Top 10s of 2002

The year in film

Top 10 lists are a dime a dozen this time of year. Everyone has one. And here we present several more.

However, instead of looking at these lists as our ultimate summary of the 2002 movie-going year, I suggest these lists be regarded as a transitory snapshot -- a captured moment in time. If you ask any of our film reviewers to resubmit his or her list next week, next month, next year, or next decade, it's likely you'll find modifications in each list presented below. Time and distance have not yet been fully factored into the love-hate equation. And when so many films are crammed into release during the last few weeks of the year, critics run from screening to screening with barely any time to come up for air -- much less rumination.

Complicating matters this year is that the 2002 holiday season has been packed with an abundance of riches. Almost all the movies released this holiday season are worthy of recommendation. It's an unusually good batch of films, and we regret not having more time to let them resonate and savor their differences.

Industry prognosticators bemoan the lack of unanimity among the various critics' groups offering year-end pronouncements in recent weeks. They whine about there being no clear front-runners or shoo-ins, no films certain to take home the big Hollywood prizes. But what's bad for the oddsmakers is great news for the consumers of movies. That so many films are in contention for favorites simply means that there are a lot of good movies out there to see. More than can fit in one list -- or four. So glean ideas from the lists presented here, but go out and make your own lists. I'll bet you'll find that 2002 is the year of My Big Fat Movie Geek celebration.

<i>Far From Heaven</i>
Far From Heaven

'The Austin Chronicle' Top 10 Films of 2002

1. Far From Heaven

2. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

3. About Schmidt

4. Secretary

5. The Pianist

6. Y Tu Mamá También

7. (tie) The Hours, Igby Goes Down

9. Bloody Sunday

10. (tie) The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat), Love Liza

<i>About Schmidt</i>
About Schmidt

Marjorie Baumgarten

1. About Schmidt

From Easy Rider to About Schmidt, Jack Nicholson has blazed the solitary man's search for meaning in modern America.

2. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

No movie this year made me feel so engulfed, so oblivious to any world but Middle-Earth.

3. The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat)

It's little surprise that this Inuit epic looks like no movie you've seen before; it combines cultural specificity with universal appeal.

4. Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India

This Bollywood crossover movie is a rousing tale about peasants beating the colonialists at their own game -- plus it has a love story, sports drama, singing, dancing, and intermission.

5. Secretary

The story's sexual politics break the PC barrier, making it the year's most insidious "feel good" movie.

6. The Pianist

It's the movie Roman Polanski was born to make. Hopefully, it will be the Holocaust movie to end all Holocaust movies.

7. Far From Heaven

Exquisitely wrought, but out of time.

8. Adaptation

Hands down, the year's most audacious film -- a movie that wants to be about ideas.

9. Read My Lips

Inventively told love-and-heist story from France whose subtle dimensions keep evolving till the end.

10. Bloody Sunday

A study of a famous Irish peace march turned deadly, told with documentarylike techniques that help elucidate how easily things can go from placards to paratroopers.

Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson

Steve Davis

1. The Hours

A seamless rendering of an unfilmable novel; Nicole Kidman's remarkable transformation into Virginia Woolf; art as life, life as art.

2. About Schmidt

A superb Jack Nicholson, with a comb-over; the modern-day Babbitt befuddled by the American dream; the best ending of any film in 2002.

3. Far From Heaven

Ed Lachman's sumptuous cinematography; the Sirkian gestalt of Fifties melodramas, without any irony; Julianne Moore's forced suburban smile.

4. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

A spectacular battle sequence; the unflinching vision of Peter Jackson; the ghostly Gollum, the embodiment of the ring's power.

5. Y Tu Mamá También

The best road movie in years, bar none; the lusty recklessness of youth; a kiss that forever changes a friendship.

6. About a Boy

A poignant comedy about self-realization; Hugh Grant without the stammering; a big step up from the guys who brought us American Pie.

7. Igby Goes Down

A Culkin kid who can act; Holden Caulfield redux; the rich and the privileged don't always have it better.

