Super-sized (My favorite films in 2002)
Who needs Oscar? Okay so it's a little late but here are my nominations for best films last year. I allowed features that were made in 2001 to be on my list because I like those “foreign films” you know and they always arrive on our shores much later.
1. DEVDAS (India,2002)
India's most beloved melodrama is adapted to film for the fourth time. Lead character Devdas (Shahrukh Khan) pays the rest of his life for hastily making one ill-fated decision. Eye and ear candy galore as three of Bollywood's most charismatic stars act and dance up a storm in this meticulously crafted period piece.
2. LAGAAN (India,2001)
Four hours and no sleeping! And an hour and a half long cricket match that managed not to bore one of the most uninterested viewers of this sport - wow. Lead Aamir Khan is terrific in this pet project about an indentured village's rise against their ruler. The dance sequences may be the best integrated musical numbers I've ever seen in either Bolly or Hollywood. The score is top notch, beautiful and memorable, as are the costumes, sets, scenery and sentiment.
3. BUNGEE JUMPING OF THEIR OWN (S.Korea,2001)
The theme is in the tradition of many other recent Korean films, (CHUNHYANG, FAILAN, MEMENTO MORI, etc.), where a vast and unstoppable love affair is thwarted by a series of unfortunate events. Homosexuality is not accepted in Korean society and sadly the film's script is poisoned by that fact. However the seed of homosexual normalcy is very boldly sewn into this high profile, mainstream, Korean blockbuster. Lead actor Byung-hun Lee is fantastic and the production is first rate. The beauty of this film's colorful cinematography is moving and unforgettable.
4. HUSH! (Japan,2001)
A shy Tokyo engineer considers a strange woman's offer to have a child with her, despite the reservations of his gay live-in lover. The funniest film I've seen in a long time and one of the most charming. Superbly acted and realistically written. With delightfully wicked humor this film examines the meaning, and importance of family.
5. FAILAN (S.Korea,2001)
Super sad melodrama deftly played by popular Korean star Choi Mon-Shik and little Hong Kong beauty Cecilia Cheung. I lost count how many times I cried in this highly original story of a fixed marriage between two unfortunate loners.
6. ROAD MOVIE (S.Korea,2002)
This journey was sad and strange. All three main characters, as well as a new friend, attempt suicide at least once. My heart was very heavy at the end of this quirky and moving film. A boldly liberal narrative that shows a true three-dimensional Korean homosexual whose great unrequited love for another man couldn't help but be admired by even the most conservative viewer.
7. NABI (S.Korea,2001)
Mesmerizing trip into the lives of three strangers who are all experiencing acute emotional pain. Gorgeous cinematography, (shot on DV no-less), perfect score and outstanding performances took me deep into this painful story set in a unique, gritty Sci-Fi future.
8. MUSA THE WARRIOR (S.Korea/HK,2001)
Spectacular battle cinematography and classic Hollywood Western plotting are two of the more obvious reasons I enjoyed MUSA. Zhang Ziyi is hypnotic as usual in the non-fighting (albeit feisty) role of a Ming princess. The mood of the film is refreshingly dark and the heroes are flawed as the power constantly oscillates between various members of the group we're following. To top it off the film is gloriously shot in widescreen Cinemascope, (spectacular when seen in a large movie theater), and beautifully scored by Japanese composer Shiro Sagisu.
9. TAKE CARE OF MY CAT (S.Korea,2001)
Five female friends struggle to find their own way in the modern world post High school. Told with subtlety and beautifully inventive film making techniques. Highly recommended.
10. MY SASSY GIRL (S.Korea,2001)
Utterly unique and hilarious. The responsibility of caring for an extremely drunk, belligerent and beautiful young woman is foisted upon an unsuspecting college student one evening. The situations that subsequently arise are completely insane and played with amazingly capable comic timing by superb leads Tae-hyun Cha and Ji-hyun Jun.
