This is without a doubt the best film I saw in 2002, but the only reason I am not listing it as such is because it has not yet seen theatrical release. What is brilliant about "Zero Day", which I saw at the Boston Film Festival, is not that it wishes to tackle the issue of gun violence in schools. Rather, it wishes to see it from a perspective most films never wish to do: the perpetrator's. When looking through their eyes, so much becomes clear that to many should seem obvious. What becomes distressing as the film begins to reach its conclusion, however, is that we realize that we are not picking at the iceberg, we are in it, and cannot escape. This gives way to one of the most disturbing finales film has seen to date... this alone would make it worthy of theatrical distribution, but the fact that it is the first film to come to terms with the issues at hand in such a personal way makes it one of the best films I have seen in this new century. For more information about it, go to: http://www.professorbright.com/
Jack Nicholson gives one of his most nuanced and complex performances to date, making a jerk not only watchable but almost lovable on screen. "About Schmidt" is surprisingly funny as it moves across its road, with brilliant narration (letters from Schmidt addressed to a Tanzanian boy named Ndugu he is sponsoring through a program called Child Reach). Wild characterizations (not the least from Kathy Bates) make "About Schmidt" such a delight, even with its depressing undertones. Emptiness has never been so fulfilling. And while most films of this nature fizzle out toward the end, "About Schmidt" ends on a poignant and powerful note, without betraying its characters.
"We're milk brothers!"
The last thing I would think after seeing this film is that director Alfonso Cuaron would have the next "Harry Potter" film on his slate (which he does, set for release in 2004). The most important quality of "Y Tu Mama Tambien" may be its honesty. It is honest with its characters: it is not afraid to go to the dirtier parts of these teenage boys' minds. It is honest with its surroundings: "Tambien" is a beautiful, very real social map of Mexico itself. And possibly most importantly (certainly most prominently), it is sexually honest: the revelations at the end are more surprising than many of the potboiler "surprises" Hollywood usually cooks up. "Y Tu Mama Tambien" shot to the top of the box office in Mexico, which makes me wonder: why can't the mainstream in the US trust films like this?
Barry: "You are so beautiful. I love you so much I want to smash your face in with a sledgehammer."
Lena: "I love you so much I want to rip out your eyeballs and suck on them and then punch you in the nuts."
PT Anderson scales it back a bit here, and the payoff is the kind that will leave you on a high for hours after you see it. "Punch-Drunk Love" is an intoxicating, swirling love story with plenty of great performances. The story is something like Adam Sandler's Barry, with so many distractions all around, looking everywhere, but as soon as there is love in the story, the film has a quirky kind of beauty to it. There are things in "Punch-Drunk Love" that may make no sense at all, but they tap into emotions that everyone has recognized before. It is the kind of film that is hard explain with words, but it is simple to know just why it is so easy to love.
"Careful, Chief. Dig up the past, all you get is dirty."
With this film, Steven Spielberg not only rejuvenates the science-fiction thriller (which had never really been born to begin with), but also my faith in him as a leading American storyteller. "Minority Report", as opposed to Spielberg's previous sci-fi film, "A.I.", is grounded in reality. Why does that do anything for it? It makes something of a scary prevision of itself: is this so far off of what the world could look like 50 years from now? "Minority Report" is a mind bending paradox, seething with corruption, deceit, exploitation, and other big ticket themes, to meld into a thriller that really thrills. What a concept, huh? Samantha Morton deserves special mention here, giving a strangely underrated performance of subtle brilliance and harsh power.
"I once knew a happy man. His happiness was his curse."
This film is not only a profound thought-provoker laced with irony and tragedy, but it is also a beautiful, poetic, and incredibly optimistic one. "Thirteen Conversations About One Thing" can be seen from almost any different angle, which only adds to its beauty. There is power in every shot, in every wonderfully layered performance, and in each perfectly simple plot twist. The film is edited together not to place events together chronologically, but to make more emotional sense; giving the film a very personal, internal struggle that gels in a way that may not have worked had it been edited chronologically. "Thirteen Conversations About One Thing" is a powerful piece of philosophy, believing that amazing things do happen everyday to everyone.
"So I took the shotgun off the wall and fired two warning shots...into his head!"
I admit, I was a little biased in regards to "Chicago". I had seen the play only a few months before, and going into the cinema, I wanted to have a great time; I wanted to love it. However, who would've expected that Rob Marshall's adaptation of my personal favorite Broadway show would exceed even my astronomical expectations! "Chicago" instantly makes its way into the world of the great movie musical, complete with a wink-wink and a nudge-nudge. "Chicago" reminds us just what movie musicals can accomplish, and this one adds in a extra little twist of cynicism and mischief to spice it all up. Great performances all around, most in the "I didn't know they could do that!" vein, but each unique and wonderful, and most importantly, everyone sings (even John C. Reilly, who makes us wonder if there's anything he's incapable of). "Chicago" is certainly mostly flash, but oh, are we razzle-dazzled!
"Why don't you just tell him to f*ck off?"
Here is a film that truly lives up to its title. "Lovely and Amazing" is a pleasure to watch, through and through. It is supremely acted film, with four near perfect performances from Catherine Keener, Emily Mortimer, Brenda Blethyn and Raven Goodwin. Nicole Holofcener, to her credit, has written her screenplay with absolutely no reservations-- the dialogue is blunt and sharp, leaving the central characters with little or no subtext. But that is who they are, this family is never afraid to say what they really think. "Lovely and Amazing" deals with the issues of the subjectivity of self-worth, insecurity, and the effect of the media on one's self-esteem that everyone has felt at some point or another with total honesty and grace. This is one film that is easy to create a personal connection with.
Mr. Grey: "Look, we can't do this 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
Lee: "Why not?"
This odd duck is a very original and sadly overlooked specimen. It transcends the normal explorations of pain and depression and throws them in a blender. For anyone who is open-minded enough to watch, "Secretary" is a singular romantic comedy, probably unlike anything else that has ever been grouped into that genre before. It explores two messed up individuals, and the solace they find in each other, without faltering to any sort of convention. James Spader, who has seen this kind of territory before, gives one of his better performances in recent memory (even though that may not be saying much), and is a brilliant mirror to Maggie Gyllenhaal's spectacular breakthrough. She is a revelation in the year's most courageous performance, providing the backbone and the heart of the film and making "Secretary" a joy to watch, never letting it stray into the realm of the perverse.
"Cold be heart and hand and bones, cold be travelers far from home... they do not see what lies ahead when sun has failed and moon is dead!"
I'm sorry for anyone who casts aside "The Two Towers" simply because of its "franchise" status. Looking at it that way, I can see where critics would call it just another dumb blockbuster. But once you can see past the action figures, sticker books, and trading cards; look at what some team down in New Zealand had the balls to do! "The Two Towers" is without a doubt one of the most magnificently realized epic fantasies ever made. Yes, online critics are always looking for something to call one of the best of all time for some obscure category, but this is the real deal: "The Lord of the Rings", so far, is the great epic fantasy of all time. While it is awe-inspiring as an action film, the backbone of the film is the human element. That may be the most impressive feat of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy: no matter how many grandiose set pieces and special effects this film can have, it is the wonderful performances and characterizations that really make Middle-Earth come alive on screen.
"Here's to being the only one."
"Far From Heaven" is this year's most divine, enrapturing film experience. It begins as a beautiful homage to the simple melodramas of the 1950s, then swiftly becomes an intelligent deconstruction of them. Todd Haynes creates an emotional hurricane that hits the viewer full force, but arrives in a devastatingly sustained and pretty package that adds to the brilliance in which he explores the theme of things that lay beneath the surface. This is the kind of film that could never have been made during the time period it portrays, but is more truthful to that time than almost any other film made in that era. However, what Haynes does here is much more relevant than one may think: are we really looking back? Is the social complacency that is so clearly evident in much of the population of this 1950s Hartford, Connecticut really gone today?