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Harry's Top Ten Films Of 2002

Hey folks, Harry here… Here’s my top ten films of 2002. I’m not going to do a runner-ups or any other special list, because for me, these are the 10 best movies of 2002. The 10 films that led their genres, thrilled me the most and got me to thinking. The films are filled with characters that touched me, that I connected with and in the end of thinking about this list I can say… there are tons of great movies that I’m not mentioning in this list. However, Moriarty, Father Geek, Quint and Mr Beaks have all done such an exceptional job of giving you such a grand list of films for you to consider from 2002.

In making this list I made very hard decisions, brutal really. I was choosing the films that I couldn’t look myself in a mirror 10 years from now if I didn’t mention. These are those films for me. The ranking. Well the ranking was the order of importance that I felt each film had to me. The quality of the 10 are all exceptional and exemplary… each and every one. In truth, I favor none higher than the other, but there are subtle things that made me place one over the other. This first film, my TOP film of 2002, is there because it is simply the best film of type that I believe I’ve ever seen.

What I hope you get out this list is a picture of how this year went for me. Personally, I feel this is the best year of new cinema that I’ve ever had pleasure to enjoy. To a large degree that feeling comes from attending Sitges, where I saw a good 66 films or so that I loved – and in the past month and a half – the films hitting the ‘award season’ have been exceptional, and at worst – VERY GOOD. I feel lucky to have lived and viewed the film season of 2002. These are the jewels in my crown of the year…


The Second Great film from a Filmmaker you’ve probably never heard of. Chan-Wook Park. I first heard of Chan-Wook Park through his direction of JOINT SECURITY AREA – an absolute masterpiece of real filmmaking. He isn’t the showy shoot out type of guy… His films hurt, they’re brutal and absolutely unquestionably brilliant.

I first heard about SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE while I was in Sitges. Tim League of the Alamo Drafthouse and Eli Roth, director of CABIN FEVER, came back from the screening with an absolute dazed touched by God look on their faces. Eli said that it was the strongest emotional reaction he has had to a film in terms of perfect filmmaking sense he walked out of RESERVOIR DOGS. As a judge at the festival, my duties kept me from being able to see the film.

Eventually, I finally tracked the film down. Never giving up. When I catch the scent of a great film, I don’t give up the trail till it is in my hands. This movie does not have American Distribution. This movie isn’t coming to a theater near you. This movie won’t be on Cable late at night and most likely will never see a shelf of fucking BLOCKBUSTER VIDEO. Why will you not be seeing this film? Because most likely when the studio folks see this film hitting at the Number 1 spot on my list, they’ll desperately track down a copy of the film. Buy the remake rights. Bury the original in a shallow unmarked grave, forever hidden by the eyes of man, forcing you… the avid filmlover to track down region-less DVD copies online via E-Bay and what not, just to sate your desire for brilliance.

What is the film like?

Remember the original INSOMNIA (1997) from Norway? It was remade last year by Christopher Nolan into a pretty darn good American version of a Perfect Foreign Film. If you saw the original, you probably remember how REAL the movie felt. How, it didn’t really have a movie feeling. It felt dangerous. It felt like that bad alley you once walked down when the rustling quickened your pace and that adrenal rush charged your every move. There was an air of authenticity to that movie and that is here in SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE.

Everything is set in motion by one character needing a kidney transplant quickly, her deaf mute out of work brother trying everything he can do to give her life, and the prices that get paid for just trying to give life to your nearest and dearest.

The film is astonishing. About 30 minutes before the end, I said to Father Geek – “Well, this in number 3,” then as I watched the final 30 minutes in complete and utter shock… Agog at the story work, character work, film work and how completely tragic it is that this movie hasn’t been mentioned by a single other critic in the United States – simply because they didn’t seek to find it. Absolutely Criminal.

People look to find what happened to the nerve of Seventies films – well, it apparently moved overseas, because this movie. This story. This is simply one of the great films that nobody has ever seen. The acting work is superior. There’s so much in this movie that I’ve never seen in anything before – the film goes further than I would have imagined and as a result… Well, it became my favorite film of 2002, as well as my pick for number 1. It is perfect.


I stand by my statement that this is the best film that Roman Polanski has ever made. The best Holocaust film ever made and perhaps the best struggling artist tale ever told. The journey we are taken on, the perspective that is given us, the focus on one survivor’s story makes this so much more intimate than most of the Holocaust stories we’ve seen, because in a way – it has that structure from THE PREDATOR – where you have many characters – ending with one survivor – and what he survives is so much uglier than that sonuvabitch from Stan Winston’s studio!