8. Sunshine State

Shakespearean rants on race, progress, and family; a sunburned Edie Falco in an overlooked performance; John Sayles at his absolute best.

9. Auto Focus

An unerringly objective look at the dark side of fame; set and art direction to die for; Greg Kinnear in a breakthrough role.

10. Adaptation

The agony and the ecstasy of the creative process; a stoned Meryl Streep imitating a dial tone; another postmodern collaboration of Jonze/Kaufman.

<i>The Pianist</i>
The Pianist

Kimberley Jones

1. Far From Heaven

Style and substance from the terrific Todd Haynes. I'm not sure a movie can get more gorgeous than this.

2. The Pianist

Adrien Brody's transformation from fêted concert pianist to Warsaw Ghetto fugitive is devastating; Roman Polanksi's return to form (and his homeland), cause for celebration.

3. Bloody Sunday

Paul Greengrass' handheld vérité masterpiece dramatizes the 1972 Londonderry massacre with such nearness and authenticity, it's all you can do to keep from ducking for cover.

4. Punch-Drunk Love

A chastised Adam Sandler whispers into his lover's ear, "I'm sorry I beat up the bathroom." Crazy-romantic, heartbreak-bleak, and all-around astonishing stuff.

5. The Quiet American

Somebody should pants Harvey Weinstein for sitting on this adaptation of Graham Greene's novel for so long. Well-acted, well-directed, well-intentioned, and well-deserving of an audience.

6. Chicago

Only this: Gotta sing, gotta dance.

7. Lovely & Amazing

Once more, Nicole Holofcener nails how girls walk and talk and wish they were prettier, skinnier, and more perfect.

8. Igby Goes Down

Spiritual son to Benjamin Braddock and Holden Caulfied, Igby Slocumb is a 17-year-old snot -- privileged, punchy, and a real smart-aleck. Mr. Slocumb, are you trying to seduce me?

9. Talk to Her

Almodóvar expands his universe to include men on the verge of a nervous breakdown in this lovely meditation on love incommunicado. Still don't know what to make of that giant model vagina, though.

10. 25th Hour

Sure, it's uneven, but it's also -- dare we say it? -- Spike Lee's most mature, restrained work yet. Visually stunning, with the forward motion and commotion of a rumbly freight train headed straight for a brick wall.


Marc Savlov

1. Secretary

The best, sweetest, most romantic, endearing, and choke-on-your-Twizzlers-funny sadomasochistic love story the world has ever seen.

2. Far From Heaven

Art-directed clean out to its sprocket holes, this hyperreal Douglas Sirk homage restores the term "melodrama" to its status as a walloping compliment.

3. Love Liza

The single most wrenching (and at times subversively hilarious) film about loss I've seen in just shy of forever, with a plaintive Jim O'Rourke soundtrack to boot.

4. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Watch out, David Lean.

5. Y Tu Mamá También

Less a film than a lazy summer dream half-remembered at waking, Alfonso Cuarón's quirky and rhythmic meditation on sex, death, life, and the silken allure of perfect beaches is like a booster shot of eros.

6. Dogtown and Z-Boys

Skate tough or go home (and make sure you film it all on grainy Super-8 while you're at it).

7. Human Nature

Charlie Kaufman demolishes the nature vs. nurture argument while ape-man Rhys Ifans gives Kong a run for his money in the too-horny-for-his-own-good department.

8. Igby Goes Down

Kieran Culkin, family redeemer.

9. Scratch

Deciphering the intricacies of an entire musical subculture in 92 minutes or fewer, courtesy of the great Doug Pray.

10. 24 Hour Party People

Manchester, we hardly knew ye.

