening and shout, “Hallelujah! This film rocks my world! Give it a goddamn medal!” Good thing, ‘cause that sort of disruption would’ve probably resulted in a soda shower, the frightening of children and my ass getting kicked.

Things changed drastically around the release of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in November. I started to get optimistic. This film didn’t make me want to go nappy time, as the first one did, and it proved to be an indicator of good things ahead. Parts of November and nearly all of December would produce a large quantity of very good films and a satisfactory number of excellent ones. In effect, much popcorn erupted from cartoon boxes in the last chunk of the year. It was an Orville Redenbacher wet dream.

A large chunk of 2002’s best films were jammed into the final weeks of December. Some of them have yet to be released in Reno. Here’s my take on the year’s best. After my bitch session in October, things exploded, and it was tough to whittle them down to a Top 10.

1) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: Oh God, I love these movies. I could get all pretentious on you and throw best-film honors at more cerebral fare, but screw that. Peter Jackson is two-thirds of the way to completing the greatest adventure film series ever put to celluloid. From the CGI creation of Gollum to the sturdy presence of Viggo Mortensen and Ian McKellen acting up a storm, the second chapter in the Rings trilogy is the year’s best movie. By releasing one Rings film each year, Jackson makes George Lucas look like one lazy bastard.

2) Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: A first-rate directorial debut from George Clooney. This is a brash, strikingly uncommercial film based on the memoirs of The Gong Show creator Chuck Barris, who claimed to be a CIA assassin as well as an entertainment mogul. Clooney has fashioned a beautiful-looking, nasty statement on the evils of television. Starring Sam Rockwell in a star-making role as Barris.

Confessions was picked as 2002’s best film by the Las Vegas Film Critics Society, of which Reno Gazette-Journal film reviewer Forrest Hartman and I are members. It’s a little geeky to be in a critics’ society, but you get all sorts of cool stuff in the mail.

From left to right: Gangs of New York, Minority Report, Rookie, Signs and Road To Perdition.

3) About Schmidt: Just when you think Jack Nicholson’s best performances might be behind him, along comes his work in this wicked film from director Alexander Payne (Election). Nicholson plays Warren Schmidt, a retired insurance salesman on a mission to save his daughter from marrying a loser. The filmmakers’ perceptiveness when examining human nature and relationships is pretty terrifying. It also has an outside shot at making you weep a bit.

4) The Hours: Many said that the book about Virginia Woolf and two other women cosmically tied to her writings could never be adapted into a movie. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Nicole Kidman (as Woolf), Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep provide what can be called the year’s best-acted film when you add up their tremendous work. Throw in an editing job worthy of an Oscar, and you get three stories in three separate times seamlessly presented.

5) Adaptation: Nicolas Cage stars as twin brothers Charlie and Donald Kaufman in this bizarre film from director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich), written by the real Charlie Kaufman. A strange offshoot of Kaufman’s actual experience trying to turn a book about orchids into a film, the results will put dents in your skull. You’ll learn a lot about orchids and witness some great alligator action.

6) Insomnia: Director Christopher Nolan follows up Memento with this beautiful eye bath of a movie that stars Al Pacino as an insomniac detective tracking a sick psychopath (Robin Williams) in Alaska. Pacino and Williams are amazing. The first film I gave my highest rating to in 2002, and that wasn’t until May.

7) Signs: Starring Mel Gibson as a disenchanted priest trying to shield his family from an alien invasion, this is director M. Night Shyamalan’s (The Sixth Sense) best movie. It’s a masterpiece of understatement and also totally freaking scary. That alien walking around during the birthday video made me want to cry. Straight-up, little child, snot-riddled wailing. (Of course, I saved the baby-assed crying for the drive home. Didn’t want my posse thinking I was a wuss.)

8) Gangs of New York: Daniel Day-Lewis, as the hateful yet somehow endearing Bill the Butcher, provides the best performance in a Martin Scorsese film since De Niro’s Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull. A gigantic film in every way, Scorsese’s take on rival gangs in 19th-century New York City may finally get him an Oscar. Day-Lewis says he’s going back into retirement, and that’s a sad thing. Don’t expect him to be goofing around with Sean Penn at this year’s Oscar ceremonies. Odds are he’ll be in Italy making shoes when the awards are handed out.

9) Catch Me If You Can: I’ve seen a lot of critics treat this film like a curio, a respite from “real” filmmaking by Steven Spielberg. Bullshit! This is a solid blast of entertainment featuring fine performances, incredible camerawork and expert pacing. Leonardo DiCaprio is fantastic as the notorious con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. Incidentally, I also thought he was good in Gangs of New York.

