Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The 100 Project: Top 10 Movies of 2002

In 2002, the residue of 9/11 was just starting to show up on big screens. In lots of ways, it was business as usual at the movies with a few exceptions. Sure, a number of films hit theaters only after being altered to remove visuals and/or references to the World Trade Center. Some were delayed, or never released due to potentially insensitive content. Therefore, most of what made it to theaters was as far removed from the dark cloud hanging over us. Of course, there were exceptions, films that dealt head on with the various predicaments we Americans found ourselves in. A couple of them stuck with me, as you’ll see below.

On a personal level, this was the year my youngest child was born. As of the time of this writing, she is mere days away from starting college. We’re excited, anxious, and afraid. We’re sending her off into the America Trump created, seemingly devolving on social, economic, and even biological levels. Wish us luck. Wish yourselves luck. Sorry. If I seem to be going down a dark path just know that what I’m doing while typing this doesn’t help. I turned on a movie that happens to be about a pandemic and it’s feeling way too real. Anyhoo, let’s get back to the reason we came.

My Top 10 Movies of 2002

  • According to my Letterboxd account I've seen 81 movies that were released during 2002.
  • I saw 9 movies in theaters. 2 make the top 10, 3 are honorable mentions.
  • I've seen 3 of the 5 nominees for Best Picture. 1 makes the list, 1 is an honorable mention.
  • For the second year in a row 3 non-English movies make the top 10, including a first-ever #1.

10. Bowling for Columbine
In case you somehow haven’t noticed, America has a gun problem. In the wake of the most infamous school shooting of them all, Michael Moore filmed this doc that brings it into sharp relief. As Americans, we often think that everyone in the world has the same problems as we do. Therefore, what struck me then and what sticks with me is how much out of whack we are in terms of gun violence. Like Moore and his tactics, or not, are an undeniable part of the image looking back at us from our collective mirror.

9. Frida
I was only vaguely aware of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo before seeing this. After it was over, I felt like I knew her intimately. It’s an epic portrait of an amazing and troubled woman. Salma Hayek, almost always better in her native Spanish, gives a career-best performance that kept me engaged from the very beginning. She was very deserving of her Oscar nomination for this role.

8. Auto Focus
Speaking of fantastic biopics, here’s another one. This one is about Bob Crane, star of TV’s Hogan’s Heroes. Like Hayek in Frida, Greg Kinnear turns in some of his best work. What puts this movie slightly above that one is the air of mystery surrounding Crane’s death, not to mention the seediness of his life.

7. 25th Hour
In arguably his most overtly mainstream movie, Spike Lee delivers a film about a man knowingly in transition while using the transition the nation was going through, and our collective grief, as the backdrop. As odd as this may sound, there is a beautiful sadness to it with the tiniest bit of hope visible at the end of its tunnel.

6. Gangs of New York
Martin Scorsese takes on a different era of New York’s history than ever before and give us another stellar film. I’ve been a fan of his for a really long time. However, there’s one person in this film I was late to the party on – Daniel Day-Lewis. This is really my introduction to him and he left me impressed by giving us an all-time great villain.

5. Hero
In 2000, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon gave us an arthouse film wrapped around a kung fu flick. Hero is a kung fu flick wrapped in arthouse. That subtle role reversal is what makes me love Hero more. My brother asked me how it was since I saw it before he did (and in theaters). I told him it was beautiful. He was puzzled because I’ve never described a film to him using that word. To an action junkie like him, it seemed like a condemnation. I assured him it wasn’t. He went and saw it, called me, and said, “I see what you mean.”

4. 8 Mile
I’m a lifelong hip-hop fan. I’m also an Eminem fan. Therefore, a film about him centered around his rap battle roots and actually starring him was tailor-made for me. All they had to do was not screw it up for me to like it. They did better than that. They actually made it good. And I lose myself in the moment every time I watch it.

3. Blade II
I’m going to re-use the technique from my Hero entry for this movie. While the original Blade was a superhero movie built from horror elements, the sequel is a horror movie with a superhero in it. Guillermo del Toro puts some true nastiness on display to go with an intriguing story of enemies having to join forces against something greater than either of them. All of this makes it one of the most underrated comic book movies ever made.

