One thing we at Place to Be Nation like to celebrate is the subjectivity inherent in entertainment — be it in wrestling, comics, music, television or, indeed, film. With that in mind, ten members of the PTBN staff will be picking the movies of the PTB generation. In this series, panel members will collect their five favorite films of each year, beginning with the year in which the oldest writer was born — 1976. The only rule given to each contributor was to provide his or her own criteria. Some writers may go with the most artistic films, while others might side with the most iconic blockbusters. We welcome your lists on Facebook and Twitter. Each staff member has submitted a list of five movies from 2002 ranked 1 through 5. A first-place vote is worth five points, a second-place vote worth four points, and so on. Using that point system, we have identified the top 5 movies of 2002.
2002 featured a showdown between the second film from Middle-Earth and everyone’s favorite wall crawler. But before we reveal the top 5, let’s see the movies that received votes, but fell short of making our final list.
Spellbound — 6 points
Lilo & Stitch — 5 points
Road to Perdition — 5 points
Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones — 5 points
Adaptation — 5 points
Chicago — 5 points
The Pianist — 5 points
Signs — 5 points
Two Weeks Notice — 5 points
City of God — 4 points
Death to Smoochy — 4 points
Frailty — 4 points
25th Hour — 3 points
About a Boy — 3 points
Red Dragon — 3 points
Men in Black II — 2 points
Sweet Home Alabama — 2 points
The Time Machine — 2 points
Bowling for Columbine — 1 point
Far From Heaven — 1 point
The Ring — 1 point
Solaris — 1 point
Super Troopers — 1 point
And now, let’s see the top 5 movies of 2002, as voted by the Place to Be Nation staff.
4 (tie). Gangs of New York
7 points, ranked by 3 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Anthony Estrada at No. 2
Anthony Estrada: Join me, friends, on a trip to the distant past. A time when native-born Americans were fearful of newly-arrived immigrants, political corruption permeated society, and disagreements were settled through violent gang warfare. The year was 1862, and oh how far we’ve come.
Notwithstanding any similarities to the present day, Gangs of New York is an amazingly vivid and detailed time capsule of a place and time not often depicted in film. It’s New York, version 1.0, and Martin Scorsese, the movie’s director, manages to capture the enduring feel of the city – different ethnicities clashing and co-existing, scheming and hustling from every level on the economic food chain – while keeping the details that feel authentic to the time (I don’t know whether Boss Tweed actually had his people offer the new arrivals at Ellis Island bread in exchange for votes, but it’s a great touch).
But that’s the backdrop, the place setting. The entrée comes courtesy of the butcher, Bill the Butcher to be exact. Bill, played to perfection by Daniel Day Lewis, is the film’s larger than life villain, a gang leader with influence amongst the thieves, cops, politicians and all folk in between. He lords over them with eloquent threats of violence, occasionally acted upon and delivered in an unmistakable Brooklyn accent.
Bill’s a scoundrel, but he possesses notions of honor. He pays tribute to the memory of Priest Vallon, his greatest rival, who he slew in front of the man’s young son. Remarkably, the son holds a grudge and bides his time until he’s old enough to seek revenge. Amsterdam Vallon, played by Leonardo DiCaprio in an enthusiastic turn, befriends the Butcher under a false identity and penetrates his inner circle. A game of cat and mouse, a Scorsese specialty, ensues, culminating in a final standoff which visits the opening battle between Priest and The Butcher. The son becomes the father and what is old is new again. So it goes, same as it ever was.
7 points, ranked by 3 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Russell Sellers at No. 1
Russell Sellers: Steven Spielberg knows his way around a good sci-fi/action film and when it’s based on material by Phillip K. Dick you know you’re in for some mind-bending, visual splendor. And say what you will about Tom Cruise as a human being (time to learn about compartmentalization) the guy is one hell of an actor and he brings one of his all-time best performances in this one.
The story is a great murder/mystery set in a future where crime has been virtually eliminated thanks to a group of three individuals, called pre-cogs, who can see crimes and who commits them before they happen. Cruise’s character, Chief John Anderton, is the leader of the Pre-Crime Division who’s also still grieving the loss of his son, dealing with a horrible divorce after his son went missing and battling drug addiction. Things go off the rails for John when he’s accused of a murder he hasn’t committed yet by the pre-cogs. The twists and turns that follow are some of the best in all of crime-noir films coupled with some of the most amazing visuals and coolest action scenes since Blade Runner (Phillip K. Dick, again).
Colin Farrell plays Danny Witwer, an internal investigator charged with finding Chief Anderton after he goes on the run. As much as you’ll hate the guy to begin with, he becomes this amazingly complex character who clearly only wants to find the truth. And when that truth is revealed, it’s a real punch in the emotional gut.
Lots of sci-fi movies have been able to produce spectacular visuals, but so many fall short of any real substance (looking at you Avatar). Minority Report is simply one of the best films of Cruise’s and Spielberg’s careers and deserves to be mentioned among the best sci-fi/action and murder/mystery films ever made.
