Mike’s Top Ten of 2002

This is one of my favorite years of this decade. This is quite possibly my strongest top ten list of the 2000s. I’m not gonna go so far as the proclaim it the strongest year of the decade (that’s probably 2007), but I think this is arguably the strongest of the top ten lists. Every movie on it is great.

What’s great to me about it is that almost all of it (save one) is something I saw right as it came out and loved from the jump. I always appreciate those lists, because it means I’ve lived with the films more and have a certain closeness to them that I don’t necessarily have with something I only came to later on.

What’s also great about this list — here are the directors in the top ten: Spike Lee, Spike Jonze, Doug Liman, Steven Spielberg (twice), Martin Scorsese, Peter Jackson, Roman Polanski, Paul Thomas Anderson and Sam Mendes. Not bad company, right? That’s why I think this might be the strongest list of the decade.

Mike’s Top Ten of 2002

25th Hour

Adaptation

The Bourne Identity

Catch Me If You Can

Gangs of New York

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Minority Report

The Pianist

Punch-Drunk Love

Road to Perdition

11-20: 28 Days Later, About Schmidt, Bleacher Bums, Changing Lanes, Chicago, Death to Smoochy, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Hero, Insomnia, Signs

Tier two: 8 Mile, About a Boy, City of God, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Die Another Day, Dirty Pretty Things, Equilibrium, Far from Heaven, The Hours, Infernal Affairs, John Q, Lilo & Stitch, One Hour Photo, Panic Room, Red Dragon, Spider-Man, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Treasure Planet, Welcome to Collinwood, xXx

Tier three: Austin Powers in Goldmember, Auto Focus, Bend It Like Beckham, Big Trouble, Bowling for Columbine, Comedian, Femme Fatale, Irreversible, The Kid Stays in the Picture, Men in Black II, Mr. Deeds, Narc, The Quiet American, Reign of Fire, Resident Evil, Ripley’s Game, The Rules of Attraction, Russian Ark, Solaris, The Transporter

Tier four: The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Analyze That, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, Buffalo Soldiers, Drumline, Frailty, Frida, Friday After Next, Hart’s War, Ice Age, Jackass: The Movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, The Ring, The Scorpion King, Spy Kids: Island of Lost Dreams, The Truth About Charlie, Unfaithful, Van Wilder, We Were Soldiers, Windtalkers

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1. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

“The battle of Helm’s Deep is over; the battle for Middle-earth is about to begin.”

For a while, I’d have said this was my favorite of the three Lord of the Rings movies. But that’s just because this movie somehow manages to sustain a battle that goes on for a full hour. It’s an astounding piece of filmmaking, and is just a joy to watch. That said, now that I’m at an appropriate age, I realize that all three films are part of a continuous trilogy and there really is no picking favorites. It’s not like I’m gonna pick which of the three to watch because I’m just gonna watch all three in a row every time.

There’s not a whole lot to add about this one, just because it’s immediately obvious as to why it’s #1 for me. I can’t separate these three movies, so they’re all just gonna be my #1 for that year. The only thing that would take precedent over them for me is if there was a legitimate all-time favorite film of mine that came out one of these three years. And while we do get close, nothing tops the importance and achievement of these films and what they’ve meant to me throughout my life.

2. Adaptation

“I have failed, I am panicked. I’ve sold out, I am worthless, I… What the fuck am I doing here? What the fuck am I doing here? Fuck. It is my weakness, my ultimate lack of conviction that brings me here. Easy answers used to shortcut yourself to success. And here I am because my jump into the abysmal well – isn’t that just a risk one takes when attempting something new? I should leave here right now. I’ll start over. I need to face this project head on and…
“…and God help you if you use voice-over in your work, my friends. God help you. That’s flaccid, sloppy writing. Any idiot can write a voice-over narration to explain the thoughts of a character.”

It’s amusing to me just how obsessed I was with Charlie Kaufman from an obscenely young age. I was 14 when this movie came out, and I was about 11 when Being John Malkovich came out. I can’t imagine many children of that age would have not only seen these movies but loved them to the point of watching them dozens of times.

This is also one of those movies that I love just because the conceit of it is absolutely brilliant. It’s a movie about the writer of the movie trying to adapt a book into a movie. So it’s not the actual adaptation of the book, but rather the author’s attempts to adapt the book. The beauty of the concept is that it should make you roll your eyes at the pretension of it all, but somehow Charlie Kaufman takes these concepts and makes them profound rather than pretentious. This is a movie about so much more than its basic concept.

Also, the idea of casting Nicolas Cage as himself (and his twin brother, who, spoiler alert, does not really exist) is a stroke of genius, and it gives us one of the truly great Cage performances of all time. Plus, you have Meryl Streep as the author of the book he’s adapting, Chris Cooper as the subject of that book, existing in both real life and the sort of fiction of the story. What Kaufman achieves with this is nothing short of incredible. Honestly, were it not for Lord of the Rings, this would be my #1 movie this year in a heartbeat. And that’s saying something, considering just how much there is to choose from this year.

3. 25th Hour

“What do we say to him?”
“We say nothin’. The guy’s going to hell for seven years, what are going do wish him luck?”

I have three legit #1 movies this year. The margin between Two Towers, Adaptation and this is really thin.

This is a movie that I have seen so many times. I originally saw it when it was on Pay Per View (having that ‘hot box’ with the PPV channels unlocked was huge for me as a child), and I fell in love with it immediately.

This is a movie that is so unfairly overlooked and so blatantly forgotten that it’s disgusting. To start, while Do the Right Thing is Spike Lee’s masterpiece, I’d venture to say that this is his second best movie. It’s adapted from a novel by David Benioff (whose name means a lot more now than it did in 2002), and as they were prepping the film, 9/11 happened, which drastically altered the tone of the story. I think the inclusion of 9/11 as a specter hanging over the film greatly increases the dramatic weight of the story and is the reason the film was as overlooked as it was at the time. I think people just didn’t want to deal with the event, so it was easy for them to dismiss something like this. And Spike, being unafraid to get right into the thick of anything, probably also made it easy for them to not engage. But even so, this movie should have such a higher profile than it does.

