best film: Punch-Drunk Love from Paul Thomas Anderson

  • PT’s stated goal was to “make an art house Adam Sandler movie” and it was purposefully anti-ensemble multi-character epic in size Boogie Nights and Magnolia.
  • Jon Brion’s brilliant and experimental score (this is the pre-Jonny Greenwood PTA which would lead one to assume that PTA knows what he is doing when it comes to music  (not to say Greenwood and Brion are not both brilliant and possible geniuses as well) but there are such commonalities here with how segments of this sound (especially in scenes where PTA is ratchetting it up -think forklift accident here, oil rig explosion in There Will Be Blood) match shots from TWBB. 
  • The “He Needs Me” song is from Altman’s movie Popeye and sung by Shelley Duvall—not as many Altman connections here as his previous work but this is a big one clearly
  • PT is such a formal/visual freak/master- how many grocery stores have color coded aisles?
  • The opening is perfection—we have a blue suit, blue lines on the wall and he shoots at an angle to make Barry, at the desk, look very isloated
  • The shot of Barry/Sandler running away from the brothers from Utah mirrors the shot of Phoenix running from the farmers in The Master 
  • I had to read it in a review to notice it but there is a red figure in the background the first time Barry/Sandler goes to the grocery store and sure enough—it’s Watson (who is always wearing red or pink)
  • The Windex on Barry’s table in his sad apartment is blue
  • The claustrophobic scene mentioned above with the escalating score (phone ringing, loud sister, forklift) is magnificent
  • Watson has a storied history of playing the odd duck looking for love which is a little out of the norm (Breaking the Waves)
  • The entire film is a dichotomy—formal point/count—we have the rage (car crash, breaking sliding glass door, beating up bathroom) and the adoration (Watson, harmonium, Chaplin dance)

It’s rare to capture a screenshot of film form- pink/blue dye experimental watercolor splashes repeated throughout the film and the color composition throughout in Punch-Drunk Love- marrying Sandler’s (Barry) blue and Watson’s (Lena) pink

  • Blue atlas van lines truck- no mistake- blue lights when driving from the street, blue phone both

The silhouette kiss in Hawaii when they meet there is an absolutely masterful stunner of a shot/scene

  • Pink sky to open at dawn— blue/pink sky to close in Hawaii
  • Pink pant pajamas for Watson

Lens flares galore—but all with a blue tint or a blue/pink tint to match both the normal film décor and the pink/blue dye experimental watercolor splashes (three times in the film— four if you count the end credits)

 

most underrated:   The underrated category in 2002 has a few options. I remember seeing a few mentions for Spike Lee’s 25th Hour on the critics lists when Metacritic compiled the decade end list for best films of the decade (00-09). So I was surprised to see that it still canot find its way onto TSPDT’s top 1000 consensus. It should not only be on the top 1000 but it should be in the top 500. The performances from Edward Norton, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Brian Cox and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are spot on but it is Spike who impresses most here and gives us his best work of the 21st century to date and best film since 1992’s Malcolm X. If one film had to be picked as the most underrated though for 2002, it would be Sam Mendes’ The Road to Perdition. Forget getting a spot on the TSPDT top 1000— this film cannot find a spot on the TSPDT 21stst century top 1000! Outrageous!

 

The Road to Perdition from Sam Mendes- one of the best dolly zoom shots this side of Vertigo and Jaws

Conrad Hall’s final film as cinematographer (passed in January 2003) may well be his finest as well. His two collaborations with Sam Mendes (The Road to Perdition in 2002 and American Beauty in 1999) stand out as a beacon even more now than they did in real time at the turn of the century.

the best scene (and that’s saying something because he has miraculous use of his patented double dolly shot) in Spike’s 25th Hour– Monty’s (Edward Norton) monologue– connective tissue to Spike’s Do the Right Thing (1989)

 

most overrated: The most overrated film of 2002 is Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten. It certainty is an important social and political film- it just does not warrant being in the top 1000 of all time (or terribly close). There are more than twenty films from 2002 alone that attempt and accomplish more artistically.

