The Top Ten

1) Spirited Away
If for no other reason than that glorious train ride across an endless expanse of ocean. Of course, there’s so much more to love about this remarkable movie, the beautiful character design, the richly colored backgrounds, the remarkably subtle voiceover work in the dubbed version, the encounter with the polluted river spirit, and above all the boundless imagination of master animator Hayao Miyazaki. But I always keep returning to that one sequence with the train gliding silently above the water. It’s an image that never fails to stir my heart and remind me why I willingly spend so much of my life inside a movie theater.

2) Far From Heaven
Those who dismiss Todd Hayne’s unique movie as merely a carbon copy of a Douglas Sirk weepie are missing the point. While the film takes place in the 1950s and addresses many of that era’s social problems, Far From Heaven is much more about the present day than we’d like to admit. Beyond that, it’s easily the best love story of the year, overflowing with genuine passion and heart.

3) Talk to Her
A movie that sneaks up on you, revealing its true nature only after you’ve left the theater. Disturbing, hilarious, moving and, believe it or not, sweet, this is Almodovar’s most assured and mature work.

4) Bloody Sunday
More than just an expert recreation of a tragic historical event, Paul Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday is a vibrant, deeply humane film that isn’t afraid to ask difficult questions or point blame at the guilty parties.

5) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
I put the first installment in this exact slot last year and the second one more than lives up to its predecessor. Peter Jackson deserves each and every accolade he has received for having the talent and sheer ingenuity to put this epic onscreen. He has the courage to dream big in a time when so many other mainstream filmmakers think small.

6) Punch-Drunk Love
If you had told me back in October that I would be putting this film on my top ten list, I probably would have laughed in your face. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie then, but wrote it off as a trifle, a fun experiment Paul Thomas Anderson tossed off in between his “real” projects. Three months later, I now consider Love to be second only to Magnolia as the director’s best film. Anderson’s use of Adam Sandler is inspired and the romance that develops between him and Emily Watson is the sweetest I saw all last year.

7) The Pianist
Another surprise entry. When I first left the theater, I didn’t think the movie would make my top ten. The first hour was excellent, but the second half felt too repetitious. Thinking about the film over the next few days, however, I realized what a daring and accomplished work it was. We’ve never seen the Holocaust depicted this way before, completely from a survivor’s point of view. Roman Polanski tells the story entirely through the character’s eyes and seeing how this man witnessed firsthand the horrors of Nazi German yet still managed to survive speaks volumes about the strength of the human spirit.

8) Adaptation
Yes, Charlie Kaufman cheated. He told us about and then apologized for the film’s non-ending in the opening five minutes. But Adaptation is such an audacious and compelling high-wire act throughout, he gets away with it, though not without the invaluable assistance of Spike Jonze and Nicolas Cage. They flesh out and humanize a screenplay that could have easily remained just a smug and overly-intellectualized hand job.

9) The Hours
An excellent and touching movie, made all the better by the fact that I was expecting absolutely nothing from it. Aside from being one of the best book-to-film translations I’ve ever seen, it’s smartly directed and features a trio of stunning performances. If only all mainstream adult movies were made with this much care and intelligence.

10) Lilo and Stitch Proof that there’s still life in the Mouse House after all, provided Michael Eisner isn’t running the story sessions. Lilo & Stitch is simply a joy to watch and easily the funniest out-and-out comedy of 2002. It’s the kind of film the words “family classic” were invented for.

The Quiet American: A stellar performance by Michael Caine and expert direction by Philip Noyce gives this tale a resonance that the thin story wouldn’t seem to support.

Gangs of New York: I desperately wanted this movie to find a place in my top 10. There’s so much in it that works (Daniel Day Lewis, Scorsese relentless camera, the amazing production design), but the awful voiceover, clunky narrative structure and rushed final hour knock it down to the next rung.

Rabbit Proof Fence: A spare, straightforward film that nevertheless packs an emotional whallop thanks to its lack of sentimentality.

The Fast Runner: A beautifully made epic that dazzles the eye and the imagination.

Russian Ark: Another movie I hoped would make my top ten. Unfortunately an annoying narrator and co-star make it a frustrating sit. Still, in concept and execution this is one of the most impressive movies of this or any other year.

Time Out: A fascinating comment on modern life and work.

Monsoon Wedding: Mira Nair once again shows why she’s one of India’s leading directors. Terrific fun.

The Kid Stays in the Picture: This performance art piece (don’t let anyone tell you it’s a documentary) about legendary producer Robert Evans is one of the best movies about the movies to come along in some time.