It stars Edward Norton as a man spending his last 24 hours before going to prison for 7 years. He spends the day with his two best friends (Barry Pepper and Philip Seymour Hoffman), his girlfriend (Rosario Dawson) and his father (Brian Cox), enjoying his last moments of freedom. And it’s an astounding piece of work all around. There are several glorious pieces of writing in this film, namely Brian Cox’s final monologue and the famous “fuck you” speech. Everyone is terrific, and this is one of those movies I could just watch over and over and over. It’s so goddamn good.

This is legitimately one of the best films of the decade, and the fact that it is not widely recognized as such is an utter travesty.

4. Road to Perdition

“This is the life we chose, the life we lead. And there is only one guarantee: none of us will see heaven.”

This is another movie that I feel should be on the “best of the decade” lists. I think people generally regard it as being very good, but I’m not sure it’s considered as highly as it probably should be.

It’s a Depression-era gangster movie that elevates the crime nature to almost poetry at times. Tom Hanks is an Irish mob enforcer who has worked for boss Paul Newman all his life. Newman considers Hanks to be a son, even at the expense of his actual son Daniel Craig. One night, Hanks’ son sneaks along as Hanks goes on a job and witnesses a murder, leading to a chain of events that forces Hanks and his son on the road together, eventually being chased by another hitman, Jude Law (who is great here).

It’s a different kind of role for Hanks, who is great as usual. Newman gives the final screen performance of his career, and is wonderful. Law, as I said, is so goddamn good. Craig gives a great early performance that would help elevate him to the role of James Bond a few years after this.

It’s such a great movie, and Mendes leans into the father-son story and the emotional aspects of the story rather than the crime stuff. And Conrad Hall shoots the hell out of it. He died shortly after it came out, but what he does with that final shootout is nothing short of beautiful.

5. Catch Me If You Can

“You know why the Yankees always win, Frank?”
‘Cause they have Mickey Mantle?”
No, it’s ’cause the other teams can’t stop staring at those damn pinstripes.”

Our first of two Spielberg movies this year. He’s done the two movies in a year thing four different times, and each of those times, either one or both of the films has made my top ten. Which really just speaks to his talents as a filmmaker more than anything else. But we knew that already.

This movie, I think, was a palate cleanser for him. He had done A.I. and then Minority Report, both of which were fairly dark movies (both tonally and visually). Whereas this is jaunty and bright and fun. And honestly it remains one of his best pieces of work.

It’s a biopic of Frank Abignale, one of the most successful con men who cashed millions of dollars of fraudulent checks before the age of 20. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Abignale, and its the start of his more “adult” roles, even if he’s playing a kid here. Tom Hanks plays Carl Hanratty, the FBI agent obsessively chasing Abignale. Christopher Walken is terrific as Abignale’s father. Amy Adams plays Abignale’s fiancée, and it’s the role that helped propel her to stardom.

It’s just a wonderful movie. It’s one of those that you just want to watch every time it’s on, because it all just works. There’s not a slow moment in the film, and once you start it, you just keep going. One of the best compliments you can pay a movie is saying how watchable it is, and this is one of the most watchable movies of the decade.

6. Gangs of New York

Marty, baby. Marty and Leo. This is their first time working together, and after this, Marty would make four of his next five movies with Leo starring.

This is one of those movies that’s immensely personal to Scorsese. There are a few throughout his career that were decided passion projects for him. Last Temptation is one, and Silence is another. This is the third. He wanted to make this movie for years, to the point where I think his first cut was over four hours, because there was so much stuff he wanted to get into.

It’s a story of the Irish in New York during the pre-Civil War days, when the city was full of corruption and separated into various gangs (namely the Irish born in Ireland and those born in the U.S.). The crux of the film is a basic revenge story, with DiCaprio playing the son of a gang leader who was murdered in the streets by his rival. DiCaprio comes back years later, vowing to kill the man who killed his father. That man, of course, is Daniel Day-Lewis, who gives a spellbinding performance (what’s new) as Bill the Butcher. But really, the film is about the atmosphere and immersing one’s self in the period and all the things going on instead of just the simple story of revenge.

The cast is stacked, with Cameron Diaz, Brendan Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Liam Neeson, Stephen Graham, Eddie Marsan, astounding production design by Dante Ferretti and great costumes by Sandy Powell. U2 gives a great end credits song, and Scorsese directs the hell out of it and his actors. It’s just an amazing movie. I’m constantly forgetting how good it is and then I go back and watch it and remember. I love it when that happens.

7. The Pianist

This is one of those movies I don’t watch as much as I watch any of the other movies on this list, but still understand its greatness and importance as a film, which is why I’ve put it where I put it.

It’s Roman Polanski’s, what, third masterpiece? Fourth? It’s a biopic of Wladyslaw Szpilman, (insert title here), who survived the Holocaust. Adrien Brody plays him and gives an incredible performance. It’s perhaps the most surprising Oscar win in history, but when you see the performance, you completely understand why he won. And Polanski won for his direction, which is also quite astounding.

You can’t have a list of best films of the 2000s without this appearing on the list somewhere. It’s a great, great film.

8. Minority Report

“Sometimes, in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.”

Our second Spielberg film, and the second time he’s had two top ten films (after 1993, which had Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List).

This is him doing Philip K. Dick. The premise is that we live in a world in which murder is now basically nonexistent. They have developed a system where murders can be detected before they happen, allowing police to apprehend the suspect before they can commit the crime. Tom Cruise plays the head of the PreCrime police force, who naturally is going to stumble upon something he shouldn’t, be set up for murder himself and has to go on the run and clear his name. It’s a pure Hitchcock concept, mixed with the great, sci fi high-concepts of the 70s.

Spielberg makes a great popcorn movie out of it. Cruise is fantastic, and it’s got Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Max von Sydow, Tim Blake Nelson and Peter Stormare, in a really weird performance that I love.

