Blame it on bad movies or a short attention span bred by increasingly stupid/tragic world events, but what I remember mostly about Cinema 2002 is short, sharp splinters. I think of the rhapsodic ending of Elling, wherein a social misfit invents a public voice by secretly spreading his poems via food-product labels. I think of the shadow of Austin Powers birthing a shadow Mini-Me. Jude Law's ugly obsessive and Paul Newman's subtler tough in the gassy Road to Perdition. The audiovisual one-two of Punch-Drunk Love's noisily repetitive soundtrack and sterile SoCal spaces. Samantha Morton's apocalyptic eyes in Minority Report, which I recognized as my own: caught in a falsified loop of violent media imagery with ghastly consequences. (No upbeat Spielberg finale in sight--for now.)
Of course, there were whole movies that consumed me in '02. Again, they did so not by distracting me from the world, but by showing it to me clearer and sharper.
1. Y Tu Mamá También. I was already in love with this buddy movie before the third act, in which it exposes buddy movie homoerotica in all its drunken glory. (A guy at the screening actually groaned, "Oh, no!") Director Alfonso Cuarón tracks male sexual adolescence with a brisk honesty not seen in any American teen movie I can think of. Of course the film is funny--and tender as a poorly healed wound. Cuarón also surveys Mexico's landscapes, present and future, making a teen movie that's more than just a pretty face. Note to under-17s: I'll rent it for you.
2. Spirited Away. The second time I saw Hayao Miyazaki's film, a three-year-old, some rows down from me in Papa's lap, raised his or her arms and clapped after each creative plot turn. Exactly. Oh, the transformations: parents into pigs, globs of black muck into towering river gods, enemies into allies, a complaining girl into a brave and loyal adventurer. And animation so rich with color and detail that it's as real as the collective stew dreaming our futures.
3. Far from Heaven. A meticulous period melodrama wherein an affluent white '50s housewife loses her husband to gay life and her friends to their intolerance of her dating a black man. After the screening, I thanked the publicist: That was fun! And then I felt stupid. But the movie is fun--if you define it as great colors, knowing artifice, and acting awesome enough to knife you with emotion even as you're kept aware of the trick that is moviemaking. Here's to deep explorations of fakeness, that truth of our times.
4. Morvern Callar. Director Lynne Ramsay streamlines Alan Warner's unbelievable plot and cedes the screen to Samantha Morton's quietness and cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler's lush shadows. This is a sneaky, beautiful movie about getting even with grief. (Opens here in February.)
5. The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat). The first Inuit-language feature, notable for the distinctive vision it shares: of apparently endless ice and snow, of a people at home in it, of the art that fuels those vulnerable humans under their heavy layers.
6. Gangs of New York. Ridiculous, yes: the grand villain, the tortured hero, the dorky love story writ in mile-high cursive. But somewhere around a laughably decadent brothel scene, Daniel Day-Lewis's mad gang boss wraps himself in the stars and stripes, and suddenly I feel the hard weight of it. Then it gets heavier.
7. Personal Velocity. Two of the three heroines in Rebecca Miller's triptych enact stories rarely seen on film. There's a sense of joyful discovery in the shooting and editing and acting that reminds me of Jane Campion's Sweetie.
8. 24 Hour Party People. Because the history of Factory Records is a history I was a part of. Because director Michael Winterbottom gets the highs and lows right. Because Herzog is on TV as Ian Curtis hangs himself.
9. Lovely & Amazing. Yes, it's about miserable people (may Catherine Keener step out of character in '03!) with a connection to the superficial world of film. (Uncle! Uncle!) But it's also a piercing look at women looking at themselves. Raven Goodwin as the adopted black daughter of a white woman is still staring me down.
10. Dogtown and Z-Boys. A self-serving documentary made by an erstwhile member of the legendary SoCal skateboard troupe. Also: an unbeatable record of an unruly subculture's assimilation.
By Matthew Wilder
"Whatever happened to all this season's losers of the year?" Cheap Trick memorably asked. Answer: They're right here. Most of the best U.S. movies of 2002 constituted a Loser's Lounge, where the celery-and-ranch-dressing treats are slightly soft, and the taco salad is drawing fruit flies. In a corner is blue-suited, bullet-headed Barry Egan, the toilet-plunger salesman and abuse victim of Punch-Drunk Love, sullenly chewing turkey pastrami. (His sisters forced him to go on the Atkins.) Toby Oxman, the documentarian of Storytelling, hopes not to be noticed as he stuffs empanadas into that geeky book bag of his; and Chuck Barris, antihero of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, seems genuinely interested in the schizophrenic title character of Spider and his collection of...crumpled-up Band-Aids?
Let's give a toast to these shy fellas (most of 'em drinking wine spritzers) for making 2002 a good year for movies--and hope their nervous tics and inappropriate gestures don't make us reflect on ourselves too much.