44. Full Frontal — Steven Soderbergh (*)
At its best, Steven Soderbergh’s disgustingly self-indulgent take on the Hollywood insiders’ game plays like an actors’ workshop improvisation gone awry. Even excluding the fact that he can barely squeeze a coherent narrative into his sleazy “cinema vérité” formal experimentation, very little of this half-baked wreck could be deemed watchable even for the sake of mocking its incompetence, hardly livened up by the director’s self-conscious observations on the interlink between life and cinema, most of which, besides, have already been predated by films like The Player and Man with the Movie Camera.
43. Star Wars, Episode 2: Attack of the Clones -- George Lucas (*½)
Peculiarly, most of Lucas’s benefactors have been inclined to deflect skeptical complaints against this picture as some evidence of an effort to impose a snooty “higher criticism” on what they consider a quintessentially campy and therefore critically unassailable cinematic milestone. But isn’t it enough simply to dismiss Attack of the Clones as a stultifying bore, a CGI contraption utterly bereft of the saga’s original visionary grandeur and spunk? We know what we’re supposed to expect from a genre technician of Lucas’s caliber, but this so-called “fantasy epic” is just too excruciatingly banal to merit another passive, brain-dead verdict like “Hey, whatever” in the face of such a gross proliferation of special effects (and especially drab special effects, at that). This time around, I just have to put my foot down on the matter: this is absolutely no fun at all.
42. The Sum of All Fears -- Phil Alden Robinson (**)
It’s tempting to applaud The Sum of All Fears as a riveting and supremely effective espionage white-knuckler, but reasonable filmgoers won’t be so quick to approve this sort of irresponsible entertainment in light of the filmmakers’ gross exploitation of it historical context. The picture has an effect on us, no doubt, but only because it determines to prey on our national anxiety over a potential nuclear holocaust in the aftermath of 9-11. Director Phil Alden Robinson justifies digging his nails in this wide-scale cultural paranoia only for the sake of cranking up the revenue for himself and his studio – he has no edifying observations to deliver other than the most blatantly obvious (namely, “Nuclear holocausts are bad”). From the looks of it, then, he’s simply generated a low-rent Dr. Strangelove clone without the sense of humor or even the scantest trace of overriding purpose.
41. Resident Evil -- Paul W.S. Anderson (**)
Designed as a millennial update on the classic zombie picture, adding the malignant omnipresence of cyber-technology to spice up the action, Resident Evil still plays like a rather stale MTV-style retread of Dawn of the Dead, plotted too arbitrarily to generate suspense except when its soundtrack – often punishingly loud and high-pitched – seems to be preparing us for another mechanical sensory jolt courtesy of Marilyn Manson.
40. My Big Fat Greek Wedding -- Joel Zwick (**)
This perky little ethnic sleeper benefits somewhat from its optimism and ingenuousness about modern romance (it’s the first of its kind I’ve seen lazy enough to abolish any trace of emotional friction between its lead lovers, allowing its plot to streak harmlessly along a cozy bed of Greased Lightning), but its naïve perceptions of ethnicity are more difficult to excuse. After painting its array of Greek-American characters as nothing more than a heap of shtick-ridden caricatures and then inviting us to almost identify with the WASP’s who seem repulsed by them, My Big Fat Greek Wedding proceeds to patronize and preach to its audience on the importance of social diversity and racial tolerance. If you’ve ever come in contact with a human being outside of your family hometown, you’d be justifiably offended by director Joel Zwick’s crass assumption that his point reaches anywhere beyond redundancy.
39. Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams — Robert Rodriguez (**½)
Robert Rodriguez has invested twice as much energy and half the ingenuity in his perfunctory blockbuster sequel The Island of Lost Dreams, which generally favors mindless toilet humor over the subversive satiric genius of his original. Inspiration leaks through the cracks only often enough to make this little rollick faintly diverting for adults.
38. Blood Work — Clint Eastwood (**½)
Clint Eastwood listlessly resurrects the old-fashioned potboiler formula in the service of a film we’ve seen dozens of times before, a detective thriller that’s engaging enough in the rudimentary sense of piecing together a puzzle, but so familiar in its twists and themes as to be downright depressing.
37. Tadpole -- Gary Winick (**½)
Tadpole promises much more than it can pay off when its opens with its sharp, idiosyncratic dialogue and somewhat cute exploration of the dividing line between scientific objectivity and poetic romanticism, both virtues serving as false prophets for a potentially sophisticated smidgeon of an indie romance that’s forced to cave in at the core. In the end, director Gary Winick can’t convince us that his Graduate-inspired love triangle has been fabricated for any estimable purpose other than coaxing ticket money out of unwary arthouse patrons – besides, the notion of a teenage high-school male wooing any right-minded forty-year-old has always sounded a bit contrived on its own, regardless of how any auteur can manipulate the scenario to his taste. And just when the story’s near-pedophilic courtship rituals grow more complicated and even less believable than we’d initially expect, Winick sweeps up the whole issue at the flick of a wrist: the result is an approximately 70-minute-long nonentity that could’ve been squeezed onto a TV broadcast with the benefit of tighter editing.
36. My Wife Is an Actress -- Yvan Attal (**½)
35. The Powerpuff Girls Movie -- Craig McCracken (***)
34. Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron -- Kelly Asbury, Lorna Cook (***)
33. Hollywood Ending -- Woody Allen (***)
32. The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys -- Peter Care (***)
This nostalgic coming-of-age parable detailing the extracurricular pursuits of a gang of rebellious Catholic high-school students certainly has its credibility problems, mismanaging heavy themes like incest that seem fairly beyond its grasp, but the picture proves so fascinating because it actually transforms its airy, infantile grasp of reality into its subject: Altar Boys faithfully captures the typical adolescent male’s larger-than-life perception of himself and his place in the universe (illustrated by some crude animation sequences interpolated by Spawn’s Todd MacFarlane), effectively putting a spotlight on that nagging sense of alienation and helplessness his grandiose self-image serves to alleviate.
31. Signs — M. Night Shyamalan (***)
M. Night Shyamalan’s third and most assured supernatural thriller to date also happens to be his least interesting, even though it’s worth cherishing as least in terms of a reasonably solid technical exercise (but not quite worthy of Hitchcock or Spielberg, unless you’re prone to overrate the picture’s craft while under the sway of James Newton Howard’s spine-tingling score). Nonetheless, the bulk of the picture stands as an absolute tour-de-force of old-fashioned “Boo!” gimmickry fused with eerie otherworldly foreboding, and I can’t help but recommend these cheap thrills simply for their own sake. Tragic, however, that the story’s ambiguity finally dissipates by its climax, leaving us no room for skepticism over the existence of these alien invaders, which, therefore, naturally shatters the validity of all of Shyamalan’s metaphysical ruminations on spirituality. It’s disheartening to finally come to terms with the fact that we’re only watching a mere monster movie, albeit one with an extra touch of class. In the end, Signs heralds a step up for this uneven auteur only in his abandonment of his trademark penchant for idiotic last-minute rug-pulling.
30. Road to Perdition -- Sam Mendes (***)
This is a thin excuse for Greek tragedy if I ever saw one, ultimately interested in posing its concern with revenge ethics and father-son relationships only as decoration for Conrad Hall’s lavish period scenery – to be sure, director Sam Mendes seems hardly interested in exploring any of the issues his film purports to be about. But even weighed down as it is by Tom Hanks’ most comatose screen performance to date, Road to Perdition can be taken as quite a blast of a moody comic-book western if we make the effort to distance ourselves from its leaden pretensions.
29. We Were Soldiers -- Randall Wallace (***½)
28. Brotherhood of the Wolf -- Christophe Gans (***½)
27. Blade II -- Guillermo del Toro (***½)
In the hands of Guillermo del Toro, this wildly expressionistic gore-fest manages to outstrip its predecessor in terms of production design and visual invention, though its gruesome energy dissipates a bit when the combat sequences substitute awkward CGI dummies for stunt devils.
26. The Bourne Identity -- Doug Liman (***½)
25. The Importance of Being Earnest -- Oliver Parker (***½)
24. The Emperor’s New Clothes — Alan Taylor (***½)
23. The Cat's Meow -- Peter Bogdanovich (***½)
22. Nine Queens -- Fabián Bielinsky (***½)
21. Panic Room -- David Fincher (***½)
David Fincher shies away from the half-baked social commentary of Fight Club this time around to deliver an entertainment more along the lines of pure cinema. Without any certain points to hammer down, Panic Room just comes off as a relatively harmless exercise in the film-school dynamics of suspense, but its by-the-numbers script provides Fincher a fertile playing field on which to showcase his talent. As we’ve come to expect, his characteristically dark sensibility helps to cast a fresh light on the tired genre conventions he’s working with, and his film really only finds itself weighed down by tradition when he’s wasting time signaling a viewer’s attention to some useless schoolboy hommages to Hitchcock.
20. Changing Lanes -- Roger Michell (***½)
Even if Roger Michell’s foray into the underbelly of the American Dream sometimes suggests a square rehashing of the anti-capitalist sentiment of In the Company of Men, this paranoid revenge thriller still works if you digest it as melodrama with just an added edge of social criticism. Sometimes the eye-for-an-eye rivalry between Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson bursts so violently over the top – with a few absurd set pieces involving ploys like automobile sabotage strewn in merely to ratchet up the tension – that you’re led to wonder if Michell really intended to churn out some sort of corporate-surrealist nightmare fever-dream instead of a Hollywood rip-off of vintage Neil LaBute.
19. Spider-Man -- Sam Raimi (***½)
Sam Raimi has fashioned a rare comic-book adaptation that concentrates its spirit more on superhero back-story than set-piece spectacle, adhering to Spider-Man mythology as an encapsulation of classic Americana as well as a homey coming-of-age fantasy that should last well beyond the picture’s record-breaking stint at the box office. What a shock, though, to find the pyrotechnics serving as nothing more than a sloppy and boring distraction from the real drama of Peter Parker’s adolescent metamorphosis: the CGI is utilized and rendered so poorly as to sap Spidey’s battle triumphs of virtually all their pep and punch. For a film boasting some of the most eloquently campy comic-book dialogue in the genre’s history (not to mention performances from Tobey Maguire and Willem Dafoe that make zesty use of their lines), it’s a shame more money and talent weren’t lavished on the visual effects.
18. Rain – Christine Jeffs (***½)
17. Thirteen Conversations About One Thing -- Jill Sprecher (***½)
16. Lilo & Stitch -- Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois (****)
It’s instructive to peruse reviews of this picture disparaging its visuals to discover just how few American critics are capable of observing animation consciously. Anyone who can compare Lilo & Stitch to a Saturday-morning cartoon needs to take a closer look at what may in fact be Disney’s most gorgeously realized kiddie romp to date: painterly watercolor backdrops, deliriously inventive character designs, and some of the most vivid and nuanced cartoon motion the studio’s ever delivered all mingle into one grand batch of eye candy we should be thanking our lucky stars for. The film finally resonates as fresh entertainment, however, because of the anarchic sense of humor borrowed over from last year’s similarly eccentric The Emperor’s New Groove.
15. Monsoon Wedding -- Mira Nair (****)
14. About a Boy -- Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz (****)
13. Sunshine State -- John Sayles (****)
12. Possession -- Neil LaBute (****)
11. Insomnia -- Christopher Nolan (****)
Free of the burden of conforming to the strictures of a technical exercise, Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to his playfully mind-bending sleeper hit Memento is something of an improvement in that it actually toys around with some fascinating ideas, even if we’ve already been dragged through notions of “the ambiguity of heroism” and “the duality of good and evil” by Hitchcock and his protégés countless times before. This Hollywood remake of an elliptical Norwegian film blanc of the same name, pretty true to its source, falls a little short of its predecessor in its effort to verbally articulate its themes too eagerly rather than dramatize them (a convenient monologue here and there clears up any confusion as to what this film is supposed to be about), but it manages to surpass Erik Skjoldbjærg’s version on other grounds by deepening the complexity of the rapport between cop and killer, cat and mouse, Pacino and Williams. Unexpectedly, Nolan doesn’t Americanize the material as much as he reevaluates it.
10. The Kid Stays in the Picture -- Nanette Burstein, Brett Morgen (****)
9. Secret Ballot – Babak Payami (****)
8. Lovely & Amazing — Nicole Holofcener (****)
7. The Good Girl — Miguel Arteta (****½)
6. Late Marriage — Dover Kosashvili (****½)
5. Minority Report -- Steven Spielberg (****½)
4. Y Tu Mamá También -- Alfonso Cuarón (*****)
3. What Time Is It There? -- Tsai Ming-Liang (*****)
As it crosscuts between an alienated Taiwanese tourist in Paris and a lonely Taipei boy on his obsessive mission to transfer his entire city’s host of clocks to a Paris time zone, Tsai Ming-Liang’s minimalist triumph of the year manages to catapult minimalism to a whole new level of human warmth and feeling, unexpectedly achieving a lasting poignancy even when it refuses to abandon all its formal quirkiness. Though it remains as restrained in visual kinesis and dramatic action as any typical Jim Jarmusch opus (using stasis as a rhythmic complement to Tsai’s very Jarmusch-like deadpan comedy), the film somehow transcends its style’s rigorous detachment from its characters and seems to sink deeper into their personalities than the director’s arm’s-length approach might suggest. And aside from being the year’s funniest picture so far as well as its most touching, What Time Is It There? operates most earnestly as a meditation on life and death and our subjective perceptions of the interval in between. Contrary to what one would expect, Tsai’s treatment of the theme is so light-footed, accessible and humane that he never once risks bogging himself down in artsy pretension (that’s some achievement indeed, considering how many viewers instinctively dart to the word pretension when minimalism barely pops up within earshot).
2. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner -- Zacharias Kunuk (*****)
1. Metropolis -- Rintaro (*****)
FILM CRITICISM 2002
André de Alencar Lyon’s Current Film Ranking
Film Reviews in Alphabetical Order
Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (*****), reviewed by Andre Lyon
Austin Powers in Goldmember (***), reviewed by Gregory Filce
Austin Powers in Goldmember (**½), reviewed by Dane Hitt
Blade II (***½), reviewed by Andre Lyon
Blood Work (**½), reviewed by Andre Lyon
Brotherhood of the Wolf (***½), reviewed by Andre Lyon
Full Frontal (*), reviewed by Andre Lyon
Hollywood Ending (***), reviewed by Andre Lyon
The Importance of Being Earnest (***½), reviewed by Andre Lyon
Minority Report (*****), reviewed by Gregory Filce
Signs (*****), reviewed by Gregory Filce
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (**½), reviewed by Andre Lyon
Star Wars, Episode 2: Attack of the Clones (*½), reviewed by Andre Lyon
Road to Perdition (***), reviewed by Andre Lyon
Road to Perdition (*****), reviewed by Chris Walker