11. LAN YU (HK,2001)
I absolutely loved both the story and the emotional cinematic telling of this film. The rise and fall and rise again of a relationship between two very different gay men told against the backdrop of the Tiananmen Square massacre. My favorite films are big old melancholy melodramas and this ranked up there with the best of them. The film's matter of fact tone, skilled actors and unusual sound design combined to create a highly effective work of modern art.
12. DISTANCE (Japan,2001)
Normally the kind of slow art film I would dislike but Distance is so well made that even an impatient pop film junkie like me was put under director Hirokazu Kore-eda's spell. Five acquaintances take an annual pilgrimage to a remote cabin where their family members were murdered by a cult to mourn and question the incident. This film raises a plethora of issues while asking more questions than it answers. Extra kudos are given for the technically unusual way that the story is structured.
13. JULY RHAPSODY (HK,2001)
A man's mid-life crises and his wife's past mistake are the side by side stories that poetically converge in an effort to understand the human condition. Above average story, pacing, acting and scenery. While I failed to completely sympathize with the characters, (this may not have been the film's fault), I would absolutely recommend this film.
14. WATERBOYS (Japan,2001)
Some of the funniest moments I've ever seen on film. A high school boy who becomes so enamored with synchronized swimming that he starts the first male sync swim team. Inventive, unique, hysterical, touching, outlandish and well written. The acting and comedy are fantastic from such young actors. The locales were gorgeous and the cinematography was super fresh.
15. HAPPY TIMES (China,2001)
Perfect. Another winner from director Zhang Yimou. This scaled down production follows a blind, headstrong young woman and the one compassionate person in her life, (a penniless stranger with grand, idealistic schemes to improve her life). Charming and very funny with the usual outstanding performances I've come to expect in a Zhang Yimou film.
16. PISTOL OPERA (Japan,2001)
A dreamy, Kabuki theater extravaganza rife with visual film references. I'm not sure I could tell you what this film was about but while I was watching Pistol Opera I completely got it!
17. MURDEROUS MAIDS (France,2002)
Extremely well acted story of France's infamous pair of murdering, incestuous sisters very effectively conveyed the desperate confinement of women in that era. The period costumes and sets felt authentic and the lack of incidental music gave the film an eerie, haunting effect.
18. GOSFORD PARK (UK,2002)
Pretty much what you expect it to be and Maggie Smith does steal the show. A weekend in the country for the very rich and their hangers-on as well as the staff that waits on them. We're shown some of the resident's secrets before a murder is committed and the cops arrive to question everyone except the staff who are too lowly to be considered! Nothing very new but very well done.
19. MONSOON WEDDING (India,2001)
The story of a wedding in upper class Delhi. A large family share their joys, sorrows, desires, and relationships. Beautiful, colorful and joyous. Awesome soundtrack, fun dance numbers and solid acting.
20. ME WITHOUT YOU (UK,2001)
Ab Fab meets Bridget Jones Diary. Perfectly crafted film about a 30 year friendship between the extroverted, beautiful, controlling and insecure Marina and clever, mousy, manipulated Holly. Superbly inserted period songs and funny period in-jokes for the over 40 crowd as the story takes place between 1973 and 2002.
BATTLE ROYALE (Japan,2000)
A class of graduating 9th graders are taken to an island for a government sanctioned game of mortal combat. The best movie ever made! Entirely original concept, perfectly written and acted. Gripping, funny, frightening, poignant, and completely entertaining! With a major bonus of Takeshi Kitano brilliantly cast in the most flawless, over-the-top, hard-core role ever. This was the fourth movie I saw in 2002 and I knew the moment it ended that it will take years before another film knocks this out of the top spot for me.
Out of 158 films I saw only one really bad one - that's gotta be a record. THE WESLEY'S MYSTERIOUS FILE started out all right then quickly plummeted into a putrid pile of bad acting, ridiculous plotting and embarrassing dialog.