9 points, ranked by 4 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Russell Sellers at No. 2
Andrew Riche: Based on a true story about the adventurous life of check forger and master con man Frank Abagnale in the 1960’s, Catch Me If You Can‘s screenplay, written by Jeff Nathanson, was part of a game of director hot potato when Dreamworks attained the rights in 1997. After trying to find the right director for the film as its producer, Steven Spielberg became inspired enough to direct the movie himself, and the project attracted two of the Hollywood’s biggest actors: Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. This was Spielberg’s second directorial collaboration with Hanks after the triumphant Saving Private Ryan as he portrays Carl Hanratty, a by-the-book FBI agent who becomes obsessed with capturing the young bandit.
As for DiCaprio, Catch Me If You Can was one half of a cinematic renaissance for him in 2002 as he teamed up with Spielberg in this film and with Martin Scorcese in Gangs of New York. By the end of the year, thanks in part to this film, DiCaprio transformed himself from “Leo the heart throb” into a well-defined actor with substantial range. It was also a pleasant change of pace for Spielberg, who had just made two heavy sci-fi films in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and Minority Report. Spielberg had done truth-based films in the past like Schindler’s List and Amistad, but never with such a balance of comedic charm and outright fun as this one. You could almost see the smile on Spielberg’s face from behind the camera as Abagnale seamlessly juggles the roles of lawyer, doctor, and airline pilot.
With a retro setting and devoid of special effects, Catch Me If You Can further proved the storytelling mastery of Spielberg by pulling out a myriad of great performances from his cast.
DiCaprio and Hanks typically carry the film, but much credit has to be given to two supporting players. One was veteran Christopher Walken, who shows that he is more than just an easy chuckle for comedians who impersonate his wild verbal tone. He is downright monotone as Frank’s embattled father who struggles with the failures of his own life along with the trouble that follows his son, to whom he can no longer reach out for help. The other is a breakout role for then-newcomer Amy Adams as Brenda, an aw-shucks nurse with a rich Louisiana family who falls for Frank and his endless deceptions. For the hot chicks department, keep an eye out also for Jennifer Garner, Ellen Pompeo, and Elizabeth Banks as easy catches before Frank’s ladies-man days are eventually numbered and he is captured by the French police. Like its sad but optimistic ending, Catch Me If You Can is a great throwback film with a perfect fusion of wit and realism that gets the best out of three cinematic icons.
21 points, ranked by 6 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Nick Duke and Andrew Woltman at No. 1
Nick Duke: There’s often a lot of debate amongst comic book aficionados over which movie really kicked off the era of the superhero blockbuster. Some will go back as far as 1989’s Batman, which certainly had a buzz and major box office returns. Some will point to 1998’s Blade and argue that it was Marvel’s first success, proving to studios that the company’s properties could be viable at the box office. Most point to 2000’s X-Men as the one that really knocked the door open for other superheroes, as the film made lots of money and was reasonably well-received by critics and fans alike. However, if you’re asking me, the one that really started the era of the comic book film as we know it today was 2002’s Spider-Man. The film didn’t just make money, it shattered box office records. It wasn’t just liked, it was loved by many, although feelings toward it have cooled a bit in the 12 years since for many. Not for me.
I still love this first Spidey big screen outing, overacting (Willem Dafoe) and underacting (Kirsten Dunst) be damned. It gives us a fairly straightforward, faithful adaptation of the classic Spider-Man origin story, with Peter Parker gaining powers from a radioactive spider bite. From there, Peter must learn that “with great power comes great responsibility,” as he first seeks to use his powers for personal gain. His own selfishness sets into motion a chain of events that leads to the death of his Uncle Ben, providing Peter with the necessary tragedy to set him on a hero’s path. From there, Peter experiences a city that both loves and fears him, depending on which part of the population you ask.
Along for the ride with Peter are his closest friends, Mary Jane Watson, played by the aforementioned Dunst, Harry Osborn, who is brought to life fairly well by James Franco, and his Aunt May, who is brought to life by Rosemary Harris in a portrayal that almost directly brings to life the little old lady comics depiction from the 80s and 90s. The less said about Dunst, the better, but Franco and Harris both bring two of Peter’s most important supporting characters to life in a way that made them instantly relatable and understandable for casual audiences who were unfamiliar with the Spider-Man mythos.
Then there’s the film’s big bad, the Green Goblin. The film’s depiction of Norman Osborn has seemingly become more and more divisive over the years, whether it’s Dafoe’s mannerisms, voice or the admittedly Power Ranger-esque suit. I tend to fall on the side of really, really enjoying the portrayal and the way it was handled. The film was directed by Sam Raimi, who has a style that tends to walk the line between serious and silly at all times, never straying too far into either. Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker is played fairly straightforward and earnest, so having Dafoe chew scenery alongside him helps to bring that silly/serious quotient back into balance.
