The Best Films of 2002, And a Few Honorable Mentions

As Captain Renault famously exclaims to Rick in Casablanca (1942 or 1943) upon “discovering” that gambling was going on in Rick’s Place, I was “shocked! shocked!” to find myself falsely represented in recent movie ads as having named both Adaptation and Talk to Her as Best Picture of the Year. In my column of Dec. 2, I’d stated clearly that Adaptation headed my list of English-language films, while Talk to Her was my selection for best foreign-language film.

Am I upset that I was quoted misleadingly? Of course (hee hee). Why shouldn’t I be upset to find myself the talk of the town after a lifetime of comparative obscurity? (Shame on you shameless movie publicists for giving me all that unearned publicity.) If only my late mother and father and brother could see me now.

Before we move on, a clarifying note about the conflicting years of release for Casablanca : It opened in New York at the end of 1942, but in that grim war year, it was considered too frivolous and romantic by the New York Film Critics to beat out the more “serious” and “appropriate” In Which We Serve for awards .

Indeed, Casablanca -directed by Michael Curtiz and adapted by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch from the unproduced play Everybody Comes to Rick’s , by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison-then opened in Los Angeles at the beginning of 1943, making it eligible for an Oscar that year. In 1943, also, the Allied leaders happened to be meeting in a well-publicized conference in the real Casablanca, thereby providing the film with an extra puff of promotion. Still, some captious New York film critics at the time were “shocked! shocked!” by the Academy’s preference for Casablanca over their own anointed “significant” (and comparatively boring) Best Picture, Watch on the Rhine . The point is that in my own lifetime, I have seen film criticism slowly evolve from an excess of socially conscious sloganizing to a frank and honest respect for the pleasure principle.

So without further ado, here are my picks for 2002:

My 10 Best English-Language Films

1. Spike Jonze’s Adaptation

2. Miguel Arteta’s The Good Girl

3. Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York

4. Roman Polanski’s The Pianist

5. Stephen Daldry’s The Hours

6. Julie Taymor’s Frida

7. Curtis Hanson’s 8 Mile

8. Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can

9. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love

10. Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris

My 10 Best Foreign-Language Films

1. Pedro Almodóvar’s Talk to Her

2. Nanni Moretti’s The Son’s Room

3. Eric Rohmer’s The Lady and the Duke

4. Jacques Audiard’s Read My Lips

5. Sandra Nettelbeck’s Mostly Martha

6. Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También

7. Samira Makhmalbaf’s Blackboards

8. Dovar Koshashvili’s Late Marriage

9. Manoel de Oliveira’s I’m Going Home

10. A three-way tie: Bertrand Tavernier’s Safe Conduct , Claude Miller’s Alias Betty and Anne Fontaine’s How I Killed My Father

Movies Other People Liked and I Didn’t

1. Far From Heaven

2. About Schmidt

3. The Piano Teacher

4. Road to Perdition

5. Heaven

6. Storytelling

7. Minority Report

8. Signs

9. Morvern Callar

10. Austin Powers in Goldmember

My 10 Best Nonfiction Films

1. The Kid Stays in the Picture

2. Bowling for Columbine

3. Nijinsky: The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky

4. Shanghai Ghetto

5. Standing in the Shadows of Motown

6. Strange Fruit

7. Derrida

8. Massoud the Afghan

9. In Shifting Sands: The Truth About UNSCOM and the Disarmament of Iraq

10. Etoiles: Dancers of the Paris Ballet

My Runners-Up for Best English-Language Films

1. Nicholas Nickleby

2. White Oleander

3. Chicago

4. Igby Goes Down

5. Unfaithful

6. Tully

7. Roger Dodger

8. Lovely and Amazing

9. The Cat’s Meow

10. Hollywood Ending

11. Tadpole

12. The Quiet American

13. Rabbit-Proof Fence

14. The Bourne Identity

15. The Sunshine State

16. Max

17. Insomnia

My Runners-Up for Best Foreign-Language Films

1. El Crimen del Padre Amaro

2. What Time Is It There?

3. On Guard

4. Merci Pour le Chocolat

5. Pauline and Paulette

6. Mad Love

7. Devils on the Doorstep

8. Russian Ark

9. The Isle

10. Italian for Beginners

11. Nine Queens

12. Intacto

How I voted

Just for the record, these were my votes for both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics:

Best English-Language Film: Adaptation , The Good Girl , Gangs of New York .