Adrien Brody is second only to Jack Nicholson’s Schmidt performance as the best performance I’ve seen this past year. His situations, his emotions, his physicality… all brilliant. The way Polanski reveals and uncovers the ugly side of human nature be it Nazi, Jew, Pole or otherwise is just so even handed, so brutally spread about that it is hard to believe that there was any other way this story could be told. This film is so much more heroic than that inflated load of shit that the Weinsteins conned into Oscar glory with that pathetic excuse for dead silence comedy (Roberto Benigni) with LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL. The film is so much more involving and cinematically told than SCHINDLER’S LIST. If this film goes unrewarded in the Oscars this year with at least the nominations, then to hell with them.

Lastly – watching a great filmmaker from yesteryear rise through all the travails and troubles that keep these guys from getting their hands on great material without Patron Saint executives like Robert Evans offering them the projects that dreams are made of… With current executives completely unaware of their filmographies and the faith that great material can be made great by filmmakers from yesteryear when given the support that they have ceased to be given. THAT’S THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE!

THE PIANIST is the truth. Instead of constantly handing material to flavor A, B or C… Give it to people like Polanski, Friedkin or Bogdanovich. They haven’t lost their eyes, ears or skills… They’ve lost the support that was given to them to be the filmmakers they were. The trust and lastly the nerve of a studio to stand behind them and present the world with a film that truly shakes one to the core.

I love storytelling, and this is a yarn, a true yarn, of one man’s life – As ugly as the world around him can be, his life was so beautiful - his strength so powerful – that against all the ugliest obstacles and brutalities – on the other end of it, there he was… creating beauty again, unmarred by the horrors of war, starvation, poverty, the elements, disease and time. Art endures, this film triumphs.


I’ll watch this film more than any other that came out in 2002. Given time – it will grow to be part of two other films which as a whole will stand to be recognized as one of the greatest achievements of personal filmmaking by a storyteller unparalleled in our times as a bringer of fantasies and visions we’ve never seen before.

This is epic filmmaking at an entirely different level of accomplishment from any that has come before. What these three films will inspire, give birth to and open the doors for will be seen in the future – and we and future generations will point to these films and they’ll say, that this was when the time of fantasy came to cinema. Much like in the Seventies – the time of the Crime film took new meaning.

The importance of these films, the inspiration that they’re giving- only future generations of filmmakers will one day attest to. This is what happens when you fully finance and support a visionary filmmaker and allow him to make his dreams a cinematic reality.

The first two films on my list here are deeply intimate stories set in a grander palette. At the end of RETURN OF THE KING, we’ll look back and realize just how intimate this story really was. How a story of friends can be taken to the grandest scale imaginable and endure for all time. Beyond just being great films.

Also – the work with Gollum is simply astonishingly human. Gollum is a miracle, a revelation and will be a landmark character in the history of Animation. Like Gertie, Mickey Mouse, King Kong before him… Gollum is an accomplishment of historic permanence.

These films reach the dreams of a child, the hopes of the man and become part of my own personal realm of cinematic worship. I love no films before these as much as these. These films are what is precious.

4. 800 BALAS (aka 800 BULLETS)

Here again is a film that you’re likely to never see at a theater near you. Many lists carry Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN or HABLE CON ELLA. Not enough carry SEXO Y LUCIA and none carry 800 BALAS. Here is a film that I saw in another language, not my own, and with no subtitles. I saw it twice and the film touched me and involved me at such a massive level that – it pains me to report what I know in my heart… that this is another film that won’t be playing as a release in the United States.

On Internet Movie Database the film is described as a Comedy Western. It is so much more. Not that there is anything wrong with that genre sandwich. CAT BALLOU and BLAZING SADDLES or GO WEST – but frankly this is a comedy in the way that ABOUT SCHMIDT was a comedy. Yes, it is funny, but it is filled with meaning, poignancy and weight. This film is simply great.

It is a story about a boy that sets out to find the story of who his father was and to meet his grandfather. His grandfather was one of those men that played as stand-ins and misc. characters and stuntmen in the classic Spaghetti Westerns. His son, the boy’s father, died in a stunt gone terribly wrong. This ‘abuelo’/ ‘grandfather’ as played by Sancho Gracia – was the single best character on film this year for me.

Like the WILD BUNCH this is a story about men out of their time. Like TIME TRAVELERS that can never go back, they’re completely out of place in 2002. As if Dinosaurs and Mastodons began to once again roam the Earth – these “MEN” and their profession… THE WESTERN… has died.

