top 11 movies of 2002: the great, the good, and the really, really ugly

About half my best-of’s for 2002 were clear and ready choices, films I fell instantly in love with, that completely blew my mind, that utterly awed me in their fabulosity — I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out which those were. Filling out the rest of the list was tough — I had a roster of nearly 30 more films that were almost perfect to me. Whittling the final list down to my now-traditional 11 was excruciating — I got to 13, and not easily, and it pained my heart to have to cut two more. I’m sure to regret tomorrow the choices I made.

In alphabetical order, here are my top 11 films of 2002… sorta:

Hollywood loves a good joke at its own expense, and the joke has never been more wicked, more incisive, or more improbably funny as it is here, in screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze’s middle finger to all that is bland, boring, and predictable in mass-marketed entertainment.

Bloody Sunday
Paul Greengrass puts you right in the middle of one of the most horrifying events in the history of civil protest in this potent documentary-style re-creation of a literal battle between peaceful Irish demonstrators and trigger-happy British soldiers, in a film that’s as much a shocking account of the past as it is a warning for the future.

Bowling for Columbine
You don’t need to agree with Michael Moore — but it probably helps — in order to applaud his daring to take on one of the hottest of the hot-button issues in American culture today, in an exhausting and exhilarating film that risks reminding us that dissent is not a dirty word but inherent in the American experience.

Toe-tappingly jazzy and so exuberant you’ll want to burst into applause and cheers at the end of every luscious, juicy musical song-and-dance routine, Rob Marshall’s adaptation of the Broadway favorite is all movie and all theater at the same time, as delicious as both forms can be.

Far from Heaven
Todd Haynes imbues his “women’s melodrama” with such a deep and pervasive passion for film itself — as art, as entertainment, as experience — that it’s as if he set himself the task of single-handedly prodding cynical multiplexers to remember why we fell in love with movies in the first place.

Gangs of New York
With thrilling immediacy and shocking, visceral violence, Martin Scorsese brings to life a period of New York City that’s been all but forgotten, in a big, loud, brash movie that, in the end, contemplates the ephemerality of our own lives and times.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
It’s really just the middle reels of one great movie, so it’s hardly surprising that Peter Jackson has done the impossible again: taken what is for many a transcendent literary experience and transformed it into what may be the grandest and truest fantasy filmdom has ever seen, one with greater relevance to today than its creator could ever have conceived.

Minority Report
In his most all-around galvanizing film in years, Steven Spielberg indulges the pulp roots of his moviemaking youth and adds the wisdom of a more mature artist to create a slick and profound sci-fi noir that’s both intellectually satisfying and deliciously popcorny.

Road to Perdition
Elemental and mythic, Sam Mendes’s meditation on the crossroads of vengeance and honor — an awe-inspiring throwback to old gangster noirs and old comic books — startles with a rare quietude and a darkly sumptuous elegance.

Spirited Away
Breathtakingly lovely and as strange and compelling as a nightmare, Hayao Miyazaki’s instant masterpiece of the arts of both animation and storytelling is an unparalleled flight of fancy, a dream from which you never want to wake.

25th Hour
Spike Lee’s reflection on regret and roads not only not taken but no longer available is like a punch in the gut: raw, painful, powerful, impossible to ignore.

Honorable Mentions
Just missing my best-of list were the Inuit fantasy The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat), the Disney duo of Lilo & Stitch and Treasure Planet, and baseball weepy The Rookie.

It was a great year for popcorn movies, like Below, The Bourne Identity, Frailty, and Spider-Man. It was a great year for romance, in Monsoon Wedding (not reviewed), Possession, and Solaris. And it was a great year for psychological portraiture, like About Schmidt (not reviewed), Max, Moonlight Mile, One Hour Photo, The Pianist, Roger Dodger, and 24 Hour Party People.

Hall of Shame
It’s amazing what some folks consider fit entertainment for humans. Movies don’t get much worse than these misbegotten nightmares.

Amy’s Orgasm
Amy is whiny, bitchy, self-centered, and shallow. And those are her good points.

Two words: Britney Spears. Two more words: Sheer agony.

The Master of Disguise
People seriously need to be smacked, and Dana Carvey is at the top of that list.

Make it stop. Oh dear god please make it stop.

Notable for the first action sequence shot in night vision. No, really.

Scooby don’t.

The Sweetest Thing
Quite possibly the most revolting movie I’ve ever seen.

Swept Away (not reviewed)
What does that she-beast Madonna have on Guy Ritchie anyway?

A Walk to Remember
Another pop queen. Another insufferable flick.

A new low in action films, in which the audience is actually made the bitch of the hero.

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