The Academy Awards has nominated two of the best films of the year for Best Picture, but most likely neither of them will win the award. “Chicago” seems to be odds-on favorite, or perhaps the very literary “The Hours.” But to this writer, there were only three truly fantastic films to come out of the year 2002, Peter Jackson’s sequel, “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist,” and Cutis Hansen’s under-rated “8 Mile,” starring the controversial rapper, Eminem.
Ranking art in general is kind of absurd, but I have always been drawn to the annual top-ten-films-of-the-year lists. So here are my top-ten picks for the major awards on Oscar Night. Compare with your own list!
1. “The Pianist.” This is one of Roman Polanski’s best. A Polish Jew who lost his mother in the Holocaust, Polanski has a great eye. In this film he must be revealing much of his own childhood through the eyes of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Jewish pianist played spectacularly by Adrien Brody. Brody will probably not win the Oscar because the Academy Awards tend to go for overstated roles rather than understated ones. Szpilman is not a heroic character like Oskar Schindler or Roberto Benini’s character in “Life is Beautiful.” Szpilman does not do anything spectacular. He only survives. Even his viewing of the legendary uprising of the Warsaw ghetto is understated, as if questioning why it was so incredible that some Jews fought back. (What were they supposed to do, he seems to think, just roll over and do nothing?)
2. “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.” Definitely the most entertaining and visually spectacular film of the year—epic and spectacular like great American films of the past. I have heard a lot of debate about which of the two “Lord of the Rings” films was better. Loyalists to the original books tend to like the first one. However, for me, the pure excitement and drama in “The Two Towers” makes it slightly superior.
3. “8 Mile.” As an unabashed fan of Eminem, I waited for this film to come out so that those who thought that Eminem was not an artist, but merely a pop star like Brittany Spears or Justin Timberlake, would see the light. Also, there are those who do not accept hip-hop as an art form or even as music at all. But this movie came and went and nothing changed. If you liked Eminem before, you liked the movie. If you didn’t, you belittled it. But this was the first great film about hip-hop and a show of the charisma of Eminem, who deserved a nomination for Best Actor. He should be a shoe-in for Best Song with “Lose Yourself”—that is, if the Academy ever were to give this award to a rap song.
4. “Rabbit-Proof Fence.” A tragic period of Australian racial history is brought to light in this excellent film starring three little girls with no acting experience. As they are chased across a continent by an Aboriginal tracker ambivalent about catching them, they become so likeable that the brutality of Australian imperialism becomes even more real to the viewer.
5. “Y Tu Mama Tambien.” An intricate look at sexuality that American films tend to shy away from, this film provides an in-depth look at a friendship between teenage boys and how they react to a sexy older woman. It shows how homoeroticism, jealousy and sex in general can affect friendships.
6. “Spirited Away.” This most imaginative film of the year, from Hayao Miyazaki, showcases Japanese animation at its finest, with the strangest and most interesting-looking fantasy creatures.
7. “The Hours.” The most depressing film of the year links three stories from three different time periods. Somehow it works well as it rolls out its slow details. It illustrates why themes of despair and depression run universally through generations, and why a piece of literature can be timeless.
8. “Catch Me If You Can.” Steven Spielberg deals with his parents’ divorce in a detailed way for the first time since “ET.” At the same time, the movie is fun and exciting. This is Spielberg at his finest.
9. “Barbershop.” This film, with great performances from Ice Cube and Cedric the Entertainer, provides an important look at the barbershop as an important African-American institution. As a black neighborhood on the southside of Chicago deteriorates, a family-owned barbershop struggles to stay alive.
10. “Road to Perdition.” This mostly forgotten summer film noir showcases excellent performances by Tom Hanks and Paul Newman. It’s a shame that these two great stars in a great film did not produce a big draw at the box office.