Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
The next 24 hours or so should see the publication of this list, my list, and Harry’s list. As I understand it, we’re waiting until Quint can count to 11 without being naked before we ask him to make a list, and ol'Father Geek got the jump on us all a couple of weeks ago with His List of 21.
Any introduction beyond that would probably entail me either agreeing with or disagreeing with Beaks on his choices, and that’s not why I’m here.
No... that’s why TalkBack is here. Lock and load, boys.
In the words of Alec Baldwin from STATE & MAIN, “well….. *that* happened!”
My 2002 moviegoing year began officially with McTiernan’s ROLLERBALL, and was closed out by Polanski’s THE PIANIST. In between these two films, I left New York City, spent way too much time in Ohio, and finally relocated to Los Angeles, a crazy town that I’m trying very hard to love. Due to the hectic tenor of my year, I found myself playing a wild game of cinema catch-up throughout December and into January, which, sadly, means that more than a few films went unseen. Before getting started with my recap, and in the interest of full disclosure of my delinquency, I offer this short list of notable pictures I missed (and their directors):
Trouble Every Day (Clare Denis)
Festival in Cannes (Henry Jaglom)
Les Destinees (Olivier Assayas)
Night at the Golden Eagle (Adam Rifkin) – Luckily, someone on this site managed to sufficiently cover this one.
Home Movie (Chris Smith)
ivans xtc (Bernard Rose)
Merci Pour Le Chocolat (Claude Chabrol) – Alas, the obligatory Chabrol film which I failed to see before it’s released on DVD/Video.
Tadpole (Gary Winick)
Full Frontal (Steven Soderbergh)
Alias Betty (Claude Miller)
8 Women (Francois Ozon) – Easily, the most egregious omission of my year, considering my love for the director, and complete infatuation with Virginie Ledoyen and Ludivine Sagnier.
Bloody Sunday (Paul Greengrass)
Personal Velocity (Rebecca Miller)
Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay)
If you feel my list is lacking owing to the omission of any of the above films, please feel free to lobby for them in the talk back.
Now, let’s move on to what I *did* see this year, though you’ll excuse me if I don’t discuss all 131 of them. This number is referring only to 2002 releases, most of which, honestly, I viewed over the last month, which has resulted in a kind of prestige-film malaise. By the time I reached THE PIANIST, I was praying for some kind of frivolous cinematic reprieve, something that wasn’t trying to provide profound commentary on the banality of evil, or the bloody making of America in Manhattan’s filthy Five Points, or, Nipsey forbid, the quiet desperation of women in loveless relationships, scored oppressively by Philip Glass. Which means that this list – as with any other list I make, or any viewpoint I may hold on a specific film – might shift around in the coming years. In particular, it will be interesting to see how the film I’ve named the Best of 2002 will age as we move farther away from the horrifying event that pervades its every frame.
A word on my terribly complex methodology: before settling on my top ten, I whittled down my list a number of times; first, to eliminate those films that haven’t a chance of contending (i.e., anything released by Warner Brothers); secondly, to sift out those films about which I didn’t feel *really* strongly. This left me with a list of twenty-two pictures worthy of something more than muted praise. I’ll begin with the honorable mentions, ranked in no particular order, meaning that some came closer to the final ten than others.
ENIGMA (d. Michael Apted, w. Tom Stoppard) – An exceedingly intelligent spy game that couldn’t have found a more fitting adapter than master playwright, Tom Stoppard, who once again finds a stirring human poetry in the cracking of complex mathematical equations (read his brilliant ARCADIA to see how he unites the seemingly disparate likes of Quantum Physics and Lord Byron). Ultimately, it’s a tad too restrained emotionally, but this isn’t for a lack of trying on John Barry’s part, who contributes a typically lush score that makes you wish he didn’t work so infrequently nowadays. (As if I needed another reason to madly anticipate it, Barry is listed as the composer for Brad Bird’s THE INCREDIBLES.)
HELL HOUSE (d. George Ratliff) – Reviewed. I expected this film to more of a lightning rod for controversy, but maybe, when it’s nominated for Best Documentary (hint, motherfucking, hint), it’ll start getting talked about. If you get the chance, do not pass this one up.
