No reason, just thinking about 2002 and decided to list my favorite films.
Gangs of New York
I’m on this film group that recommends film titles for weekly top 5 lists. I noticed that I was constantly recommending this Martin Scorsese film for everything (Best Nickname, Best Political Movie, Best Villain). I can still remember watching that opening battlefield sequence and being utterly mesmerized by it. The camera moves through this chaotic scene with such purpose, but a litheness like a dance. It was the first collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. Bill the Butcher, played by Daniel Day Lewis, is one of the greatest characters of all time.
One of the first to film in NYC after 9/11, Spike Lee’s “The 25th Hour” captures the anger, distrust, and uncertainty of that time, while being a riveting story of relationships and mistakes. Edward Norton stars as Monty, a drug dealer headed to prison. He wants to spend his last day of freedom with his girlfriend (Rosario Dawson) and friends (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Barry Pepper) and travels around New York saying his goodbyes. The “Fuck You” scene is a masterful expression of the city’s rage, while also expounding on Lee’s view of New York identity in “Do The Right Thing.”
I became obsessed with “Spider-Man” after seeing Sam Raimi’s 2002 film. His enthusiasm for the comics combined with perfect visual and action effects make this a thrilling ride with a compelling heart. Tobey Maguire will always be Peter Parker and it is in those scenes of discovering himself, balancing being Spider-Man and Peter, and longing for Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) that the movie is at it’s best. The scene of Peter catching MJ and lunch in one swoop is burned on my brain.
Catch Me If You Can
There was a Leo Double Header that year with Steven Spielberg’s frothy, funny, and poignant ”Catch Me If You Can.” Based on the true story of America’s biggest fraud, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Frank Abaganle Jr. a kid who simply wants to make his father proud and ends up stealing millions of dollars in fraudulent checks. In one of DiCaprio’s greatest performances, he nails that balance between being a reckless youth and competent thief. The interplay between Tom Hanks’ by the book law man Carl and Frank is wonderful. Carl is both annoyed and beguiled by Frank. Christopher Walken is amazing as Frank Sr. You can see the mischief in his eye, but you know he is a man of a special kind of integrity and deserves the absolute adoration from Frank. Amy Adams, Martin Sheen, and Jennifer Garner give great performances as well. I love the score by John Williams.
It won Best Picture, Supporting Actress, Sound Mixing, Costumes, Editing, and Art Direction at the Oscars. Having seen the stage play, I think it improves on the work, keeping that element of fantasy and adding intricate sets. I had the soundtrack on loop for most of 2002 and wanted to be Velma Kelly. I watched the film recently and feel it holds up really well. I think it’s an effective satire for the city I know well and love anyway. Like Billy Flynn says, “This trial… the whole world… it’s all… show business.” I see that just about everyday. The dance scenes are incredible as well.
Y Tu Mama Tambien
It’s listed as a 2001 film, but was released in the US in 2002 and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for films that year. Written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron, the film touches so many different genres. Friendship, self-discovery, sexuality, and taking control of you life are beautifully explored here. I also like giving this film to friends at their bachelorette parties- pretty appropriate I think.
I saw this movie way after 2002, but I do love its quirky style, bold color pallet, and seductive score. Long before “50 Shades of Grey,” Maggie Gyllenhaal’s seemingly shy Lee gets a job at the law firm of James Spader’s Mr. Grey. When Lee’s typing errors become a problem, Mr. Grey resorts to more physical punishments for her mistakes. Lee finds Grey’s methods alluring and exotic and the two have an odd, but strangely tender relationship. ”Secretary” is provocative but endures because the characters are so genuine.
The Bourne Identity
Doug Liman directed the first Bourne film, casting then unlikely action star Matt Damon as the amnesiac super-solider. From the first fight scene in the park where he takes down two cops, I was in total love with Jason Bourne. Liman introduced us to Bourne and filled the character and story with unrelenting tension. Jason’s proficiency at killing is startling, but his disgust at his own capabilities makes you care about him. The Bourne films just got better after “Identity” and I credit Liman for starting the series off right.
The most relevant and hilarious movie about writing ever made. Also just generally one of the funniest movies ever made. There are so many gold standard scenes: Meryl Streep’s trip, Brian Cox’s rant, Nicholas Cage’s hair, Charlie Kaufman’s brother Donald endless optimism, every Chris Cooper scene, THAT ENDING (singing “So Happy Together” right now folks). I love “Adaptation” loads.
The Good Girl
After seeing “The Hours,” “Chicago,” and “The Good Girl,” my father surmised that John C. Reilly was the man a women would rather commit suicide than be married to. Or at least he was in 2002 with Julianne Moore, Renee Zellweger, and Jennifer Aniston fleeing his marital advances. I do enjoy the low-frequency humor and sadness of “The Good Girl.” Jennifer Aniston plays Justine, a restless and bored employee at a small town dollar store. Things picks up when Justine has an affair with puppy dog eyed Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal). ”The Good Girl” is a movie where people do terrible things to each other, but they face the consequences- some with grace and others with shame. Aniston is wonderful. Her character has dignity, but no possible outlet to express or affirm it. Migeul Arteta and Mike White know exactly how to capture the frustrating dullness of life, while punctuating it with humor that doesn’t diminish the characters.