As always, Hollywood served up its share of blockbusters and duds in 2002, but there's always good stuff hiding among the showy trees of Tinseltown and here are my picks for the best films of 2002 (in no particular order).
- Beijing Bicycle
If you're looking to be reassured about man's compassion, don't see "Beijing Bicycle," a Chinese film, directed by Wang Xiaoshuai ("So Close to Paradise"). On the other hand, if you want to marvel at one man's indomitable spirit, look no further than this modern-day retake on De Sica's landmark "The Bicycle Thief."
- Nine Queens
You just can't trust anybody these days. For proof, take the Argentinian film "Nine Queens," written and directed by Fabian Bielinsky and set in contemporary Buenos Aires. In this carefully-paced, complexly-webbed story, everyone is looking out for number one. Motivated by greed, just about every person in the film is a crook of some sort. The plot is tight and well-constructed and the ending is simply brilliant. There's not a lot of action, but the undercurrent of suspicion keeps the film constantly engaging. In each scene, the viewer is left wondering who is being had. And Ricardo Darin, who was also great in this year's "Son of the Bride," is stellar.
- The Son's Room/Stanza del Figlio
How can a single moment alter a family? That's exactly the question posited by Italian writer and director (and political activist) Nanni Moretti's latest film, released in the United States as "The Son's Room." This quiet, unadorned film -- although there are some stunning scenes, especially when Moretti's character wanders a carnival midway -- centers around a family in Ancona, Italy, where Giovanni (Moretti) is an analyst who spends his days detached, listening to the problems of others. But it all comes home when tragedy strikes his own family.
- Werckmeister Harmonies
The Hungarian movie, released in 2000, but made its Milwaukee debut at UWM's Union Cinema. Filmed in shadowy black and white, it draws heavily on the sort of lengthy, ponderous shots pioneered by the Italian neo-realists. There is an alluring underlying tension throughout the film that begins right from the start as small-town postman Janos demonstrates the movement of the planets and explains solar eclipses to the drunken patrons of a tavern.
- Y Tu Mama Tambien
Director Alfonso Cuaron cooks up a steamy pot of adventure, sex and coming of age. When their girlfriends go off to Italy for the summer, two best friends, played by Gael Garcia Bernal ("Amores Perros," "The Crime of Padre Amaro") and Diego Luna ("Before Night Falls") hit the road with a sexy older cousin and the sexual tension begins to bubble from the top. But a melancholic streak, a good script and fine acting, make this more than a cheap thrill and it became Mexico's top-grossing film upon its release.
- Happy Times
"Red Sorghum," "Ju Dou," "To Live" and "Raise the Red Lantern" director Zhang Yimou returns to Milwaukee's silver screen with "Happy Times," a sweet, sad, funny picture set in a modern Chinese city. There are also some witty moments, but the story feels more sad and touching than laugh-out-loud funny. Zhao Benshan is charmingly pathetic as the doting boyfriend trying to gain favor and as the poor, aging man trying to reverse his bad fortunes.
- Bowling for Columbine
Agreeing to be interviewed for a Michael Moore movie is certainly a misstep for anyone, but surprisingly, there's no shortage of people willing to do it. In fact, in "Bowling for Columbine," the latest from the satirist, documentary filmmaker and social critic Moore -- creator of "Roger & Me," it is his interviews that provide most of the laughs, most of the astonishment and most of the sorrow.
- Bloody Sunday
A defining moment in Northern Ireland's modern Troubles came on January 30, 1972 when British soldiers opened fire on a civil rights march in Derry, killing 13 and injuring 14 more. Bloody Sunday helped rekindle a decades-long conflict and escalate it into a civil war, driving countless young men to join the IRA.
Director Gary Winik's new film "Tadpole" can be accurately summed up in one volley of dialogue. "It's all very 'The Graduate'," says 15-year-old Oscar's stepmother when she discovers he's slept with her 40-something best friend. "Except that Oscar hasn't graduated!" replies the boy's dad.
Wang Xiaoshuai's film is a wonderful paean to that modern Chinese icon: the bicycle, and that cinematic classic "The Bicycle Thief." The acting is so guileless that it hardly appears to be acting at all and the story is one that will alternately make you smile, make you marvel at the main character's persistence and make you seethe with rage at the injustices he faces.
Does love really conquer all? It certainly seems so in "Heaven," directed by Tom Tykwer ("Run Lola Run," "The Princess & The Warrior") from a screenplay written by late Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski ("Red," "White," "Blue") and Krzysztof Piesiewicz ("The Double Life of Veronique"), meant to be the first in a trilogy.
English teacher Philippa (Cate Blanchett, "The Talented Mr. Ripley," "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings") carefully assembles a bomb and places it in the trash can of an office in a tower in Turin, Italy, hoping, it turns out, to take down an untouchable drug dealer who is ruining the lives of her students and sold the drugs that killed her husband.
Based on the Lazlo Krasznahorkai's novel "The Melancholy of Resistance," "Werckmeister Harmonies" is at times so metaphoric as to seem thoroughly obtuse, but the subtle notes are in complete harmony and paint a painful and engaging picure.
Like most of Moore's work, "Bowling for Columbine" is alternately funny and terrifying. Focusing his lens on the violent heart of America, Moore is destined to strike a chord with U.S. audiences.
"Bloody Sunday" tells the story of that day in an unusual 100-minute chronological docudrama that feels like a TV news documentary, with quick cuts, gritty footage and a reliance on hand-held cameras that may cause queasiness in some viewers (it gave this reviewer a bit of a headache).
Okay, those are my picks. Let the arguing begin, using the talkback feature below!
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.