THE RING (d. Gore Verbinski, w. Ehren Kruger & Scott Frank) – Reviewed. Though many nitpicked the film’s plot holes, I found the logic held within the oppressively eerie world conjured up by Verbinski, who, hopefully, will return to horror after the horror of directing THE PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN. Extra points must be given for the tattered copy of YOR, HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE hidden on the shelf in the hotel manager’s office.
JACKASS: THE MOVIE (d. Jeff Tremaine, w. Kingsley Amis) – Reviewed. Not only the funniest film of the year, but probably the most relentlessly hysterical motion picture since AIRPLANE! Oh, and after receiving a mountain of email last week either praising or excoriating me for loving ROAD HOUSE, Moriarty has no idea how close he came to experiencing Bam Margera’s fireworks-in-the-bedroom prank firsthand.
MULE SKINNER BLUES (d. Stephen Earnhart) – I caught this documentary on the Sundance Channel earlier this year, and have been recommending it to friends ever since. It’s very much a southern variation on AMERICAN MOVIE, with the irrepressible Beanie Andrew filling the Mike Borchardt role as he struggles to conceive and execute a horror film twice as inscrutable as “Coven”. To do this, he corrals the talents of his quirky North Floridian friends and neighbors, including an aspiring writer, a pair of feuding local rock musicians, and a nearly tone-deaf chanteuse whose voice, she says, “gets better with Schnapps”. What they end up with may not be high art, but it’s genuine, and their pride upon seeing their opus completed is undeniably touching. Don’t be surprised if Miss Jeanie’s anthem, “I Don’t Ever Want Another D.U.I.”, gets stuck in your head.
THE QUIET AMERICAN (d. Phillip Noyce, w. Christopher Hampton & Robert Schenkkan) – Reviewed. Michael Caine delivers the best performance of the year.
NARC (w. & d. Joe Carnahan) – Reviewed. A great actor’s director is born in Joe Carnahan. Lost in the well-deserved hype for Ray Liotta’s turn is Jason Patric’s absorbing work as an irreparably damaged cop inflicting more damage on himself as he attempts to close a case that might be better left open. Shattering.
CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND (d. George Clooney, w. Charlie Kaufman) – An immensely entertaining wallow in the muddled, partially (probably) fibbed life of Chuck Barris, who claims to have engaged in wetworks for the CIA while producing and hosting a series of successful TV game shows. If you can’t swallow that premise, it’s just as interesting if taken as a metaphor for a man unable to be faithful to women, or honest with himself. Add Sam Rockwell to the list of deserving actors likely to be snubbed by the Academy.
Did anyone else break down in tears when they saw that Gene Gene, The Dancin’ Machine lost his legs?
EQUILIBRIUM (w. & d. Kurt Wimmer) – When I saw this movie for the third time (I felt honor-bound to pay to see it after rallying y’all to see it back in early December), I found myself engaging in faux-gunkata outside the Universal Citywalk AMC multiplex with a fellow web critic who will go unnamed. One of the most pleasant surprises of the year, and, yes, it still holds the title for Best Choreographed Action of 2002.
SPIDER-MAN (d. Sam Raimi, w. David Koepp) – The year’s best pure popcorn film, and a more perfect origin film than Donner’s SUPERMAN (then again, I’ve always been more partial to the web-slinger). I can’t wait to see how the steadily improving crew over at Sony Imageworks (inexplicably shafted by the Academy for their work on STUART LITTLE 2) handles the f/x on the sequel. Michael Chabon’s draft is currently being re-written by Alvin Sargent (little surprise there, since he did uncredited work on the first film). Let’s hope it isn’t possible for there to be *too* much talent aboard this franchise.
THE PIANIST (d. Roman Polanski, w. Ronald Harwood) – An unflinching, unsentimental survivor’s tale of the Holocaust that is ultimately more exhausting than profound. What lingers most in memory is Adrian Brody’s haunting central performance as a man with barely enough strength to simply endure.
UNFAITHFUL (d. Adrian Lyne, w. Alvin Sargent & William Broyles, Jr.) – Ever the tragic romantic, Adrian Lyne turns his wistful gaze from the pathetic Humbert Humbert to the bored, unfulfilled Diane Lane, who is more than deserving of the Oscar buzz surrounding her great performance here. Richard Gere is every bit her equal as the jilted husband who’s done nothing but love his wife.
