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January 10, 2003

Voices picks the best movies of the year that was 2002

We, the movie aficionados of Voices, would like to present to you what we believe to be the best movies of 2002, a year that was riddled with the worst atrocities committed to film (à la Attack of the Clones, Jackass: The Movie, etc.) but redeemed with some pretty rockin' ones listed below. You will notice that we have not included Far From Heaven on our list unlike the majority of film critics who've literally stapled the title onto theirs. That is because we do not wag our tails at movies that were "hits" at the Toronto Film Festival; by strict accordance to the rules of our nature, we are prone to dismiss anything that the Canadians endorse. But that is beside the point. We are not anti-Canada, by the way; in fact, Ararat is a Canadian feature that is on our list. But it was not a "hit" in Toronto. Get the picture? (hint: re "we do not wag out tails at moves that were 'hits' at Toronto"; answer: we are not media whores)

About Schmidt

While he stands for a particular group of people, Warren Schmidt also represents each of our own worst nightmares when we ask ourselves if we're really making a difference with our lives. After losing a wife he discovers he was never really close to, and watching his own daughter, with whom he was equally distant, marry a loser he thinks is beneath her, Schmidt starts off on the sort of monologue that might play in your head at one a.m. on the worst day of your life. Although Alexander Payne likes taking condescending potshots at obvious targets (Waterbeds? Is nothing sacred?) the poignancy with which his central character, played with great sympathy by Jack Nicholson, tries to make some difference before shuffling off this mortal coil transcends the bounds of observational movie comedies. (Tom Zimpleman)

Ararat

Critics have already taken "Ararat" to task for not following a traditional story-arc, and for not committing itself to being a story either about the Armenian genocide or the affects of that genocide on modern-day people of Armenian descent. While I understand where such criticisms come from, they seem to miss the film's premise: that the lack of acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide--either by the Turkish government, which perpetrated it, and the rest of the world, which stood by and let it happen--complicates any attempt at collective memory. Memory, in this case, is a struggle that occurs between families, nations, and, in one particularly long and moving segment, between individual people. (TZ)

The Cat's Meow

Kirsten Dunst's maturing as one of the best actors (in this case comic) of her generation would be reason enough to recommend this movie that no one saw last year. The Cat's Meow pairs Dunst, as silent film star Marion Davies with Edward Herrmann as William Randolph Hurst. Throw in a yacht trip, Eddie Izzard as Charlie Chaplin, Jennifer Tilly, murder, and typical mid-20s period tropes (Charlestons, nascent female power unconnected to sex), and what we get is a return to form from director Peter Bogdanovich. In addition to the inherently compelling "true" story involving ridiculously famous and powerful people, the movie works from how tightly the cast interacts. Even the freeloading flappers provide depth and comedy, tweaking expectations and providing interest both to the other guests and us in the audience. (Moacir P. de Sá Pereira)

Gangs of New York

What many have called the culmination of Martin Scorsese's career is a big, sprawling mess of a film, yet its formlessness is appropriate to its content. Daniel Day-Lewis, in an automatic-Oscar performance, plays butcher/gang leader/political theorist William Cutting, and a quietly fomenting Leonardo DiCaprio falls in with him to later fall out with him. Martin Scorsese's cynical yet compassionate vision of American politics, so audaciously corrupt a system you can only stand in awe of it, burns through the historical tangle of gang wars and ethnic conflict, and the climactic draft riot sequence delivers the knockout punch. (Joseph N. Liss)

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The knock on these movies is, or ought to be, that they fail to hit a target audience: too scary for little kids; too sappy for big people. So apologies must be made to this flaw. But The Two Towers has over its predecessor a more firm grasp of what makes epics what they are. Maybe it's a stretch to say that the sense of inevitability--both of conflict and of victory by the good guys--is the definition of epic, but it's a stretch I'm comfortable with, in the scheme of stretches. The battle at Helms Deep doesn't get nearly so much attention in Tolkein's pages, but Peter Jackson does well to shift the focus in the movie. I can't help but applaud the good guys, when they work with such dedication. (Ben Adams)

Lovely and Amazing

It's not easy to pull off a good-looking movie shot on digital video these days, but Nicole Holofcener's second feature does just that with an intimate look at four women--a mother, her two daughters and her African-American adoptee--all of whom face problems dealing with their self-image. What carries this small indie way beyond the league of Lifetime-inspired women's pictures is its unrelenting persistence not to blame anything or anyone for the plague of low self-esteem that modern-American women bring upon themselves. One telling scene involving a point-by-point critique of a woman's naked physique has it all. (Eric Park)

Spirited Away

Famed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki's triumphant film about a little girl named Chihiro who is transported to a demon world is impossible to summarize, much less explain. This isn't a story of heroism, accomplishment, or even self-discovery, but rather like Lewis Carroll's Alice books, Spirited Away exists for its own sake. Chihiro's name is taken away from her, as well as the possibility of trust in anyone except herself. Expect no comfort from this cartoon, but the uncompromising authenticity of a singular art. Spirited Away is the most deeply strange and sublime work of animation since Walt Disney's Fantasia. (JNL)

Talk to Her

Proving he's only getting far better at 51, Pedro Almodóvar with maturity and elegance waltzes through the competition like a true pro. Centered around an uncommonly touching story about two men who love their respective women, a ballerina and a matador, both comatose, Talk to Her lyricizes the personal, the misunderstood emotional affairs of men, and their inability to communicate themselves in any conventional way. Some of the gossipy conversations among the Spanish locals give laughter to the sadness, and two interpretative stage dances that frame the story illuminate the deep-seated emotions. (EP)

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing

A modern-day tale about several unhappy New Yorkers whose lives briefly affect each other's personal outcomes by chance, fortuity, and mishaps on the order of the universe, Jill Sprecher's Thirteen... is that rare film not merely governed by its own cagey conceptual design. It has intelligence and is eager to question whether choices and the actions taken from any one of them can really find a solution to unhappiness, or not. And much more. In the conversations themselves, white- and blue-collar types rattle off philosophy but in a language steeped in dialect and street talk. Much of it is helped by the unpretentious acting, particularly that of Alan Arkin, whose performance is arguably the year's most accomplished. In a small role, he has created a man, complicated yet tangibly uncomplicated. (EP)

Y Tu Mamá También

It's well established that this movie is, um, a bit edgy in its content. For what it is, anyway. Movies of that description get critical acclaim more readily than they used to, now that we, as an entertained nation, are more comfortable with sex, particularly when it is set off from us by comedy. So director Alfonso Cuarón was, to some important degree, in the right place at the right time. But Cuarón also bucked one of the contemporary trends by letting optimism seep into his film. That was probably the source of the success of Y Tu Mamá También: it took the honesty that earned American Beauty its stripes and one-upped it by actually being happy about it. (BA)