Best Foreign-Language Film: Talk to Her , The Son’s Room , The Lady and the Duke .

Best Actress: Nicole Kidman, The Hours ; Maggie Gyllenhaal, Secretary ; Salma Hayek, Frida .

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Gangs of New York ; Alfred Molina, Frida ; Robin Williams, One Hour Photo .

Best Supporting Actress: Julianne Nicholson, Tully ; Hope Davis, About Schmidt ; Elizabeth Berkeley, Roger Dodger .

Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing ; Jeff Daniels, The Hours ; Jim Broadbent, Gangs of New York .

Other worthy Female Performances

In no particular order: Diane Lane, Unfaithful ; Renée Zellweger, White Oleander and Chicago ; Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago ; Lauren Ambrose, Swimming ; Meryl Streep, Adaptation and The Hours ; Tilda Swinton, Cara Seymour and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Adaptation ; Edie Falco, Sunshine State ; Reese Witherspoon, Sweet Home Alabama ; Natascha McElhone, Solaris ; Parker Posey, Personal Velocity: Three Portraits ; Alison Lohman, Michelle Pfeiffer and Robin Wright Penn, White Oleander ; Jennifer Aniston and Zoey Deschanel, The Good Girl ; Sandrine Khiberlain and Nicole Garcia, Alias Betty ; Susan Sarandon and Amanda Peet, Igby Goes Down ; Emily Watson, Punch-Drunk Love ; Naomi Watts, The Ring ; Isabella Rossellini and Jennifer Beals, Roger Dodger ; Téa Leoni, Hollywood Ending ; Debra Winger, Big Bad Love ; Kirsten Dunst, The Cat’s Meow and Spider-Man ; Emily Mortimer and Catherine Keener, Lovely and Amazing ; Martina Gedeck, Mostly Martha ; Julianne Moore, Miranda Richardson, Toni Collette, Allison Janney and Claire Danes, The Hours ; Sigourney Weaver and Bebe Neuwirth, Tadpole ; Nia Vardalos, My Big Fat Greek Wedding ; and finally-if defiantly-Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Danielle Darrieux, Ludvine Sagnier and Firmine Richard, 8 Women .

Other worthy Male Performances

In no particular order: John C. Reilly, Chicago and The Hours ; Greg Kinnear and Willem Dafoe, Auto Focus ; Adam Sandler, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Luis Guzman, Punch-Drunk Love ; Jesse Eisenberg and Campbell Scott, Roger Dodger ; Eminem and Mekhi Phifer, 8 Mile ; Edward Herrmann, The Cat’s Meow ; Daniel Auteuil, Sade and On Guard ; Fabrice Luchini, On Guard ; Willem Dafoe and Toby McGuire, Spider-Man ; Richard Gere, Unfaithful and Chicago ; Aaron Stanford, Tadpole ; Michael Bouquet and Charles Berling, How I Killed My Father ; Michel Piccoli, I’m Going Home ; Kieran Culkin, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman, Igby Goes Down ; James Spader, Secretary ; Anson Mount, Tully ; George Clooney, Solaris ; Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser, The Quiet American ; John Cusack and Noah Taylor, Max ; Jeff Daniels, Stephen Dillane, Ed Harris and Jack Rovello, The Hours ; Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Affleck, Changing Lanes ; Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen, Catch Me If You Can ; and Adrien Brody, The Pianist .

By the best count I can muster, there were 490 new films released theatrically in New York in 2002, and so it would be insane to claim that I had covered all the possibilities. Though I have many more films to see before I can even begin to close the books on this movie year, I doubt that there is some immortal masterpiece lurking somewhere that has evaded everyone’s attention. Reviewers are much more diligent these days, and have fewer automatically disqualifying prejudices against certain genres and low-budget filmmaking, but it’s still much too early to tell. And so I leave you with my very tentative stab at the best of 2002, and wish you happy moviegoing in 2003.