LATE MARRIAGE (w. & d. Dover Koshashvili) – Equal parts hilarious and exasperating, this Israeli import depicts the travails of Zaza (Lior Loui Ashkenazi) – a thirty-one year old Jewish man being paraded around Tel Aviv by his marriage-minded, tradition-bound parents – who’s trying to keep secret the torrid affair he’s conducting with Judith (Ronit Elkabetz), a slightly older divorcee who’s also carried over a child from her previous union. Drolly observed under the unobtrusive direction of first-time feature director Koshashvili, LATE MARRIAGE is a remarkably precise slice-of-life drama that makes no judgments on any of its many colorful characters, or the potentially stifling institution of arranged marriages. There’s conflict aplenty, but no villains; only individuals resisting, or acquiescing to a cultural practice that’s passed through countless generations. It’s a triumph of unforced naturalism, and nowhere is this more evident than in the film’s protracted sex scene that has been rightfully praised as one of the most realistic ever staged. If Koshashvili continues to capture such a searing intimacy from his actors, he is going to be a major filmmaker.
ADAPTATION (d. Spike Jonze, w. Charlie Kaufman) – The real litmus test with this sophomore effort from Jonze & Kaufman it turns out is not how one will react to the potentially alienating subject matter, but how well it stands up on a repeat viewing. I for this a while back, but took my time in taking another look, and while I didn’t find myself as disenchanted as some, I must admit that the shopworn mechanics employed by “Donald” to bring the film to a conclusion, while undoubtedly amusing, are a bit wearying the second time out. However, the reason the film still resides in my top ten is because, when we reach that dreaded, supposedly hackneyed moment where Charlie learns something profound about himself, it works beautifully.
It’s wonderful to have Nicolas Cage, the Actor, back in our midst (someone needs to consult Sean Penn on whether Nick is no longer a “performer”), and to see Chris Cooper ham it up as the gummy John Laroche, but it’s Meryl Streep who amazes most. At this late stage in her brilliant career, I’d have never thought her capable of revelation, but her playful, stoned-out reaction to snorting the orchid dust is just that.
LOVELY & AMAZING (w. & d. Nicole Holofcener) – Six years was a long time to wait, but Nicole Holofcener finally followed up her charming WALKING AND TALKING with a winning sophomore effort that defies categorization as a mere “chick flick”. This is a human drama focusing on four women – three unlikely sisters and one terribly insecure mother – who stumble through life dealing as best they can with shortcomings both self-imposed and involuntary. There’s not a saint amongst them, or a steadying voice of reason – like many of us, they’re brilliant at living everyone’s life but their own – but they’re never less than likeable, even at their shrillest.
Catherine Keener, at her abrasive best, capably anchors the ensemble, which also includes praiseworthy turns from Brenda Blethyn, precocious newcomer Raven Goodwin and Emily Mortimer, whose heartbreaking full frontal nude scene is one of the best-written sequences of the year; a doubly revealing moment that’s pure Holofcener. Here’s hoping she can halve that six-year layoff this time around.
CHICAGO (d. Rob Marshall, w. Bill Condon) – An absolute dazzler. Beginning with the unlikely sight of Catherine Zeta-Jones warbling “All That Jazz” – accomplishing the even more unlikely task of making some of us periodically forget about Bebe Neuwirth’s complete ownership of the Velma Kelly role – Rob Marshall’s CHICAGO surprises at every turn, thanks in no small part to the imaginative adaptation by Bill Condon, who fleshes out the narratively slender Fosse stage musical with an effortless Ã©lan. The result is a film that keeps topping itself as the familiar story of the sweet-faced Roxy Hart (the unstoppable Renee Zellweger) bops along its predetermined rise-and-fall trajectory. Unbelievably, for a film with this much stunt casting, the actors hit nary a false note, from the bawdy Queen Latifah to the tap-dancin’ Richard Gere, who puts a show-stopping cap on a career-best year.
If the movie musical is really back, then this is the new gold standard.
FAR FROM HEAVEN (w. & d. Todd Haynes) – Conjuring the Technicolor ghost of Douglas Sirk, Todd Haynes irresistible melodrama lays bare the subversive subtext of the German Ã©migrÃ©’s best Hollywood work without descending into camp. Julianne Moore is tops, but the film’s best performances, courtesy of Dennis-es Quaid and Haysbert, are going somewhat ignored.
STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN (d. Paul Justman) – Not only the best documentary of the year, but an important celebration of our musical heritage that asks us to reconsider who was really responsible for the Motown sound. If you walk out of this movie with any answer other than “The Funk Brothers”….. man, you weren’t listening.