This is one of those movies with a cast of characters that instantly live inside your mind… I understood enough of the dialogue to laugh, cry and completely follow the plot. This film is the product of genius filmmaker, yet to really be discovered by the west… ALEX DE LA IGLESIA. His movies: ACTION MUTANTE, DIA DE LA BESTIA, PERDITA DURANGO and LA COMUNIDAD are all simply fantastic films. He’s flirted with making a film in the West, but thankfully has stayed true to his roots and has made great SPANISH cinema.

Alex De La Iglesia is very much to Spain what Peter Jackson is to New Zealand. Whomever finances Iglesia’s dream project fully… will be rewarded by greatness. This film works at every conceivable level – even if I didn’t fully understand the language.


Finally a film about the blank page. The untyped words we seek. The struggle, skirmishes, battles and desperate last stands against the internal fears of personal mediocrity, worth and inadequacies.

This is a film that perfectly portrays the neurotic nature of a writer that doesn’t have a pattern or an agenda other than to stay true to the toughest critic one has, the one between the ears. In a way, I’m reminded of Kirk Douglas’ Jonathan Shields in THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL - At one point he says, “Don’t Worry. Some of the best movies are made by people working together who hate each other’s guts.” While that may certainly be true, the reality of this film is some of the best writing comes from a writer that hates himself, but simply can’t get a divorce.

The character of Charlie Kaufman in this film is incredibly self-loathing – and in that, he finds his answers – the exploitation of self, to dissect and humiliate himself, while at the same time showing the nobility of his aspirations and the desperate journey it takes to reach an end which’ll simply signal the beginning of a new struggle. He’s never truly free of the war, he only wins the fight of skirmishes and battles, but a writer’s war is never done.

Having said all that, a film that brings Cage back to life for me is something to celebrate. A film that is as breathlessly creative as this is a pure joy. This movie will join THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, 8 1/2, THE BIG KNIFE, BLOW OUT, ED WOOD, THE GLASS WEB, GODS & MONSTERS, PEEPING TOM, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, SUNSET BLVD, TARGETS and WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT as the great films about the myth of filmmaking and the dream behind it all. Breaking the reality, making it a genre all its own. Whether based on reality of the dream of what it is, these films enter and remain in a special place all their own. They are the geek’s geek films, the movies made by people that love film, filmmaking and the dream of what goes into it and the sadness, hurt, tears, joy, pain and even insanity that comes with it.


The best science fiction film of 2002 is so much more than the whiz and bang that has come to define the genre. A film completely uninterested with the technology, the travel or the future, but only the question that if you could make your dreams come true, would they want you?

The film may not be great for everyone, I truly believe this feature will mean different things to different people at different periods in their lives. As relationships fail, people die and the contemplation of eternal loneliness sinks in, the film will have a different level of personal poignancy on each of us.

For many the film was boring and tedious, for me, it was a film where one sacrifices everything for the illusion and dream of life. It isn’t even a decision, it is actually the only thing George’s character could do. A film about the fragile nature of passionate romance and how like an eggshell it takes one wrong move to crack it all leaving the yoke of your heart on the floor forever.

A film about the guilt one feels when a love ends, the eternal nature of that regret and the hopeless quest to end that regret and replace it with “the way things were”. This is the sort of film I love seeing Soderbergh make. The best and most textured performance we’ve yet seen from George Clooney. I dream of a supporting actor nomination for Jeremy Davies – but given… that hasn’t shown up as being on anybody else’s list, I understand how utterly hopeless that prayer is.


Another perfectly complex story of love, this one far more hopeful than the delusional SOLARIS, but equally poignant. A film about the power of love as told in a completely non-cliched manner. Not only a good film featuring Adam Sandler, but a great one. A film that I love. A film that makes me drunk on love. A film that makes me scream and shout and stomp my feet till somebody rigs the Oscars so Emily Watson can win.

This film justifies Adam Sandler’s successful birth and doesn’t make it a dark day in history, because if nothing else… he brought this character to life. He performed in this film. And he did great. I’ve seen this film, many many many times… I just can’t help it. I love it so.


This is a perfect musical. The adaptation process made it different enough from the stage version that while I was watching it, I wasn’t spending time remembering Bebe Neuwirth’s incredible stage performance, but rather… I could feel that this was a different and separate work.

When I finally got around to seeing the film, the audience I saw it with applauded at the end of every musical number, exactly like you would at a live production. This is because of the energy, vitality and audacity of the numbers. The choreography is stunning, the cinematic devices used to convey the themes and ideas are delicious and the design for the film is supreme.

