Best Films of 1997-2002
2002: The Year in Film by Vittorio Carli

Was 2002 a good year for film? It all depends what type of film or genre you prefer. My taste in film leans toward small, unconventional films that rewrite all the rules of plot and style.

It was not a good year for this type of film. There was nothing half as daring as "Donnie Darko," "Mullholland Drive," or "Memento." There were innovative films like "The Believer," "Maelstrom," "Frida," "Kandahar." and "Storytelling," but they were too few and far between.

"Bowling for Columbine" was the year's wittiest comedy, the best art film, the most daring independent feature, and the finest documentary. Of all the year's cinematic offerings, it came closest to being a masterpiece.

"Adaptation" was one of the year’s most audacious art films, but was screened after my deadline.

My theory is that after September 11, crowds and filmmakers shied away from ambiguity, irony, and moral gray areas. Instead they tended to go for more simplistic cut and dry tales of clear good and evil with straightforward, linear narratives. Postmodernism may not be dead, but its definitely in hibernation,

There were some pretty decent big budget mainstream films and star vehicles. I really admired Eastwood’s "Blood Work," Scorsese's "The Gangs of New York," "The Road to Perdition" with Tom Hanks and "Simone" with Al Pacino. But they were not the best films by the directors and stars that worked on them.

On the other hand, I have always loathed Adam Sandler's films, but his performance in "Punch Drunk Love" was the year's most delightful and quirky surprise.

As usual, Julianne Moore was terrific in "Far from Heaven," and "The Hours" might have made my list but it came out too late.

It was a good year for fantasy, horror, animated and sci-fi films, as well as films, which combined the genres. "Spirited Away," " Minority Report," "Two Towers," "Signs," "The Ring," "Lilo and Stitch" and "Frailty" were as good as some of the more ambitious art films or Oscar contenders.

Two Towers: the Lord of the Rings II probably would have made my top 10, but the film broke, so I missed the whole last half hour. Speilberg's cyberpunk film: “Minority Report” had me enthralled from start to finish. But the animated fantasy “Spirited Away” was by far the most imaginative fantasy film of the year, and it was the only film that transported me out of the theater.

It was a good year for pop music. ‘I Am Trying to Break your Heart” starring the Chicago band Wilco was one of the year’s best documentaries. Ice (“Barbershop”) Cube, Queen Latifah (she was supposedly great in "Chicago" and Eminem (“8 Mile”) all found perfect vehicles for their musical and acting talents. “8 Mile” was far superior to the criminally overated “Chicago.”

It is doubtful that 2002 will go down in history as on of the all-time best film years. But there were too many good films for any one person to see. So without further ado here’s my top 10.

"The 25th Hour," "Talk to Her," “Spider,” "City of God” and "Adaptation" would have made the list but they were screened after my deadline.

1.)Bowling for Columbine- Michael Moore's hysterical documentary takes a sarcastic aim at the US's gun culture. Moore's book "Stupid White Man" was also a best seller , so it was a great year for Moore. His work's a needed antidote to post 9/11 jingoism and militarism.

2.)Kandahar-This sad and darkly funny film from Iran is about a woman who journeys through Afghanistan to save her suicidal sister. A powerful look at daily life under the oppressive Taliban uses no real actors and it is influenced by Italian neorealism.

3.)The Believer-Riveting drama about a Jewish kid who is so filled with self-loathing that he becomes a neo-nazi. This film also features a top rate performance by newcomer, Ryan Gosling and a sad subplot about an abused woman. The film eclipses "American History X" in every way.

4.)Far from Heaven-Tragic love story about a cuckolded woman who falls for an African American gardener in the 1950s. This film is so beautifully shot and acted that it raises a tawdry soap opera plot into high art. Julianne Moiré’s magnificent performance proves she is one of today's most gifted actresses. Kind of like a Fassbinder film without the existential angst.

5.)The Pianist-Poignant drama about a gentle Jewish violinist who suffers during the Holocaust. Roman Polanski's first film in Poland in 25 years is less stylish than most of his efforts, but it are still a total triumph. Opens in January.

6.)Punch Drunk Love-Anderson's terrific black comedy is full of surprises and uses Adam Sandler's talents in inventive way. This could be Sandler's " The Truman Show," and it makes s a good case for his artistic potential.

7.)Spirited Away-This stunning animated film is like a hallucinogenic trip. It incorporates Japanese myths into a delightful ‘The Wizard of Oz” type story. Available in both a dubbed and Japanese version with sub-titles.

8.)The Gangs of New York-Martin Scorsese's blood soaked epic is about battling ethnic groups in the 1900s. Features some great moments and Daniel Day Lewis’s best performance in years.

9.)I Am Trying to Break Your Heart-The year's best pop music film chronicles the struggles of the great Chicago band, Wilco to get their CD released, This documentary is also a scathing commentary on narrow minded record executives who are killing the music industry.

10.)Minority Report-Speilberg's second cyberpunk film in a row is smart, brutal, and invigorating. More intellectual but less emotionally involving than "A.I." Continues Cruise's hot streak.