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (d. Steven Spielberg, w. Jeff Nathanson) – It shouldn’t be surprising that the most consistently entertaining movie of 2002 was directed by Steven Spielberg, but given the man’s spotty track record as of late (including this year’s MINORITY REPORT, which, as a friend is so fond of saying, “falls apart when ‘Mind of the Married Man’ shows up”), it seems a minor miracle. Throughout the film, I waited for the “mature” Spielberg to sabotage himself – indulging in some horribly self-important message-mongering, or tacking on an appearance from the real-life Frank Abagnale, Jr. tearfully laying flowers at his father’s tombstone – but, amazingly, it never happened. Instead, Spielberg, perhaps responding to Abagnale’s kindred childhood desire to escape the marital squabbles, and eventual divorce, of his parents, stays blessedly on track, providing two-and-a-half hours of cinematic bliss that’s light on its feet, yet anything but airy.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (d. Peter Jackson, w. Jackson, Frances Walsh & Philippa Boyens) – FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING came in as my number six film of 2001, so if things proceed apace from this year’s placing of THE TWO TOWERS (reviewed ) at number three, then RETURN OF THE KING should be a cinch as my number one for 2003. Taken as a whole, I have a feeling that THE LORD OF THE RINGS will be my favorite film series of all time. My condolences to Pat Proft and Neal Israel on being bumped from the lofty perch they’ve held since 1984.
FEMME FATALE (w. & d. Brian De Palma) – As the resident De Palma nut, did you expect anything less (read my review, indelicate title courtesy of Moriarty)? That people I know to be otherwise sane and rational human beings continue to willfully misinterpret his work befuddles me, but I’ve grown used to it by now. At the very least, I was pleased to be joined in my effusive praise by Harry and Moriarty, along with the usual gang of De Palma fans (i.e. Armond White, Charles Taylor and Manohla Dargis). I was all set to name FEMME FATALE the best film of the year, but something more audacious got in the way…..
25th HOUR (d. Spike Lee, w. David Benioff) – There’s always been something to be said for the way Spike Lee swings for the fences every time out, but, lately, little of it has been positive. Having run aground spectacularly with the stacked-agenda-in-search-of-a-coherent-film known ignominiously as BAMBOOZLED, I gave up hoping that the tough-minded auteur would ever reach the pinnacle of DO THE RIGHT THING or MALCOLM X ever again; simply getting in the neighborhood of HE GOT GAME seemed like it would be accomplishment enough.
From the ugly sounds of a dog being beaten to death over the Touchstone Films emblem, through the brazen opening credits placed against the spotlight memorial to the World Trade Center, I was hooked. Spike Lee’s films have always throbbed with the insistent pulse of New York City, but, by acknowledging the undeniable scarring of not only the city’s physiognomy, but its psyche as well, an unsettling arrhythmia has set in. That unease finds a perfect accompaniment in Monty Brogan (Edward Norton), a once-successful drug dealer trying to fit way too much activity into his last day of freedom before going to jail for seven years. His world, like the city in which he’s lived all his life, has been rocked to the core. Now is the time for him to put his house in order, but there’s a sense of dread hanging over his actions; an uneasy finality pervading his every move. In other words, Monty has a feeling that he may never be coming home again.
As a New Yorker, and a man who’s never shied away from controversy, no one should be surprised that Lee has chosen to place 9/11 front and center in his first post-tragedy work, but I bet many will be absolutely shocked that his take is so unabashedly compassionate. And contrary to some critics’ complaints, it is absolutely germane to the story being told. Lee’s after bigger game than some pat crime-and-punishment parable; he’s speaking to that part of every person who felt, for one terrible moment, like a New Yorker on that early-September day in 2001. He’s evoking that feeling of wanting to turn back the clock, to run some place safe, to do anything other than face an uncertain future. But in heading down that uncharted path, he’s also reminding us that, no matter how different we are, no matter how much we may hate each other at one time or another (masterfully encapsulated in the picture’s much-buzzed-about mirror sequence), we’re all in this fucking thing together. And, deep down, when the worst occurs, we’ll all be there for each other because, as Brian Cox says, “you’re a New Yorker”.
And that’s all the bitch done wrote! I’ll see you lunatics tomorrow with reviews of CITY OF GOD and KANGAROO JACK. Ah, the bitter and the sweet...