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The 10 Best Films Of 2002

The 10 Best Films Of 2002

With 2015 upon us, we figured it was a good time to look back on the movies the millennium has brought us. And so we’ve dug into the archives and are re-running our Best of the 2000s pieces, from way back in 2009 when the Playlist was a little Blogspot site held together with tape and string. Each list runs down the top 10 films of each year (it’s possible that, half-a-decade on, we’d put them in a different order and even change some of the movies, but we wanted to preserve the original pieces untouched as far as possible). Check out 2000 and 2001 if you missed them, and today we continue with 2002. The original piece follows below, and thanks to staffers past and present who contributed.

In 2002, the name of the game was bigger is better. Cinemagoers got a year full of sequels including “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” “Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones,” “Men In Black II,” “Blade II,” and “Austin Powers in Goldmember.” But it wasn’t just franchise films audiences flocked to. A little film called “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was the sleeper indie that turned into a blockbuster smash. At the Oscars, it was an uncommon year with auteurs taking control of the show over populist crowd-pleasers. Roman Polanski‘s “The Pianist,” Stephen Daldry‘s “The Hours,” Spike Jonze‘s “Adaptation” and Hayao Miyazaki‘s “Spirited Away” took home the major statues, although “Chicago” danced away with Best Picture. But, if Hollywood was having a rare year featuring a burst of creativity, our top ten of 2002 shows they paled in comparison to their competition from overseas, as our list for this year is appropriately foreign-film-heavy.

10. “24 Hour Party People”
Michael Winterbottom‘s brilliant meta-textual look at the phoenix-like trajectory of Factory Records and the surrounding ’70s post-punk music scene in Manchester, England is deliciously mischievous. A clever re-contextualization of history via its 4th-wall-breaking tour guide, the picture is piloted by the wonderfully pretentious wanker Tony Wilson (magnificently played by Steve Coogan in a role he’s never topped). For music heads, it’s an amazing frolic through the history of British post-punk (cheeky depictions of Joy Division, New Order, The Happy Mondays, and The Durutti Column are realized by some great unknown actors) but it also marvelously stands on its own. There are staggeringly good (and wickedly humorous) performances here: Paddy Considine is fabulous as Joy Division’s perennially irate manager Rob Gretton and Andy Serkis as the bloated madman record producer Martin Hannett – a sort of futuristic version of Phil Spector – is utter hysterical genius). Not only is this spry film loose and witty to the bone, it’s a transformative po-mo work that takes a deliriously fun and gonzo approach to narrative.

9. “Time Out”
The natural corrective to comedic fantasies like “Office Space,” Laurent Cantet’s corporate nightmare, based on true events but somehow less sensationalized, tells the story of Vincent, an office drone with a listless demeanor and no ambition, who also hides a secret — he’s unemployed. Instead of telling his family the funds are dried up, Vincent ambles about in suit and tie from empty office to empty office, consistently mistaken for someone with a job. When he starts to become concerned with his family’s well-being, Vincent begins working random odd-jobs between spells of inactivity and weary daydreams. Pitched at a low heat, Cantet’s drama shows us exactly how easy it is to divorce ourselves from everyday life. The man, sans cubicle, becomes an island, and in doing so presents us with a ghost story of sorts, set between transparent revolving doors, empty desks and blank calendars.

8. “What Time Is It There?”
In what is probably Tsai Ming-Liang‘s best evocation of loneliness and longing, the Taiwanese master finds romanticism in the quirky compulsion of a young watch salesman enamored with a random shopper. The vendor, Hsiao-kang (consummate Tsai leading man Lee Kang-sheng), meets a woman at his kiosk, speaks with her briefly, and soon after learns of her departure to Paris. Dismayed by his missed opportunity, Hsiao-kang commences the odd behavior of setting each clock he sees to French time, immersing himself in French culture and repeatedly watching Francois Truffaut‘s “The 400 Blows.” Meanwhile, in France, Hsiao-kang’s paramour encounters Truffaut’s chief muse Jean-Pierre Leaud in an strange and unexplained moment of universal connectivity. Later in his career, Tsai would revisit and celebrate these abstract themes in twin musicals “The Wayward Cloud” and “Face,” but the sparse, haunting ‘What Time’ remains one of his most engaging and accessible films to date.

7. “Far From Heaven”
A visually sumptuous banquet, Todd Haynes‘ ode to the Sirkian melodrama of the ’50s is also an entirely modern meditation on the clash between surface and true identity (explored, of course, via sexuality and race). Julianne Moore stars as a traditional housewife who discovers her husband (Dennis Quaid) is gay while she contemplates a verboten romance of her own — with her family’s black gardener (Dennis Haysbert). If the perfect cast (which also includes future Oscar nominees Viola Davis and Patricia Clarkson) and Edward Lachman‘s shimmering cinematography aren’t enough to get your vintage knickers in a twist — the latter’s radiant use of Fassbinder-like color and shadow should have taken the Oscar — “Far From Heaven” also boasts an evocative score from Elmer Bernstein. “Mad Men” might have made mid-century nostalgia popular in the latter aughts, but Haynes’ film did it first.