 

gems I want to spotlight   I am going to shine a light on three films. Igby Goes Down starring Kieran Culkin is a film I find myself going back to often (I have seen it at least a half dozen times already). Narc is a gritty, copy drama that will reward those that make time for it. And, Cronenberg’s Spider is a slow-burn arthouse puzzler that has big bold set piece that always makes me think of Ozu’s A Hen in the Wind (1948) and Antonioni’s L’Eclisse (1962).

 

  • Narc is a cop drama that looks like every cliché on paper—done with ingenuity and nearly flawless execution- a great film
  • Starts with bang– hand-held chase- a wild flashback in washed out color
  • Then at the inquest we have a tracking shot behind the head of Jason Patric – another really well-done sequence
  • Shallow focus flashback of the driving incident in the narrative—there are shadows under the bridge
  • Carnahan’s stories are masculine—The Grey—violent, raw
  • Ray Liotta is a wrecking ball—well-dressed, big and bloated, a bruiser—complex- a little like Russell Crowe’s Bud White in LA Confidential—great shot of him between the bars at a dinner—one of Liotta’s best performances
  • A bad split screen interviewing people in Detroit montage
  • Location in Detroit is a character- dilapidated and abandoned– it is cold and gray out– never any sun—like NYC in the old Lumet and crime films in the 1970s—a character
  • Raw, lots of energy
  • The John Ortiz scene, pant-less, amazing- what a great five minute performance
  • Highlight of the film is a shot through the car window with reflections on both cops, trees and branches, it’s stunning. They are talking about their wives and it goes into a monologue from Liotta—great acting and direction
  • Loud, chaotic, harsh lighting (purposeful), cold, shouting, goatees, blood
  • Wife who complains, dirty cop—lots of clichés but Carnahan and Liotta make the film rise above
  • Busta Rhymes is good here
  • The decrepit building final set piece is striking
  • Narrative issues—recording confessions? Character motivations for major plot points at the end make it tough

 

Cronenberg’s Spider would land on many a years’ top 10  This is a challenging film but one that rewards- as it is intricately built, rigid in the formal structure. The nuances of Cronenberg’s vision get enhanced with each subsequent viewing. Ralph Fiennes’ performance is admirably meticulous as well. It does not have the sheer filmmaking bravado of Crash and is not as entertaining as The Fly but it is very solid, second tier, Cronenberg.

 

trends and notables:

  • World cinema continues to be in a great place in 2002. Eight countries (by director’s birth) are represented in the top 10 of the year.
  • Punch-Drunk Love and Hero at the top secure 2002 as a exceptional year. For a long time (prior to elevating these two films to their rightful positions) I viewed 2002 as a year with incredible depth (films like Russian Ark, The Man Without a Past, Spider, Minority Report are spilling out of that top 10) but lacking a big masterpiece. I was wrong. Punch-Drunk Love is that big masterpiece. And, Hero is a respectable #2 for any year.
  • If PTA is the new Kubrick (both in terms of quality of his films and the longer gaps between- though he has picked up the pace a little) it is also worth nothing that 2002 is just one of the two years for the decade (2007 with There Will Be Blood) where he released a film.  Knowing what we know now with these two films (five years apart) and The Master in 2012 (also five years apart) – how could anyone complain?
  • Sam Raimi’s Spider Man starring Tobey Maguire is a juggernaut and the biggest domestic box office film of 2002

 

Hero is a significant artistic achievement. Yimou Zhang’s film is simultaneously one of the great Wuxia films (martial arts films set in ancient China) and one of the most considerable visual achievements in 21st century cinema- each frame is symmetrically perfect, the décor is rapturously handsome, and the color scheme is meticulously married to the strands of the story. It is not difficult to find immaculate cinematic paintings in Hero, it is a difficult find to find a place to stop. One highlight that must be mentioned is trees with the yellow leaves (apparently Yimou Zhang organized the shades of yellows leaf by leaf) at the 35-minute mark right before the battle between Maggie Cheung’s character and Ziyi Zhang’s character.

