Spence D.’s Favorite Flix of 2002

Here’s the list: everything from poignant coming-of-age stories to scenes of gratuitous violence.

By Spence D.
January 24, 2003

I go see a lotta films every year. It’s one of the perks (and also the major drawback) to being a pop culture journalist. The perk is that you get to peep stuff like Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers weeks before everybody else. The drawback is that you gotta sit through utter crap like The New Guy as well. But then hey, one should never look a gift horse in the mouth.

When the end of the year rolls around, some publication usually requests a “Top Whatever” list from me, and as with most such lists, the number of entries in said list are rounded down to 10. And invariably, I never have 10 items worthy of making my list.

Ironically, 2002 proved to be a year that saw me with my Top lists in both film and music well over the magic number of 10 (okay, the film list wasn’t quite over 10, but my music list was close to 20 albums this time around, which is a first for me — I usually end up scrambling at the end of the year to remember even 10 records that I found to have any lasting appeal. Film is usually even tougher).

Since I see so many films over the year, I am pretty damn picky about what I like. That said, I love a good action film. I love a good horror film. I’m a sucker for a poignant romantic or childhood comedy/coming-of-age film.

Here’s a list of the films that resonated with me the most in 2002. Oh, and for the record, the films are listed alphabetically as I hate trying to determine which one was better than the others.

Spence D’s Favorite Films of 2002: The Short List

25th Hour: This was the best Spike Lee joint to come down the pike in quite some time. The opening prologue, which features Ed Norton, ex-football player Tony Siragusa, a bloody dog, and a bright yellow muscle car is one of the coolest pieces of filmmaking I have ever seen. If the film had ended right after this moment, I would have been really cool with that. As it was, though, there’s a whole other story that follows and it’s well-acted, expertly directed, and just plain dope.

About a Boy: I saw this on a plane from Phoenix to San Francisco. Yep, the flight is only about an hour, but we were grounded due to lightning storms, so they kept starting and stopping the film. It was irritating as hell to get sucked into the film for 15 minutes and then have the captain turn it off as we tried to edge into the runway only to have our take-off aborted and the captain turn the film back on. But despite the interrupted viewing, the film was still sweet and it grabbed my heartstrings. Plus I dig Hugh Grant. There’s something mad cool about him.

Adaptation: What a wickedly demented flick this is. Being John Malkovich was interesting, but with this endeavor, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman elevate to the next level. Watching Meryl Streep snort Ghost Lily dust is sweet and Nick Cage delivers his best performance since Valley Girl.

Cherish: Finn Taylor is the master of the demented love story — just dig up a copy of Dreaming with the Fishes. His sophomore effort is a twisted look at loneliness and our basic need to connect with someone of the opposite sex. Oh yeah, Robin Tunney his HOT!

CQ: Roman Coppola may be the one who inherits his pop’s filmmaking flair. This film is a killer romp that works on so many different levels, it’s not even funny. It’s a film-within-a-film-within-a film. Brilliant, kitschy, and hella cool (sweet soundtrack by French band Mellow, too).

Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys: Perhaps the most underrated film of the year. This coming-of-age flick is easily the best of the genre since Stand By Me. Plus, Kieran Culkin is amazing. This kid is easily my favorite actor of the moment (he is the only reason to recommend the inconsistent Igby Goes Down).

Fulltime Killer: Written by Johnny To, this is easily one of the coolest gunz and violence flicks to emerge from Hong Kong post John Woo. To was responsible for the last great HK gangsta flick, The Mission, and this entry pulls no punches in the realms of violence, action, and style.

Ichi the Killer: If you’ve never seen a Takashi Miike flick, then this might be the best one to test the waters on. It’s sick. It’s twisted. It’s totally demented. Miike is perhaps one of the most prolific of Japanese directors, routinely cranking out more than nine films a year. This particular excursion is focused on a dimwitted assassin who uses running shoes equipped with massive razor blades. This film has to be seen to be believed, but be warned it’s violent, rather depraved, and has some gratuitous scenes of violence and lots of splattering bodily fluids. Not for the squeamish.

Insomnia: Christopher Nolan’s third film is a brilliant retelling of the Norwegian film of the same name. And while it follows the source material to a T, the end result is a moralistic fable (the original version is decidedly more amoralisitc). Wonderful turns from Al Pacino and Robin Williams make this an exercise in solid filmmaking.

Maelstrom: This Canadian film was actually released in 2000 or 2001, but didn’t make it over the border until mid-2002. A wonderfully dark romantic comedy that features a talking dead fish as the narrator. It’s like a cross between Billy Wilder, David Lynch, and those guys who did The City of Lost Children.

No Such Thing: If you’ve never sat through a Hal Hartley film, well then, you’re missing out. This is Hartley’s answer to a classic monster movie, which is to say that it’s a philosophical rumination of isolation and love. Or something like that. It’s a brilliant piece of filmmaking and has wonderful performances by Sarah Polley and Robert John Burke (I also highly recommend Hartley’s Simple Men).

Honorary Mentions

Lilo & Stitch: The best and most subversive Disney film ever. The latter third of the film kind of falls victim to traditional, sappy Disneyitis, but the first two thirds is a raucous ride through innuendo filled terrain.

The Rules of Attraction: Nowhere near as cool as Bret Easton Ellis’ book, but this film is worth a look if only to see Dawson (James Van Der Beek) and Mary (Jessica Biel) doing coke and fucking everything that moves. Brilliant casting and not half bad direction from Roger “Killing Zoe” Avary.