Honorable Mentions-About Schmidt, City of God, The Cockettes, Confessions of A Dangerous Mind, Frida, Kissing Jessica Stein, Maelstrom, Merci Pour Le Choclat, Personal Velocity, The Piano Teacher, The Road to Perdition, Secretary, Simone, Storytelling, 25th Hour, The Son's Room, 13 Conversations About One Thing, Time's Up, 24 Hour Party People

Best Actress: Isabelle Huppert was unforgettable as a sadistic teacher who seduces one of her students in "The Piano Teacher," and she was also great as the homicidal housewife in "Merci Pour Le Chocolat."

Best Actor: Ryan Gosling gave the year's most riveting performance as a Nazi with a Jewish upbringing. He was also the best thing in the Sandra Bullock vehicle, "Murder by Numbers."

Most disappointing film "Hollywood Ending"- Woody Allen scripts have gotten so tired and lifeless that virtually all of his imitators are now doing better work.

Note: The Piano Teacher and The Pianist are two different films.

Vittorio Carli teaches film, literature and writing at Moraine Valley College and Columbia College. He can be reached by e-mail at
2001 was not by any stretch of the imagination a great year for movies. Very few films stood out from the pack. But there were some encouraging trends. It was a very good year for suspense films ("The Man Who Was Not There," " Mulholland Drive," and Memento."), animated features ("Final Fantasy," "Waking Life," "Monsters Inc. and Shrek"), and fantasy flicks ("The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.")

It was also a decent year for teen angst films ("Bully" and "Ghost World"), revivals ("Apocalypse Now Redux" "Band Of Outsiders" and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"),and Asian dramas ("Chunhyang," In the Mood for Love," "Taboo," and "The Road Home.")
The best film of the year was a rejected and reworked television show pilot. What does this say about television network execs? My picks for best actor and actress were both under 25. Maybe there's a future for this art form, after all.
1.)Mulholland Drive-Brilliant neo noir about a mysterious woman with a past who loses her memory and is befriended by a naive actress. America's finest avant-garde director, David Lynch, creates a sinister atmosphere of dread and anxiety, and takes some well-deserved shots at the Hollywood system. The year's most haunting, perplexing, and unforgettable film of the year.
2.)Faithless-Tragic and powerful drama about an adulterous affair that causes the breakup of a marriage. Partially based on an incident from the youth of the screenplay writer, Igmar Bergman. Well directed by Bergman's ex-wife and frequent collaborator, Liv Ullmann. In Swedish with English sub-titles
3.)The Man Who Wasn't There-Joel Coen's black and white suspense film about a quiet barber who commits a crime. Featuring a dead on performance by Billy Bob Thorton as a quiet barber who commits a murder. Beautifully shot film has provocative existential overtones and a fine supporting cast.
4.)Memento-Twisted and complex crime story of an amnesiac man who tries to solve his wife's murder is told backwards. It masterfully makes viewers feel the same paranoia and sense of bewilderment as the main character. This brainy but demanding film benefits
from multiple viewings.
5.)A.I.-Mature science fiction film about an artificial boy who tries to find love thoughtfully raises nonhuman rights issues. Haley Joel Osment is excellent in the lead, and Jude Law shines in a tailor made role of an android gigolo. Kind of like a cyberpunk version of "Pinocchio."
6.)Innocence- Paul Cox's bittersweet romance about a couple who find love in their autumn years is one of the year's most compelling dramas. Wonderfully acted by Julia Blake and Charles Tingwell.
7.)Amores Perros-Three thrilling interlocking stories about a group of characters that come together in a car crash. The first tale of a man in love with his brother's wife is brilliant, but the other two are excellent as well. As tough and riveting as Tarantino's best work, but with better characterization. In Spanish with English sub-titles.
8.)Bully-Ugly but powerful film about a ludicrous plan to murder an evil teen, which goes bad. Brutal teen angst in the tradition of "The River's Edge" and "Kids" has some unexpected moments of dark comedy.
9.)The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring-Dazzling fantasy epic about a young man's mission to protect a magic ring. Surprisingly well cast film features the most exciting battle scenes of the year, stunning special effects and marvelous sets. It takes viewers completely into another world.
10.)Shrek-Charming family film about a tough- on the surface ogre who falls in love with a human woman. It cleverly plays with fairy tale conventions, and effectively blends comedy, adventure, and romance. This Dreamworks feature satirizes their competition, the Disney empire.
Honorable Mentions: A Beautiful Mind, Amelie, Bread and Tulips, Bridget Jones's Diary, Crazy/Beautiful (until the ending). Fat Girl, Final Fantasy, Ghost World, The Gleaners, In the Bedroom, Iron Monkey, In the Mood for Love, Keep to the Right, Moulin Rogue, No Man's Land, 101 Reykjavik, The Others, Save the Last Dance, The Son's Room, Save the Last Dance, Taboo, Waking Life, When Brendan Met Trudy, The Widow of Saint Pierre, With a Friend Like Harry,

Best Actress-Thora Birch in "Ghost World" was completely captivating as the cynical new wave chick who plays matchmaker for a sad sack record collector.

