2002 saw Peter Jackson tackle the difficult second album with the release of Lord of the Rings part two “The Two Towers”. It was epic in scale, glorious in detail, and densely plotted. It also featured probably the finest battle sequence of the entire trilogy but yet it is widely considered the weakest of the three films.
Jackson’s film wasn’t the only ‘Number 2’ of a franchise to be released in 2002 – far from it. Harry Potter was also tackling part deux with an overlong and over-plotted sequel. Maybe it was the fact it was TWO-thousand and TWO but other sequels to come out during the year included “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones”, “Blade II”, “Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams”, “Analyze That”, “Stuart Little 2”, and “Men in Black II”. There was also the second sequel of the Austin Powers series “Goldmember” and the tenth instalments of both Star Trek and Friday The 13th.
To say not a single one of these sequels makes it into out top 10 list says a lot of Hollywood’s lack of original ideas in 2002.
Steven Spielberg did showed us a brief glimpse of his genius with “Catch Me If You Can” and Martin Scorsese showed he still had all his marbles with “Gangs of New York” but neither film makes it to our top 10 list.
Although it was a very weak year, there are still at least 10 films that are worth seeing over and over again.
10. Spider (Cronenberg, USA)
David Cronenberg’s beautifully shot thriller is based on Patrick McGrath’s novel of the same name. McGrath wrote the screenplay for the film and faithfully retells his story for the screen. “Spider” is unique and disturbing. Cronenberg gleefully mixes reality with unreality as he again looks at the fragile human condition.
9. About A Boy (Weitz/Weitz, UK)
The Weitz brothers left “American Pie” in their wake to make a wholly different kind of coming-of-age movie. “About A Boy” follows the exploits of Will (Hugh Grant) and Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), an unlikely pairing who become friends after Will helps Marcus’ mother following a suicide attempt. Will is stuck in his ways – a bachelor who likes his relationships to last one night. Marcus is a troubled 12 year old who doesn’t have a father to look up to and struggles to make friends at school. The film looks at these two disparate entities finding a new lease of life through their burgeoning friendship. Poignant, funny and well written.
8. In America (Sheridan, UK)
Jim Sheridan’s semi-autobiographical film follows an Irish family who move to New York and struggle to make a life for themselves. The film is seen through the eyes of the young daughter and was actually co-written by Sheridan’s daughters Naomi and Kirsten. It’s shot in bland autumnal hues and mixes some rather bleak moments with scenes that are both funny and heart-warming.
7. Dog Soldiers (Marshall, UK)
Derivative, unoriginal, and predictable are adjectives you could use to describe Neil Marshall’s Scottish werewolf movie. You could also call it a hugely entertaining B-movie that is, unequivocally, the best horror film of the year. Written and directed by neil Marshall the film follows a group of British soldiers training in the Scottish Highlands. When they find the mutilated remains of the Special Forces unit that were part of their training operation it isn’t long before they too are being pursued by whatever caused the carnage. Ending up in a cottage for safety the soldiers try to barricade themselves in. Ammunition is running low, while the ‘monsters’ outside are getting hungrier! “Dog Soldiers” is a lot of fun. It’s a great film to spot the horror film reference which writer-director Marshall does little to hide. It might not bring anything new the genre but it sure is a great example of how good horror can be.
6. The Pianist (Polanski, France/Poland/Germany)
Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Wladyslaw Szpilman’s autobiography swept the Academy Awards with wins in the categories of Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film charts Szpilman’s experiences as a Jewish-Polish prisoner of the Nazi occupation during World War II.
5. Adaptation (Jonze, USA)
When director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman get together you know you’re going to get something completely different. Kaufman – ever the opportunist – was struggling to adapt Susan Orlean’s non-fiction novel “The Orchid Thief” for film. So, he decided to make a film about his experience. Of course, being Kaufman, nothing is straight-forward. He introduces his twin brother who also wants to write a screenplay and the two play out an art versus commerce story with Charlie’s troubled script not reading well and his twin Donald, writing his first screenplay, selling a clichéd thriller for a million dollars. This is intertwined with elements of Susan Orlean’s story. It’s all very original, often funny, and features a brilliant performance from Nicholas Cage playing both Charlie and Donald.
4. 24 Hour Party People (Winterbottom, UK)
Michael Winterbottom turns back the clock and points his camera lens at a significant period for British music – most notably, the northern English city of Manchester. Told from the perspective of real life influential music guru Tony Wilson (played here by I’m Alan Partridge actor Steve Coogan), the film charts the rise and fall of Madchester – a punk and post-punk era categorised by bands such as Joy Division, New Order and The Happy Mondays. The film inter cuts archive footage into the narrative of the film, and breaks the fourth wall with Wilson often speaking to camera. It’s richly detailed, funny, features some great music and fine performances.
3. Spellbound (Blitz, USA)
Jeffrey Blitz’s observational documentary about the over-achieving social outcasts competing in the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee is an interesting and well put together film focusing on both the children and the parents involved. What becomes apparent is how these children appear to play out the fantasies of overzealous parents who, rightly or wrongly, believe that extreme educating is the key to a better life. In some ways, the children (who are all exceedingly intelligent) become the unfortunate pawns in their parent’s stop-at-nothing approach to achievement.
2. Punch Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA)
Adam Sandler proved he was more than just a lightweight comedy actor with Paul Thomas Anderson’s dark romantic comedy. Anderson had shocked many when he stated after previous film “Magnolia” that he wanted to work with Sandler. The comic actor was known for his box office comedy hits such as “Big Daddy” and “The Wedding Singer” but seemed like a strange match for Anderson who was conversely known for the hard-hitting and often downbeat, ensemble epics “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia”. However, credit to both actor and director for pulling off what is arguably their best work.
1. About Schmidt (Payne, USA)
Director Alexander Payne firmly established himself amongst the Hollywood elite with Jack Nicholson-starring “About Schmidt”. The film, about a lonely retiree who travels to his daughter’s wedding following the death of his wife, is a tale about appreciating the past while embracing the future. Told from the perspective of a bitter old man, it is a story about the inevitability of life. But, in what could be a dark, pessimistic tale Payne gives the film a vitality in the new found freedom of Warren Schmidt – where the inevitability of life promotes a sense of adventurism in a man who once took things for granted but has quickly had to re-evaluate his priorities. Jack Nicholson is fantastic as Schmidt.
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