A List Of Forty Movies of 2002 placed in some sort of order by Pete Baran

Any year end list should come with a disclaimer, and therefore I am going to start with the most obvious disclaimer that there is. This is a top forty of the films that were released in the UK between January 1st 2002 and December 31st 2002 that I have seen. So if you disagree about the non-appearance of a particular favourite check the following list of possible reasons before I get letter bombed:

a) It has not been released here yet (Gangs Of New York, Solaris, the last fifteen Woody Allen films)
b)I haven’t seen it. (I would imagine that had I seen them then Chicago, Roberto Succo, Read My Lips could have made it at least)
c)I did not like it (10, Minority Report, Sex and Lucia, Baise-Moi – this list is also very long and of course ends in 28 Days Later).

All that said, I think that if you were in some bizarre parallel universe and you were to go down the video store and you were to get all of these forty films out, you would like at least twenty of them. If you were stuck near a multiplex in 2002 I think you would probably have a much worse view of the quality of the year in film than I have. There are trends to be picked up from the list too: three British films in the top ten – eight in the list in total, Phillip Noyce and Richard Linklater both have two films in the list, two documentaries and only one French film. In the end though a list like this says more about the viewer than the films themselves, and the undiscriminating soul that I am I found something enjoyable about at least 75% of the 120 or so movies I saw last year.

1: Hable Con Ella (Talk To Her): The poster has women in it, all Almodovar is known for his strong female characters – and perhaps it is an indication of how good his female characters are that he can get away with having them in a coma for most of the film. The film defies straight description, when boiled down to its component parts the story is both melodramatic, monstrous and ridiculous. It is none of these things, beautifully shot, constructed, thought provoking and yet effortlessly entertaining. Of course the Spanish don’t like Almodovar that much so this has not been entered as best foreign language film in the Oscars. I suppose it would still be eligible for the Best Picture category – which I think it should win – though of course it won’t. I think it is by quite some distance the best film of the year.

2: Frailty: It looks and feels for all the world like a seventies horror chiller, and Bill Paxton’s film plays out like that right down to its audaciously subversive ending. Its one thing to suggest that Paxton’s sympathetic but psycho father believes he is being told by God to kill demons, its a wholly different thing to say that he actually is. It is a film about fathers and sons, good and evil and axe murders which knows exactly when to pull away, use suggestion and takes itself very, very seriously. The viewer doesn’t have to take it quite as seriously, especially when we swoop into the municipal garden where our latter day demon slayer has been burying the bodies, but there is still something gloriously subversive about the bleak ending that brings back the idea of a vengeful and downright nasty God into play.

3: Lantana: A deftly woven soap opera masquerading as a murder mystery. We get the hint that the murder isn’t that important since it does not even occur until halfway through. Instead we having increasingly pessimistic views of relationships, love and responsibility. The film takes its time, but doesn’t waste it – though its reliance on coincidence and class stereotypes undermines its otherwise strong narrative. Its all about the acting though, and Antony La Paglia completely redeems his appalling Frasier turn as a brutish, boorish, yet sympathetic policeman. A morality tale without a moral.

4: No Man’s Land: On the left side is a Croatian sitting on a landmine aiming a gun at the Bosnian who put him there. We are in the middle of a trench during the Serbo-Croat war and what we have is a ridiculous black comedy. Yes its politics are fucking obvious, and with the addition of the French UN peace-keeper and the British journalist we have all the ingredients for a over worthy European hand-wringer. Instead we get the best black comedy since Dr Strangelove, thoroughly nasty, distrusting of human nature following through the most important rule of black comedy – kill ’em all.

5: 24 Hour Party People: Funniest film of the year by a country mile, and for all its inaccuracies, digressions and downright lies a film that understands the spirit of its subject. The to-camera style suits Coogan who plays Tony Wilson as another aspect of Alan Partridge, but one whose story is big enough to justify the big screen. Form follows content and Michael Winterbottom rounds out his increasingly impressive CV with yet another winner.

6: Monsoon Wedding: The best credits sequence of any film this year, the swooping music and bright colours give you a hint that this is going to be fun. That the fun only really occurs in the last quarter of an hour is no disappointment when the English and Hindi interplay beforehand is like Altman at his best. It makes you wonder what exactly is wrong with rain on your wedding day.

7: Donnie Darko: Time travel, and not just in its period 1989 setting. Time travel movies never make sense, and in a lot of ways this one doesn’t. What it does do is happily integrate a Lynch like skewed view at suburban life with a teen movie and plenty of other weirdness. Yet none of these oddball flourished seem gratuitous, nor does the deliberately flashy camerawork – it is all keyed in by the touching love story at the heart of the film. There is not quite as much going on metaphysically as the film suggests, in the end this is an odd love story with a well used soundtrack and more ideas than most (possibly more than it needs).