Hero is told in a sort of Rashomon style (Yimou Zhang has said as much) flashback structure with each point of view strand told in a different wholly dedicated color scheme. So, the formal storytelling pattern is as dogmatic as the film is beautiful. First black, then red, then blue, then white, and green. Nameless is telling the story (first his encounter with Sky) and then the king takes the baton. It is a masterpiece – it serves as confirmation of the talent that created Raise the Red Lantern in 1991. It would be seem inappropriate to talk about some of the greatest uses of color in cinema without talking about Hero. 

 

This is a nice little stretch for Spielberg with A.I. in 2001 and both Catch Me If You Can and Minority Report (jaw dropper of a shot here) in 2002

Spielberg has a brilliant variation on Bergman/Varda’s blocking of faces in the frame composition from Minority Report

a very worthy sophomore effort from auteur Lynne Ramsay- Morvern Callar features another post traumatic zombie floating through existence

Enfant terrible Gaspar Noé gets his start in the haunting and controversial Irreversible

Kaurismäki is an auteur who has amassed a strong body of work—and only as a collection can the work be properly appreciated — but The Man Without a Past is one of his best works to date. Like much of Kaurismäki’s work, there are long quiet stretches and some of the best scenes could be compared to silent cinema—it is 10 minutes before Markku Peltola has a word to say. Like all of Kaurismäki’s work, it is about blue collar workers- Peltola’s character is a welder, his love interest (Kaurismäki regular Kati Outinen)- and this is a love story/fable, works for the Salvation Army (which plays a big role in the film) where a picture of Christ hangs in the dressing room– he lives in a container (like a trailer), goes to the soup kitchen, has working man’s hands— these are Biblically bad times, Steinbeck-like.

four to five sublime compositions- one of the great cinematic paintings  is at 41 minutes- Peltola’s character has a broom looking into the circle window of the Salvation Army

Alexander Sokurov’s one shot marvel: Russian Ark

2002 marks the first archiveable film from Apichatpong Weerasethakul out of Thailand. Free of influence largely—having said that- I could not help but think of Renoir’s A Day in the Country with the Eden-like final third and also Weerasethakul uses the Kurosawa/Malick shot of shooting the sun from the ground through the trees (four times). The umbrella shot coming through the trees composition (here) that are shaping the frame is a stunner- and it precedes the best shot of Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) there’s lighting in the background and shadows in foreground.

  • Another major development in 2002 is the first pairing of Scorsese and DiCaprio. This would go on to be such a fruitful artistic partnership for both sides
  • 2002 marks major Mount Rushmore films for the Dardenne brothers and Almodovar with The Son and Talk to Her respectively. Though, like Kaurismäki above, these auteurs are really about their total body of work rather than their single greatest film (like say Carol Reed or Ridley Scott).
  • 2002 marks the first archiveable film for Paul Greengrass with Bloody Sunday. Weerasethakul and Noe are mentioned above already
  • As far as firsts for actors are concerned, Amy Adams makes quite an impression in Spielberg’s Catch Me If you Can. This is her first archiveable film performance.  A young Kristen Stewart is in Panic Room.  Jesse Eisenberg gets his archiveable start in Roger Dodger as well.

 

He is mentioned above with the start of the Scorsese collaborations- but it is worth further noting that after becoming an international sensation and star with Titanic in 1997—DiCaprio would somehow come out with dueling 2002 Christmas prestige releases from both Scorsese and Spielberg. And Catch Me If You Can‘s opening title sequence (above) from Olivier Kuntzel and Florence Deygas rightly gets mentioned (after Saul Bass’ work perhaps) as one of cinema’s greatest

a superior shot from Rob Marshall’s Chicago here. Amazingly, long time character actor and PTA ensemble trope actor/member John C. Reilly would be great in four archiveable films from 2002 (oddly enough three of the four were up for best for best picture): The Hours, Chicago and Gangs of New York. Quite a year.

