A rundown of the critics' choices for best films of 2002

Moving Pictures

January 03, 2003|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

The studios see the movie year as a circus held up by tent poles - "franchise" pictures like the Mummy spin-offs or the Bond films.

But even if it's as jam-packed with good things as 2002 was, the movie year for most cities is more like a hammock - it begins and ends strongly, but sags badly in between.

The relatively few Hollywood-financed films that even aim for artistic quality - along with foreign or independent films with Oscars in their eyes - open in New York and Los Angeles first, usually in the fall, then spread to the rest of the country over the course of months.

I've restricted my list to films that actually premiered and played in Baltimore in 2002. To make room, I've left out documentaries like The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Arctic Expedition and Standing in the Shadows of Motown.

The one four-star feature I left off the list was No Man's Land. In practical terms it never opened here: Although it won last year's Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, it debuted in Baltimore only after it appeared on video, and then played for one weekend.

As usual, neither critical consensus nor the box office was always just. Many of this year's critical favorites, from Changing Lanes to Far From Heaven, had less human content than Spider-Man (the human content is what made that comic-book film a smash) and less art-and-entertainment value than Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones (the year's most unfairly trashed franchise picture). Undercover Brother did a friskier job of parodying blaxploitation films than Austin Powers in Goldmember but took home a fraction of the bounty. Miramax threw away the year's best pure action film, Walter Hill's prison-boxing movie Undisputed, and reviewers couldn't get beyond comparing Jonathan Demme's wildly enjoyable The Truth About Charlie to its source movie, Charade.

But the glory of The Two Towers demonstrates how a superbly intelligent, exquisitely crafted epic can bring out (and bring together) viewers of all kinds. Among my runners-up, Bloody Sunday, the year's most potent political feature next to Rabbit-Proof Fence, stayed around for weeks; that elegant showpiece Gosford Park gave Robert Altman his most profitable movie since M*A*S*H; and low-budget digital moviemaking provided actors like Campbell Scott in Roger Dodger and Bebe Neuwirth in Tadpole a chance to find a movie audience with their fearlessly intimate, funny and compelling work.

This year, the national Christmas glut leaves Baltimoreans with treasures to anticipate in 2003, including Roman Polanski's The Pianist and Phillip Noyce's The Quiet American. Here are my choices for the best that opened here in 2002, with Sun critic Chris Kaltenbach's top 10 picks thrown in for good measure.

CRITICS' PICKS

For movie critics Michael Sragow's and Chris Kaltenbach's lists of their top favorite movies of 2002, See Page 6E.

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