The Leo-bashing e-mails are starting to take a toll on me. Come on people, you’re worse than me and my Joel Schumacher rants. Give the guy a rest and admit it: You loved him in Titanic. You cried in front of your friends, they mocked you and now you’re permanently scarred, taking out all your emotional hurt on Leo and his career. Just a theory.

10) Far From Heaven: Julianne Moore had a banner year with award-worthy roles in The Hours, the little-seen World Traveler and this boundary-breaking film from director Todd Haynes. Filmed like a vintage Hollywood ‘50s movie but incorporating such taboos as racism and sex, the movie provides a gloriously weird vibe.

Clockwise from top: Dangerous Mind, Catch Me if You Can, Adaptation.

So, that’s a nice and healthy Top 10. But we’re not done yet. Put the kids in the car and grab a cooler of lemonade, because we’re going to 20!

11. Minority Report: Great year for Spielberg. This futuristic crime thriller was one of the year’s best-looking films. It featured Tom Cruise in top form and was a good mystery as well. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who also lensed Catch Me if You Can and Saving Private Ryan, currently holds the title of the world’s greatest film cameraman.

Here’s some funny, useless trivia I just discovered while surfing the net: Kaminski, the man who shot all those great Spielberg films, was the cameraman for Vanilla Ice’s Cool As Ice video. Busted!

12. Road to Perdition: Some thought this movie was a little too sleepy, but I was constantly involved in it and appreciated the change of pace for Tom Hanks as a solemn hitman trying to save the life of his son. Are we starting to take Hanks for granted? The man kicked ass in this movie and Catch Me if You Can, yet people aren’t really talking about him. Actually, hang on, that’s not true. I just talked about him. Please, disregard the prior ignorant statement.

13. Solaris: There has been much publicity about George Clooney’s bare ass in this intellectual sci-fi mind bender. Since many of you did not see the movie, I will take this time to inform you that Clooney’s bare ass is quite impressive. The man and his trainer should be proud of their accomplishment. It is a shame that his glorious buttocks overshadowed a pretty great film about human memory and the loss of a loved one from director Steven Soderbergh. I’ve never seen such a mass exodus as the one this film caused while I was watching it. Perhaps the splendor of Clooney’s rock hard posterior was too much for the masses.

14. The Pianist: Director Roman Polanski makes a return to greatness that was a long time coming with this stunning true story of a Jewish pianist (Adrian Brody) trying to survive the Nazis in WWII Poland. This film contained some of the year’s most horrific, heartbreaking moments. It’s also a throwback to the beautiful, important filmmaking that used to be a staple in Polanski’s career. A probable contender for this year’s Best Picture honors.

15. Rabbit-Proof Fence: Director Phillip Noyce had a good year with the Michael Caine vehicle The Quiet American and this captivating film, based on a true story, about Australian aboriginal children in the 1950s escaping internment for being half-white. The three young girls playing the leads deserve some kind of award. Say, I’ll give them one, The Bob Grimm You Did Good, Kids Award. There you go, girls, treasure it. Bask in its imaginary glory.

16. 24 Hour Party People: This hilarious film chronicling the birth of the Manchester music scene is a blast for anybody who listened to college radio during the ‘80s. If you don’t like Manchester music like James and Happy Mondays, then see it for the pigeon scene. It’s a kick.

17. The Rookie: Dennis Quaid arguably had the best year of his career. Apart from his incredible turn in Far From Heaven as a 1950s salesman with a secret, he played Jim Morris in the true story of a 38-year-old pitcher who made it to the big leagues. While the film didn’t make my personal Top 10, I would call it the year’s best family film. If you and your family don’t like baseball, I would call it the family film most likely to incite a household riot, culminating in the TV going out the window and into the kiddy pool.

Gandalf and King Theo in The Lord of the Rings.

18. Igby Goes Down: I can’t believe this offbeat movie about a dysfunctional family is this far down my list. It features one of the year’s best ensemble casts, including Susan Sarandon, Jeff Goldblum and the Kieran Culkin, who has actually ignited some Oscar buzz. Culkin had the breakthrough performance of the year.

19. Bloody Sunday: After years of rocking out to the U2 song, cinema finally shows us what the tune is all about with this film, a shattering documentary-like piece that thrusts you right into that terrible day in ‘72 when British police opened fire on peaceful Irish protesters. Because it aired on television early in 2002, this film will not be eligible for Oscar consideration. I’ll bet somebody in the marketing department got spanked for that one.

20. Punch-Drunk Love: While Adam Sandler did waste our time with Mr. Deeds, this is also the year of his greatest cinematic triumph—teaming with director Paul Thomas Anderson for this magically weird film. Sandler is actually heartbreaking as a suppressed individual with a tendency for window-shattering rage.

