Welcome to 2002. It was a pretty awful year. If you don’t remember, it was the year following the most terrible terrorist attack on human soil. The papal sex abuse scandal was uncovered, President Bush created the Department of Homeland Security, the DC snipers killed 10 people, No Child Left Behind became law, the world was in political upheaval, wars were beginning, and Chicago won best picture over The Pianist. But at least we found water on Mars.
Perhaps the Academy chose the more brightly colored and glitzy musical over the gritty story of a man who survived the Holocaust because they needed something happy. If you recall, there were talks of cancelling the event or postponing it because we had just invaded Iraq and it didn’t seem right to have a glamorous celebration while we sent our children off to war. Eventually they decided that the show must go on, but they decided to forgo the red carpet with security concerns too high.
#1 – The Pianist
But I see it from the other side. Chicago was the favorite going into the awards. It had 13 nominations and was riding high much like La La Land did last year. However, The Pianist sneaked in to surprise everyone, taking home three of the major prizes of the night: Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. I’m not sure if it would have ever stolen away the Best Picture, it was a big enough surprise that Roman Polanski bested Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. The Pianist might be a bleak story, but it is undeniably beautiful and shows the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity. It is truly the film that America needed to weather the dark times.
#2 – Gangs of New York
Some people think this isn’t one of Martin Scorsese’s best films. But what does that say when it was nominated for 10 Oscars. Granted, it was snubbed for all of them but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. Daniel Day Lewis is so impressive with his method acting skills. There is a scene where Bill the Butcher taps his glass eye with a knife, Daniel Day Lewis has prosthetic glass put on his eye and learned to actually tap it! That is dedication to your craft.
This also marked the first time that Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio worked together. That relationship obviously developed and he has gone on to work with him on four more films so far (The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island, and The Wolf of Wall Street).
#3 – City of God
This could have been called “The Gangs of Rio De Janerio,” because Martin Scorsese seems to have had a big influence on the director of this film, Fernando Meirelles. He uses close ups, freeze-and-zoom shots, long takes and other trademarks that are easily recognizable to any fan of Scorsese’s work. The film is told through narration by Rocket, a young photographer in the slums. The story charts the growth of several members of the gangs from their childhood as young hoodlums through their transformation into adult drug barons. The final parts of the story focus on the battle within the Cidade De Deus “City of God” between two different groups pressed into an unavoidable confrontation. The result is a powerful story based around real-life events.
City of God is powerful and should be seen by everyone. If you are looking to start watching more foreign language films, start here. It is easily accessible and quickly digestible. In short, this is a superb achievement, and is easily one of the best films of the year.
Just outside the top 3, I have 2 films from legendary director Steven Spielberg, Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can. I’m sad that I couldn’t fit either of these gems in my top 3. The fact is that I have rated them exactly the same as City of God and Gangs of New York (4 stars). They are both excellent and worth your time if you haven’t seen them. I chose to put the other two higher precisely because I think that less people have seen them and I always want to encourage people to reach outside of their comfort zones to watch movies that they wouldn’t otherwise be likely to see.
So, that’s the Top 5 of the year, but you know I can’t leave you with just that. There are a number of honorable mentions: Adaptation, Punch Drunk Love, Signs, The Bourne Identity, and Bowling for Columbine.
It was also the start of a number of big franchises: Spider-Man, The Bourne Identity, 28 Days Later, Ice Age, Resident Evil, Transporter, and Jackass. But it marked the continuation of even more: Lord of the Rings: Two Towers, Star Wars Episode II, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Men in Black II, Austin Powers Goldmember, Blade II, and Spy Kids 2.
Did I miss something? Am I way off? let me know in the comments below or on Social media. See you in 2001!