Top 10 Films of 2002

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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)

in america, 2002, film,

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)

dog soldiers, neil marshall, horror, 2002, film, movie, cinema, werewolf,

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)

about schmidt, jack nicholson, alexander payne, comedy drama, 2002,

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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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Castor Reply

    Love the redesign Dan!
    My top 10 would be quite different to yours as I didn’t enjoy About Schmidt or About a Boy all that much:

    10. Spider-Man
    9. The Bourne Identity
    8. Catch Me if you Can
    7. Minority Report
    6. LOTR: The Two Towers
    5. Road to Perdition
    4. Far From Heaven
    3. The Pianist
    2. Adaptation
    1. Spirited Away: I can’t believe it’s not in your top 10!!!

  2. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    Dave, who contributes all the anime top 10s to Top10Films, would agree with you Castor. I’m guessing Spirited Away would be in many people’s Top 10s of 2002. Your list is excellent. You reminded me that Spielberg had a busy year – two good films, I enjoyed them both.

    Glad you like the re-design. I may switch back because there are less things I can do with this design but I like the magazine-style front page.

  3. Avatar
    James Ewing Reply

    Love seeing Punch-Drunk Love and The Pianist.

    I still don’t see why people love Kaufman so much. His films are so messy and cluttered in my opinion.

    Spirited Away would be up there for me. So would The Two Towers. Also Minority Report and Gangs of New York are both fantastic films from fantastic directors that would be in my top 10.

    But yea, there were way too many sequels this year and most of them weren’t that great (Except Blade II).

  4. Avatar
    JasonW Reply

    I’m a big fan of Punch Drunk Love, that would be my favourite of 2002. Adam Sandler really delivered a performance – one that I didn’t know he had in him. About Schmidt was good, but Sideways is a lot better.

  5. Avatar
    Red Reply

    I didn’t like About Schmidt at all, which is pretty rare considering it had Jacky in it. I found myself overly bored by it.

    Great to see In America in there. Such great acting.

    This changes almost on a yearly basis, but if you had to ask me right now, I would say Two Towers is the best of the LOTR series(which was #1 on my decade list). It has the most sustained tension than the other two movies, has the best battle sequence, doesn’t have any of the incredibly happy moments where the characters start jumping up and down in slow motion and laughing like little girls, and it features Elijah Wood the least of all three movies.

    Going off what I have in my decade list, which I probably shouldnt considering I have found several errors…

    1. LOTR: The Two Towers
    2. City of God
    3. Spirited Away (I have it as 2001, but oh well)
    4. The Son
    5. Minority Report
    6. Adaptation
    7. In America
    8. Talk to Her
    9. Far From Heaven
    10. Monsoon Wedding

  6. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    To be honest, I loved The Two Towers when I first saw it. But, on second viewing I started to appreciate the other two movies more – especially Fellowship. I love the idea of the beginning of an adventure (it’s the same with the early part of The Goonies) – so exciting, lots of anticipation. It isn’t as if the ending is an anti-climax, it’s just a shame it has to end (although Jackson does over cook the ending of Return of the King).

    Glad you like In America, Red. One of those films where I didn’t know what to expect but enjoyed being fully immersed in a thoroughly good, well scripted/well acted story.

  7. Avatar
    Alex Reply

    No love for The Hours? That would definitely be somewhere in mine, though I’ll admit I haven’t seen all of the films mentioned here. I’d also probably have The Importance of Being Earnest, Dirty Pretty Things, and maybe Sympathy for Mr Vengeance in there. Good call with Adaptation, Punch-Drunk Love, and The Pianist though.

    And I’m pretty sure Spirited Away was technically 2001.

  8. Avatar
    CMrok93 Reply

    I actually came the closest ever to crying at About Schmidt. Those last couple of 30 minutes, just tug on the heart strings so much. Great List!

  9. Avatar
    Aiden R. Reply

    Good man! I LOVE About Schmidt.

    “Larry, we’ve been welcomed by you, thank you so much, now would you please just drink your fucking milk and shut the fuck up.”

    Jack Nicholson and a nude Kathy Bates, how the hell can you beat that. Great list, still need to see Dog Soldiers since Neil Marshall is the freakin’ man.

    And bonus points for indcluding a movie featuring a boy who thinks he’s a “musical robot”. Classic.

  10. Avatar
    Encore Entertainment Reply

    Even though I’m always disagreeing with you (but that’s my nature) I’m enjoying seeing where your allegiances lie. Before I tackle my favourites I will say that I liked “Analyze This” and “Analyze That”…I don’t know why, but I find them both hilarious.

    Six films ruled 2002 for me The Hours, The Two Towers, Chicago, Gangs of New York, Minority Report and Spider Man in roughly that ordered. Then there was Catch Me If You Can buoyed by an excellent showing from DiCaprio (though it was Walken who stole the show) and Road to Perdition where Jude Law was quite good.

  11. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    I liked all those films you’ve mentioned (with the exception of Chicago). I haven’t seen Catch Me If You Can for quite a while so I’m going to have to get that off the DVD shelf and into the player asap. I did think it was one of Spielberg’s most enjoyable films when I first saw it though – but I also really liked The Terminal too (and I know that didn’t do well with audiences or critics as a whole).

  12. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Alex There’s some film’s I’ve got to catch up on there. Thanks for dropping by.

    @Aiden Yeah, About Schmidt is great isn’t it. Like all of Alexander Payne’s films – they get better with every viewing. Sideways is his masterpiece for me of course but About Schmidt isn’t far behind.

    @Dan the Man Totally agree – it’s a movie that is at times very funny and at others very moving. That sort of thing defines Payne’s work.

  13. Avatar
    Fitz Reply

    Just watched Funny People last night. It’s so frustrating watching Sandler deliver great performances in Punch and Reign Over Me and Funny People and then do Grown Ups.

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