The Best Films of 2002
2002 was a year of despair and desperation at the movies. Danger, oppression, and grief came from all directions. Sure, there were the usual invaders from outer space. But this year, self-absorption, doubt, paralyzing grief, and long-repressed anger proved much more difficult enemies.
In many movies, sudden and violent deaths deeply wounded those close to the deceased. The parents and fiancé of a murdered woman fumbled for hope and healing in Moonlight Mile. In Signs, a reverend turned against God after the death of his wife. In Love Liza, a widower numbed himself to the pain of his wife's suicide. A girl named Morvern Callar coped with her boyfriend's suicide by partying hard and taking expensive vacations. A gangster took his son out on a vengeful crusade against the man who killed his family in Road to Perdition.
Several characters suffered grief, loneliness, and fear as consequences of their own behavior. One man (Time Out) seemed unaware of his sin, and continued telling lies to friends and family, running into deeper and deeper distress. Another (Minority Report) helped design a presumptuous and chancy crime-fighting system, only to find himself trapped in his own designs. Others (About a Boy, About Schmidt, Adaptation) discovered they had wasted opportunities, and scrambled to assemble a meaningful life or make some kind of connection before it was too late. In Songs from the Second Floor, an entire city of vain, cruel, and self-destructive people plunged themselves into suicidal despair, ignoring the image of Christ, which they had turned into a commodity. Only a few characters (Catch Me If You Can, Insomnia) found grace on the other end of living in denial.
Young men grappled with years of repressed anger, coming to strikingly different conclusions. Antwone Fisher found healing through the help of a counselor and a longsuffering girlfriend, eventually rising to confront those who had wounded and angered him in the first place. Barry Egan (Punch-Drunk Love) was prone to violent outbursts because of his seven punishing sisters; nevertheless, he learned to control his anger and restrain himself when provoked. Anakin Skywalker (Star Wars, Episode Two: Attack of the Clones) lashed out, thinking anger and force would solve everything; thus he suffered pangs of conscience before his inevitable surrender to the dark side. Two men exploded in anger on the highway in Changing Lanes, setting in motion a series of violent and cruel acts. And in Narc, vengeful anger entangled two cops in a complex web of lies and cover-ups.
Many heroes grappled with conscience at the edge of revenge or violence. John Anderton (Minority Report) and Barry Egan (Punch-Drunk Love) tried to muster the strength for restraint while facing down their enemies. British journalist Thomas Fowler (The Quiet American) and Wil Dormer (Insomnia) investigated the dirty dealings of bad men, only to arrive at apprehensions of their own guilt. The heroes of Atanarjuat—The Fast Runner and Gangs of New York returned from hiding to regain control of tyrannized people, but one found room for mercy where another brought down judgment without flinching.
Women seemed preoccupied with enduring or escaping the pressures of bad marriages. They longed for release, for new passions, new beginnings. Diane Lane (Unfaithful) and Parker Posey (Personal Velocity) played women falling into lust and infidelity in spite of happy marriages. Julianne Moore played two troubled housewives—in Far from Heaven and The Hours — struggling to remain faithful while suffering either loss of passion or the realization of infidelity. A shop clerk tried to be The Good Girl as her husband struggled to become more responsible and caring. In Chicago, Roxie did not give infidelity or murder a second thought, and the world rewarded her sins. The mother of Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Catch Me If You Can) was so desirous of the American dream that she willingly sacrificed the happiness of her husband and her son.