The Films of 2002

A Retrospective of the Year


By Sara M. Fetters.


End-of-year articles are always a pain. I saw over 200 movies in 2002, and trying to coalesce my thoughts towards them all is a chore. I have to admit, it was nice going over the list of what movies I took in over this past year, realizing that I gave favorable notices to just over half of them (and I do mean just). Still, I saw 103 two-star or lower films over a twelve-month period. That’s a tough slog for anyone.


The good ones make it all worthwhile, though and I still get giddy when the lights dim in the movie theater (even with the explosion in commercials – memo to movie theaters: STOP IT!!). I try to face every new movie without expectation, and while not always possible, each film – good or bad – makes me remember why I love the movies.


Granted, 2002 was a year filled with plenty of both. Sequels and remakes dominated the landscape. Surprisingly, not all of them sucked. Some of them even improved upon their source material (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) or were at least as good as their foreign counterparts (Insomnia and The Ring – remakes of Norwegian and Japanese originals respectively). But for every Bourne Identity (based on the Robert Ludlum novel and remake of 1988 miniseries) there was a Men in Black II or Mr. Deeds (remake of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town), movies so bad there just aren’t words to describe them.


Still, I saw plenty of films I admired – especially amongst the foreign and independent brackets. Trying to narrow the field down to ten is nearly impossible, but it is the nature of these lists to make film critics lives miserable. So, without further ado, here are my top ten films (listed alphabetically) of 2002 followed by various other comments and thoughts about the past year. Enjoy.




Adaptation – The most original and inspiring film of the year. Charlie Kaufman’s inventive and mind-bending script about his travails adapting Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief goes off in so many lyrically obtuse tangents I don’t even know where to begin. Featuring wonderful supporting turns from Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper, maybe the greatest success of Spike Jonze’s second film is that it proves how versatile and glorious an actor Nicolas Cage can be when he cuts loose.


Brotherhood of the Wolf (Pacte des Loups) – Director Christopher Gans throws everything including the kitchen sink into his historical werewolf opus, and that’s a good thing. One of the most original corset epics of the last few years, Wolf features blood, sex, romance, intrigue, horror and a lot of kung fu. With all that in the mix, you just know it’s French.


Chicago Moulin Rouge and Hedwig and the Angry Inch may have started the trend back towards the musical, but it is Rob Marshall’s interpretation of the Broadway classic that cements the trend. Fun, euphoric and full of life, Chicago is the most fun I had at the movies all year.


Far From Heaven – Todd Haynes best and most personal film. On the surface, a tribute to Douglas Sirk (Written on the Wind) and his style of 50’s melodramatic filmmaking, Far From Heaven resonates so much deeper than that. If Julianne Moore doesn’t win the Oscar then the Academy has forgotten what great movie acting is.


Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – Picking up where The Fellowship of the Ring left off, Peter Jackson stakes his claim as to creating the greatest movie fantasy trilogy of all time – even with the third chapter still a year a way. Big, violent, passionate and emotional, The Two Towers is the best movie sequel since The Godfather Part II. What higher praise is there than that?


Lovely & Amazing Sweet, sentimental and heartbreaking, Nicole Holofcener has crafted the perfect peon to what it is to be human. She’s got a great cast helping her, Catherine Keener and Emily Mortimer giving two of their best performances. A quiet film that spoke louder in the end than any of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood’s inane yelling, this was one of 2002’s real finds and a movie to cherish.


Narc – Like a shot of pure adrenaline, this high-octane cops’n’robbers tale may not have covered any new ground, but it made up for it with pure cinematic excellence. Featuring tremendous performances from Jason Patrick and especially Ray Liotta, director Joe Carnahan directs the film with his foot square on the gas pedal. Aggressive and full of verve and vitality, Narc was one of the few cop films in 2002 that got it right.


Punch-Drunk Love – Here is something I thought I would never do -- put an Adam Sandler movie on a top ten list. Don’t get me wrong, both the actor’s Eight Crazy Nights and Mr. Deeds were execrable, but working with the gifted Paul Thomas Anderson has brought the best out of the comic. A lyrical delight, Love plays like a sublime 1930’s romantic comedy crossed with present-day realistic cynicism. If Sandler keeps making movies this good, I may have to take back all those nasty things I’ve said about him.


Rabbit-Proof Fence – Almost dreamlike in its intensity, Phillip Noyce’s haunting account of three little girls walking 1,200 miles across the Australian Outback is so amazing it just had to be based on a true story. The final scene ranks as one of the year’s most luminous, a potent and uplifting reminder of the strength of the human spirit. Rabbit-Proof Fence is why I go to the movies in the first place.


Secretary – The year’s most perverse love story takes B&D out of the closet and throws it headfirst into a romantic comedy. Steven Shainberg deftly directs from Erin Cressida Wilson’s assured screenplay, but it is the performance of young Maggie Gyllenhaal that really astonishes. Innocent and devious, playful and malevolent, this out-there character would have scared off almost any other actress. Not Gyllenhaal. In a year of star-making turns hers was by far the most resonant and astonishing.


Y Tu Mamá También – Wow. After the lackluster Great Expectations, acclaimed director Alfonso Cuarón returned to Mexico to make the year’s best coming of age story. Sexual, precocious and dreamy, Y Tu Mamá También was a standout film both visually and spiritually. Poignant and moving to the last frame.


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Article Posted: 12.31.02

Article Revised: 03.02.04




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