The 2002 Year in Movies ReviewSTEVEN GREYDANUS
It was a better year for families at the movies than in quite some time. There were more worthwhile family flicks in 2002 than in the previous two years combined and 2002 was a remarkable movie year for religion.
instance, it was a better year for families at the movies than in quite some time.
Despite a few disappointments and failures (Spy Kids 2, Spirit: Stallion of
the Cimarron, Big Fat Liar, Scooby-Doo), there were solid successes (The
Rookie, Stuart Little 2, Lilo & Stitch) and a sizable number of decent efforts
(Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, Powerpuff Girls, Return to Never Land, Tuck Everlasting,
Treasure Planet, Wild Thornberrys). That‚??s more worthwhile family flicks than
the previous two years combined.
Family was also the theme of a pair
of warm-hearted ethnic wedding comedies, Monsoon Wedding and of course
My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
For another thing, 2002 was a remarkable
movie year for religion. In the films The Count of Monte Cristo and Signs,
Jim Caviezel (a devout Catholic in real life) ad Mel Gibson (reportedly a member
of a breakaway traditionalist group) play heroes whose faith in God is shattered
after devastating personal crises, but is ultimately restored in faith-affirming
resolutions. (Caviezel and Gibson also teamed up to make the religious movie event
of 2003, The Passion, directed by Gibson and starring Caviezel as Jesus.)
Catholic novelist Nichols Sparks‚??s A Walk to Remember was brought
to the screen with teen pop diva Mandy Moore as a squeaky-clean Fundamentalist
girl who didn‚??t mind her peers mocking her for her faith, was a poster girl for
sexual purity, and helped morally transform a disaffected classmate (Shane West).
The Rookie prefaced its real-life story of baseball late-bloomer Jim Morris
(Dennis Quaid) with a pair of nuns consecrating to St. Rita the ground on which
Jimmy would practice his pitching, and suggests that his miraculous comeback may
be due to her intercession. Finally, the VeggieTales movie roclaimed God‚??s
mercy and forgiveness as well as his loving care for Jew and Gentile alike.
One movie that might have had more religious significance than it did was
My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which depicts the baptism of the male love interest
as well as his church wedding to the heroine in an essentially cultural light.
In fact, after being baptized, his comment to his fianc√©e is, ‚??I‚??m Greek now.‚?Ě
(This, and the fact that despite some initial resistance the leads succumb to
sex before marriage, are the two main caveats about the film.)
entertainment pitched at a grown-up level, 2002 was a decidedly mixed year. On
the one hand, most of the year‚??s ambitious efforts at adult moviemaking ultimately
failed to deliver. On the other hand, consider how many more of those ambitious
efforts at thoughtful adult moviemaking there were this year than in the last
couple of years. Even those that didn‚??t entirely succeed were often intriguing (Changing Lanes, Signs, Solaris, Bowling for Columbine). Others were at
least trying to do something interesting, and perhaps came close enough to success
to be frustrating (Adaptation, The Four Feathers, Gangs of New York, Punch-Drunk
Love, Road to Perdition, The Salton Sea, S1m0ne).
Then there were
some that were well-wrought on their own terms, but morally problematic or objectionable
(The Hours, Far From Heaven). And a few simply didn‚??t work, but had good
intentions (John Q, Dragonfly).
Finally, some films actually
succeeded as thoughtful, superior adult entertainment: Insomnia, Minority Report,
Monsoon Wedding, The Pianist. These stratifications, of course, are personal
and subjective; some readers will want to count one or more of the titles from
earlier paragraphs as ‚??successful‚?Ě films, or perhaps discount one or more from
this one. (I‚??m particularly sympathetic toward advocates of Changing Lanes,
Signs, andSolaris, though I don‚??t ultimately quite buy any of these
But however you rank them, compare the above list to comparable
films from the last couple of years with aspirations as thoughtful adult moviemaking
(e.g., the 2001 list might include A.I., Am√©lie, A Beautiful Mind, Black Hawk
Down, Memento, Training Day, and Vanilla Sky). The year 2002 may have
brought more failures than successes, but all in all it was arguably a more intriguing
The Year's Best
had misgivings about the time-honored critical tradition of the annual top-ten
list. For the past two years, the Decent Films Guide has instead tried to identify
the year‚??s top films in the categories of Art, Religion, and Values (the three
categories of the Vatican
This year, however, as a member of the Online
Film Critics Society I no longer have the luxury of flouting convention; the
annual top-ten list is an obligation. Rather than proceed with two different systems
of recognizing the year‚??s best films, then, I will end my brief experiment with
the ‚??Decent Films Guide Awards,‚?Ě and present instead, with all the usual misgivings
and subject to change without notice, the first-ever Decent Films Guide year-end
top 10 list.
Please note that the ten films in the list below are not
ranked; the order is alphabetical. Some are suitable for the whole family, others
are adult fare; where possible, please check the full reviews for content advisory
and ratings information, including appropriate-age ratings. (Unfortunately I don‚??t
yet have full reviews for every title below, but I‚??ll seek to rectify that as
soon as possible.)
Top 10 Films of 2002
Runners-up: About a Boy, Bowling For Coumbine, The
Count of Monte Cristo, Stuart
Al Pacino stars in director Christopher Nolan‚??s remake of a Norwegian film about
a sleep-deprived big-city detective trying to solve a murder in a small town above
the Arctic Circle where the never-setting summer sun becomes a metaphor for the
inexorable light of truth. Stylishly directed by Nolan, the film examines the
moral ambiguities of its story in the harsh light of day. Robin Williams, in the
second of his career-reinventing trifecta of bad guys this year, is effective
as a self-aware, creepily ingratiating killer, and Hilary Swank costars as an
inexperienced but sharp local cop.
