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Buy the 'Y Tu Mamá También' DVD (unrated edition).

Buy the 'Spider-Man' DVD (widescreen edition).

Buy the 'Monsoon Wedding' DVD.

Buy the 'About a Boy' DVD (widescreen edition).

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Road Trip to Perfection: Diego Luna (left), Maribel Verdu (center) and Gael García Bernal (right) drove across the new Mexico in 2002's best film, 'Y Tu Mamá También.'

My Big Fat Year at the Movies

Catching the highs and enduring the lows of 2002 in the dark

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. Now everyone knows about Moore and will, I hope, look her up in Todd Haynes' pre-Far From Heaven film Safe, a more up-to-date and audacious movie than Far From Heaven. 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.

I really came to hate the Oscars in 2002. Too many prestige films are competing for the public's attention in December and early January; many of these movies, which were waiting for release, would have livened up the late summer and fall. The reason they're dogpiled now? The Oscar regulation that films must play in New York and L.A. before the end of the calendar year. Because of the crush, the list below doesn't include a few pictures still unseen: Spike Lee's 25th Hour, David Cronenberg's Spider and the much-praised Narc. Well, if they're truly works of genius, they'll still be works of genius in January.

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.

Runners-up: Adaptation, Rivers and Tides, Bloody Sunday, Nine Queens, The Hours, Far From Heaven, The Pianist, Read My Lips, Me Without You (2002's best nostalgia movie), The Fluffer.

The 10 Worst Moments

A Walk to Remember: A walkout to remember. Merciless crypto-Christian teen flick with Mandy Moore perishing prettily of leukemia.

John Q: Boy with Grinch's Syndrome (born with heart three sizes too large) needs transplant. Denzel Washington gets a gun to grab the heart--a harbinger of heart-grabbing schmaltz to come (i.e., Antwone Fisher). Audiences! Don't let Denzel turn into a male Oprah!

Vulgar: Least-favorite line of the year--to a transvestite clown, about to be sodomized: "Now, the shame!" I repeat: what the hell does shame mean to a clown?

Pumpkin: Winona went shoplifting to feel more like a rebel after acting in Mr. Deeds. One shudders to think what carnival of crime Christina Ricci will be forced to commit to restore her self-esteem after this squash.

Mr. Deeds: Adam Sandler glommed some praise for playing a man with a psychotically aggressive streak in Punch-Drunk Love; this earlier "comedy" shows that his viciousness is far from an act.

Crush: Agonizing Cotswolds-based singles-on-the-mingle picture featuring Andie MacDowell (who also stank in Harrison's Flowers). Akin to HBO's Sex in the City, a.k.a. Harpies with Herpes.

The Importance of Being Earnest: All-star vulgarization of Wilde, whose most famous quip ought to be "At least I died before I had to watch this."

Big Trouble: Wasn't it, though? Even the part where they chopped off Martha Stewart's head and grafted it onto a dog couldn't perk it up.

Stolen Summer: The end result of Project Greenlight. "Did this movie have to be so relentlessly moralizing?"--William Bennett.

Gangs of New York: Operatic monstrosity that insists that you must learn to respect the warrior's code of honor in a man who sticks a knife into your father's guts and twists it. Frankly, the kind of movie made by a person who watches too many movies.


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From the January 1-8, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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