 

 

best performance male:  There are five standouts in 2002 for this category but three that could vie for the top slot. The top three are Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York, Ed Norton in 25th Hour and Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love. For Day-Lewis, Gangs and There Will Be Blood are his version of Brando’s Streetcar and On the Waterfront one-two punch. Sandler is in the better film. It is, strangely, still an Adam Sandler movie and accomplishes what PTA set out to do. He is not trying to change Cruise (Magnolia) and Sandler- these are talented actors and megastars. He is tapping into their talents for something different (and better). Barry has all the sweetness and rage here he displays at different times in say Waterboy or Happy Gilmore– clearly he can both beat up a bathroom and have tender love for Watson, the excitement in the Chaplinesque dance in the grocery store and have that softer side on display with the harmonium. Close behind the lead three are Olivier Gourmet in The Son and Steve Coogan in 24 Hour Party People. Coogan is a talent and I try to seek out everything he is in– but it seems unlikely he will ever have a better film/performance/vehicle than he did in 2002.  

 

Daniel Day-Lewis’ as Bill the Butcher. Holy hell. He is on fire— levitating here, chewing scenes and blowing the other actors off the screen (I can’t even tell if DiCaprio is bad here (I don’t think so), miscast (maybe), or just can’t swim as fast as DDL (absolutely)). Bill has the greasy hair, the eye. DDL has a half dozen dazzling monologues as well. The one in the chair wrapped in the American flag (here) may be the best. There are a lot of valid complaints about the overall screenplay but here it has has good dialogue. Giving an actor like this lines like “I never had a son”. “This was a great man” and “Civilization is crumbling” is gold.

 

best performance femaleJulianne Moore and Emily Watson sit atop the best female performance category in 2002 for Far From Heaven and Punch-Drunk Love. You do have to give the edge to Moore but they were both just here leading this category in 1996 (Watson in Breaking the Waves) and 1997 (Moore in Boogie Nights) so they are just adding to their resume. This marks the third mention for Moore going back to Safe in 1995- a great period of work for her.

 

Moore’s face is a canvas during some of the films most pivotal scenes—the film and drama of it is really a series of crushing blows for her—when Quaid says he’s fallen in love, the train departure of Haysbert’s character.

 

top 10

  1. Punch-Drunk Love
  2. Hero
  3. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
  4. 25th Hour
  5. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
  6. Talk To Her
  7. The Son
  8. Road to Perdition
  9. Far From Heaven
  10. City of God

 

creative angles and frame obstruction from Fernando Meirelles in City of God

Meirelles has been good since City of God (mainly the The Constant Gardener from 2005 and The Two Popes from 2019)- but has never touched this high level again from his 2002 entre.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a key film (and Chan-wook an important auteur- “audacious” may be the most commonly used word to describe him) in the Korean New Wave movement. This is part of the 2002-2005 “Vengeance Trilogy” with Oldboy coming in 2003 and Lady Vengeance in 2005. Kurosawa again is a name to evoke here with some of these masterful arrangements—near the finale the terrorist group has four heads arranged carefully at various positions in the frame.

Chan-wook (like fellow New Wave member Bong Joon-Ho) can effortlessly (at least it appears that way) blend violence and comedy. Fargo or Blood Simple would not be a bad double-billing with Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. There is not only a horrifying sadism to the world of the film—but an ironic, comic pessimism (of course when Ryu spends his money on the black-market kidney, his sister’s name comes up on the legit list- but now, of course, he’s out of money). There are twenty (20) or more miraculous frames to capture it all- every composition is a painting.