Best Actor-Haley Joel Osment showed he could out act many of his adult contemporaries in his moving "A.I". performance.

Most disappointing film- "Pearl Harbor"-The great battle scenes don't make up for the terrible drama, half-baked characters, sophomoric performances, and preposterous dialog.

Vittorio Carli’s Best films of 2000
Unfortunately, some of the films I might have put in my top 10 (such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" " and "Traffic") were screened too late to make the list. Three of my top 10 movies ("Dancer in the Dark," " Almost Famous," and "The Filth and the Fury") are about music, and two fine runners-up (Billy Elliot and " Hi Fidelity") also used music as important plot elements. Also the wonderful "A Hard Day's Night was re-released, so the year 2000 was one of the best ever for pop music films.

1.)Dancer in the Dark-Terrific anti-musical combines dark comedy, tragedy, satire, and ironic musical numbers into an artful experimental cinematic stew. Icelandic pop singer, Bjork, is completely natural as the child-like Selma who imagines that the whole world is a Hollywood musical. The most original, visionary, and controversial film of the year.
2.)Croupier-Mike Hodge’s riveting film noir is about a writer working as croupier (or gambling director) to get ideas for a novel. He is torn between three fascinating love interests and is tempted to aid in a crime. The protagonist’s clever, insightful narration helps to take us into another world.
3.)Almost Famous-Beautiful, moving film about a high school kid who wants to be a rock critic and learns about life and love as he tours with a mediocre band. Great script by Cameron Crowe and fresh performances elevate this tearjerker above all of the rest of this year’s American films.
4.)The Filth and The Fury-Julian Temple’s documentary on the notorious punk band, the Sex Pistols gives the band’s side of the story. Filled with great social commentary, interesting interviews, and classic, revolutionary music.
5.)Dr. T and the Women-Richard Gere gives a fine performance as a gynecologist who struggles to understand women after his wife has a mental breakdown. Director Robert Altman populates his sideshow -like Texas with an army of quirky, likable female characters, and the imaginative ending is unforgettable.
6.)Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai-Jim Jarmusch’s sequel to "Dead Man" concerns a delusional modern day African-American hitman who thinks he’s a samurai. This masterful action film/comedy/art film shows a collision of Italian-American, hip-hop and Japanese cultures.
7.)Girlfight-Mesmerizing feminist sports film about an alienated Latina teen that dreams of being a boxer and encounters lots of obstacles from her family. This great exploration of gender issues is the flip side of the terrific "Billy Elliot."
8.)Erin Brockovitch-Julia Roberts plays a crude, but determined lower class woman who begins to investigate a corporate pollution case. Roberts is terrific in her only socially conscious film, and director Steve Soderbergh is on a hot streak.
9.)Girl on the Bridge-Gorgeous, surreal love story about the bizarre relationship between a knife thrower and his beautiful assistant is like a modern-day Fellini film. In French with English sub-titles.
10.)The Wonder Boys-Curtis Hanson’s follow-up to "LA Confidential" about a washed up writer/college professor has fine acting and characterization, Mike Douglas’s best, most memorable performance with great support by Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, and Robert Downey Jr.
Best Actor-Ralph Fiennes showed the full range of his impressive talents playing three different Hungarian Jews in the early part of the 20th century the underrated historical epic "Sunshine".
Best Actress-Michelle Rodriquez’s only film role (in "Girlfight") was much more exciting, natural and charismatic than any of the performances given by big female stars. She truly is like a female Brando..

Best of 1999
1.)The Straight Story
2.)Dr, Akagi (Imamura)
3.)Man on the Moon
4.)The Blair Witch Project
5.) American Beauty
6.)Boys Don't Cry
7.)After Life (Hirokazu)
8.)Eyes Wide Shut
9.)julien donkey-boy
10.)October Sky

Best Actor-Jim Carrey (Man on the Moon)
Best Actress-Juliette Binoche (Lovers on the Bridge)

Best of 1998

1.)Life is Beautiful
2.)A Simple Plan
4.)He Got Game
6.)Saving Private Ryan
7.)Ma Vie en Rose (My Life in Pink)
8.)One True Thing
9.)Men With Guns
10.)The Truman Show

Best Actor-Denzel Washington (He Got Game)
Best Actress-Ally Sheedy (High Art)

Best of 1997

1.)The Sweet Hereafter
2.)The Pillow Book
3.)Eve's Bayou
4.)Hamlet (Branaugh)
5.)In the Company of Men
6.)Chasing Amy
7.)The Ice Storm
10.)Soul Food

Best Actor-Peter Fonda (Ulee's Gold)
Best Actress-Jodie Foster (Contact)

Vittorio Carli from Oak Lawn is a college instructor, poet, and frequent "Firstlook" movie reviewer. E-mail him at

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