What Happened to Me in the Dark
Choosing 2002's Best films
by Jeffrey M. Anderson
Was it a good film year or a bad film year? Most critics seem to
grumble about the latter, but the fact remains that most film years run
about the same. When we reminisce about some great past year, say 1939
or 1962, the bad films have faded away -- with the exception of bad
Oscar-winners. They stick around forever.
But that's another story. Good films, truly great ones, stay in the
memory on their own power, because they frightened, shattered, warmed or
simply made us laugh.
This year, my glass is half-full as I choose to remember the
1) I'm Going Home
With this love poem to Paris, 94 year-old master
Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira gave us his best and most
accessible film. Michel Piccoli is in top form as the aging actor who
loses his family in a car crash and tries to keep going with his work;
he's so good he performs several scenes with only his feet.
2) Spirited Away
Like last year's Waking Life, Hayao Miyazaki's
masterpiece is probably too good to win the Best Animated Film Oscar, so
just take it on its own terms: it's a kids movie laced with enough pure
nightmare-fed imagination to make it an all-time classic.
3) Far from Heaven
The year's best American film came from the 1950s
melodramas of Douglas Sirk. Yet director Todd Haynes was smart enough to
borrow only Sirk's autumn-tinged paint set. The hidden anguish raging
beneath benign surfaces is all Haynes.
4) Werckmeister Harmonies
This three-hour, black and white Hungarian
film by Bela Tarr played for one fleeting week in February at the Castro
Theater, but its astonishing vision and hauntingly quiet poetic mood
hung over the year like a fog.
The finest example of American screenwriting since Pulp
Fiction begins with self-reflex and irony but -- amazingly enough --
breaks through the other side to discover a kind of humble truth.
6) The Pianist
Some have accused Roman Polanski of Oscar-baiting with
this shattering, wrenchingly powerful Holocaust story showing how Polish
pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody) eluded the Nazis for five
years. But instead, it's a story presented with a dreadful calm, no
self-importance and no frills; Polanski's best since Chinatown.
7) What Time Is It There?
Taiwan has produced some of the world's
finest films over the past 10 years. One masterpiece, Hou Hsiao-hsien's
Millennium Mambo, would have made my list had it found a distributor
this year. Instead, moments from this odd, wonderful comedy about Tapei
and Paris and clocks and The 400 Blows kept flashing through my head.
8) Punch-Drunk Love
Many people hate this Paul Thomas Anderson comedy,
which channels Adam Sandler's natural aggression into strange,
uncomfortable and ultimately edifying places. Still, its
strangely-colored world filled with odd music gave my soul a lovely
9) Femme Fatale
Brian De Palma cannot separate cinema from voyeurism,
and the delicious guilt that comes with it, and this film most clearly
showed his damaged, needy psyche. On top of that, few directors alive
possess the raw skill to pull off this film's stunning, bravura opening
sequence. It's his best and most crystalline work since Scarface.
10) Gangs of New York
A lesser work by Martin Scorsese, but even one
of his good ones is still better than most other films. The sheer
exuberance of the filmmaking carries it through -- no one else loves the
pure language of film as much.
And five more runners up: In Praise of Love, Merci pour le chocolat,
Minority Report, Possession and 25th Hour.
David Cronenberg's Spider would have topped the list had Bay Area
viewers been able to see it at any point during 2002. It's his best,
most adult film since Dead Ringers. A quietly terse first-person
plunge into a warped psychology, Ralph Fiennes stars as the title
character, reliving his twisted childhood as if against his own will.
The film opens in Bay Area theaters in February.
Honorable mentions to two perfect pairs: director Phillip Noyce for The
Quiet American and Rabbit-Proof Fence and director Kathryn Bigelow
for K-19: The Widowmaker and The Weight of Water.
Guilty pleasures: Blade II, Friday After Next, 40 Days and 40
Nights, Jason X, Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones,
Soderbergh's Solaris, The Sweetest Thing and Undisputed.
(See also the year's worst