Douglas Sirk has to be mentioned when discussing Far From Heaven—Haynes  apes his style. This does not have John Waters Cry Baby irony and pastiche—it is not PTA doing Scorsese with Boogie Nights or even Haynes himself nodding a little (perhaps not knowingly) to Cronenberg with Safe– this is like lost Sirk film.

Haynes surrounds himself with talent: Elmer Bernstein—last feature film score- died in 2004—he is 80 when released. Mark Friedberg does the production design- lots of Jarmusch films (Paterson, Broken Flowers), Wes Anderson (Life Aquatic, Darjeeling) and Ang Lee (Ice Storm) and even Joker (2019)-  shocked he did not get nominated in 2002.

the autumn leaves (stunningly beautiful) blocking the mise-en-scene at least three times—marvelous landscaping- a statement on the film, era, city, person, and a thing of beauty to look at— triumph of costume work on top of it all.

he is past his prime by 2002- but Brian De Palma proves he can still dazzle in 2002’s Femme Fatale

David Fincher’s films do not have stylistic highlights or stand out compositions so much as they are wholly dipped in his trademark lighting design and coloring pattern. It starts with the green tint of the buildings during the opening credits. There is the green Mayflower truck (not a coincidence) and the details do not let up for the entire running time– the dedication to the visual consistency of Fincher’s world pervades throughout. Apparently, Fincher wanted a sort of leaner exercise of a film after the more ambitious Fight Club  in 1999

This Germany Year Zero-like war rubble shot is from The Pianist. Through editing, Polanski has a true gift for creating paranoia. It is in Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and The Ghost Writer. He slowly brings The Pianist to a boil – there is an unmistakable sense of horrific doom.

 

 

Archives, Directors, and Grades

24 Hour Party People– Winterbottom HR/MS
25th Hour- S. Lee MS/MP
28 Days Later- Boyle R
8 Mile – Hanson R
8 Women – Ozon R
About Schmidt- Payne R/HR
Adaptation- Jonze HR
All or Nothing – Leigh R
Auto Focus- Schrader R
Blissfully Yours – Weerasethakul HR
Bloody Sunday – Greengrass R
Catch Me If You Can- Spielberg R
Changing Lanes- Michell R
Chicago – R. Marshall R
City of God- Meirelles MS
Dirty Pretty Things – Frears R
Distant – Ceylan R
Far From Heaven– Haynes MS
Femme Fatale- De Palma R
Gangs of New York – Scorsese HR
Heaven- Tykwer R
Hero – Yimou Zhang MP
Igby Goes Down- Steers R
In America – Sheridan R
Infernal Affairs- Lau, Mak R
Insomnia – Nolan R
Irreversible- Noe HR/MS
Lilya 4-Ever- Moodysson R
Man on the Train- Leconte R
Minority Report- Spielberg HR
Moonlight Mile- Silberling R
Morvern Callar– Ramsay HR
Narc – Carnahan R/HR
Nicholas Nickleby- McGrath R
Oasis – Chang-dong Lee R
Open Hearts- Bier R
Panic Room – Fincher HR
Punch-Drunk Love – P.T. Anderson MP
Rabbit-Proof Fence- Noyce R
Ripley’s Game – Cavani R
Road To Perdition- Mendes MS
Roger Dodger- Kidd R
Russian Ark – Sokurov HR
Signs- Shyamalan R
Spider- Cronenberg HR
Springtime in a Small Town- Zhuangzhuang Tian R
Sunshine State- Sayles R
Sweet Sixteen – Loach R
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance – Chan-wook Park MS
Talk To Her- Almodovar MS
Ten- Kiarostami R
The Good Girl- Arteta R
The Hours- Daldry, Reilly HR
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – Jackson MP
The Man Without a Past– Kaursmaki HR
The Pianist – Polanski R
The Quiet American- Noyce R
The Rules of Attraction – Avary R
The Son- Dardenne MS
Twilight Samurai – Yamada

 

 

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives