Film: Best of 2002

By STEVE SAILER, UPI National Correspondent
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LOS ANGELES, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Overall, 2002 was a better year for movies than the notoriously weak 2001, when many films were rushed to completion to avoid anticipated strikes by writers and actors.

What was best about movies in 2002?


In my reviews, I try to give less space to my personal tastes than is traditional among film critics. I'm way too old to believe that I can convert anybody to my likes and dislikes. As an old marketing-research staff guy, I prefer to spend more space on more objective questions such as: Who is the target audience segment? What were the trade-offs facing the filmmakers? And what can you learn from the film about human nature or contemporary society?

Still, it's fun to sit back once a year and just recall the pleasures that recent movies afforded.

Best Picture


5. "Barbershop" -- Objectively, this isn't as good an ensemble comedy as "Nicholas Nickleby," but this African-American retelling of the message from "It's a Wonderful Life" is hugely likable.

4. "Adaptation" -- Granted, a movie about writer's block automatically appeals to film writers, but you don't have to take seriously any of the bloviating about its "meta" aspects to enjoy this hilarious film.

3. "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" -- Near-perfect filmmaking on the grandest of scales.

2. "Punch-Drunk Love" -- Even though it makes explicit the mental illness that is latent in every character Adam Sandler plays, the movie still winds up optimistic, romantic, and lovely.

1. "Unfaithful -- Adrian Lyne, a signature director of the 1980s ("Flashdance," "9 1/2 Weeks, and "Fatal Attraction") finally directs a movie with a non-preposterous story. I love Lyne because no other director comes as close to portraying novelist Vladimir Nabokov's vision of the beauty of mundane objects.


5. Viggo Mortensen in "The Two Towers" -- A classic adventure hero, Errol Flynn reborn.

4. Tobey Maguire in "Spider-Man" -- Hey, it made $404 million. I suspect the guy who played Spider-Man had something to do with that.


3. Hugh Grant in "About a Boy" -- When playing a cad, Hugh Grant almost rivals that other witty English actor named Grant.

2. Adam Sandler in "Punch-Drunk Love" -- Sure, he's just doing The Adam Sandler Character all over again, but the movie requires his overwhelming likeability.

1. Nicolas Cage in "Adaptation" -- Following the glummest $20 million paycheck performance in recent history in "Windtalkers," Cage went back to his strong suit -- lower budget oddball movies -- and delighted as twins with implausibly opposite personalities. A bravura technical feat of acting.


5. Salma Hayek in "Frida" -- Maybe not a great performance, but she turned in an impressive accomplishment behind the scenes in just getting the movie made. Nobody else in Hollywood could have played the part: only Hayek both looked enough like the self-portraitist Frida Kahlo and had the right ethnic background to satisfy the identity politics warriors who had derailed earlier attempts.

4. Julianne Moore in "Far from Heaven" -- A lot better than her other upper-middle-class 1950s housewife in "The Hours."

3. Nicole Kidman in "The Hours" -- They should have just let Kidman star in a biopic of Virginia Woolf's life and scrapped all the folderol involving Moore and Meryl Streep.


2. Rene Zellweger in "Chicago" -- One of the lucky actresses who can both stay ultra-skinny and on top of her game. The malnutrition required for the fashionable anorexic look has hurt the performances of other actresses, such as Sandra Bullock in "Murder by Numbers. (Bullock recently announced she was going put on weight.)

1. Diane Lane in "Unfaithful" -- While most critics disliked "Unfaithful" on the general principle that Lyne made it, they almost all agreed on the high quality of Lane's performance.


5. Hayao Miyazaki of "Spirited Away" -- The George Lucas of Japanimation delivers a gorgeous cartoon. But, like Lucas, he needs to stop hiring himself as screenwriter.

4. Steven Spielberg of "Minority Report" -- All those wonderful-horrible futuristic gadgets.

3. Adrian Lyne of "Unfaithful" -- A visual master, working wholly under control, unlike his 1980s work.

2. Paul Thomas Anderson of "Punch-Drunk Love" -- No one else could have made it.

1. Peter Jackson of "The Two Towers" -- The sheer physical endurance required leaves me in awe.

Supporting Actor:

Chauvinistically, I'm going to exceed the Oscars' limit of five nominees for Supporting Actor, but not for Supporting Actress. I have two excuses: First, there are simply more roles for men than women. Second, I'm a man, and like most people who aren't teenage girls, I'm more interested in how members of my own sex live their lives.


So, I'll break Supporting Actor into quasi-logical subcategories:

Remarkably Well-Preserved Englishmen named "Christopher" Playing Villains:

3. Christopher Lee in "The Two Towers" -- The 6-foot-5-inch actor isn't bowed with age at 80 years old.

2. Christopher Plummer (OK, he's Canadian)in "Nicholas Nickleby" -- He was 38 when he made "The Sound of Music," so he's 75 today.

1. Christopher Lee in "Attack of the Clones" -- It's interesting how he's better in the inferior movie.

Delirious Theatricality:

3. Kenneth Branagh in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" -- Self-parodying fun.

2. Richard Harris in "The Count of Monte Cristo" -- A worthy farewell.

1. Nathan Lane in "Nicholas Nickleby" -- He plays Vincent Crummles, an actor joyfully intoxicated with everything involving the stage.

American Icons:

3. Sam Elliott in "We Were Soldiers" -- The greatest cowboy character actor portrays Sergeant Major Basil Plumley. With a name like that, he had to grow up to be the toughest warrior in the Army.

2. Stanley Tucci -- As a crass gangster in Dave Barry's overlooked "Big Trouble" and as a sensitive gangster in "Road to Perdition."


1. Morgan Freeman in "The Sum of All Fears" -- A CIA director with a wit as dry as the Atacama Desert.

Young Sluggers:

2. Christian Kane in "Life or Something Like It" -- He had a bad role (the dumb ballplayer Angelina Jolie dumps) in a bad movie, but made it into something much more interesting than what was going on around him.

1. Joaquin Phoenix in "Signs" -- Another dumb ballplayer with a lot on his mind.

Are These Supporting or Leading Roles?

3. Josh Lucas in "Sweet Home Alabama" -- Kept the male audience involved by playing a love interest who, improbably for a chick flick, sounds like Norm Macdonald playing Bob Dole on "Saturday Night Live."

2. Richard Gere in "Chicago" -- He was excellent in "Unfaithful," too.

1. Tom Hanks in "Catch Me If You Can" -- He can be an outstanding character actor when he gets too old to be a leading man.

The Overall Winner:

1. Cedric the Entertainer in "Barbershop" -- Jesse Jackson hated Cedric's turn as the world's oldest and frankest barber, but the rest of America seemed to like him just fine.


Supporting Actress:

5. Eliza Dushku in "City by the Sea" -- She outperformed Robert De Niro in their scenes together.

4. Queen Latifa in "Chicago" -- To be historically pedantic, I don't think black women were allowed to be the endearingly crooked bosses of integrated women's prison in 1929, but they should have been.

3. Samantha Morton in "Minority Report" -- Making the precognition crime fighting system reliant upon magical mutants was a bad idea because it rendered the movie's purported civil liberties protest angle absurd, but Morton's eerie performance as the head mutant almost made up for it.

2. Madeleine Stowe in "We Were Soldiers" -- The scenes of her delivering The Telegrams to the other officer's wives were heartbreaking.

1. Candice Bergen in "Sweet Home Alabama" -- Like Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., with a sense of humor.


5. Jay Wolpert for "The Count of Monte Cristo" -- A textbook job of finding the spine of the story in a 1400 page novel.

4. Alvin Sargent and William Broyles for "Unfaithful" -- The details work: for example, Richard Gere seems at first like a typically soft corporate manager, but there's something ominously tough about the firm he runs: an armored car delivery business.


3. Paul Thomas Anderson for "Punch Drunk Love" -- The script is quietly restrained but it's the foundation of all the fireworks.

2. Peter Jackson et al for "The Two Towers" -- It pleases both the Tolkien fans and the ignoramuses like me.

1. Charlie Kaufman for "Adaptation" -- Intelligent fluff, put together as beautifully as the Golden Gate Bridge.


2. "Big Trouble" -- This is one fast movie.

1. "The Two Towers" -- Juggles three story lines superbly.


7. "Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner" -- The 3-hour Eskimo epic looks beautiful, partly because above the Arctic Circle the sun is always pleasingly low in the sky.

6. "Attack of the Clones" -- All the stuff whizzing by in the background got on my nerves after awhile, but this is one spectacular-looking movie.

5. "Death to Smoochy" -- Gorgeously saturated dark purples and reds. Too bad the movie stunk.

4. "Adaptation" -- It looks plain, but it does the best ever job of having one actor play twins seamlessly.

3. "Road to Perdition" -- Another triumph for Conrad Hall, yet, it's hard to recommend the movie.

2. "The Two Towers" -- Gollum is the finest digital character yet.


1. "Blue Crush" -- This surfing flick might be the only movie on the list worth seeing for its visceral cinematography alone.

Art Direction:

2. "Far from Heaven" -- This film leaves most heterosexual men wondering how anybody could care that much about which interior decorating looks were trendy in 1957. Still, the gleaming tail-finned cars -- GM designer Harley Earle at his best -- are knockouts.

1. "Frida" -- Julie Taymor, director of "The Lion King" stage show, brings out the beauty of Mexico.


1. "Frida" -- The most beautiful dresses in Mexico, as worn by the most beautiful woman in Mexico.

Soundtrack (Original and Adapted)

4. "Far from Heaven" -- Another fine score from 80-year-old Elmer Bernstein.

3. "Road to Perdition" -- Thomas Newman is one of six members of the Newman family, the Bachs of Hollywood, to win Oscar nominations for scoring.

2. "Punch-Drunk Love" -- Perfectly conveys the jingle-jangle inside Adam Sandler's head.

1. "The Rookie" -- A lot of great music has come out of West Texas, and much of it's on the soundtrack.

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