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Best Films of 2002

     This year-end report, I'm reigning in my annual (and tiresome) curse on the house of Hollywood, that tower of teen-driven merde pushing out of the LA smog. Cautious optimism. For the first time since 1999, the studios in 2002 stuck necks out, greenlighting several fistfuls of projects which were uncharacteristically dark and unusual, and intended --dare I say it?-for thinking, feeling, discriminating adults. The list is worth pondering: Road to Perdition, Minority Report, Solaris, Punch-Drunk Love, About Schmidt, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Chicago, 25th Hour, Unfaithful, Adaptation.

     Miramax Pictures, indistinguishable from a major studio, came forth with Frida, The Quiet American, Gangs of New York, and The Hours. For American feature independents, this was an exceptional year: 13 Conversations About One Thing, Lovely and Amazing, Rodger Dodger, Far From Heaven, Secretary, The Good Girl, The Cat's Meow, Auto Focus, Digby Goes Down, The Sunshine State, Monsoon Wedding.

     If George W. had the brains, he surely would claim credit: 2002 rocked for films from the USA. I noted it at Cannes in May, when the two best pictures in the French Competition were, to my surprise, Hollywood ones, Punch-Drunk Love and About Schmidt. The roll has continued on, for many of the prestigious American movies held for Christmas and New Year's release are cause for jubilation.

    But what of Roman Polanski's shot-in-Poland The Pianist, which was the surprise winner of the Boston Society of Film Critics, taking Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (Adrien Brody)? I am of the underwhelmed. Fans of the movie are taken by Polanski's distancing of himself from his autobiographical World War II story. The Pianist is seen as a Hitchcockian tale of a sequestered protagonist watching the Holocaust go by his rear window. Me? I feel neutral about the film, think Polanski painfully out of touch with the tragedies of his youth as a Jew hiding from the Nazis. The Pianist is perhaps my 40th favorite film of 2002.

     And number one? The best picture of the year? I'm crazy for 25th Hour, the new Spike Lee movie about the last night of freedom of a low-level New York drug dealer (Edward Norton), who, caught and convicted, must report to a harsh prison the next morning for a stiff, debilitating jail sentence. It's a long time coming, Lee's first masterpiece since 1989's Do the Right Thing. It's the first time ever he's allowed himself a really emotional story, this melancholy, pitiable tale of a guy who realizes, oh too late, that he has sqaundered away his life. The last ten minutes of 25th Hour, a dream-like montage of escape across America, is the most poetic and philosophical section in any movie in 2002, haunting stuff.

     And the rest of the Ten Best Features of 2002: 13 Conversations About One Thing (the best Independent Film of the Year), About Schmidt, Punch-Drunk Love, Far From Heaven, Lovely and Amazing, 24 Hour Party People, The Fast Runner, Baran, The Son's Room.

     And these distinguished runners-up: The Hours, Heaven, I'm Going Home, Y Tu Mama Tambien, The Quiet American, Secretary, Unfaithful, The Last Kiss, The Good Girl, The Cat's Meow

     Best Actor: Nicolas Cage, Adaptation Runners-up: Campbell Scott, Rodger Dodger; Edward Norton, 25th Hour; Jack Nicholson, About Schmidt; Adam Sandler, Punch-Drunk Love

     Best Actress: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Secretary Runners-Up: Catherine Keener, Lovely & Amazing; Diane Lane, Unfaithful; Julianne Moore, Far From Heaven; Isabelle Huppert, The Piano Teacher

     Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin, 13 Conversations About One Thing Runnerup: Ed Harris, The Hours

     Best Supporting Actress: Toni Collette, The Hours Runnerup: Kirsten Dunst, The Cat's Meow

     Best Director: Alexander Payne, About Schmidt

     Best Screenplay: David Benioff, 25th Hour

     Best Cinematography: Ed Lachman, Far From Heaven

     Most Underrated Film: Sherman Alexie, The Business of Fancy Dancing Runners-Up: Trouble Every Day, One Hour Photo

     Best New Talent: Dylan Kidd, writer-director of Rodger Dodger.

     Funniest Performance: Barney Cheng, Hollywood Ending

     Best Documentary: (tie) Lucia Small, My Father, the Genius; Marlo Poros, Mai's America. Runners-up: Daughter from Danang, The Trials of Henry Kissinger, Shelter

     Best Hollywood Blockbuster: Sam Raimi, Spider-Man

     Worst Movie by a Major Director: Steven Soderbergh, Full Frontal

     Worst Male Performance: Nathan Lane, Nicholas Nickleby

     Worst Female Performance: (tie) Kyra Sedgwick, Personal Velocity, Julia Roberts, Full Frontal and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

     Worst Miscasting: Richard Gere, Chicago

     Most Botched Final Act: Adaptation

GERALD PEARY
(Boston Phoenix - December, 2002)

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