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Best Movies 2002: Ron Weiskind's Picks

Friday, December 27, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

More so than in recent years, 2002 brought us a gratifying number of very good movies -- even if it didn't necessarily give us one undeniably great film. The mix of genres was also satisfying: everything from a hot Broadway musical to the best comic-book movie ever made, from Japanese anime to opinionated American documentary, from G-rated feel-good true story to a dead-on examination of grief and loss.

As usual, my list of the year's best movies (and those of colleagues Barry Paris and Barbara Vancheri) includes films that opened in Pittsburgh this year and some that will arrive in January but are eligible for this year's Academy Awards race. Hollywood has saved an unusually large number of them for the very end of the year, but we've seen almost all of the major contenders.

Here's how I call 'em:

DOT.GIF 1. "Chicago"
(Post-Gazette review)

OK, call me a homer for picking the feature directing debut of Pittsburgh native Rob Marshall. But "Chicago" also leads the pack in Golden Globe nominations and seems a sure Oscar contender. Marshall makes you feel like you're watching a stage show that explodes from the movie screen -- the film's energy and ingenuity never flag. Its hard-edged cynicism (the two lead characters are women who become celebrities because they are charged with murder) seems as timely as ever. And the stars -- who knew Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere could sing and dance? -- are sensational. It opens here Jan. 3.

DOT.GIF 2. "Spirited Away"
(Post-Gazette review)

This spellbinding animated film from Japan broke box-office records in that country and got superb reviews in America, but it didn't reach its deserved audience because of distributor Disney's indifference. Too bad. Hayao Miyazaki's beautifully drawn film takes us along with its young protagonist on a wondrously imaginative journey through a hostile yet often whimsical spirit world and introduces us to a host of fascinating creatures. The movie casts a magical aura to which we happily succumb.

DOT.GIF 3. "Moonlight Mile"
(Post-Gazette review)

Writer-director Brad Silberling was dating actress Rebecca Schaeffer when she was murdered by a stalker. "Moonlight Mile" is not her story but a fictionalized version of his -- a remarkably accurate portrait of grief and how people react to it. Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon are excellent as the parents, and Jake Gyllenhaal matches them as the dead woman's fiance who becomes their surrogate son. The movie keeps threatening to head off in the wrong direction, but Silberling keeps pulling it back, refusing to let it slide into conventionality.

DOT.GIF 4. "Talk To Her"
(Not reviewed by the Post-Gazette.)

This provocative drama by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar was shown in the Three Rivers Film Festival and is slated to open in February at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. It's about the friendship that develops between two men in love with women in comas. The movie has a sexuality to it that is alternately shocking and humorous, but the emotions run deep both in the way the men feel about their women and in how they feel about each other.

DOT.GIF 5. "Far From Heaven"
(Post-Gazette review)

Todd Haynes' remarkable movie is not only set in the 1950s, but also looks like it could have been made in that era, with its lush color photography and dramatic Elmer Bernstein score. But the melodramatic facade informs issues that a real '50s movie could have never addressed with such frankness -- racial discrimination and homophobia. It's a harbinger of the social ferment of the ensuing decades. Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid both should be Oscar contenders for their portrayal of the perfect couple falling to pieces.

DOT.GIF 6. "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers"
(Post-Gazette review)

The second film in director Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's monumental fantasy trilogy improves on "The Fellowship of the Ring." Darker in tone, it also manages a level of humor missing from the first film. Filled with magnificent battle sequences set against the stunning vistas of New Zealand, "The Two Towers" also contains more character development than its predecessor. Near the end, Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin) delivers a heartfelt, quietly stirring declaration of the need to fight evil even when things look blackest. It gives the movie a weight and moment to balance against the fantasy.

DOT.GIF 7. "Bowling for Columbine"
(Post-Gazette review)

Michael Moore is a left-wing propagandist who manipulates the facts to favor his argument, ambushes unwary targets, can be obnoxiously self-indulgent and contradicts himself with regularity. That said, he is also enormously entertaining, flamboyantly provocative and, most important, asks the right questions in this examination of America's gun culture and its penchant for violence. He may not have the answers, but "Bowling for Columbine" urges us to start looking for them.

DOT.GIF 8. "Spider-Man"
(Post-Gazette review)

Yeah, it's based on a comic book. But director Sam Raimi and screenwriter David Koepp treat the characters like real people, with real emotions and real failings. When teen-ager Peter Parker, expertly portrayed by Tobey Maguire, turns into Spider-Man, he is as exhilarated and as confused by his new powers as any kid going through puberty. They don't help him get the girl (Kirsten Dunst, who was born for the role), protect his friends and family or solve all his problems. Comic book or not, it's just a damned good movie.

DOT.GIF 9. "Minority Report"
(Post-Gazette review)

Steven Spielberg has directed some fabulous science-fiction fantasies in his time, and he is just as skillful as speculating about what the reality of the future might be like. "Minority Report," which centers on identifying murderers before they commit the crime, also asks questions about personal privacy and preemptive arrests that are perhaps more pertinent than ever as America tries to balance personal rights against security needs.

DOT.GIF 10. "The Rookie"
(Post-Gazette review)

Schmaltzy? No, this is the astonishing true story of Jim Morris (another strong performance by Dennis Quaid), a Texas high-school science teacher and baseball coach whose dreams of a major-league career died long ago thanks to arm trouble and an indifferent father. But in urging on his hardscrabble team, they challenge him to try out for the majors -- and darned if he doesn't have the right stuff, at an age when most ballplayers think of retirement. Director John Lee Hancock uses the lonely landscape of west Texas as a metaphor for a man's disappointments, and Morris' story as proof that miracles can happen.

Worst movies of the year: The Guy Ritchie-Madonna remake of "Swept Away" is fast becoming legend for its awfulness, but there were some other really bad movies this year, chief among them "Rollerball," "The Sweetest Thing," "The Tuxedo" and "Slackers."

Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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