I disliked a record number of movies this year. While Robin Williams had a good year with One Hour Photo and Insomnia, he did take part in the supremely disappointing Death to Smoochy. Men in Black II had Ghostbusters 2 disease, Harrison Ford looked like a wounded basset hound in K:19: The Widowmaker, and the otherwise reliable John Woo directed a painfully bad Nicolas Cage in Windtalkers.

As for animation, it was a very weak year. Aside from Disney’s bizarre Lilo & Stitch and the enchanting Japanese anime Spirited Away, the offerings ranged from marginal to garbage. The Powerpuff Girls almost gave me an aneurysm, Hey Arnold! and Peter Pan: Return to Neverland both looked like they took two weeks to make, and Disney’s Treasure Planet was a mixed-up mess.

While these films were letdowns, there were many that were far worse. This past year delivered the worst movie I’ve ever seen. You can quote me. It’s the worst. No film by Ed Wood, no lousy splatter fest exploitation flick, no single offering from Madonna could top the sheer misery this movie provided.

Here’s the list, with that big rancid cherry on top.

1. Pinocchio: The worst movie of the year and the worst I’ve ever seen. Roberto Benigni, as the boy puppet, made me want to poke my eyes out with a soda straw. In this misbegotten version of the classic story, the boy puppet is 50 years old, dressed in a perverted clown outfit and voiced by the highly annoying actor Breckin Meyer. This film will inspire hatred toward puppets, crickets and people named Roberto Benigni.

2. Hollywood Ending: Until Benigni delivered his cinematic fart, Woody Allen’s tired shtick was the frontrunner for year’s worst. It’s hard to believe there was something worse than this torturously lame and insulting satire of Tinseltown, but there was. Benigni saves the day.

Britney, Reese and Roberto.

3. Possession: I dragged my dear old dad to see this one while we were touring San Francisco. The man has survived numerous life-threatening situations, but Gwyneth Paltrow’s lame accent and one of the year’s most boring plots almost did him in. Sorry, Pop. Next time, Lord of the Rings!

4. Crossroads: The film started with Britney Spears dancing around in her underwear and, to be honest, this pleased the ape in me. Then she started singing and talking and crying, and I just wanted to go home. Britney Spears: Good underwear dancer, heinous actress.

5. Swept Away: Madonna, another fine underwear dancer, starred in this ghastly film by her hubby Guy Ritchie. Any claims she had to the title of female activist were damaged with this politically incorrect, just horribly wrong film about domination and degradation. Madonna: Not as good an underwear dancer as Britney Spears, perhaps not quite as heinous an actress—but close.

6. Tadpole: A stupid sex comedy that had many singing its praises but left me wondering why it has become so chic to make films that look like Dad’s been shotgunning Pabst Blue Ribbon and making home movies.

7. The Hot Chick: This would-be comedy reaches new lows for political incorrectness, sexism and racism. Remarkably, it’s worse than the combined rancidity of Rob Schneider’s previous starring vehicles.

8. Femme Fatale: Famed film critic Roger Ebert gave this incomprehensibly bad Brian De Palma mystery-thriller a four-star review. Ebert is a great writer; he’s entitled to his opinion and, when it comes to this film, absolutely, 100 percent wrong.

9. Halloween Resurrection and Jason X: For many years, I have walked into these sequels still harboring hope that they could be good, dirty fun. For many years, I have emerged from these sequels a tired, frustrated man. Still, I’m lining up for 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason. I can’t wait, and I’ll never learn.

10. Sweet Home Alabama: I love Reese Witherspoon. She, at one time, was one of cinema’s more promising, edgier actresses. Someone discovered she could make a crap movie marketable due to her star wattage and now she’s being marketed like Vanilla Coke. I wish she’d go back to good moviemaking, and this mediocrity train would stop, but it won’t stop any time soon. Stay tuned for Legally Blonde 2 and about 3 million jokes with that annoying Chihuahua.

2002 was the year that Century Theaters finally killed off the Keystone, our former hub for art and foreign films. The theater chain carried the Keystone name to launch art films at their Riverside location (actually, a very good theater), and then replaced Keystone with the standard name for their art film division, CineArts. Riverside is a nice theater, but I’m sorry to see the Keystone go.

2003 is loaded with sequels, including two Matrix movies, a second X Men, Spy Kids 3, Terminator 3, Barbershop 2, American Pie 3 and Bad Boys 2. If you care to count, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is only about 330 days away.

So, if 2003 is sort of a drag, just remember this: Each passing day, each baby step you take toward your eventual demise, will bring you one step closer to the conclusion of the Rings trilogy and probable movie bliss.