10 BEST FILMS OF 2002
About a Boy (U.K., Chris and Paul Weitz) Light as a hummingbird feather, this hilarious, surprisingly soulful adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel about male immaturity features the year's cutest kid, Toni Collette's damaged hippie, and Hugh Grant deconstructing the velvet prison of his charm.
About Schmidt (USA, Alexander Payne) The best American movie of 2002, this devastating comedy about a retired Omaha actuary boasts Jack Nicholson's finest performance in 20 years, the year's funniest running gag ("Dear Ndugu") and a sense of profound bleakness tinged with hope.
Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (Canada, Zacharias Kunuk) An Inuit tale actually told by Inuits, here is a stunningly photographed voyage into a different way of knowing the world — magical, communal, throbbing with passion for frozen landscapes that are at once rapturously beautiful and, incredibly, life-sustaining.
Far From Heaven (USA, Todd Haynes) In an updated riff on Douglas Sirk, awash in lush photography and Elmer Bernstein's heartbreaking score, our most independent indie director makes you weep for characters trapped in a society they can't escape, go beyond or fully understand.
In Praise of Love (France/Switzerland, Jean-Luc Godard) An autumnal triumph from one of cinema's great geniuses, this dark meditation on personal, artistic and historical failure weds elliptical brilliance to images so exquisite that every shot is bliss.
Punch-Drunk Love (USA, Paul Thomas Anderson) A dementedly sweet fable that finds soulfulness in Adam Sandler, offers a sideways reworking of the old MGM musical (Jon Brion's score is a knockout) and establishes Anderson as Hollywood's most consistently inventive young director.
Spirited Away (USA/Japan, Hayao Miyazaki) A hundred years from now, the 2002 movie most likely to delight audiences is Studio Ghibli's animated masterwork about an unhappy suburban girl plunged into a loony-sinister world of mud gods, weird sisters and radish spirits — an instant classic, it's Lewis Carroll gone deliriously Japanese.
Talk to Her (Spain, Pedro Almodóvar) With his unsettling new film about how men try to express love — including ways that should give anyone the creeps — the madrileno master goes beyond his fondness for broad melodrama and bawdy camp to achieve a deadpan perversity worthy of Buñuel.
Time Out (France, Laurent Cantet) A perfectly turned tale of a dutiful bourgeois' attempt to escape the prison house of work, told in hushed tones and made transcendent by the year's finest performance — a subtle, wrenching turn by French stage actor Aurélien Recoing.
Y Tu Mamá También (USA/Mexico, Alfonso Cuarón) If you asked what movie I flat-out loved the most this year, the answer would be this freewheeling Mexican road picture, a brilliant film that's hard to catch in the act of being brilliant: It's bursting with sex, humor, politics, landscape, melancholy, beauty . . . life.
MOST OVERRATED: Adaptation (USA, Spike Jonze) I kept wishing screenwriter Charlie Kaufman would explore the emotions he raises (and obviously feels) rather than sinking into a cleverness so solipsistic that it folds possible criticisms into the movie rather than seeking an artistic solution that would overcome them.
MOST UNDERRATED: Lovely & Amazing (USA, Nicole Holofcener) This story of three wildly different sisters has a sly comic touch and a delicate sense of human frailty that ultimately reveals far more about women's lives than, say, The Hours.
FESTIVAL FAVORITE (BEST UNRELEASED OR UNDISTRIBUTED FILM): Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary (Canada, Guy Maddin) The year's deadliest-sounding project — a filmed version of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's adaptation of Bram Stoker — is brought to delirious life by Canadian director Maddin, who has a vision so gorgeously and crazily his own that you'd think he comes not from Manitoba but another planet.
PERSISTENCE OF VISION (MEMORABLE SCENE)
In Secretary's opening scene, wonderful Maggie Gyllenhaal walks gracefully around a law office, arms stretched wide on a bondage stick to which her wrists are cuffed. She works a stapler with her chin, pulls a paper from a typewriter with her teeth, neatly bends to drop a lump of sugar in a cup, walks down the hall and, turning sideways to fit through the door frame of what is obviously the boss's office, shuts the door on our prying eyes. This, followed by a title card that reads simply, teasingly, "Six months earlier."
About Schmidt (USA, Alexander Payne) The stillest, most nuanced performance Jack Nicholson has ever given — a portrait of the plight of the post-World War II American male who, stripped of his job, has no idea how else to define himself. He could be my dad.
Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes