How fitting that the second year of the millennium (but, again, not the decade) was dominated by sequels -- three of the top four grossers were follow-ups: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (what's with the long titles?). All made over $200M. None of them were particularly excellent (although one did crack my top 10 -- guess which one!). The rest of the box-office list is littered with sequels (or the soon-to-be-coined "threequels"): Austin Powers in Goldmember (secretly kinda awesome and probably my favorite of the three), Men in Black II (abjectly dogshit), Die Another Day (crappy). Even the top-grosser, Spider-Man, spawned two sequels of GREATLY varying quality (and an upcoming reboot -- already? seriously? -- that better not have the douchefag from High School Musical or the douchefag from Twilight), further propagating the sequel syndrome that we're still suffering from today. Critically-speaking, 2002 featured the sequel to one of the worst Oscars in recent memory. It was another snoozefest as the big winners (Chicago, The Pianist, and The Hours) beat out more-deserving candidates (Gangs of New York, Adaptation., and Road to Perdition) in nearly every category. Brody over Day-Lewis? Somebody named Ronald Harwood over Charlie Kaufman? For real? This actually happened? I can't wait until they reboot the Oscars and start handing out retroactive awards.
Moving right along, my top-10 list is sequel-free (with one notable exception) and awards-bait free (with one notable exception). There's some good genre films, some under-appreciated work by major directors, multiple sword fights, and two controversial "adaptations." The only thing that's missing is zombies. Apparently. Here are my ten favorites:
Honorable mentions: Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore's last -- only? -- good film), Ghost Ship (so not kidding), Orange County (the best Farrelly brothers movie they never made), Resident Evil (again, not kidding -- Paul W.S. Anderson knows a thing or two about atmosphere (Event Horizon), The Ring (still the scariest movie I've seen in theaters).
Never saw it: City of God. I should probably rectify this soon.
10) Minority Report
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Scott Frank and Jon Cohen
Starring: Tom Cruise, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Max von Sydow
I'm going to try to keep these write-ups a bit shorter, at least this far down the list. Anyway, Steve Spielberg doing a science fiction neo-noir? Based on a Phil Dick story? With Tommy Cruise? Sign me up! I understand the hate for Cruise the celebrity, what with the Scientology and couch-jumping, but he's still a badass movie star (until recently anyway). Also solid here are a pre-coke Colin Farrell and That Guy Hall-of-Famer Neal McDonough (so creepy). The film is a technical marvel (photographed by the Oscar-winning Janusz Kamiński and also won the Sound Editing Oscar), if not exactly a narrative masterpiece. A final note: This film is about 10 to 150,000 times better than the next Cruise/Spielberg collaboration, War of the Worlds.
9) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Elijah Woods, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis
"Oooh, look at me, I'm Aragorn, watch me fall off this cliff!" I'm not usually picky about adaptations -- I understand that things sometimes have to change when going to a different medium -- but that particular plot invention did not sit very well with me. It took what was largely an action-oriented picture and brought it to a screeching halt, not to mention the fact that we had to sit through more of Liv Tyler's miserable impression of an elf (one of my only casting issues with the film). I also took great issue with the seizure-inducing editing in the Helm's Deep battle sequence. I think it was a Transformers-esque case of technology not up to par with the director's vision. Those two major flaws aside, the weakest entry in the Rings trilogy still has a lot going for it -- beautiful landscapes (it could be argued that New Zealand is the real star here), top-notch performances from Astin and Serkis (how cool would it have been for him to get some Oscar love?), some iconic scenes (Sméagol/Gollum's moonlit monologue/dialogue comes to mind), and, of course, this gem:
8) Road to Perdition
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: David Self
Starring: Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Daniel Craig
I actually only saw this for the first time very recently, but it made quite an impression on me. I think it just might be Sam Mendes's best film. It's easily my favorite anyway. American Beauty is excellent, but it doesn't hold up quite as well 10 years later; Jarhead is probably my second favorite (although Deakins is the real star); Revolutionary Road was mediocre at best (and tedious at worst); and Away We Go, while a welcome foray into a more comedic direction, was too simplistic. Road to Perdition packs serious dramatic weight, boasts a plethora of great performances, deconstructs the gangster genre, and features the last work of the late, great Conrad Hall. I'm quite curious to see what direction Mendes takes in his reunion with Craig -- the next Bond film.
7) Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Directed by: George Clooney
Written by: Charlie Kaufman
Starring: Sam Rockwell, George Clooney, Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts
My friends and I have this totally straight thing where certain actors, directors, and (rarely) writers achieve "boy status." We'll say things like, "Brad Pitt's my boy" or "Mark Strong is almost at boy status." This probably comes from Old School and Will Ferrell's iconic "You're my boy, Blue!" The exact ins and outs (there's gotta be a better way to say that...) of boy status are unknown; it's kind of a "you know it when you see it" thing. Anyway, I bring that up because George Clooney is my boy (he might even be my #1 boy, but that's a whole other debate). Sam Rockwell is my boy. And, sure as shit, Charlie Kaufman is my boy. He might even be the only writer that has yet achieved boy status (although Bill Monahan might be up there if not for a certain misfire... we'll call it... how about... Sum of Untruths). So yeah. Three boys in one movie, encompassing the director-writer-lead actor triumvirate? I'm not sure this has happened before or since. Add to that Chuck Barris's batshit crazy "autobiography" of which this is an "adaptation" and cool stylized visuals, and you've got yourself one helluva motion picture.
6) Catch Me If You Can
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Jeff Nanthanson
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken
Very much a modern-day (well, it mostly takes place during the '60s) picaresque, full of whimsy and humor, Catch Me If You Can is very much in the Indiana Jones/Hook vein of Spielberg's oeuvre (I do love that word). The movie just oozes charm, from Tom Hank's funnily-accented FBI agent to Leo's "Do you concur?" to the locale-hopping montages. Christopher Walken is excellent as Leo's father in a role that has always reminded me of his character in Pulp Fiction, minus the whole watch thing. The film also looks pretty interesting next to Confessions on this list -- what with all the forgeries and lies and double lives and government agents. I give this one the higher ranking because it's probably the "better" film of the two. And it doesn't have Julia Roberts.
5) Gangs of New York
Directed by: Martin Scorcese
Written by: Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, John C. Reilly, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson
...and here's the previously-mentioned awards bait. This was very nearly the apex of the "Please Give Me an Oscar" stage of Scorcese's career, although not nearly as egregious as 2004's The Aviator. That said, it's a damn fine film that, while probably a little (a lot?) long, could have -- and perhaps should have -- won some major awards. Scorcese himself was a near miss, and I still say that D-Day was robbed -- robbed, I say! -- for his iconic performance as Bill the Butcher, easily one of my favorite performances of the decade. And look at that supporting cast! Gleeson was incredible, Reilly showed a menacing side that we might not get to see again now that he's in the Ferrell/McKay stable, and Neeson and Jim Broadbent showed why they're some of the best in the business. Oh, and something about Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz (the movie is not good because of them, although Leo is pretty decent here). And what's with that U2 song on the end credits? Yuck. Final point: This film wouldn't be on this list if it weren't for Day-Lewis.
Directed by: Zhang Yimou
Written by: Feng Li, Ben Wang, and Zhang Yimou
Starring: Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi
Okay, Hero didn't actually get released in the U.S. until 2004, when it was released under the ridiculous moniker Quentin Tarantino Presents Hero. I actually saw this sometime in 2003 because my girlfriend at the time got some sort of pirated copy or something (she was Chinese). I was immediately blown away -- I still hadn't seen much Asian cinema at the time (although the movie is even better now that I have). Leung and Cheung steal the show (as they are wont to do), as Chris Doyle's (one of the only boy status DPs) absolutely GORGEOUS cinematography. Pure spectacle. The political ideology the film espouses my be controversial (ditto 2007's similar The Curse of the Golden Flower), but anyone that watches this for politics is watching for the wrong reasons.