All or Nothing: Depressing as all hell, but with a group of extraordinary performances.

24 Hour Party People: If I were a true fan of the British punk scene, this exceedingly well- made movie would probably be higher on my list. As it is, I really admire what Michael Winterbottom has done here, but can’t quite get into it.

Catch Me if You Can: Spielberg is back to having fun again and it shows.

City of God: Or, The Goodfellas Go to Brazil. It’s a well-made movie, but it lacks a certain something-namely, heart-that would make it truly great.

Full Frontal/Solaris: Steven Soderbergh took a critical and commercial beating this year, but there’s a lot to like in both of his movies. Despite their respective problems, each is quite distinctly the work of an artist as opposed to just a journeyman.

The Truth About Charlie: Jonathan Demme was treated as badly as Soderbergh for daring to remake the Hollywood chestnut, Charade. Class act he is though, he never fired back. He simply went out and made a great movie, with a killer soundtrack, good performances and wonderful homages to the French films of the ’60s.

Movern Callar: Despite being too arty for art’s sake at times, this is still a fascinating portrait of a woman spinning out of control and deserves mention just for Samantha Morton’s excellent performance.

Sunshine State: Not one of John Sayles’ best films by a longshot, but it’s still an intelligent and extremely well written work. A bright spot in the summer doldrums.

About Schmidt: The film approaches brilliance many times. Too bad Alexander Payne can’t always keep his condescension in check.

Chicago: Two words. Renee Zellweger.

CQ: A move for movie lovers, but it lacks a strong central narrative.

Bowling for Columbine: Every time Michael Moore makes a thought-provoking point, he goes and mucks it up by saying and doing something incredibly stupid.

Auto Focus: The performances are excellent and the recreation of the 1960s is dead-on accurate. Yet the movie doesn’t leave much of an impact, perhaps because it’s clear that Schrader himself doesn’t care about the characters.

Undercover Brother: The funniest non-animated movie of the year.

Femme Fatale: Yeah, it’s completely trashy and over-the-top. Shut up and enjoy the ride.

Death to Smoochy: Danny DeVito is one twisted little motherfucker. No wonder only those with really dark senses of humor dug this dead-on spoof of kiddie shows.

Die Another Day: The best Brosnan Bond since Tomorrow Never Dies. Pity about Halle Berry, but at least she’s not Denise Richards.

Panic Room: David Fincher really needs to learn some new camera tricks. Still, this was an effective, efficient thriller.

Spider-Man: It’s full of plot holes and the action sequences look more like cartoons than a feature film, but Sam Raimi still brought a comic book legend to life in style.

1) One Hour Photo
Sure there were dumber and worse looking movies made this year (see Scooby-Doo below), but there wasn’t a movie as undeservedly self-satisfied as this would-be psychological thriller. In one of the most embarrassing performances of his career, Robin Williams attempts to play a nobody who is actually-surprise, surprise!-a psycho. Phony, silly and pound-me-over-the-head obvious, this movie made me angrier than any other 2002 release.

2) Simone
Great idea, hideous execution. Andre Niccol, please give your scripts to Peter Weir from here on out.

3) Scooby-Doo
Bad idea, even worse execution. I propose an immediate ban on all live-action adaptations of 1960s cartoon shows.

4) Storytelling
When I first saw this back in February, I didn’t think it was that terrible. Time has only made me dislike it all the more though. The first “story” is actually not bad, but the second is an egotistical and smug piece of crap.

Star Wars: Episode II-Attack of the Clones
About as terrible as The Phantom Menace, but at least that one had a great lightsaber battle at the end. Note to everyone: Yoda looked like an idiot!

Minority Report: In the grand tradition of A.I. Spielberg blows an interesting set-up with an embarrassing final act.

Y Tu Mama Tambien: It’s a teen road movie! No wait it’s a commentary on modern Mexico! No wait, it’s a movie that desperately wants to be both but winds up as a confused mess!

Road to Perdition: Pretty to look at, but not much going on under the surface.

The Cat’s Meow: Despite solid turns from Kirsten Dunst and Edward Hermann, this Jazz Age throwback isn’t half as clever as it thinks it is.

The Good Girl: Doesn’t anyone realize or care what a hateful character Jennifer Aniston is playing? I spent the last half-hour wishing that John C. Reilly would wise up and dump her.

And in a Category All Its Own?
Jackass: The Movie: Literally painful to watch and yet it’s sociological impact is fascinating.