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10 Movies With Real Razzmatazz
By Mike Clark, USA TODAY
A strange movie year. From mass-audience pleasers (Spider-Man, The Bourne Identity, Unfaithful) to art-house surprises (Mostly Martha, Roger Dodger, Nine Queens, Kissing Jessica Stein), audiences could easily find viewing rewards amid a hundred-plus examples of miserable major-studio junk.
But for a year with all kinds of generally satisfying movies, it was lonely at the very top. There was no Ghost World nor a Topsy-Turvy to knock me for a total loop this time out ó just solid screen pleasers that may well come to seem even better with the passage of time.
The 10 best
1. Chicago. With splash, blistering pacing and singing surprises to burn, novice big-screen director Rob Marshall revitalizes the movie musical by rethinking a Broadway hit previously filmed twice as a tuneless comedy. The final blow to the tone-deaf Moulin Rouge.
2. Insomnia. No groundbreaker but excitingly shot and edited, this psychological whodunit improves on 1997’s Norwegian original and even director Christopher Nolan’s preceding Memento. For an actor’s show with Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank, it has the most scintillating use of modern locales (Alaskan) than any movie in memory.
3. The Piano Teacher. Not for all tastes (as if any movie is), director Michael Haneke’s French import deals searingly with social pathology. Isabelle Huppert and Benoit Magimel ó both acting winners at the 2001 Cannes festival ó are terrifically matched as a music academy’s sexually hung-up martinet and a student whose perceived fling with her turns disastrous.
4. Minority Report. It is a mystery but also a thriller but also science fiction ó and it has perhaps the funniest and most creatively integrated product placement ever. This futuristic cop drama is everything a summer movie ó and a first-time collaboration between Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg ó should be.
5. Talk to Her. Writer/director Pedro AlmodÛvar, who’s amazing when he’s “on,” gives us a movie with a comatose bullfighter, her accused impregnator and (plunked into the middle) a long silent-film parody that involves a vagina. Somehow, it is a touching and even moving drama ó yet with the filmmaker’s trademark loopy humor around the edges.
6. Gangs of New York. Of all the 2002 releases that will matter 20 years from now, Martin Scorsese’s 3-hour epic is the most problematic. Production design to die for, Daniel Day-Lewis’s complex villain and a grippingly sustained 75-minute mid-section compensate significantly for choppy construction. You long for a more sustained director’s cut.
7. About a Boy. Hugh Grant has a glorious role as a lazy ne’er-do-well cruising on royalties from a dreadful ditty his dad wrote years ago. Toni Collette and newcomer Nicholas Hoult are also splendid as the sad-sack mom and son who redeem him, while Grant’s late-movie moment with a guitar is his funniest on screen to date.
8. Standing in the Shadows of Motown. Detroit’s “Funk Brothers” languished in relative anonymity, despite appearing on more No. 1 hits than Elvis, The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Beach Boys combined. This is no longer true thanks to Paul Justman’s documentary, which has some of the feel-good power of the Oscar-winning When We Were Kings.
9. Bowling for Columbine. Manipulative Michael Moore can sometimes overplay his hand, yet he is on fundamentally solid ground skewering the nation’s gun culture. His documentary begins by poking fun at a Michigan bank that offers you a gun for joining ó and never lets go.
10. The Hours. Strong acting by everyone, down to the smallest performances, keeps this neatly crafted movie of Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer-winning novel from going over the top into arch self-parody.
But No. 10 could just as well be About Schmidt, 8 Mile, Monsoon Wedding, Punch-Drunk Love, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers or Y Tu Mam· TambiÈn.
The 10 worst
1. Swept Away. Good material gets mangled by the Material Girl as Madonna and director-husband Guy Ritchie trash Lina Wertmuller’s 1974 island-romance original.
2. The Sweetest Thing. Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate and Selma Blair as three crudely imbecilic club-hoppers you would take home to Mother only if your name were Norman Bates.
3. Enough. Betrothed Jennifer Lopez watches her intended extort someone into selling him his house. Later, she’s surprised that he’s a heel. Why? Because the movie would end in five minutes if anyone in it ever acted logically.
4. Rollerball. Instead of taking second shots at screen classics, Hollywood should remake only movies that weren’t very good in the first place. This time, it did, dusting off 1975’s ineffectual original ó and making it even worse.
5. I Spy. The laziest TV spinoff in memory displays contempt for its audience by not even attempting entertainment. And audiences told it where to go. Please, someone, bury the vintage airwaves movie cycle.
6. Death to Smoochy. Satirizing a sociopathic kiddie-show host was funny in 1965’s A Thousand Clowns. So is doing the same supposed to qualify as cutting-edge dark humor four decades later?
7. Scooby-Doo. And death to the mutt, with apologies to the SPCA. Even some kids said they’d rather eat Alpo.
8. Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever. The ridiculous title alone makes September’s dud a contender for this list, though the fact that it’s all explosions and boring footage of Antonio Banderas cements the case.
9. Crossroads. Well, Liberace didn’t make it in the movies, either. Britney Spears’ intended screen starmaker might have succeeded at its goal had it not descended into head-reeling insipidity after its keen opening underwear shot.
10. Full Frontal and Solaris. In a closing dereliction-of-duty confession, I admit that I never saw Jackass: The Movie, even though it’s one of those things (like reading War and Peace) you have to do sometime in life. In its presumed place are both of Steven Soderbergh’s audience-repellers ó the kind of experimental follies no talented filmmaker should attempt more than once every five years.