<i>The Hours</i>
The Hours

Marjorie Baumgarten

Near Misses

Gangs of New York, Late Marriage, Love Liza, Lovely & Amazing, Sunshine State

Most Overrated Films

The Hours, Bowling for Columbine, Personal Velocity

Most Underrated Films

Solaris, Femme Fatale, Secret Ballot

Acting Kudos -- Male

Philip Seymour Hoffman (Love Liza), Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt), Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York)

Acting Kudos -- Female

Meryl Streep (Adaptation, The Hours), Julianne Moore (Far From Heaven, The Hours), Lupe Ontiveros (Real Women Have Curves)

Best Director

Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven), Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers), Roman Polanski (The Pianist)

Best Screenplay

Love Liza (Gordy Hoffman), About Schmidt (Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor), Adaptation (Charlie Kaufman & Donald Kaufman)

Worst Film

The Master of Disguise. Adam Sandler and Dana Carvey's movie doesn't even try to be good: It's a lame gimmick in search of a movie, plot mechanics be damned.

Wild Card

Kathy Bates (in About Schmidt & Love Liza): For making the movies safe for mothers-in-law by creating rich female characters, women of a certain age who are anything but stereotypical.

Steve Davis

Near Misses

Spirited Away, The Believer, Signs, Insomnia, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

Most Overrated Films

Gangs of New York, Minority Report, Solaris

Most Underrated Films

Moonlight Mile, Sunshine State, Signs

Acting Kudos -- Male

Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt), Ryan Gosling (The Believer), Andy Serkis as Gollum/Sméagol (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers)

Acting Kudos -- Female

The Triumvirate: Nicole, Meryl, and Julianne (The Hours), Goldie Hawn (The Banger Sisters), Edie Falco (Sunshine State)

Best Director

Stephen Daldry (The Hours), Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven), Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers)

Best Screenplay

Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor (About Schmidt), David Hare (The Hours), Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman (Adaptation)

Worst Film

Serving Sara. Matthew Perry massages the prostate of a prized bull. Need I say more? Note to Friends cast members: Keep your day jobs ... please.

Wild Card

An Embarrassment of Riches: The holiday film season was the best Christmas present of them all.

<i>25th Hour</i>
25th Hour

Kimberley Jones

Near Misses

Me Without You, CQ, Tully, Secretary, Late Marriage

Most Overrated Films

Spider-Man, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Adaptation

Most Underrated Films

CQ, The Bourne Identity, Punch-Drunk Love

Acting Kudos -- Male

Adrien Brody (The Pianist), Chris Cooper (Adaptation), Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York)

Acting Kudos -- Female

Diane Lane (Unfaithful), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Secretary), Meryl Streep (The Hours, Adaptation)

Best Director

Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven), Roman Polanski (The Pianist)

Best Screenplay

Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven), Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down), Nicole Holofcener (Lovely & Amazing)

Worst Film

The Sweetest Thing. Vulgar in every sense of the word -- and boring, to boot.

Wild Card

Don't Call It a Comeback: After the very public embarrassments of bad press, a flopped Talk, badhandling of Scorsese, and war-on-terror skittishness over The Quiet American's release, Miramax re-emerges with a dynamo year-end slate (The Quiet American, Chicago, Gangs of New York, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind).

Marc Savlov

Near Misses

The Piano Teacher, Bowling for Columbine, Chelsea Walls, CQ, Spirited Away

Most Overrated Films

Austin Powers in Goldmember, Adaptation, Storytelling

Most Underrated Films

The Piano Teacher, Solaris, Big Bad Love

Acting Kudos -- Male

Philip Seymour Hoffman (Love Liza), Hugh Grant (About a Boy), Willem Dafoe (Auto Focus)

Acting Kudos -- Female

Nicole Kidman (Birthday Girl), Asia Argento (Scarlet Diva), Jennifer Aniston (The Good Girl)

Best Director

Roman Coppola (CQ), Guillermo del Toro (Blade II), Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven)

Best Screenplay

Adaptation (Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman), Gangs of New York (Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, Kenneth Lonergan), The Hours (David Hare)

Worst Film

New Best Friend. Far less pleasant than a Mouli-Grater-meets-manhood mishap, this excruciating exercise in laughable dialogue and excremental plotting was nearly "so bad it's good." Nearly.

Wild Card

Best Love Story/S&M Tutorial/Modern Workplace Exploration Fantasy/Fairytale for the Modern Age: Secretary

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