One more thing I’d like to point out, because I do think this is something Spielberg is really underrated for — his ability to cast a lot of great actors before they become super famous. I think part of it is him being who he is and everyone wanting to work with him and being willing to work with him, but Colin Farrell was not really known at all that well known by the time he did this. Even after you saw him in it, you still didn’t really know him. He only really broke the year after this, when he was in like every big action movie and then was Alexander. But Spielberg has a history of that, getting people at the right moment who then go on to mega careers (see also: Matt Damon, Amy Adams, Vin Diesel, Djimon Hounsou, Chiwetel Ejiofor, even Matthew McConaughey and Daniel Craig to an extent. Cumberbatch and Hiddleston are iffy, but they do fit with the patten you see with all the others, so I’ll mention them).

9. The Bourne Identity

“I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab or the gray truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Now why would I know that? How can I know that and not know who I am?”

I still quote that monologue. I don’t know why it’s stuck in my head all these years, but it has.

I’m not sure most people remember this, but this movie was not supposed to be a hit. They went through tons of reshoots and delayed the release date and all but gave up on it. And then it hit big. Because it’s good. It’s not as visceral as the sequels are, but in terms of a finished product, it’s a rather good movie, based on some really great (if dated) source material. I remember getting into the books just as this was coming out and noticing how wildly they differed from the movies (though they should have, because it needed to become its own thing). Somehow this is a franchise where people love the films (at least the first three), and yet the process of making all three was a tightrope act, where it didn’t look like any of it was gonna work but somehow it all came together in the end.

It’s also a great concept. Man is found floating in the ocean and wakes up with no memory of who he is. And then, as he goes around, he slowly starts to realize he was a secret agent and that the government wants him dead. They get three great movies out of it, though tonally the other two are much different from this one. It made an action star out of Matt Damon, and gave us one of the best franchises this side of 2000, which is no small feat, considering what else came out around this time.

10. Punch-Drunk Love

“I wanted to ask you something because you’re a doctor… I don’t like myself sometimes. Can you help me?”
“Barry, I’m a dentist. What kind of help do you think I could give you?”

The single most overlooked Paul Thomas Anderson movie. This film is wonderful.

It’s a movie based around Adam Sandler, in whom Anderson saw untapped potential and really utilized him to his fullest. Sandler plays a lonely guy who finds romance. That’s really the film. It’s a beautiful romance with Sandler and Emily Watson. One that has great subplots involving Sandler being extorted by a phone sex hotline and buying a few thousand cups of pudding with the intention of getting airline miles.

Sandler gives a terrific performance, and the film is just so weird and small that I think people tend to skip over it when thinking about Anderson’s films. I mean, I get it. Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, Phantom Thread, The Master, Magnolia — this is an easy movie to overlook. But this (like Inherent Vice) is a great movie that holds up among Anderson’s other films (which are almost all masterpieces).

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11-20:

28 Days Later — This is a landmark movie in horror as well as in the zombie genre. It introduced the concept of zombies that can run, which the genre had never seen before. Plus Danny Boyle shoots a lot of it handheld on video cameras, giving the movie an energy that the genre never really had before. It’s about a zombie outbreak in London and a disparate group of people who band together to survive. It’s really awesome, and is one of the few horror movies that holds up years later.

About Schmidt — This is my favorite Alexander Payne movie. I love this film. Jack Nicholson stars as a retiring actuary whose wife dies shortly after his last day. All the plans he had, to travel the country with her and enjoy life… now he’s got nothing. So he just kind of drifts for a while, until he finds out his daughter is getting married. And, convinced it’s a bad idea, he travels across the country to the wedding to try to stop her. And the movie’s basically a journey of self-discovery. Nicholson plays very much against type, a man who worked in an office for 50 years and now doesn’t know what it was all for, and whether or not his life actually means anything. It’s a beautiful look at aging, and the final scenes in this movie never fail to make me cry.

Bleacher Bums — This is one of my favorite films of this decade that I guarantee almost nobody knows about. It was originally released on Showtime as a TV movie, which is why no one knows about this. It’s based on a play written by a Chicago theater company in the 70s that included Joe Mantegna and Dennis Franz. They originally made it as a TV movie in 1979 as well. It’s about a bunch of friends in Chicago who go sit in the bleachers and root for their Cubs (essentially. They don’t say it’s the Cubs, but it’s the Cubs). And they sit and gamble amongst each other, hoping this is the year the club finally turns it around. And it’s just a day-in-the-life of these guys sitting in the stands, shooting the shit with one another. Brad Garrett plays the gambler/shark of the group, who loves betting against the team and winning money from all the die-hards who can’t resist betting on them. Matt Craven plays a blind guy who just likes listening to the game with his friends. Peter Riegert is the sort of ‘dad’ of the group who’s seen it all but still roots for the team. And there’s Wayne Knight, who keeps slipping away from his wife and making dumb bets that gets him in trouble when he goes home. It’s… I guess it’s not for everyone, but this is one of those movies I randomly caught on TV one day and fell in complete love with. I’ve watched this movie so many times, and I still love it. There are certain hidden gems that I will loudly tell people they need to see. This isn’t one of them. I’m happy to keep this one to myself if that’s how it is. But maybe my love of it will get some people to give it a chance, and maybe they’ll love it too.

Changing Lanes — This is a drama that I’ve always really liked. I got into it because the stars, and I’ve continued liking it because it’s just a good movie. It stars Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Affleck. Jackson plays an insurance salesman and recovering alcoholic who is trying to keep his life together, but has a really bad day, starting with a traffic accident he has with Ben Affleck, a hotshot lawyer. It starts as a minor accident, but then each being in the mood they’re in causes them to react badly to one another, and eventually they get into this little feud that escalates over the course of the day. I really like it. I think both actors do a really terrific job here.

Chicago — So this is based on a 1926 play called Chicago, which was turned into a film in 1927 (Chicago) and 1942 (Roxie Hart), and then in 1975, Bob Fosse turned it into a musical that became a smash hit and is probably the defining stage achievement of his career. This is an adaptation of that musical. And it’s awesome. Renee Zellweger plays Roxie Hart, Catherine Zeta-Jones steals the movie as Velma Kelly, and you’ve got Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly — it’s just a fun musical that is one of the best screen adaptations of a stage show you’ll find.

Death to Smoochy — Words cannot describe how much I adore this movie. I don’t think this is well liked. I think the title makes it easy to make jokes about it, but I also think people dismiss this, either without having seen it or not having liked it when they saw it. But I really love this movie. Robin Williams plays a famous kids show host who is disgraced after a scandal. So the network (this is a very dark comedy, in case you didn’t know. It’s like Network for Sesame Street) wants to hire a squeaky clean host. So they find Edward Norton, a man who gives musical performances at methadone clinics as “Smoochy the Rhino.” Thinking he’s perfect, they hire him. And he’s a monster star. Which only causes Williams to fall into a tailspin and want to kill him, and gets him in deep with all of the shady character surrounding the children’s TV racket (corrupt agents, charities, the Irish mob). It’s so good. Williams is incredible here, and it’s just a really funny movie. One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen is Robin Williams tackling a man with a ‘save the African rhino’ table in the middle of the street.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — The second one. All of these movies are great. What more is there to say about them? They rightly stopped using this sort of tone after this movie, but for the first two, it works. They let the films grow up with their audience, and the result is truly one of the greatest franchises that’s ever been put to screen.

Hero — A great movie. Zhang Yimou directs, and it takes the fighting style of Crouching Tiger to new levels, with a much more vibrant color palette to go along with all the action. Jet Li stars as a man who shows up at the palace of the king, saying he’s killed the three most dangerous warriors in all of China. The emperor allows him to enter and starts listening to his story, and we flash back to all his encounters/battles with each of the warriors along the way. It’s an awesome movie. The battles are so good, and it looks great, and it’s the kind of movie that most people would just enjoy because the storytelling is really good as well.

Insomnia — This is Christopher Nolan remaking a Norwegian thriller. It was his first film after Memento, and seemingly represents him taking a studio gig for the first time. Which all these directors seem to do at some point. I think this is the only film he didn’t write himself or with his brother, which makes a lot of sense. It stars Al Pacino as a detective sent to Alaska to solve the murder of a teenage girl. Though once there, he finds that the sun never goes down and he’s unable to sleep at all. So you have that mixed with him trying to solve this murder, plus the killer (Robin Williams, in full-on creepy mode for the first of two times this year) keeps calling him and basically daring him to catch him, wanting to play a cat-and-mouse game with him. It’s a wonderful film. Really well made. It’ll never be on people’s lists of favorite Christopher Nolan films, but it’s a very solid entry into his filmography and is a terrific thriller in its own right.

Signs — This is, to me, the best M. Night Shyamalan film. The Sixth Sense is very good, but to me, this one’s the total package. It’s about a former preacher who has given up his faith after the death of his wife in a car accident. He lives with his slacker brother and two children on a farm in Pennsylvania. One day, mysterious crop circles show up out in his cornfield, and he can’t figure out what it means. Pretty soon, crop circles start popping up all over the globe, leading people to wonder if it means an alien invasion is imminent and what happens then. It’s a beautiful film about paranoia and faith, and really ties itself together very well. I can’t say I’m in love with the choices in the last ten minutes of the film, but I understand that the film had been building toward that the entire time (I think I’d just prefer that it had been a bit more subtle about it rather than hitting us over the head with it). Otherwise, there is some great stuff in this movie. The dinner scene is tremendous, the score is amazing, and the scene on TV at the kid’s birthday party is one of the great ‘scary moments’ I’ve ever seen on screen. This is one of those movies that would have been in my top ten were there a spot for it. I really like this movie a lot.

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Tier two:

  • 8 Mile
  • About a Boy
  • City of God
  • Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
  • Die Another Day
  • Dirty Pretty Things
  • Equilibrium
  • Far from Heaven
  • The Hours
  • Infernal Affairs
  • John Q
  • Lilo & Stitch
  • One Hour Photo
  • Panic Room
  • Red Dragon
  • Spider-Man
  • Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
  • Treasure Planet
  • Welcome to Collinwood
  • xXx

Welcome to Collinwood is the Russo brothers (whose name means something now!) directing their first film, a remake of Big Deal on Madonna Street, which is a classic of foreign cinema. I’m not sure how I managed to see this from such a young age, but I loved this movie when I was 14. It’s about a heist going comically wrong. It’s got William H. Macy, Sam Rockwell, George Clooney, Patricia Clarkson, Michael Jeter, Luis Guzman… it’s a lot of fun. Highly underrated comedy. Die Another Day is, in a lot of ways, the worst James Bond movie. It’s overdone, completely bloated and insane, but also, totally watchable at the same time and makes you realize just how damn watchable this franchise is. It’s Pierce Brosnan’s last outing (because you can’t really go anywhere after invisible cars, a space laser and parasailing down a tsunami), but it still manages to be a good time at the movies nevertheless. One Hour Photo is one of the great performances of Robin Williams’s career. He plays a lonely man who works at the photo lab at the local drug store who is fascinated by the people whose photos he develops. He keeps copies of them and basically stalks their lives from afar. Only there’s one family in particular he has a real affinity toward, and dreams about becoming part of the family. It’s… a really nice movie. Kind of a psychological thriller. Not quite a Fatal Attraction or anything like that, but a great showcase for what a fantastic dramatic actor Robin Williams is.

Spider-Man is the movie that broke the superhero floodgates open. X-Men was the first big one that proved it could work, and then this was the one where everyone went, “Oh, they could actually also be good!” Because this is more a direct comic book movie than X-Men was. X-Men changed the uniforms and made it more about the drama than the “comic book” aspects. This one leaned into the comic book aspects, and it really worked. This one still even mostly holds up, despite some very outdated moments (that scene where they’re both talking in the masks and no one’s face is moving, for example). I think it’s better than Spider-Man 2, though I might be in the minority on that one. This was, for a long time, the standard bearer for what a comic book movie could and should be. Of course, we’ve since passed it about fivefold, but hey, this is still an achievement. Infernal Affairs is the Hong Kong movie that was remade into The Departed. So, if you love The Departed, you’ll at the very least enjoy this movie. It doesn’t do things with, I’ll say the flair that The Departed does them, but it is a very terrific movie in its own right. It also ends differently, which I appreciate. I understand why The Departed had to end the way it did, but the ending to this one feels so much… well, you’ll see. Treasure Planet is Disney doing Treasure Island in space. It’s fun. Nothing amazing, but it’s not bad. Few Disney movies are actually bad (and I think that number might be less than five in total). This is kind of forgettable in the long run, but does have some cool stuff going on. Lilo & Stitch, meanwhile, is a much better Disney movie that came out this year. It’s about an alien who crash lands in Hawaii and the young girl he befriends. What really makes the movie work isn’t the E.T./Iron Giant scenario it has going on, but the themes about family and finding someone. That’s the heart of the film.

Red Dragon is Bret Ratner doing Hannibal Lecter. I’m not sure why that choice was made, but honestly this is probably Bret Ratner’s best movie. It’s Anthony Hopkins’ third and final time portraying Hannibal, and it’s a prequel to Silence of the Lambs, made a dozen years after that movie came out. But you know what? Mostly works. They made it as Manhunter in the 80s, but that one didn’t have Anthony Hopkins as Lecter. This has Edward Norton as the detective being helped by Lecter and Ralph Fiennes as the killer. It’s really well done, and also ends the series nicely, directly tying it into Silence of the Lambs in what feels like a satisfying way. Equilibrium is if you took 1984 and made it an action movie. It’s all the dystopian novels you’ve read turned into a Matrix ripoff. Which is totally fine. This movie’s fun as hell. It’s based in a society in which feelings are illegal, and all people are given a drug that basically makes them docile to the state. Christian Bale plays an officer who kills those who disobey, and of course, like all those dystopian novels (Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Logan’s Run), he’s gonna start to realize he was on the wrong side all along. It’s a really awesome movie. One of those little gems Christian Bale made before everyone realized how awesome he is. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a Charlie Kaufman-written (though he claims the script was substantially rewritten to the point where it doesn’t resemble his script), George Clooney-directed biopic of Chuck Barris, the famous game show host who claims he was a CIA hitman. Sam Rockwell plays Barris, and the movie is just a really fun time. It’s Clooney’s directorial debut, and he acquits himself really well. It’s definitely a test run for his eventual breakthrough with Good Night and Good Luck, but even still, this is a very well-made, well-acted film that has a lot of fun little surprises up its sleeve as well.

Far from Heaven is Todd Haynes making a Douglas Sirk movie. That’s it. If you’ve seen All That Heaven Allows, you get the general premise of this movie. Rich, lush, Technicolor and melodramatic plots. Only, because it’s not 1955, Haynes can do more with his plot. All That Heaven Allows is a widowed woman who starts an affair with a younger man, but can’t really be together with him because “the neighbors will talk.” Here, it’s about a woman who starts an affair with her African-American gardener (oh, and this is after she finds out her husband is having an affair with a man). Which is perfect for someone doing Douglas Sirk, because all that stuff was in the undercurrent of his films anyway but could never have been shown on screen at the time. It’s a wonderful movie. Julianne Moore is terrific, as are Dennis Haysbert and Dennis Quaid, and Haynes directs the hell out of it. It looks incredible, as a movie trying to do Douglas Sirk ought to. 8 Mile is Eminem’s movie about his life. It’s a pretty okay movie that has an amazing final sequence, with that rap battle. That’s what people remember about this. The rest of the movie — totally fine, and he acquits himself well. But it’s that final sequence that really works, because it’s like a sports movie. You’re building to the big game at the end where the person you’re rooting for is gonna win. That’s what makes this movie work as well as it does.

Dirty Pretty Things is written by Steven Knight (his first breakthrough on the screen, which would lead to Eastern Promises, Locke and Allied) and stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as an illegal immigrant working at a London hotel. Most of the staff are illegal and the management does their best to keep them from getting caught (because it allows them to pay them less than other workers). He was a doctor in his country and now has to start over (though he does help other immigrants with their problems when he’s not at work). He also stumbles upon an illegal organ harvesting operation within the hotel and gets caught up in that as well. It’s… it’s a really great movie. A real hidden gem of this decade. John Q is a really fun thriller. Denzel stars as a man whose son is in need of an emergency heart transplant. Only because of an employment quirk, his health insurance won’t cover it and the cost to do it is impossible for someone like him. So, when all else fails, he walks into the ER with a gun and holds everyone hostage, demanding his son get the transplant. And the movie is largely that hostage standoff as he sits in the waiting room, demanding a heart for his son, because he was pushed to the edge with no alternative option. It’s a wonderful movie. Totally implausible, but also a nice way to give you good entertainment and remind people how fucked up the healthcare system in this country is. That, to me, is what makes this movie so enduring.

City of God is possibly the foreign film of the 2000s. People love this movie. It’s a crime film about life in the streets of Brazil. We follow two kids, one of whom becomes a professional photographer and the other who becomes a professional criminal. It’s just like one of those movies in the 30s. Angels with Dirty Faces or something like that. Only it’s gritty and takes place on foreign soil. It’s a really solid film. The Hours is one of the big “classy” movies of this year. The big awards darlings and all that. It’s Stephen Daldry directing a novel about three women in three separate time periods. The earliest is Virginia Woolf herself, the second is an unhappy housewife in the 50s, and the third is a modern day woman helping prepare a party for her friend, a gay painter with AIDS. It’s one of those movies that’s very well-made and well acted (particularly Julianne Moore, but also Nicole Kidman, Meryl and Ed Harris, among others), and it has a tremendous score by Philip Glass. xXx is the movie that firmly established Vin Diesel as a movie star. Fast and Furious broke him, and this set him on that level for good. It’s an insane concept that we all just kind of bought when it came out, as ridiculous as it is. He plays an extreme sports junkie who gets recruited by the government to become a secret agent and take down a Russian crime ring. And yet… somehow kinda works. It’s good, dumb fun, and even though the sequels are bad, the first one still holds up as a solid piece of popcorn entertainment.

About a Boy is a terrific film. It’s based on a Nick Hornby book and stars Hugh Grant as a guy who’s rich based off a famous Christmas song his father wrote. So basically, he’s never had to work a day in his life. And he meets a young boy at the park, and the boy actually helps him learn how to be a grown up. And there’s a romance angle with Rachel Weisz… it’s a lovely film. Grant is spectacular and it’s one of those great, smart adult romance films. Panic Room is David Fincher, and I’d say that outside his first film (Alien³), it’s probably his weakest. Which is saying something, since it’s still really good. Jodie Foster plays a divorced woman who moves into a New York apartment that has its very own (insert title here), a sealed safe-like room that residents can hide in the event of a break-in. Of course, that break-in happens, with some thieves entering the house to get some riches left there by the previous occupant. So the film becomes a battle of wits between Foster and the thieves. And it’s really good. It’s so much fun. This is the kind of movie that is forgettable if someone like David Fincher doesn’t direct it. That’s the true value of him as a filmmaker. Attack of the Clones is the second of the prequels. I’m not gonna get into quality one way or the other. It is what it is. It’s George Lucas continuing to make the movies he wanted to make to tell the story that happened before the first three films. Really, the only thing I can say about it is

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Tier three:

  • Austin Powers in Goldmember
  • Auto Focus
  • Bend It Like Beckham
  • Big Trouble
  • Bowling for Columbine
  • Comedian
  • Femme Fatale
  • Irreversible
  • The Kid Stays in the Picture
  • Men in Black II
  • Mr. Deeds
  • Narc
  • The Quiet American
  • Reign of Fire
  • Resident Evil
  • Ripley’s Game
  • The Rules of Attraction
  • Russian Ark
  • Solaris
  • The Transporter

The Quiet American is an adaptation of the Graham Greene novel, and a really solid one at that. Michael Caine is an aging British reporter living in Vietnam who spends his days smoking opium and living with a beautiful young Vietnamese woman. And then in comes Brendan Fraser, the (insert title here). He’s a nice, unassuming guy who competes for the woman’s affections (and also might be CIA). It’s a good book and a good movie. Michael Caine is terrific in the role, and ended up being nominated for it (in, what I might add, is perhaps the single most competitive Best Actor category of all time, which includes Adrien Brody in The Pianist, Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York, Nicolas Cage in Adaptation and Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt. Big Trouble is one of my favorite little crime movies of this era. No idea how I saw it for the first time, but I watched this a bunch growing up. It’s just a bunch of people who get mixed up in all sorts of stuff. Hitmen, high school students, homeless people… there’s a lot going on here. I’m sure this will not appeal to a lot of people, but this was great to me at 14. Also, look at the cast: Tim Allen, Rene Russo, Stanley Tucci, Ben Foster, Zooey Deschanel, Tom Sizemore, Dennis Farina, Johnny Knoxville, Jeneane Garofolo, Patric Warburton, Omar Epps, Heavy D, Jason Lee, Sofia Vergara and Andy Richter. That’s a lot of people. And it’s directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, if that means anything to you.

Reign of Fire is a movie that I don’t know how it got made or how anyone thought this was a good idea in 2002 and not, say, 1995, but man, is this fun. First off, it stars Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey. Which is pretty insane, right? It’s weird how most people either don’t know that or completely forgot it. And throw in Gerard Butler to boot, by the way. It’s a movie about a world in which dragons emerge from deep underground and completely throw the world into ruins. And it’s about the last remaining humans trying to fight back. It’s crazy, right? Even hearing it you wonder how this became a movie? But let me tell you — it’s awesome. It’s such a fun movie. This is one of those, sit on the couch, grab some popcorn and just have a good ass time kind of movies. Comedian is a documentary about comedy that focuses on Jerry Seinfeld. It’s mostly about all that goes into comedy off the stage, and also follows a younger comic who is trying to make it in the business. It’s a really strong piece of work. Auto Focus is a biopic of Bob Crane, famous for his role on Hogan’s Heroes, and the dark life he lived off the screen. Namely in having sex with women on camera. And the film focuses on that part of his life, as well as his friendship with an electronics expert who gets him into the burgeoning video camera market. It’s a solid movie with good performances by Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe. Bowling for Columbine is Michael Moore’s documentary about America’s fascination with guns. To me, this is his best documentary. It’s incredible. It’s the kind of documentary that’s only gotten more relevant as time’s gone on. People tend to have strong feelings about Moore himself, but there’s no denying that he makes really entertaining documentaries that really get the points across.

The Transporter is such a badass movie. It spawned a whole franchise and spinoffs and reboots and all sorts of things. And, unsurprisingly, like most of these action movies of the era, it was written by Luc Besson. It stars Jason Statham as a driver who will transport anything, no questions asked. Of course complications ensue with one of his packages, and then it becomes a whole big action movie. This one is actually less action-y than the sequels, but it’s still pretty badass all around. The first two Transporter movies are really great, and all the others are just varying degrees of fun. Irreversible is Gaspar Noe’s introduction to the cinematic world. And it’s… a hell of an experience. That’s his style of filmmaking. Shocking to those who look at it from afar, but really just something that’s gonna put you through some visceral experience with some fucked up shit happening. This, Enter the Void, Climax… that’s his thing. This is a movie told backward, about a group of people out partying for the night and one of them getting brutally raped and beaten. So the movie is told backward, showing how it all ends, and then flashes backward, with the rape (which is shown in its entirely, and is excruciating to watch) and then ending with everyone at the beginning of the night, not knowing any of this is gonna go down. It’s a hell of an experience, one that most people feel like they don’t want to take.

Russian Ark is famous for being one of the first “single-shot” films in existence. (Technically Timecode predates it by two years, but it’s still probably the one people think of as the ‘first’ one. Kind of like how people assume Birth of a Nation was the first feature-length film ever, which it wasn’t.) This is almost a history lesson/documentary. It’s basically a tour through a museum, largely built around the fact that it’s a single-shot film. A narrator walks through the corridors of the Winter Palace, and as he goes from room to room, he interacts with various people (real and fake) who’ve lived there over the years. It’s like an interactive exhibit, like Sleep No More or those other ones they’ve put on at various places. It’s fun. The gimmick is what makes it memorable, not the content. Men in Black II is a sequel that was inevitable but not particularly necessary. It’s bigger, not as fun, but also generally works. They bring in Rosario Dawson as a pseudo-love interest for Will Smith and delve more into Tommy Lee Jones’s backstory. Largely it’s pretty fine and still maintains a lot of the fun of the original. Femme Fatale is a Brian De Palma movie and one of his Hitchcock specials. No one does Hitchcock homages like De Palma, and this is him doing another one of those. Rebecca Romijn plays a criminal who finds a way out of that life, only to see it later catch up to her. It’s a twisty kind of movie that might not work for all, but De Palma shoots it with such flourish, you can’t help but have a good time with it.

Narc is a Joe Carnahan-directed neo noir about an undercover narcotics officer who is sent to investigate the murder of one of his fellow officers. It’s got Jason Patric, Ray Liotta, Chi McBride, John Ortiz and Busta Rhymes in it, and it’s a really solid movie that is definitely worth seeing. Austin Powers in Goldmember is the third one. By this point, they started driving most of the jokes into the ground via endless repetition, but it still has its moments, namely in the celebrity cameos that show up throughout the film. It’s clear this is the last time they were gonna be able to pull this off, but fortunately they managed to do it respectably before they turned that corner and the movies became bad Resident Evil was, for a time, the best video game movie ever made. Granted, it’s an incredibly low bar. Of course, Super Mario Bros. will always be my favorite, but it’s clearly not the best. The only ones I think we could legitimately call decent movies that also kind of feel respectful to the source material are this and maybe the Alicia Vikander Tomb Raider. (Not sure I’m gonna allow Detective Pikachu in on that conversation.) Otherwise, for a while, this was the best it got. It’s, for those who never played the games, about a zombie outbreak in Raccoon City, here centered around Milla Jovovich, a woman who wakes up with no memory but ends up going down into the underground lab that caused the zombie outbreak to help try to stop it with a bunch of soldiers. It’s fun. Not great, but it has its moments.

Bend It Like Beckham is a feel-good family movie about an Indian girl who just wants to play soccer. Her family won’t let her, so she has to sneak out to do it and dreams of playing professionally. It’s a beautiful movie and was a monster international hit, and rightly so, because it’s smart and makes you feel good. The Rules of Attraction is another Bret Easton Ellis adaptation, which only gets made because of American Psycho being the cult hit it became. Roger Avary directs, and the film is kind of a mixed bag. It tries to play up the American Psycho connection by having its character (Bateman’s brother) have a “phone call” with him in the movie. But largely it’s its own thing. It’s mostly debauchery in college by privileged, well-to-do students. The kind of stuff Ellis loves to write. It generally works as a movie. Mr. Deeds is Adam Sandler remaking Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. I’d say, first, if you haven’t seen the original, please see that before you see this. Second, this isn’t so bad. Adam Sandler movies were generally pretty decent for a long while and only really got awful after 2007. This… totally fine. Kinda fun at points, kinda stupid at points. I think it’s a respectable one, as far as his stuff goes. But also, not the original.

Ripley’s Game is… they made a few Ripley movies. The big one is the Matt Damon one, but there are two or three more. And what’s interesting is that someone different plays Ripley every time, which kind of adds to the mystique of the character. This time Ripley is played by John Malkovich, and the plot is about him being asked by an old acquaintance to kill a guy. But Ripley, deciding to have some fun with it, decides to find a regular guy and turn him into a killer who will do the job for him. It’s a really interesting movie and a nice little gem. The Damon Ripley movie will always be the best, but this is a very solid second that’s worth seeing. Solaris is a… well, it’s not quite a remake of the Tarkovsky movie, but rather an adaptation of the same novel. Soderbergh, I think, tried to be more faithful to the source material than Tarkovsky was. He plays up the romance angle a bit more, with George Clooney as a man sent to investigate a ship that’s gone silent near a remote planet and starts seeing visions of his dead wife. It’s well-done. It’s not nearly the film the Tarkovsky one is, but it’s a solid effort and an admirable attempt by Soderbergh to make something different. The Kid Stays in the Picture is a documentary about Robert Evans, based on his book. It’s basically his recollections of his career, and telling all sorts of stories about the films he’s worked on (which, if don’t know what they are, look him up. They’re biggies). It’s a wonderful, wonderful documentary. One of the best ever made about Hollywood.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tier four:

  • The Adventures of Pluto Nash
  • Analyze That
  • Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever
  • Drumline
  • Frailty
  • Frida
  • Friday After Next
  • Hart’s War
  • Ice Age
  • Jackass: The Movie
  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding
  • The Ring
  • The Scorpion King
  • Spy Kids: Island of Lost Dreams
  • The Truth About Charlie
  • Unfaithful
  • Van Wilder
  • We Were Soldiers
  • Windtalkers

The Adventures of Pluto Nash may still be considered the biggest bomb of all time. It’s a completely insane movie, but that’s what I like about it. It’s so unique. Eddie Murphy plays a guy who runs a nightclub on the moon, and has to keep it safe from mobsters who want to take control of it. Yes, that’s the plot. It’s insane. And they spent so much money on it. I don’t get it, but it’s so weird that I think it’s worth seeing and honestly appreciate something like this over some other generic action movie or comedy or whatever that came out this year. Keeping on that wavelength, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever is routinely thought of as one of the worst movies of all time. And that’s why I love it. Because it’s completely incomprehensible in every way. I couldn’t even tell you the plot outside of what I assume/know it is based on genre conventions: Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu are enemy agents trying to kill one another. But (surprise!) they realize they both have a common enemy instead. It’s not a good movie, but that’s also what makes it kinda good. (For some. Most people are gonna fucking despise this, and probably rightfully so.)

Frailty is routinely called one of the underrated thrillers of this decade. Bill Paxton directed it as well as stars in it alongside Matthew McConaughey, who gives one of the great performances of his early career that largely goes unnoticed. In a way, this is a precursor to True Detective, since the framing device of this story is McConaughey sitting down with the FBI. Though here, he sits down and says his brother is a serial killer they’re after, and then recounts his childhood and shows us how we got to this moment. Bill Paxton is great as the domineering father, and… well, this is one of those where the less you know, the better. It’s really well done. Trust me on this, you want to see it. Unfaithful is an erotic thriller about Diane Lane as a woman who has an extramarital affair that gets out of hand. Richard Gere plays her husband and the film is directed by Adrian Lyne, who also gave us Flashdance, Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal. So he knows about erotic thrillers. Lane is good here and was nominated for her performance, and the film is just a solid piece of work. Drumline is in line with those other sort of sports movies. Remember the Titans, etc. Nick Cannon plays as a drummer from Harlem who is recruited for the marching band in a southern college. It’s more in line with sports movies than anything else. Definitely one of those movies that feels like it’s only for my generation and no one else.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a semi-autobiographical movie written by Nia Vardalos about her crazy Greek family and what happened when she decided to marry a non-Greek man. The thing that makes this movie work is that it feels authentic. The comedy is heightened, of course, but it feels like it comes from the heart, and that a lot of it feels very true to what the reality actually is. And that’s why it works. Also, it’s really charming. The Scorpion King is the spinoff of The Mummy starring The Rock. It’s not a good movie at all, but goddamn if it isn’t fun in a campy sort of way. Analyze That is the sequel. Not nearly as good as the original (but at least it’s not The Whole Ten Yards), but it has its moments. You get more De Niro/Crystal schtick, which is what makes the movie anyway. As far as comedy sequels go, this is more respectable than some of them. (Because trust me, in the history of comedy, it’s hard to make a sequel to a good movie that doesn’t suck balls.) Frida is a biopic of Frida Kahlo starring Salma Hayek and directed by Julie Taymor. Honestly the perfect combination for this movie. And it’s really solid. Can’t say I’ve ever loved it, but it’s a good piece of work that deserves to be seen. Spy Kids: Island of Lost Dreams is the sequel. Not as good as the original, but still fun.

The Truth About Charlie is Jonathan Demme (who really likes remaking super famous movies) remaking Charade. That’s right. I feel like not enough people know that. It’s easy to know about him redoing Manchurian Candidate, because the title’s the same. But this title is different and it bombed and most people forgot about it, so no one really considers it. But this is a remake of Charade. With Thandie Newton in the Audrey Hepburn role (sweet) and Mark Wahlberg in the Cary Grant role (less sweet). Tim Robbins does the Walter Matthau here, and it’s mostly watchable. It’s no Charade. If you even think about watching this movie without having seen Charade, the universe should extend a hand and slap you in the face to get some sense into you. But if you have seen Charade, this is a fun little detour. It’s no different from watching less great remakes of older movies (like Taking of Pelham or what have you). You know the original is the better version, but it’s still fine enough because at least the source material makes it better than some other throwaway movie. Van Wilder is the movie that gave us Ryan Reynolds. It’s a dumb comedy about a guy who is a legend on his college campus, mainly because he refuses to graduate. And the movie’s about all the antics he gets up to. It’s stupid, but I was 14 this year and stupid was what I enjoyed.

Friday After Next is the third entry in the series, and is pretty much a Christmas movie. Ice Cube and Mike Epps have to track down the guy who robbed their house dressed as Santa Claus. It’s fun. All the Friday movies are fun. I’d say watch them in order if you’re gonna way any of them, but this one is perfectly fun on its own as well. The Ring is a remake of a Japanese horror movie that’s actually pretty solid. I think that’s because it was directed by Gore Verbinski, who does not infuse it with a lot of the horror tropes that make me unable to stand those kinds of movies. Here, he makes it a drama with a supernatural horror element to it, which is the videotape that kills you in seven days if you watch it. So it’s kind of a procedural, almost, as Naomi Watts tries to figure out what the deal is with the videotape and track down its origins. It’s a solid movie, which I never thought I would say about something like this. Ice Age is one of the few non-Disney/Pixar animated films that I think is pretty decent. Of course, they completely ruined it with like five unnecessary sequels, but the first one is still kinda fun. It’s basically if you took prehistoric animals and did 3 Men and a Baby mixed with The Jungle Book. They find a human baby and try to get it back to where it belongs. It’s not Disney/Pixar, but it’s decent.

Windtalkers is the second-to-last John Woo American film, and it was right as his style was starting to run its course. Mainly due to the advent of CGI, which just doesn’t mesh well with his ‘gung fu’. It’s about a troop of Navajo marines in World War II, who use their native language as a code to prevent the Germans from intercepting communication. Nicolas Cage plays an American marine sent to protect the group and the code. It’s not a bad movie, even if it’s not particularly special. We Were Soldiers is another war movie, this time with Mel Gibson and about Vietnam. It’s about the first major American battle of the war and the men who fought it, as well as their families back home who were worried about their safety. It’s kinda schmaltzy, but it’s a decently solid war movie. Keeping with the genre of war movies… Jackass. Basically just a feature length compilation of the group doing their stunts. The comedy is so low that it’s actually amazing. Oh, one more war movie: Hart’s War. Bruce Willis plays a commanding general in a German POW camp in WWII. He’s waiting for his moment to try to take down the Germans and escape, which comes in the way of one of his soldiers (a black man) being accused of murdering a racist staff sergeant. He enlists Colin Farrell, a law student turned soldier, to defend the man accused of the murder, all as cover for him to put his escape plan into action. I liked this one. It’s not amazing, but it’s a watchable movie and gives you Bruce Willis and Colin Farrell.

– – – – – – – – – –

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