6. “Morvern Callar”
On the surface, there’s not much plot to Lynne Ramsay’s tone poem, which finds the title character, the luminous Samantha Morton, co-opting her dead boyfriend’s manuscript as her own. Awash in a sea of emotions, Morton’s performance exposes what the screenplay refuses to imagine in dialogue, allowing for the film, a travelogue of her literary-fueled escapades into big city nightlife, to become an autopsy of a lonely soul. Carried by an eclectic underground soundtrack (wonderfully dreamy and droning choices by Broadcast, Aphex Twin, and more), “Morvern Callar” takes us to more places within the eyes of Morton than the roving camera of a Michael Bay film ever could.

5. “Y Tu Mamá También”
Y Tu Mama Tambien” could have been unbearable. By following two snotty, privileged, oversexed teenagers on a road trip with an older woman, it risks being something like an episode of “Gossip Girl.” But director Alfonso Cuarón keeps it closer to a modern day “Jules et Jim,” shooting the whole movie in a vibrant, handheld manner, and making it feel like the best summer holiday you never had. Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna have never matched their performances here (although the MVP is Maribel Verdu as Luisa, whose melancholy take on the older woman grounds the film perfectly), and Cuaron’s direction is note-perfect. Plus, it’s that absolute rarity, a film that’s free to be honest and explicit about sex, while still remaining genuinely sexy — no L-shaped bedsheets or roaring fireplaces needed here.

4. “Solaris”
Did you remember her differently? This is the question astronaut and psychologist Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) must address as he stands at the precipice of his own sanity, facing the specter of his lost love (a gorgeously photographed Natascha McElhone), and wondering if the mass he orbits is bringing his memories to life, only for Kelvin to learn they are incomplete. Steven Soderbergh’s brisk remake of Andrei Tarkovsky’s haunting Stanislav Lem adaptation eschews hard science in favor of a hot-blooded story of the evidence left behind by our own romantic histories. The film is sparse, tense and curt, miles away from the lugubrious original, but in its haunting immediacy (much helped by Cliff Martinez‘s ghostly electronic-like score) and chilly ending, one could argue it’s even an improvement.

3. “The Pianist”
Many movies contend to be about spiritual endurance and physical resilience, when, in fact, they’re not. They’re about hope and overcoming the odds. They’re about rising up in the face of adversity and other well-worn platitudes. The thing that makes Roman Polanski‘s Palme d’Or-winning “The Pianist” such a towering accomplishment is that it really, truly is a movie about the will to survive, and an unsentimental look at the brutal ignominies therein, that make basic persistence seem like a courageous feat worthy of reverence. Adrien Brody, in his Oscar-winning performance, scrambles, hides, and survives in a near-inhumane manner through a vividly realized World War II (shot, stunningly, by Pawel Edelman). It’s an astonishing performance, the kind too infrequently seen in Hollywood movies.

2. “The 25th Hour”
Spike Lee‘s post 9/11 film (planned and scripted before the attacks, but shot in the immediate aftermath) couldn’t have been more tragically prescient. Based on David Benioff‘s novel about a drug dealer’s last day before he heads off to prison, Lee’s decision to shoot the film through the prism of the recently scarred New York City added a brilliant dimension to the author’s already strong script. “25th Hour” isn’t just a parable about one man’s mistakes (in this case, a strikingly good Ed Norton, plus a wonderful supporting cast including an always-good Barry Pepper), but opens up into a sweeping love letter to the American Dream, the diversity of its people and the potential that allows the nation to keep on moving, even through its darkest hours. Lee’s best feature film this decade? Easily.

1 .”Talk to Her”
Pedro Almodóvar‘s fourteenth effort was the rare foreign film that finds recognition among regular Oscars, including Best Original Screenplay and a nomination for Best Director. An intoxicating, mysterious, and achingly felt melodrama, it chronicles four lives brought together by chance, fate, obsession and love. Two men — a nurse and a journalist — build an unlikely friendship when taking care of two women they love who are in comas, one a bullfighter gored in action (Rosario Flores) the other a young ballet student (a ravishingly beautiful Leonor Watling) crippled by a car accident. Time feels fluid as past, present and future moments bleed into one another, falling to an unpredictable, almost mystically tragic conclusion. Impossibly romantic, sensually tactile, intricate and mature, it may be Almodóvar’s unimpeachable masterpiece. The melancholy showstopping Cataeno Veloso song, just after the first act, represents the film well, producing goose bumps and stealing your breath away.

Honorable Mentions:
Some years there’s a lot of good films to cut and 2002 was no exception. Films we had to sadly pass over include Spike Jonze‘s wonderfully convoluted writer’s block dramedy “Adaptation” which features an excellent Nicolas Cage performance (and it probably would have made this list if it didn’t somewhat fall apart in the end — it also doesn’t feel as masterful on repeat viewings), Paul Thomas Anderson‘s enchantingly romantic (but still somewhat slight) “Punch Drunk Love” and Hayao Miyazaki‘s wondrous Studio Ghibli-animated picture, “Spirited Away.” Other worthy films we had to give the ax to were Paul Greengrass‘ documentary-like “Bloody Sunday,” the subject of which begat the famous U2 song about the 1972 Irish civil rights protest march and subsequent massacre by British troops; the Apichatpong Weerasethakul-helmed Thai romance picture “Blissfully Yours“; “The Believer” which features a revelatory turn by a young Ryan Gosling; and the (somewhat) underrated Julie Taymor picture “Frida” which to this day is probably Salma Hayek‘s finest hour.

— Rodrigo Perez, Oliver Lyttelton, Drew Taylor, Kimber Myers, Sam Mac, Gabe Toro,and Kevin Jagernauth

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