The Best and Worst Movies of 2002

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Forget easy. The movies that really matter this year are provocative and polarizing -- they're meant to rile you up

1. Gangs of New York: A landmark film from Martin Scorsese, who turns a tale of immigrant gangs in the 1860s into a hot-blooded epic for the ages. Ignore the love fluff with Cameron Diaz; Leonardo DiCaprio and a stupendous Daniel Day-Lewis bring history to raw life. No one dares more than Scorsese. Watch him fly.

2. Far From Heaven: The Twin Peak, along with Gangs, of the movie year is another period film -- suburbia in the 1950s. The gifted writer-director Todd Haynes uses a disintegrating marriage (superb acting from Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid as her closeted gay husband) to speak potently about the way we live now.

3. Adaptation: The most original and outrageous comedy of 2002. Twin writers (both Nicolas Cage) try to adapt a book about orchids (no sex, drugs or violence) into a Hollywood movie. Director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman are true originals: They make hilarious satire out of the end of civilization.

4. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: Part two of Peter Jackson's film Trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien's books tops the original in thrilling spectacle. Tolkien gets fudged a bit, but the story's themes remain powerful and resonant. Jackson delivers the goods in battle scenes that will take your breath away.

5. Y Tu Mamá También: Two Teen Horn-Dogs (Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal) hit the road with an older woman and learn to see beyond their hard-ons. It's an erotic ride that Mexico's Alfonso Cuarón elevates with unexpected feeling.

6. Chicago: A splashy, sexy knockout of a Musical about the corrupt heart of showbiz and, by extension, the world. A razzle-dazzle triumph for director Rob Marshall. Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones are hot, hot, hot!

7. Talk to Her: It sounds bizarre: How do two men love two women -- a dancer and a bullfighter -- who are in comas? Spain's Pedro Almodóvar tells you how in a one-of-a-kind film that brims over with magic and mystery.

8. Road to Perdition: Some people didn't buy Tom Hanks as a hitman and found director Sam Mendes' follow-up to American Beauty too arty. I found the film and Paul Newman, as the hitman's surrogate father, indelibly moving.

9. About Schmidt: Jack Nicholson's turn as a Nebraska retiree is a career high, but don't discount the expansive human comedy that director-co-writer Alexander Payne has given him to play.

10. 8 Mile: With all the fuss about Eminem's striking screen debut as a rapper much like himself, you might've missed the authenticity director Curtis Hanson built into the film. Look again.

From The Archives Issue 912: December 26, 2002
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