8: Mulholland Drive: There is a reason why ‘And then I woke up’ is an over-used story technique, and its not just because its an easy was to finish the tale and nick off down the pub. I was thoroughly annoyed by Lynch’s typically elliptical piece, it belied too much of its TV pilot origins with a tagged on ending. But when the ending that is tagged on is as simple and audacious as ‘it was a dream’ and the potential pointers of real life which feeds into the dream are shown I cannot help but grudgingly admire his versatility. It would not go away, which is a good enough definition for money well spent if nothing else.

9: Dirty Pretty Things: Hands down the best fairy-tale of the year. A thoroughly implausible love story which works on the personalities of the leads, and for a film pleading for multiculturalism it is full of some of the crudest stereotypes you’ll ever see (the quiet sensitive African, the tart with a heart, the philosophy spouting Chinese friend). These are only flaws if you see Dirty Pretty Things as representing a step in explaining illegal immigrants in London. The fact that there are not films trying to grapple with the complexities of the issue is not Stephen Frears’ fault. He’s made a satisfying pantomime, replete with scheming baddies we can hiss and heroes who are whiter than white in all ways but the physical.

10: The Warrior: Folk tales are all about archetypes, and The Warrior plays that aspect of the game perfectly. The story of the assassin who suddenly gets a conscience and becomes the hunted is hauntingly well told. Whilst the plot itself is as old as the hills the film neither belabours the point, or assumes too much knowledge. That said in a story like this the beauty is in the small touches along the way. Being a British film it also suggests that some of the cultural assumptions we make of certain world cinema is at best misguided and at worst patronising. The decision to disallow it in the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars is a travesty (cf Talk To Her).

11: Y Tu Mama Tambien: From the director of A Little Princess comes two kids wanking into a swimming pool. The beauty of a good road movie is that the road is as interesting as the journey the characters take, so the travelogue certainly gives the otherwise simplistic plot a boost. That and the constant sex. Very dirty, very funny and rather moving too.

12: The Royal Tenenbaum’s: The uber-indie film, clever, quirky and on the whole possibly a little too interested in just being clever and quirky to actually be that involving or funny. But so much care and attention goes into telling the tale of this dysfunctional family of geniuses it would be unkind to say that it is merely a slightly more grown-up version of the Bagthorpe Saga.

13: L.I.E.: It opens with some sixteen year old kids discussing the relative merits of fucking their sisters and resolutely continues in this manner – first by offering us overtly sexual youths and then introducing a paedophile into the mix. Much like Hable Con Ella the film shows the sexual deviant as a fully rounded individual, one who here is the only sympathetic character to our mixed up youth. Showing him as a sympathetic character does not however excuse his actions and whilst the film often toys uncomfortably with this barrier it knows which side of the fence it wants to sit on. Brian Cox is magnificent, but the honours should also got to the make-up artist whose black-eyes are both realistic and reminiscent of too much eyeshadow.

14: The Eye: Worth it for the flashy opening twenty seconds alone, this is two films in one. The first is a psychological ghost story about a blind girl who has an eye transplant and can see dead people. So far so Sixth Sense. Its the dead person in the mirror she sees however than gives us the second story. The Pang twins know how turn the screws and hit more than a few of the big contradictions that lie at the heart of any ghost story. Not wholly unlike the Japanese version of The Ring in tone, but with consequential stuff happening all the way through, not just the end.

15: Waking Life: Richard Linklater’s film about an interminable lucid dream. Which is by turns self indulgent with pretentious prattling, nausea inducing visually and puzzling in a couldn’t care less sort of way. I loved it, but then I am often too self indulgent with my pretentious prattling and often induce nausea visually.

16: Lord Of the Rings: The Two Towers: Fragmented, oddly paced and a bit too precious, this is still fantastic cinema. It also has the advantage that having got over how serious everything is in the Fellowship, it can now happily be a bit more fast and loose with the jokes. All of the separate parts of the story get a fair whack, and it is to the films credit that it does not feel three hours long. It is however the middle film of three and doesn’t it feel it.

17: L’emploi du Temps
(Time Out):
Another director would have taken to the murderous aspect of the true story on which this film is based. In this case the workings of a man who pretends to go to work for over a year without telling his family is more than enough to be going on with. Deceit which plays into possible farce is replaced by something much, much sadder – what is the man who is defined by his job when he loses it. When the truth comes out you can see how in the real case the man went for a gun, the quite reveal showed here is much more devastating than any bloodshed.

