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Laurence Station's Best Films of 2002

Top 10:

1. Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, Japan)
Miyazaki touches on everything from environmental issues to a young girl's budding self-awareness in this engaging, animated masterwork. Just when one thinks he's incapable of topping himself, this Japanese visionary does just that. Peerless.
2. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, USA)
It's the note-perfect performances by Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid as a couple coming to terms with their disintegrating marriage that elevate Far From Heaven from affectionate tribute of canned '50s melodramas to something poignantly tragic and heartbreakingly sublime.
3. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain)
Almodóvar's exploration of the female body could have been a cheap excuse to exploit or denigrate women. But that's far from the case here, as the director displays a grace and maturity not readily evident in his prior work.
4. Adaptation (Spike Jonze, USA)
Writing is a lonely business -- unless you're Charlie Kaufman, of course, and have a twin brother named Donald who kicks you out of your protective shell, forcing you to interact with the world at large. Despite being overly indulgent, self-aware and loopy, it's hard to name another film that does as good a job of exploring the manic thought process of so neurotically creative a mind.
5. Time Out (Laurent Cantet, France)
Taking a break from life turns out to be more work than actual work in this brilliant examination of one man's rebellion against the status quo. From the effect the protagonist's inactivity has on his family to the quiet desperation felt by cubicle workers everywhere, Cantet skillfully explores middle class malaise with confident ease.
6. Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese, USA)
Scorsese finally makes the film he's always wanted to make. Despite glaring structural and story problems, Gangs definitely bears the hallmarks of a master craftsman. Few films convey so strong a sense of time and place as this one. A flawed gem.
7. City of God (Fernando Meirelles, Brazil)
From the urgent cinematography to the raw, affectless performances by its young actors, City of God invites us to witness a world few would dare imagine real -- save for the fact that the events it depicts are based on true stories.
8. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Peter Jackson, New Zealand)
Jackson maintains a steady hand on his epic trilogy, successfully navigating the expected middle-child syndrome story problems and offering some of the most breathtaking visuals of the year.
9. The Pianist (Roman Polanski, Poland / France / UK / Germany)
The death of Warsaw -- its people and history -- is the great tragedy of Polanski's look at the Nazi occupation of Poland. His ultimate message of art triumphing over atrocity is embodied by the fact that the director himself survived the war as a child, and went on to make this stirring film.
10. The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat) (Zacharias Kunuk, Canada)
A myth of the Inuit tribes comes to life on the big screen in this bold, involving and passionately crafted film, one that validates cinema as a medium worthy of encapsulating the history and values of so ancient a people.
Notable near misses (Alphabetically Listed):
  • 24 Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom, UK) The heyday of the Manchester music scene jumps off the screen in this frenetic, wackily-paced but never over-the-top film.
  • About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, USA) More than loneliness and despair played for cheap laughs, thanks in large part to a great performance by Jack Nicholson. Payne competently manages to get to the heart of coping with loss and finding a shred of happiness in the world.
  • Igby Goes Down (Burr Steers, USA) Dark, sardonic, bitter, but never once forsaking the human face of the wealthy and miserable. Director Steers manages a notable first feature, with the promise of even more impressive work to come in the hopefully not-too-distant future.
  • Minority Report (Steven Spielberg, USA) Wimps out at the end, but otherwise a brilliantly directed, masterfully executed look at an America no sane citizen would want to live in.
  • Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA) A small love letter of a movie to hopeless romantics everywhere. Anderson reigns in his Altman-sized storytelling ambitions to craft an intimate, gentle tale of two people stumbling awkwardly toward one another. And, yes, Adam Sandler is a compelling dramatic actor.

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