From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch: Our critic lists the 10 best movies of 2002

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the March 20, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

This year many good movies came out in New York and Los Angeles in December in order to qualify for consideration for the Academy Awards. As a result, many of the best films of the year get to our area in January and February of the following year. Usually my Ten Best list includes films I have formerly reviewed. But this year I am including in the list films I have reviewed as well as films I have seen but not yet reviewed. For the Inland Register I only include films rated A-4 (Adults with Reservations) or above by the U.S. Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting.

1. The best film of the year is Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. It is the remarkable story of a Polish-Jewish pianist who died in his 80s in Warsaw in 2000. This gifted musician, Wladyslaw Szpilman, survived the Holocaust through an amazing series of events. Polanski in symbol and realism brings us as close to the horror of that period as artistically possible. Adrien Brody as Szpilman is extraordinary. The Pianist is a haunting film.

2. Rob Marshall directs Chicago to perfection. Each song is a show-stopper. The story is told in a way that makes the musical numbers in the mind of Roxie Hart (Renee Zeilweger) seem real. Catherine Zeta-Jones makes the signature number “All That Jazz” an incredible experience. And it is only the first song of many. The two key actresses, added to Richard Gere, John C. Reilly and Queen Latifah, make Chicago a movie you want to see again and again.

3. Jack Nicholson gives a wonderful performance in About Schmidt that goes against type. He plays a lonely “everyman” who in many ways at age 65 looks back at a life with a lot of human failure. Director Alexander Payne takes us to mid-America as a retired insurance executive seeks to find meaning in life. It is a humorous yet poignant story well told.

4. Father Joe Hiên put me on to director Phillip Noyce’s sweet film Rabbit-Proof Fence. It is the marvelous story of three Australian children of mixed racial background who were taken in the 1930s to a special school 1,200 miles from their home, to be trained in the dominant culture’s ways. The fence was designed to run great distances of Australia, keeping rabbits on one side and crops on the other. Noyce gives us the beauty of Australia as the three young girls seek to follow the fence to their mothers at the other end. It is a film for the family, especially older children.

5. The Quiet American is one of Graham Greene’s dark novels brought to the screen for the second time. Again, Phillip Noyce is the director of a lush Vietnam. Michael Caine in his Oscar-nominated role plays a tired reporter for a London paper who has fallen in love with a beautiful young Vietnamese woman he has saved from the nightclub halls. Into their world comes a handsome American who seems to be a doctor from the United States. Brendan Fraser plays the doctor who also falls in love with the Vietnamese woman. The Quiet American takes us back to the French colonial period of the 1950s. It has mystery, beauty and fine acting.

6. Adaptation, written by Charles Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonez, breaks all the rules about a movie screenplay to relate the tale of a New Yorker magazine writer telling the story of an amazing Florida orchid hunter. Nicholas Cage plays two characters, Charles Kaufman and his more outgoing brother. Meryl Streep is outstanding as the magazine writer. Chris Cooper gives the performance of a lifetime as the wise but crusty swamp man. This is a movie that normally wouldn’t get made. Creativity is all over the place. So what if the ending may be less than satisfying?

7. Far From Heaven is a masterful attempt to take the melodramatic 1950s movies of Douglas Sirk, when censorship was still alive, and tell a similar story looking back to the period using Sirk’s techniques of color and symbol. Todd Haynes presents a near-perfect suburban world of Hartford, Conn. in 1957 and takes us deep into the almost Shakespearean tragedy that exists just below the surface. Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid are outstanding as the couple who externally have everything that is part of the American Dream. Dennis Haysbert is terrific as an African-American landscape gardener. The autumn beauty of this film takes your breath away.

8. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is Peter Jackson’s monumental second installment in the famed Tolkien trilogy. The New Zealand scenery is overwhelming. The battle scenes are probably among the greatest ever filmed.

9. Leonardo DiCaprio fails to carry Gangs of New York. However, DiCaprio could not be better as the teenage scam artist Frank Abagnale Jr. in Steven Spielberg’s delightful caper film Catch Me If You Can. Enjoyable, thought-provoking; good, clean fun.

10. The surprise box office success of the year is My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Nia Vardalos took her one-woman comedy success from the stage to film with a little help from Rita Wilson, who is Tom Hanks’s wife, and Hanks’s production company. It became one of funniest movies of any year.

In the end, 2002 turned out to be a very good year for movies.

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