Bill Condon’s screenplay isn’t just an adaptation, it is a reinvention of CHICAGO. As the play became the Broadway show, so has it been reinvented for the screen. The cast for this film are universally to be praised, however my stand-out is John C Reilly, who this year has just, as usual, been exceptional. Watching him become invisible in a series of expressions, glances and movements… the folding in of his spirit, the disintegration and emasculation his character endures… painful and true. In many ways this year – he’s reinvented the put-upon man with his work in this and THE GOOD GIRL, which he was also excellent in.

In the end, this film embodies Lights, Camera and Action!


This is a film to be scared of. This isn’t a sexy erotic film. This isn’t a movie to wank to as you look at Monica Bellucci. This movie is about the weight of actions and how those actions can change lives for all times.

Rape – Sexual Crimes and Violence are not reversible events in one’s life. One can never take back a hit, take back a forced advance and especially a rape. The utter brilliance of Gaspar Noe’s film is the sheer cinema of it.

His camera sways out of control like we’re a fly witnessing history in reverse… We begin at the ends and weep to the beginnings. There is a vicious murder at the beginning of this film that is simply the sheerest most shockingly captured moment of violence I’ve ever seen. I’m still not entirely sure of what I saw, thus the impact, only that I believed that what I was watching was happening. And I’ve never seen that anger, that sort of vicious retribution. As the first sequence comes to the police – we spin back to the past – maybe 30 minutes before – and so on through the film. The notorious rape isn’t focused on the rapist, isn’t shot from an ‘erotic’ angle, the rape is shot for us to witness the humiliation, degradation and the agony of what Monica Bellucci’s character is going through. The brutality of her assailant and the destruction of everything beautiful about her… physically and emotionally. On the gurney – she’s red meat shivering. It is coldly and brutally repugnant.

This all happens fairly quickly – and you’re left wondering what is left to tell. We’ve seen revenge and the act… What is Gaspar going to show us for the remaining hour?

He shows us what will never be restored. The innocent arguments, the casual morning romance, and company of idyllic friends. A day in the grass, children laughing and the feeling of security, trust and peace.

Doing this in reverse chronology powers the film to be something beyond what it otherwise would’ve been. Had the vengeance been the exclamation, there would have been cheers. Instead, because we see that for the act that it is… A brutal act with no reason at the time we see it. We’re left wondering who is being killed? Why are they killing him? What is happening, dear God that’s Horrible! And that feeling is the right feeling, not clapping. It is a life on screen coming to an end.

The film is an examination of a terrible brutal reality that we live in and it is fantastically told and performed by Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci and Albert Dupontel. They are wonderful in this film, and everybody else that appears here… brutally real.

LionsGate has the film – let’s pray that they handle its release perfectly and that the film gets seen. They’re treatment of it begins this coming week at Sundance – However, for me, this was a 2002 film.

10. MAY

As with the film above, this is also a LionsGate film and like the film above a marketing challenge. The movie, the first film by a director that we will definitely be hearing a great deal more from named Lucky McKee, is simply the best horror genre film of 2002. The film premiered at Sundance last year, and on January 31st, 2003 it will be test marketed in Austin, Dallas and Fresno. If, for one reason or another, this film doesn’t perform in those markets – this will only be seen on DVD and HOME VIDEO and that would be a damn shame.

I first saw this movie with an audience of over 1500 Catalonians and Spaniards at the Sitges Film Festival. Next I saw the film at Butt-Numb-A-Thon this year. The reaction from both screenings was electric.

This is a painful film about a curious girl named MAY – She’s been raised to aspire to being perfect – and given her lazy eye, that isn’t as easy as her mother would make her think it would be. Striving for perfection has amounted in isolation and social dysfunction. As she tries to break out of her shell you can see the pain of being a social misfit.

To be in your late twenties and to have never known a kiss, a caress, a date… She is terrified of every move. Her only constant companion has been a doll that was made by her mother and encased in a glass coffin to protect her… the doll is special, perfect, you can’t ruin her. The doll became May’s imaginary friend. She hears the doll, though we never do.

For about 80% of this film, it is not a horror film, but something very similar to ADAPTATION. A portrait of a self-tortured insecure character striving to express themselves. Her end solution isn’t so-much horrific as it is horrifying. In many ways this film reminds me of movies like CARRIE, SUNSET BLVD and WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABYJANE? It stands as one of the great awkward Actress performances. Had LionsGate released this film in for Oscar qualification and then pushed Angela Bettis – she could easily get nominated. This film and her performance are that good.

For those that have seen MAY, the movie is a revelation and a highlight of their year. Support the film if you get a chance. This is one of those films that seems doomed by the dim-witted dullness of marketers that don’t know how to market new talent, new ideas and a film that isn’t like a movie earlier that year. MAY is Great!

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