DeanDeblois and Chris Sanders helm what is one of Disney‚??s clearest
breaks from the moribund formula of its 1990 cartoons, and a one-of-a-kind success.
Lilo (Daveigh Chase) is more troubled and vulnerable than any Disney heroine to
date, while alien monster Stitch (Sanders) is downright nasty throughout enough
of the movie to make his eventual transformation meaningful. Refreshingly, a Disney
cartoon reflects honestly about the drawbacks of life in a broken family, yet
it remains pro-family. The Hawaiian setting provides genuine creative inspiration,
and the jaunty watercolor backgrounds are luminous.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Peter Jackson‚??s historic trilogy
of epic mythopoeic adventure continues in this sequel to The
Fellowship of the Rings, which is more spectacular and epic in scope than
its predecessor, butalso departs more radically from the source material. Triumphs
include Gollum (brilliantly performed by Andy Sirkus and astonishingly rendered
by Jackson‚??s effects team), the magnificent two-part resolution of the conflict
that began at the bridge of Khazad-D√Ľm, and the visionary sieges at Helm‚??s Deep
and Isengard. Tolkien‚??s Catholic themes continue to resonate, boding well for
the finished project.
Steven Spielberg directs Tom Cruise in a rip-roaring sci-fi thriller
set in a provocatively conceived near-future in which skyscraper-climbing freeways
overlook decrepit tenements, billboards call to pedestrians by name and pitch
them products based on their purchase histories, and ubiquitous retina-scanning
technology offers convenience at the price of lost privacy. Bravura action sequences
with jetpacks and robotic assembly lines jostle with moral questions about social
and existetial freedom, and spiritual references and allusions appear throughout
Indian director Mira Nair‚??s art-house crowd-pleaser tantalizes
with its exotic sights and sounds while simultaneously offering reassurance that
relationships and family life in any culture come with the same heartaches and
the same joys. Father of the Bride pandemonium proves an apt focus for hugger-mugger
Bollywood filmmaking with its disparate moods and tones. Redemptive moments of
selflessness on behalf of another ennoble many of the characters, and morally
problematic situations come to sometimes painful but necessary resolutions.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Based on screenwriter-star Nia Vardalos‚??s one-woman
stage show, Joel Zwick‚??s sleeper hit doesn‚??t transcend its sitcom setup (culture
clash when ugly-duckling daughter of ultra-Greek family has surprise romance with
hunky WASP), ith the heroine‚??s family painted in broad, cartoony strokes (overbearing
but indulgent paterfamilias, tacitly manipulative matriarch, lusty cousins, etc.).
Yet what it lacks in depth, it makes up for in breadth of appeal, wholesome humor,
and affectionate celebration of tight-knit extended families, with all the tradition
and history and turbulence that goes with them.
survivor Roman Polanski, who once declined to direct Schindler‚??s List, finally
confronts the Holocaust in an utterly different but equally masterful film, one
that resolutely avoids melodrama, polemicism, heroics, or sentimentality. The
Nazis commit ghastly atrocities, but aren‚??t demonized; the protagonist, a classical
pianist (Adrian Brody), survives, but isn‚??t celebrated. The result is a powerful
film that is not about good and evil or cowardice and courage, but simply, starkly,
life and death, civilization and chaos.
Root, root, root for the home team; St. Rita, ora pro nobis.
John Lee Hancock‚??s sweetly inspirational, beautifully photographed valentine to
the national pastime tells the true story of Texas southpaw Jim Morris (Dennis
Quaid), who got a second chance at his childhood dreams of Major-League glory
after recurring shoulder pain and a series of surgeries put an end to his minor-league
career. Real-life Texas southpaw Quaid is terrific as Morris, supported by Rachel
Griffiths as wife Lorrie and giggly Angus T. Jones as son Hunter.
Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazaki‚??s beguilingly surreal fairy
tale draws on mythology, animist spirituality, Alice in Wonderland, workplace
dynamics, and environmental motifs, crafting a dreamlike spirit world of shifting
realities. The imagination here as unbaptized as that of Homer or Sophocles
and even more alie to Western Christian sensibilities yet the imaginative
power and visual virtuosity of Miyazaki‚??s creations are well worth appreciating.
Episode II Attack of the Clones
The dialogue is clunky, the romance
flawed, but ah, for the magical worlds in which it all takes place the
glorious Flash-Gordon cityscapes, the breathless aerial car chases and coliseum
derring-do, the swashbuckling heroics of the Jedi order at the height of their
power. Lucas continues to develop the mythology of the nascent Empire and the
boy who will be Darth Vader, along the way casting a positive light on both marraige
and celibacy, as well as a moral shadow over the promises of human cloning.
Other years: 2000,
D. Greydanus. "The 2002 Year in Movies Review." Catholic Exchange.
Films is a site of film appreciation, information and criticism informed by
Reprinted with permission of Steven Greydanus.
Steven D. Greydanus does film criticism for a variety
of media. He is the webmaster of the Decent
Films Guide website. Steven D. Greydanus is a publishing film critic whose
work has appeared in American Outlook, This Rock, and Catholic
World Report magazines and on the Catholic Exchange website. He is
a weekly guest on the Ave Maria Radio show ‚??Heart, Mind, & Strength‚?Ě, hosted by
Dr. Gregory Popcak, where he discusses ‚??Fith on Film.‚?Ě He is also a recurring
guest on the ‚??Catholic Answers Live‚?Ě radio show, a production of Catholic Answers.
He has degrees in media arts and in religious studies.
Steven D. Greydanus