18: Monster’s Ball: Ah, melodrama – how we have missed you. From husbands on death row, to children committing suicide here is a film about how we don’t choose the people who are there at the right moment. It is a bit glib in its psychoanalytical reasons for Billy Bob Thornton being a racist thug, but if it was anything but his rehabilitation would not have been worthwhile. Equally Halle Berry is too good to be true (and too attractive to be the trash she’s set up to be) but it was ever the way. This isn’t reality after all, its cinema. Manipulative in all the best ways.

19: The Dancer Upstairs: The trailer makes you expect a romance in the background of revolution. What you get is revolution with the background of romance – and unfortunately it is the romance bit that does not work. Javier Bardem inherits Raul Julia’s mantle and the police procedural side of tracking a revolution without a manifesto, figurehead or obvious purpose is fascinating. And whilst the dénouement is powerful there is a gaping hole in the film where the romance is supposed to be. It is not a million miles from The French Connection with Love Story dropped in the middle, and you wish Love Story would bugger off. When it does the thriller stuff though, it is gripping.

20: Bowling For Columbine: A film which in trying to answer why so many people are killed by guns in the US runs through race relations, a history of the handgun, a fine piece of consumer journalism and only one cringeworthy piece. Fascinating, funny and ridiculous Michael Moore always knows who is the star (he is) but that doesn’t stop him trying to tell us things which ought to be bloody obvious.

21: The Quiet American: This film has been sold as being all about Michael Caine, and in truth his performance is very good even if he is too old for the part. Nevertheless the real acting honours here go to Brendan (Brent) Fraser, who manages to convince us that he is both ineffectual, naïve and ruthless in one scene. A film which it would be hard to do very badly, since the source material is in itself pretty cinematic – the film perhaps concentrates too much on its Western leads than the country it purports to be about, but even that shows how abused Vietnam has been both in film and real life.

22: Spider-Man: In two hours it tries to do what it took Marvel Comics twenty years to do – and hence it feels a bit flabby in places. Still stuff explodes, people get saved and a bloke in a rubber mask kisses the obviously dyed ginger bird whilst hanging on a bit of string in the rain. The first two of those we’ve seen before, the upside-down kiss lingers. If I ate popcorn, I’d eat it to this.

23: My Little Eye: Nasty unlikeable characters stuck in a house together end up killing each other in bloody ways. It would probably like to think it has some serious points to make about voyeurism, reality TV and our obsession with fame. What it actually does is remind us that people don’t have to survive horror movies, that soundtracks are the best way of building tensions and DV can be used to your advantage – but not as much as a good script. Which this has got.

24: Morvern Callar: She doesn’t say much this Morvern. Its all in what she does. And she doesn’t do all that much either. But if like me you can watch the amazingly expressive face of Samantha Morton in anything then this should keep you busy for a couple of hours. I wonder if its just that Morton is rubbish at remembering her lines that she keeps playing catatonic, mute or distant characters. Lynne Ramsey’s second feature is not as emotionally affecting as Ratcatcher, but then it is not supposed to be. Whether that is such a good idea to start off with is possibly something she needs to think about before her next.

25: Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner: There is a point in this film where a naked Inuit – the titular Atanarjuat – runs naked across the ice for about fifteen minutes. In long shots, close ups, this is possibly the best special effect I saw all year – knowing it actually happened (the painful looking out-takes with the credits prove that). Set in no time, this is another folk tale which relies a touch too much on superstition and does labour its point about good vs evil a bit too much (only the evil uncle in Monsoon Wedding is more cardboard). Cold beauty though.

26: Lost In La Mancha: Possibly – and only possibly – a better film than
‘The Man Who Killed Don Quixote’ would have been (something makes me shudder when you hear of Johnny Depp playing a time travelling ad executive who becomes Sancho Panza’) As a catalogue of disaster you feel churlish for laughing at Gilliam’s misfortunes, but since he does nothing but you are absolved of guilt. Great giants.

27: Sweet Sixteen: aka My Name Is Joe: The Early Years. In the end Loach is hoisted by his own tragic petard, we know that the kid is trapped by his surroundings so there is no escape for him. That said, to involve the audience so deeply with a character whose end we can guess is no mean feat – and to marry that with the best subtitles joke since – well the one good bit of Austin Powers in Goldmember – is impressive.

28: Tape: The ying to Waking Life’s yang, this is Richard Linklater’s other film this year which has a ridiculously firm grasp on plot, character and almost nothing in the way of interesting visuals. Possibly more thought provoking than Waking Life, it doesn’t ask as many questions, but the ones it does wrestle with – are we really as nasty as we think we are, and does admitting it make us nicer or nastier?

29: Rabbit-Proof Fence: A difficult film to dislike, the tale of the journey of three Aboriginal girls escaping the Australian governments camps for half-castes is powerful and manages (just) to escape too much moralising. Kenneth Branagh’s Mr Neville is a thoroughly wrong-headed bigot, the girls just want to be with their mother. And whilst we often lack a sense of time or scale in the film it does impress upon us the drama of the escape. Until the last minute, where we realise all we’ve seen is a cinematic prick tease, the narrative is too good to be all true. The last minute hits you hard, it destroys the film you have just seen, but replaces it with vitriol the seeming happy ending would have dispelled. Pity about Peter Gabriel’s music though.

30: Gosford Park: A country house mystery where no-one could care less about the mystery. Its nice to see so many good British actors getting a trot out, and with the kind of scenery chewing monsters on display here you soon get a feel for what Altman is actually best at – controlling actors. Considering that it is a wonder that the stars of the film are exactly who they should be Kelly MacDonald and Clive Owen – who has perfected his brood. Inconsequential but miles better than endless reruns of Ten Little Indians.

31: Abouna – Our Father: This is really the Children’s Film Foundation movie of the year. The trials and tribulations of two kids whose father has left. Tragedy upon tragedy falls upon them, and the question is who is the father in the title – their own or God. If it is the latter then he really isn’t keeping his eye on the ball. A film which captures the random cruelty of life, and also the little stabs of happiness too. It does what the last minute of Rabbit-Proof Fence does, without ever pretending life is supposed to be or could be better.

32: The Bourne Identity: It’s a chase movie overstuffed with good actors who all seem to enjoy the mini chases, the overbearing seriousness and the general CIA is a bunch of bastards subtext. In the middle of it we get to watch Franke Potente trying to work out exactly what she has stumbled into, which gives the viewer a nicely ironic view of what would otherwise be average boys own silliness. Rather good boys own silliness then.

33: Sunshine State: It sounds like an insult saying that John Sayles has just remade Lone Star without the decent plot, and I suppose it is. That said Lone Star is one of the best films of the nineties and Sunshine State is certainly no slouch in that department. This time though Sayles concentrates on his female characters, Angela Bassett and Edie Falco underpin what is plotwise a rather inconsequential meditation on the history of Florida. A film of moments rather than a whole, it still leaves you feeling satisfied.

34: Bend It Like Beckham: Some say an example of all that is wrong with British cinema, too parochial, issues based and downright uncinematic. And whilst there is a bit of Grange Hill and Children’s Film Foundation swilling around in the water here in the end you have the feel good hit of the summer.

35: Reign Of Fire: Dragons in London. Well obviously that would have been a better film but even the aftermath of dragons in London is fun. Its England (Christian Bale) vs America (a ridiculously gruff Matthew McConaughy) vs Dragons (CGI natch) in battle for a world that probably isn’t worth having any more (imagine the cleaning bill). You can argue that it is a telling metaphor for WWII and the Marshall Plan, but you would be wrong. Not as good as its own poster, it is gleefully silly entertainment.

36: Monsters Inc: Pixar’s non Toy Story films suffer from picking very leads for their films. Much of the films are taken up in merely explaining the world in which their characters live, be they the bugs in A Bugs life, or here the Monsters. This is world building on a grand scale which is commendable, and for neatness of plot and character arc they cannot be faulted. Where they can be faulted is in their choice of voice talent – is one Billy Crystal worse than the combined talent vacuums of Tim Allen and Tom Hanks. Less time on making the fur work, more time in casting.

37: In The Bedroom: Good when it talks about grief, it is a great disappointment when In the Bedroom turns into a middle-class version of Death Wish. Especially since Tom Wilkinson cuts a very unconvincing Charles Bronson. Perhaps that is the point, and there is no denying the films power when it sticks to the more common reality of living with loss, and the continued existence of their childs killer. When it strays into cinematic fantasy it lost my sympathy.

38: Divided We Fall: A Czech satire about doing the right thing, sheltering a Jew in the Second World War is possibly not the best subject for humour. But wringing the farce out of the situation, plus the creation of a few monstrous grotesques hides the serious points in the film until they leap out to sucker punch you at the end. Which is the way it should be in a black comedy (but this is only the second best black comedy of the year).

39: Insomnia: Al Pacino’s face is made of leather FACT! Robin Williams plays a bad guy, hence he dies. It is a very well made thriller – which tempts us to think of it being more psychological than it is. It is nice to see Robin Williams as a psycho as psychos generally are not into cutesy comedy, and this being an American film you also expect them to die. Christopher Nolan has rounded out his CV now, I hope for slightly more interesting films from him now.

40: Die Another Day: Merely here to say that it was better than xXx. Who he shagged in the Spy Who Loved me lest we forget…