2. Road to Perdition
Speaking of underrated comic book movies, how many of you even know that this was one? Neither did I the first time I watched it. It’s certainly no superhero flick. However, it is a gangster movie with a wonderful father/son relationship at its core. The gangster elements tickled my fancy. The father/son stuff touched my soul. And who knew Jude Law could be scary?

1. City of God
This is one of those films that blew me away as I watching it. Despite being set in Rio de Janeiro, it felt eerily familiar. The plight of the characters, the choices they made all felt like they could’ve happened around the corner from me. Any list of the best ‘hood movies is incomplete without this gem on the list. Lots of movie buffs will tell you the same. Unfortunately, outside of us cinephiles, it’s criminally underseen for one reason. It’s not in English.

Honorable Mentions (alphabetically): Austin Powers in Goldmember, Barbershop, The Bourne Identity, Brown Sugar, Cabin Fever, Drumline, Friday After Next, H, Infernal Affairs, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Minority Report, One Hour Photo, Spider-Man


  1. From our respective top 10 lists, only City of God is the one film in my top 10 at #4 as my list is definitely more arty. From your honorable mention, the only film I haven't seen is H which I need to see as that must be a gem in the world of Korean cinema. 2002 is an incredible year as there's a lot in your top 10 that I love. The Road to Perdition I thought was alright while Bowling for Columbine is an excellent film despite the fact that Michael Moore is a piece of shit.

    I keep reading that Blade II is Guillermo del Toro's weakest film which I completely disagree with as I will contest that Mimic is his weakest as even his new cut of the film only improves it slightly. Blade II is a whole lot of fun and I think the best of the 3 films in that film series in terms of its visuals, gore, violence, and humor. Makes me excited about Mahershala Ali as the character as I'm interested to see who will direct the film and who will play Whistler as I'm gunning for Chris Cooper in that role.

    1. H definitely needs to be seen by more Americans. Bowling for Columbine is definitely a case of the work transcending the artist.

      I'm with you on Blade II

  2. I like Gangs of New York, City of God, 25th Hour, Bowling for Columbine, and 8 Mile as well. Excellent movies. Frida is one I still haven't see and I need to get on that. I'd probably have The Ring, 28 Days Later, and Two Towers on my own list. Maybe Cabin Fever too just because it was so much fun.

  3. I hope you get to see Frida soon. It really is Hayek's best work and Alfred Molina is great, too. Cabin is loads of fun.

  4. The early 2000s are such strong years all around. I'm happy to see someone else showing some love for Gangs of New York. I often feel like the only person who defends it. I'm with Void above on Blade II and Mimic. Blade II is inspired for the design of the super-predator vampires and the fight sequences, and Mimic is absolutel del Toro's weakest. Also, Chris Cooper is an inspired pick for Whistler.

    Some other options:
    May--a truly disturbing little riff on Frankenstein.
    Kung Pow: Enter the Fist--Funny like Pootie Tang is funny. Funny like a cat falling off a table is funny. Heavily quoted in my house.
    Rabbit-Proof Fence--An Aussie story of racism and aboriginal people having their culture stripped from them. A tough watch, but it's worth seeing.
    My Big Fat Greek Wedding--A trite pick, perhaps, but it really is funny.
    Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary--A super-arty version of the ballet version of Dracula. Not for everyone.
    Talk to Her--very morally questionable Almodovar.
    Dog Soldiers--A solid werewolf movie. Not Ginger Snaps good, but at least The Howling good.
    Insomnia--A great Robin Williams performance, and a great Pacino performance.
    Far from Heaven--An homage to Douglas Sirk. A truly beautiful film with a top-notch cast.
    Dirty Pretty Things--Undocumented workers in England. Killer cast.
    Whale Rider--Track this down. Just trust me.
    Ju-On--In a lot of ways, the granddaddy of J-horror, at least in this century.
    Adaptation--A reminder that Nic Cage really does have some talent under there somewhere.
    The Hours--A complete surprise to me just how engaging this was for me.
    Catch Me if You Can--I like tihs probably a little more than it deserves.
    28 Days Later--Hands down, my favorite movie of 2002.

