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[whitespace] My Big Fat Year

Looking back at the year in film

By Richard von Busack

It was the year in which Jackass: The Movie made $23 million its opening weekend. It was the year in which Richard Roeper of Sneak Previews, the second most powerful film critic in America, said that Mike Myers' Austin Powers was as important a creation as Chaplin's Little Tramp. It was the year in which a sliver of transplanted television like My Big Fat Greek Wedding became a runaway indie hit, encouraging more TV-esque, sexually repressed date movies to come. On the bright side, My Big Fat Greek Wedding gave our hardworking porn-movie titlers a much-needed break.

It was the year that alternative-film viewers were caught between a rock and a hard place: rather, a soft squishy place, such as My Big Fat Greek Wedding or the erstwhile hardball movie Roger Dodger, which proposes that a horny blowhard in the advertising racket is somehow more worthwhile if he's giving a kid advice. His industry gives our kids plenty of advice as it is.

But as someone who's been going on and on about Julianne Moore for years, 2002 offered one great pleasure. Moore's flexibility, her sensitivity, her subtle way of masking pain or suggesting shy happiness have ornamented our cinema for years. It's been clear Moore was building up to something. from her upper-class drawl as Maude Lebowski ("to use the parlance of our times") to the unsettling-of-America drama A Map of the World. Or, in another flop, this year's neglected World Traveler, which America's critics thundered against on moral grounds.

But in the soon-to-be-released The Hours, Moore is more--not an impeccable, desperate housewife as in Far From Heaven, but a woman simmering on what may be the last day of her life. Compared to The Hours, Far From Heaven seems most notable as a triumph of superior art direction, a mate for the similarly glazed Road to Perdition.

Top Ten of 2002

Y Tu Mamá También: The très riche hours of two charismatic but oblivious teens who never notice the waitstaff, the domestic help and the police actions on all sides of them. It's a movie that could have been made in America, but wasn't, despite the time-tested appeal of teens on the loose. This Mexican marvel was food for thought, in addition to being a comic, dead-sexy road picture about the road to a soon-to-be paved paradise.

Late Marriage: And what a timely contrast to My Big Fat Greek Wedding was this very tough-minded but very tenderhearted Israeli critique of the Law of the Fathers.

Spirited Away: Hiyao Miyazaki does it again in this rainbow-paletted anime, which is not about good and evil but about harmony and discord. Even a child can enjoy the use of color--both chromatic and emotional.

Talk to Her: It was all the better to see the newest by Pedro Almodóvar (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) on a double bill with the obese Gangs of New York, to see its delicacy contrasted to Gangs' boorishness, its love of women contrasted to the oaf-exaltation in Gangs. The Spanish shock satirist is becoming a sensitive, amused father figure, an Iberian Renoir.

Spider-Man: What's so stupid about the idea "With great power comes great responsibility"? Sam Raimi's hit is populist filmmaking at its finest.

The Quiet American: A word to the currently unwise based on Graham Greene's novel about the CIA in Indochina in 1952; Michael Caine has never been better as an old Brit encountering a handsome young spook (an unsettlingly handsome Brendan Fraser).

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: Soon, some conservative commentator will seize on the bright idea of Wormtongue talking to King Theoden as a metaphor for the peace movement, sickening America with words of pacifism. Let's appropriate the image first: imagine Wormtongue as the nation's pundits whispering at the currently weakened left: "You're out of step with today's America."

I'm Going Home: This film, never released in the South Bay, is about the Latin way of dealing with emotional devastation--that is, pretending it doesn't exist. An elderly actor (Michel Piccoli) uses all the power of his art to hold agony away, but age bars his ability to dodge what he must endure. Despite strong contenders like The Bourne Identity and The Truth About Charlie, this is the most affectionate film about Paris this year.

Monsoon Wedding: You knew you were in good hands from the title sequence on. Mira Nair's glorious use of color, character and locations is a rebuke to the minginess and stinginess of domestic chick flicks.

About a Boy: In the midst of a lot of fake Salinger (especially the negligible Tadpole), this was the best coming-of-age movie of 2002, set in the New London (which seems as intoxicating as Swinging London was in the '60s. Two great jobs for Toni Collette, by the way, between this and her suburban siren in The Hours.

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From the January 1-8, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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