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Top Ten

The Year in Film

Oh Mamß: Maribel Verd· and Diego Luna come to grips in Alfonso Cuar=n's winning Y Tu Mamá También.

Top Ten 2002

The Year in News The Maryland Lottery announces its relocation to Montgomery Park, a new redevelopment of the... | By Van Smith and Erin Sullivan

The Year in Film It was an absolutely fantastic year for movie lovers of all kinds.

The Year in Music The tail end of 2001 brought out the flag-waving American in almost every musician, but we really...

The Year in Local Music Surely I wasn't the only person in town who read The Sun's Sunday, Dec. | By Bret McCabe

The Year in Books 1 Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated (Houghton Mifflin) You know a novel is going to...

The Year in Television Two weeks ago, when Roone Arledge --the instrumental TV producer who created such broadcast...

The Year in Art 1Painted Prints at Baltimore Museum of Art Judging from the exhibit's subtitle--The Revelation of... | By Mike Giuliano

The Year on Stage 1Fences at Everyman Theatre A good play is entertaining, but a great play can transport you to...

Posted 12/18/2002

It was an absolutely fantastic year for movie lovers of all kinds. Y Tu Mamá También (Mexico) combined teen sex comedy, road picture, and adult mortality play to create a great film that transcended its elements. Lantana (Australia) demonstrated the inextricability of seemingly unconnected lives. The Pianist (Poland) and Bloody Sunday (Ireland) etched unbearably horrific depictions of war. The Devil's Backbone (Mexico) and Audition (Japan) reanimated tired genre conventions. Animation was alive and very well in Metropolis and Spirited Away (both Japan). American film was another story.

It has become nearly impossible to reconcile the prerequisites of Hollywood movies and their attendant synergistic demands with good, old-fashioned quality. American theatrical film is instead dedicated to distraction, spectacle, and product/worldview advocacy--in short, advertising. And so, the most useful approach to viewing American cinema is by looking at what it is selling.

Hollywood repeatedly locates the sum of all its fears in a working class gone inexplicably loco. The psychos of the atrocious Red Dragon and extremely good One Hour Photo both worked low-rung film-developing gigs. John Q made an easily dismissed trifle of this nation's obscene health system via the ridiculous melodramatics of a gone-postal black factory worker. Jennifer Lopez twice escaped a blue-collar fate via a rich daddy (Enough) and a rich senatorial candidate (Maid in Manhattan). Despite My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Spider-Man--both rooted in the reality of diverse Americana and two of the year's biggest hits--the basic assumption of U.S. films can be summed up thusly: If you're not wealthy or connected to someone who is, you must be mentally ill or a criminal.

American cinema's traditional moralizing was consistent with its desire to move product, reassure white anxieties, and, despite a tanking economy, utilize affluent protagonists to prop up the mirage of an increasingly hard-to-sustain American Dream.

Crossroads instructed female teens on the desirability of turning themselves into mindless consumer sex objects. Clockstoppers' upscale white teens taught a black kid how to achieve rhythm. 8 Mile showed African-Americans giving it up for Eminem's superior flow. Black people drank to alcoholic excess but had rich white people around to facilitate their happy endings (High Crimes, Changing Lanes) while moneyed whites enjoyed their slow-witted Hispanic domestics (Big Trouble, Orange County, Mr. Deeds). The misbegotten Serving Sara actually achieved accidental allegoric value by combining a scorn for working folks, addled African-Americans, relentless product placement, and inter-species fist fucking.

The response by most American cinema to the intolerable complexity of the post- Sept. 11 world has been to speak with one voice--the one you'd hear on the Fox News Channel. Flags sprouted everywhere, while I Spy clarified Bushian patriotism via an Owen Wilson monologue that defined good Americans as people who never ask questions about anything, ever.

Comedy and horror, both intrinsically critical genres, suffered from the death of satire; Austin Powers in Goldmember was at least honest in its punch-drunk love of branding. Limp horror efforts such as The Ring and The Mothman Prophecies were little more than mopey cinematic versions of ambient music. Solaris was a brave experiment in commercial art film but succumbed to the obscurity rampant among filmmakers whose main life experience seems to be watching movies.

U.S. indie film, as if in reaction to its increasing marginality on suburban screens, retreated within itself. Todd Haynes and Todd Solondz respectively frittered away their abilities on gorgeously hermetic film scholarship (Far From Heaven) and amusing self-justification (Storytelling). Auto-Focus, appropriately, dealt with masturbation, while Punch-Drunk Love created an empty canvas for film critics to fill in with the meaning of their choice.