    1. May is one that's been popping up a lot on my radar, lately. I need to see that. I need to rewatch Insomnia. It's been a really long time. 28 Days Later is another I should revisit. I didn't much care for it when I saw it. Don't think I've seen any of the others, including Catch Me If You Can, though I have seen mist of it in pieces here and there.

  5. Three out of your picks and four of the honorable mentions - that's not a lot I have seen.
    I do feel like rewatching Cabin Fever for my Halloween review series now!

  6. I think this may be the first time we have no matches Dell!

    Road to Perdition is a runner-up for me. Excellent film, fantastic look and how great that Paul Newman was able to close out his film career in something as good as this.

    I thought both Frida and Auto Focus were interesting well made films but that one view was plenty for me. Auto Focus in particular was disturbing since I remember watching Bob Crane in Hogan’s Heroes when I was a kid and he seemed so affable. I’d read about the sordidness his life descended into, and I remember when he was murdered but it was still sad to see it play out. Greg Kinnear was very strong in the film however.

    I’m not a hip hop fan and struggled through 8 Mile but it left me indifferent.

    DDL is an amazing talent and Gangs of New York is all about him for me but DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz are just so wrong in their roles it spoiled most of the film for me.

    Sorry I hated 25th Hour so very much.

    Haven’t seen Bowling for Columbine, I know I should but I haven’t gotten to it yet. Hero and Blade II never appealed but City of God is one I’ve been meaning to see for years. The fact that it’s not in English doesn’t bother me but so many films so little time!

    1. I watched Hogan's Heroes in syndication as a kid, but only every once in a while, so I had no attachment to Crane whatsoever. By the time I saw Auto Focus, I had only recently learned about his life and passing.

      I'm a DiCaprio apologist, so yeah, I was fine with him. Diaz, well, I love in spite of her.

      Please see Bowling for Columbine and City of God.

  7. As I said our lists are radically different but I think that just shows there were many good films that year.

    1. The Trip-Uptight, conservative (and closeted) writer Alan Oakley (Larry Sullivan) meets gay rights activist Tommy Ballenger (Steve Braun) at a party in 1973 San Francisco. As time passes they form a tumultuous relationship as the surrounding upheaval of the gay movement swirls around them. Captivating small film with some wonderful supporting performances-Jill St. John, Sirena Irwin, Alexis Arquette, an on point soundtrack and a strong chemistry between the leads that draws you into their story.

    2. Catch Me If You Can-Master of deception Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) impersonates an amazing array of professions all before his eighteenth birthday. However it’s his skill as a forger that sets FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) onto his trail. The film follows Frank as he stays one step ahead as long as he can in a thoroughly engaging way.

    3. The Bourne Identity-Fished out of the Mediterranean with two bullet holes and no memory of who he is but possessing phenomenal defense skills an amnesiac (Matt Damon) sets out to discover why so many people are intent on killing him. Aided by the young Marie (Franka Potente) he soon learns that he is master spy Jason Bourne but that only increases his troubles.

    4. The Count of Monte Cristo-Lush adaptation of the Dumas novel of betrayal and treachery. Edmond Dantes’ (Jim Caviezel) peaceful life is shattered when he is deceived by his best friend Fernand (Guy Pearce) and imprisoned on a remote isle so Fernand can have his fiancé Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk) for himself. Many years later Edmond returns to exact his revenge.

    5. Far from Heaven-Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) is living what seems to be a perfect 50s suburban life….lovely house, successful husband Frank (Dennis Quaid), a son and a daughter. That is until one night when she walks in on Frank kissing another man. Her structured world spinning out of control she finds consolation in the friendship of their African-American gardener Raymond (Dennis Haysbert). But the intolerance of society in general and the people she thought to be friends in particular leads to the further disintegration of life as she knew it.

    1. I still really need to see Catch Me If You Can. It just keeps getting pushed aside by something else. The Bourne Identity is fantastic and among my honorables.