Directed by: Spike Jonze
Written by: Charlie Kaufman & Donald Kaufman
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Chris Cooper, Meryl Streep, Brian Cox
When I was thinking about what to say about this movie, it occurred to me that I might have actually seen this movie at the now-defunct Harkins Poca Fiesta 4. MAN, that place was a dump. Some of my friends probably have TVs bigger than the screens there. Wow. Anyway, that place was beat-up, run-down, pretty much all around crappy... but not without a certain charm. Kind of like Chris Cooper's character in this movie. (Yeah, I know that segue was tenuous... very Matt Berry-esque of me.) Regardless, Cooper won an Oscar for his portrayal of orchid thief John Laroche, the main character of Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief, the book of which this film is supposedly an adaptation. Meryl Streep probably should have won an Oscar for her portrayal of Orlean herself. Nic Cage was up for an Oscar for his portrayal of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and his fictitious brother Donald. And Charlie Kaufman himself DEFINITELY should have won him an Oscar for his completely bonkers -- yet funny, touching, and smart -- script about how hard it is to adapt a book about flowers. Genius stuff, really. Final note: Brian Cox almost steals the entire movie in his scenes as screenwriting guru Robert McKee. It's a good thing he didn't succeed, or no one would have seen this brilliant movie. And Cox would probably be on the run from the law, which would suck, because he's awesome.
2) Punch-Drunk Love
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman
Gotta love it when comedic actors go dramatic. Some of my favorite movies of the decade -- this, Lost in Translation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind -- feature noted funny men in more serious roles. I wonder, though, if we think these movies -- I probably actually more mean the performances -- are so good because there's an element of novelty to seeing, for example, a man who once fought a penguin for nudey magazines showing a powerful range of emotion. Or a man who once tried to blow up gophers with dynamite looking forlorn and world-weary. Or Ace Ven-fucking-tura himself conveying real, painful heartbreak. I don't think it's a case of novelty. I think it's rather *because* these men debase themselves so thoroughly on a regular basis that they're able to tap so deeply into those emotional veins. Whatever the case, Happy Gilmore showed himself capable of someday winning an Oscar in this film (and in Reign Over Me, and in Spanglish) if the right role comes along. Someday it might -- it nearly did for Murray, although it may already have for Carrey. The last thing I want to mention (although there are many more that I could have) is Jon Brion's absolutely berserk score. It compliments Sandler's emotional turbulence so well it's scary.
1) 28 Days Later
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: Alex Garland
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Christopher Eccleston
No offense (which means I can say anything I want) Danny Boyle, but FUCK YOU. Claim what you want, but this is a zombie movie. You can call them infected all you want, but this is a fucking zombie movie. Yes, you use the controversial "zoombie" in lieu of the traditional, shambling Romero zombie, and *I guess* technically they're still alive, but they run around en masse trying to bite (eat?) humans. THAT'S A ZOMBIE.
Rant over. Regardless of nomenclature, calling this a zombie movie might even be a misnomer, since it's more about social commentary than blood and guts (although it does not hold back in that department). Maybe this is one of the best post-apocalyptic movies of all time (although, this time around, the apocalypse is localized to Britain). Whatever genre you decide to peg this movie into, it's one of my favorites of the decade. The sheer amount of talent involved is ridiculous -- Boyle (no stranger to crossing genre lines) speaks for himself, but Garland is an amazing novelist (The Beach is totally, unappreciatedly genius) and screenwriter (this, Sunshine), and John Murphy is easily one of my favorite film composers (along with the aforementioned Brion, Clint Mansell, and Phillip Glass), and Murphy is definitely boy status. This is just a perfectly-made film; I'm not sure there is a way this film could have been better. It's rare to come across a film like that. From the haunting shots at the beginning of a deserted London to the frantic chase sequences to the climactic escape from the military compound, the film is shot, scripted, acted, and scored perfectly. That's why it's #1 here.
That, and because it's a zombie movie.
Well, I only mildly succeeded in the whole "shorter" thing -- this was closer to 2500 words than 3000. So that's good. Well, whether you found it controversial or conformist, I hope you enjoyed reading. I'll tackle the albums of '02 in due time. Until then...