Perhaps because of its surface similarities to television, the real hope for U.S. indie film may lie in documentaries: Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Bowling for Columbine, and Dogtown and Z-Boys deservedly found audiences, while The Cockettes at least found the Charles Theatre. Otherwise, 2002 was a great year for getting accustomed to reading subtitles. (Ian Grey)

(The following list was compiled via a rigorous voting process, featuring ballots from CP writers Lee Gardner, Richard Gorelick, Ian Grey, Eric Allen Hatch, Bret McCabe, and Luisa F. Ribeiro. The individual ballots may be viewed below.)


Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuarón, Mexico)* Part tart and stylish art film, part crass horny-teen sex comedy, Y Tu Mamá También is perhaps the only truly original major movie released this year. Co-writer/director Alfonso Cuarón perfectly limns the carefree wake-and-bake life of two Mexico City youths and then sends them off on a typical movie road trip with a drool-worthy older woman. The journey will, of course, Change Their Lives Forever, but Cuarón steers clear of cliché and offers a surprise or telling detail around every curve, often through the use of one of the canniest and best-used voice-overs in cinema history. Everything about this film is fresh and seductive, from the desperate and messy coupling to the bittersweet male bonding to its top-to-bottom portrait of modern Mexico to Maribel Verdú's sexy Spanish sibilance. (Lee Gardner)


Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, United States) This could have been so bad--campy, arid, or both, like François Ozon's 8 Women, another 2002 release that had the 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk on its mind. But everything gels in this gorgeous movie, which manages to comment on Sirk, how his films simultaneously critiqued and inhabited the '50s, and on the urgency of melodrama, all while being a fiercely intelligent melodrama, probing tenderly into the interior castles of sympathetic human beings. (Richard Gorelick)


The Pianist (Roman Polanski, Poland)+ Roman Polanski has made the only film about the Holocaust that warrants mention in the same breath as Shoah. Adrien Brody brilliantly embodies a man who goes from concert pianist to human rat scuttling in the moonscape ruins of Nazi-decimated Warsaw. Its accumulation of atrocities is relentless and horrifically casual, its truths discomforting. Good and evil are choices paid for in blood. There are monsters on both sides. Heroism turns out to be not much more than animal instinct enabled by pure luck. (Ian Grey)


Bloody Sunday (Paul Greengrass, Ireland) I know what you're thinking: We need another movie about Northern Ireland's Troubles like we need another installment in the Ernest Goes to . . . series. Kudos go to director Paul Greengrass for his griping, gritty newsreel-vérité approach to the Jan. 30, 1972, confrontation between civil-rights marchers and British army paratroopers that left 13 marchers dead and 14 wounded. Bloody Sunday doesn't merely rip the scab off an old wound that still smarts after 30 years, but dramatizes it with such raw passion and detail that the unfamiliar will leave with some understanding as to why it has yet to heal. (Bret McCabe)


Dogtown and Z-Boys (Stacy Peralta, United States)* Not just another skate video. This documentary traces the evolution of modern skateboarding and the "extreme" culture it spawned all the way back to the SoCal dead-end kids who pioneered it all back in the '70s. Unaccountably, they were surrounded by cameras while doing it, and the resulting footage transforms Dogtown and Z-Boys into an underground history lesson that's both kinetic and visually poetic, bristling with fuck-you flash and rebel grace. While it veers close to hagiography in spots (it was directed by a former Z-Boy), this is the perfect film for 13-year-old boys of all ages and genders. (LG)


Audition (Takashi Miike, Japan)* Although released in Japan in 1999, Audition provided Baltimore's first theatrical look at one of cinema's most controversial and prolific provocateurs, director Takashi Miike. Audition lulls you into complacency with nearly an hour of Miike at his most restrained, only to unleash some nearly unequaled (and graphic) psychological terror. Really and truly not for the faint of heart. (Eric Allen Hatch)


Lantana (Ray Lawrence, Australia)* Lantana is a multiheaded hydra of a movie, its murder-mystery plot uncoiling to reveal midlife marital uncertainty, romantic desperation, prejudice, and the inadvisable tendency to judge any book by its cover. In the end, Ray Lawrence's film is a wonderfully acted curative to the lingering modernist sickness of isolation--if we don't realize that we're all connected, it says without ever stooping to saying it, we're totally fucked. (IG)


The Hours (Stephen Daldry, United States)+ A slow-burning cerebral and emotional tour de force chronicling a single day in the lives of three disparate women linked by flashes of personal illumination. The Hours is the perfect adaptation of Virginia Woolf's unadaptable novel Mrs. Dalloway. Director Stephen Daldry turns an interior study of the "quiet desperation" of women's lives into beautifully crafted moments of piercing revelation through three knockout lead performances, led by Nicole Kidman. (Luisa F. Ribeiro)


Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme (Kevin Fitzgerald, United States) Kevin Fitzgerald's energizing documentary about improvising rappers draws on nearly a decade of footage featuring MCs like Supernatural, Mos Def, and Craig G. In doing so, Freestyle authentically communicates the vibrancy and urgency of hip-hop, scoring where Scratch and 8 Mile fumbled. More remarkably, Fitzgerald transcends his subject matter to capture the indescribable wonder of spontaneous human creativity in a way that everyone--even rap naysayers--can grasp. (EAH)


Adaptation (Spike Jonze, United States)++ You'll never think of Boggle the same way again. A triumph for many people, not the least of them Nicolas Cage, whose dual performance as screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and Kaufman's (we pray) fictitious identical twin brother, Donald, makes up for everything from The Rock on. Following up Being John Malkovich (and preceding the forthcoming and gleeful Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), Kaufman himself continues the most screwily impressive screenwriting streak since Preston Sturges. (RG)

* available on video and DVD

+ opens in Baltimore in January

++ opens at Dec. 20 at Muvico Egyptian 24

The Ballots

Lee Gardner
1. Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuaron, Mexico)
2. The Pianist (Roman Polanski, France)
3. Dogtown and Z-Boys (Stacy Peralta, United States)
4. Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese, United States)
5. Lantana (Ray Lawrence, Australia)
6. Bloody Sunday (Paul Greengrass, United Kingdom)
7. Audition (Takashi Miike, Japan)
8. Insomnia (Christopher Nolan, United States)
9. The DevilĘs Backbone (Guillermo del Toro, Mexico/Spain)
10. The Fast Runner (Zacharias Kunuk, Canada)

Richard Gorelick
1. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, United States)
2. About a Boy (Chris Weitz, United States)
3. The Son's Room (Nanni Moretti, Italy)
4. Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuaron, Mexico)
5. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (George Clooney, United States)
6. Adaptation (Spike Jonze, United States)
7. Femme Fatale (Brian DePalma, United States)
8. Insomnia (Christopher Nolan, United States)
9. Dogtown and Z-Boys (Stacy Peralta, United States)
10. About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, United States)

Ian Grey
1. Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuaron, Mexico)
2. The Pianist (Roman Polanski, Poland)
3. Bloody Sunday (Paul Greengrass, Ireland)
4. The Devil's Backbone (Guillermo del Toro, Mexico/Spain)
5. Lantana (Ray Lawrence, Australia)
6. Audition (Takashi Miike, Japan)
7. The Trials of Henry Kissenger (Eugene Jarecki, United States)
8. One Hour Photo (Mark Romanek, United States)
9. The Good Girl (Miguel Arteta, United States)
10. Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese, United States)

Eric Allen Hatch
1. Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme (Kevin Fitzgerald, United States)
2. Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, United States)
3. All or Nothing (Mike Leigh, United Kingdom)
4. Audition (Takashi Miike, Japan)
5. Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, United States)
6. Life and Debt (Stephanie Black, United States)
7. Time Out (Laurent Catent, France)
8. Trials of Henry Kissinger (Eugene Jarecki, United States)
9. The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, France)
10. Storytelling (Todd Solondz, United States)

Bret McCabe
1. Time Out (Laurent Catent, France)
2. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, United States)
3. Y Tu Mamá También (Alfonso Cuaron, Mexico)
4. 24 Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom, United Kingdom)
5. Brotherhood of the Wolf (Christophe Gans, France)
6. Bloody Sunday (Paul Greengrass, United Kingdom)
7. 8 Women (Francois Ozon, France)
8. The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, France)
9. Dogtown and Z-Boys (Stacy Peralta, United States)
10. Read My Lips (Jacques Audiard, France)

Luisa F. Ribeiro
1. The Hours (Stephen Daldry, United States)
2. Far from Heaven (Todd Haynes, United States)
3. Adaptation (Spike Jonze, United States)
4. The Pianist (Roman Polanski, France)
5. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodovar, Spain)
6. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Peter Jackson, United States)
7. Rabbit-Proof Fence (Philip Noyce, Australia)
8. Possession (Neil LaBute, United States)
9. Enigma (Michael Apted, United Kingdom)
10. The Quiet American (Philip Noyce, Australia)

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The Year In Tracks (12/15/2009)
. . . just in the case the album really is dead.

The Year in News (12/9/2009)

The Year in Movies (12/9/2009)

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