  8. 6. My Big Fat Greek Wedding-Sweet, quiet Toula (Nia Vardalos) is stuck in a rut. Unmarried, somewhat overweight and 30 she works at Dancing Zorba's, the Greek restaurant owned by her parents, Gus (Michael Constantine)-who believes everything in the world can be cured with Windex-and Maria (Lainie Kazan). Pulling herself together she goes on a diet and gets a job at her aunt's travel agency. One day she meets and falls in love with Ian Miller (John Corbett), a teacher who is tall, handsome and definitely not Greek. They decide to marry and that’s when the real trouble starts!

    7. Spider-Man-Nerdy Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is bitten by a genetically altered spider and awakes the next morning a radically changed man. Not only does he have incredible strength he can adhere to any surface and spin webs. After a period of adjustment he chooses to use his powers to fight crime and hopes to win his silent crush, next door neighbor Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst).

    8. 8 Women-In the snowy French countryside, an industrialist has been murdered in his elegant chalet. It could have been any of the eight women in the house: his wife, Gaby; their two daughters, Suzon and Catherine; Gaby's neurotic sister, Augustine, and greedy mother Mamy; the industrialist's floozy sister, Pierrette; the cook, Chanel, and the new maid, Louise. The phone is dead, the car damaged, and the house isolated in a snowstorm. So it's up to these eight women to discover who among them the murderess is while uncovering each other’s hidden secrets including jealousies, greed, pregnancies, adultery, theft, hidden love, and murder. Stacked with generations of the greatest female actresses in France-Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant and Danielle Darrieux among them.

    9. The Importance of Being Earnest-Adaptation of Oscar Wilde's play about mistaken identities, two gentlemen in 1890s London, Algernon "Algy" Moncrieff (Rupert Everett) and John "Jack" Worthing (Colin Firth) use the same pseudonym, Ernest, for their secret courtship activities with Gwendolyn (Frances O'Connor) and Cecily (Reese Witherspoon). Chaos ensues when both men find themselves face-to-face and have to explain who they really are.

    10. Minority Report-In 2054 police utilize a psychic technology to arrest and convict murderers before they commit their crime. The head of the pre-crime unit John Anderton (Tom Cruise) flees when he finds himself accused of a future murder of a man he hasn’t met and is pursued by Justice agent Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell).


    About a Boy, Bend It Like Beckham, Callas Forever, Changing Lanes, Igby Goes Down, The Kid Stays in the Picture, The Pianist, The Quiet American, The Road to Perdition, Unfaithful

    1. Glad to see some love for 2 of my honorables on your list: Spider-Man and Minority Report. Changing Lanes is also very good.

  9. I still need to see Frida and I do like Spider-Man and Minority Report. I love Daniel Day-Lewis but Gangs of New York is so distasteful and I just can’t get by Cameron Diaz who failed in her accent . Even Leo was not my cup of tea I. This role. My list is LOTR:The Two Towers because I love this trilogy and the whole thing worked brilliantly. Road to Perdition is so sad but excellent and my hubby loves the music(we own the CD). Bowling For Columbine is riveting and so sad that the States Have this way of thinking. The Pianist is so difficult to watch but a must see and, in the end, one of hope. The Quiet American is quite. Good film with Brendan Fraser excellent in his role and so is Michael Caine. My Big Fat, Greek Wedding is just fun to watch and one that you can see over and over. Catch Me If You Can is another fun film with Tom Hanks as the FBI guy without any humour chasing Leo who is brilliant in playing different people, another based on a true story. One Hour Photo is so creepy with Robin Williams playing a deeply disturbed man. Far From Heaven is so different from the other films and one that makes you think that the 50s were not all that great. The Bourne Identity is a great action film with one of the best car chases caught on camera. I have to mention Panic Room, Die Another Day and Chicago. I marked down that Greg Kinnear film about Bob Crane. This is one I really want to see as I remember when he was murdered.

    1. Gangs of New York seens to have that affect on people, but I'm a fan. Fun fact about My Big, Fat Greek Wedding; I saw the sequel and hated it so much I never bothered going back to see the original. Good call on Panic Room. Kinnear is great in Auto Focus.