12 years later, the film certainly has its warts, but I feel like they aren’t big enough to detract from the overall picture. Spider-Man helped to define a generation and paved the way for bigger and better things to come in the world of capes and tights.
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
28 points, ranked by 7 of 10 voters, highest ranked by Glenn Butler and Aaron George at No. 1
Glenn Butler: You find, in a lot of film trilogies, that the middle installment is often seen as the “darker” one; the first film typically has to succeed on its own (and so has to provide a full climax and resolution) to get the next two made, and the third one is obligated to bring the larger story to a conclusion, while the middle film is more easily used to set up that epic conclusion. Call it Empire Strikes Back syndrome. The Two Towers fits in that dynamic in one way, and doesn’t in another: while the fact that all three films were written (and mostly filmed) at once means that the overall threat was already established in The Fellowship of the Ring, Two Towers still has its own plot progression to work through while moving characters where they’ll need to be in the next movie, as well as introducing several new characters in the form of the Rohirrim, noble horse lords (and ladies) of the Riddermark.
Owing to the darker reputation of the middle film, things have not been going well for Our Heroes since the Fellowship broke into its many parts at the end of, well, Fellowship. Sam and Frodo, having abandoned the rest of the team to bring the Ring to Mordor on their own, are hopelessly lost in the rocky hills of Emyn Muil. Merry and Pippin are held captive by Uruk-hai, with Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli pursuing on foot, running night and day. In Rohan, the king is possessed and has poison spoken into his ear constantly by his advisor. Gandalf, as the opening of the film reminds us, is missing and presumed dead. Even after the climaxes of the first act, the outlook isn’t exactly rosy: Sam & Frodo find Gollum (vividly brought to life through Andy Serkis’ performance and the most advanced motion-capture technology yet devised), subdue him, and use him as a guide toward Mordor, but Gollum is not to be trusted and the terrain holds dangers of its own; Merry & Pippin escape their captors, but wind up isolated with Treebeard, whose people, the Ents, must be convinced to take some part in the conflict tearing apart their world; Gandalf returns from beyond fire and shadow, leading the other three remaining Fellowship members to Rohan, but even after they free King Théoden from the spell cast over him, much has been lost. “Alas that these days should be mine,” Théoden laments over the tomb of his son. Alas indeed. But heroism of the sort depicted in these films doesn’t come in times of peace, it arises from the characters’ reactions to strife. The most obvious strife here comes when the evil wizard Saruman sends his massive army to attack the Rohirrim’s stronghold, but even as this proceeds, Merry & Pippin must deal with the passivity and stubbornness of the Ents, Gollum has a particular crisis of identity within the larger crisis of identity he’s been dealing with for centuries, and Frodo must resist the allure of the Ring in the face of flying Nazgûl pursuers.
When people discuss these movies, a lot of emphasis is placed on the heart of Tolkien’s story, or the skill of its reduction into a workable film script, or the massive physical and digital effects achieved to bring the story to us in this way. That’s fair enough, as all of those are notable and interesting in their own right, but it does mean that the actors’ performances can sometimes be lost in such analysis. Ian McKellen’s performance shines in particular: he quickly established Gandalf the Grey as a beloved character in Fellowship, and was then tasked with adjusting that performance in subtle ways for Gandalf the White in this film. Gandalf the white has a somewhat different speaking style, posture, gait, and a considerably different emotional bent: he’s no longer the grandfatherly caretaker, he’s driven to complete his task in helping the people of Middle-earth to save the world. McKellen changes his performance just enough to get these changes across while retaining the essential amiable nature of the character, and it’s a great thing to see him do as an actor.
In part because of the decisions made in the scriptwriting stage to move a lot of Sam & Frodo’s part of The Two Towers the book out of The Two Towers the movie, much more emphasis shifts to the battle at Helm’s Deep, which balloons into an epic, violent siege. You might say that shifting the focus away from the arduous journey of the Hobbits to the modern action blockbuster style of the climactic battle takes too much emphasis away from the themes of Tolkien’s work; this is one of Roger Ebert‘s objections, for instance, and far be it for me to dismiss his concerns. (It’s also, if memory serves, one of Christopher Tolkien’s many many objections to any adaptation of his father’s writing.) If so inclined, you can keep in mind the statement from Fellowship that even the smallest person can change the course of the future, and see that that still runs through The Two Towers, but in Frodo’s case that ability to change the course of the future is imperiled in ways it wasn’t in the previous film, and now it’s Merry and Pippin who change the course of events by getting Treebeard and the other Ents to intervene in the course of a world they’ve been content to inhabit passively for a monumentally long time. It’s fair to raise an eyebrow at the shift in emphasis and glorification of violence, but Sam’s monologue at the end of the film beautifully draws all of the different stories together and justifies them with the same thematic idea: there’s good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.
That does it for 2002. To see the full breakdown of all 10 ballots, click here. Check back soon to see the staff’s top 5 movies of 2003!