*Chicago (2002)*

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Starring: Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Christine Baranski, Taye Diggs, Lucy Liu, Dominic West

Director: Rob Marshall (his first theatrical film)

Summary: Murderesses find themselves on death row together and fight for the fame that will keep them from the gallows in 1920’s Chicago

Other Nominations: Director, Actress (Zellweger), Supporting Actor (Reilly), Supporting Actress (Zeta-Jones)*, Supporting Actress (Latifah), Adapted Screenplay, Original Song (“I Move On”), Sound Mixing*, Art Direction*, Cinematography, Costume Design*, Film Editing*

This is the second time I’ve watched Chicago (the first was around its release when I was 14), and my reaction then is the same as it is now: it’s one of my favorite musicals. It’s very rare for the this to be the thing that immediately stuck out to me about a movie, but the editing here is really exceptional: it keeps the pacing zippy, gives everything a nice flow, but most of all it seamlessly switches back and forth between musical numbers and reality in a way that feels totally coherent to the viewer. As with any Bob Fosse work, the soundtrack is fantastic, featuring a litany of great musical numbers (including maybe my favorite for any film, the Cell Block Tango), as well as a healthy dose of cynicism with it’s cast of entertaining scumbags (with John C. Reilly standing out as the schmuck). I also love the whole look of the movie, especially the hairstyling which nails the popular 20s-early 30s women’s look to a tee. The other big thing that works so well about the movie is it’s casting-they hit a homerun with pretty much every decision here, but the single biggest highlight is Catherine Zeta-Jones with a career best performance and is basically a white-hot ball of charisma who can also sing and dance.

The only thing really holding the movie back is that the story is a little thin-not an uncommon issue for a musical (especially one that clocks in at just over an hour and 50 minutes). Overall, the tone, the songs, the performances and the overall liveliness of the movie won me over. Even if you don’t like musicals all that much, give it a look.

Rating: B+

Gangs of New York (2002)

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Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Jim Broadbent, Henry Thomas, John C. Reilly, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson

Director: Martin Scorsese

Summary: In 1863, a man returns to the Five Points area of New York City seeking revenge against his father’s killer

Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Day-Lewis), Original Screenplay, Original Song (“The Hands That Built America”), Sound Mixing, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing

Martin Scorsese’s passion project that he’s wanted to do since the 70s and he gets a $100 million budget! Daniel Day-Lewis’ first movie in five years! For a project this big, the final result is somewhat underwhelming. Gangs of New York covers an often ignored but important (and still very relevant to this day) chapter in American history: the battle between the nativists who were born in the United States and wanted to keep it a “pure” WASP place, often through violent means, and the immigrants who came here to try and find a better life. The problem is that, ultimately, the movie feels almost like a broad biblical epic in the vein of Ben-Hur than a movie about a hard-fought struggle for a piece of the American pie that would have made for a stronger story. Over the course of its near-three hour runtime, it tries to tackle too many stories and themes and goes too many places: we have a romance plot, a revenge story, a “I sold my birthright for a mess of pottage” story, a class between immigrants and minorities vs. white protestant natives, class struggle, the American Civil War and the corruption and pragmatism of the old Tammany Hall New York political system. The other issue is that big epic battles are not really Scorsese’s forte, yet we get two big ones to lead off and end the film where the music, editing, cinematography and fight choreography all come off poorly.

For me, there are two reasons why I still enjoyed the movie as flawed as it is. The first is Day-Lewis’ giving one of the great villain performances in film, lending a genuine menace and unpredictability to his role that is hard to match-he feels like he’s simmering and ready to explode into violence at any given moment. The other is the production design (which I’m shocked didn’t win an Oscar): the rough and tumble streets of old New York were painstakingly rebuilt in Italy and look incredibly authentic and the attention to detail is obvious. I liked the concept and the look of the film, along with Day-Lewis’ performance enough for me to give it a positive review, but there’s too many clunky bits for me to say it met my expectations coming in.

Rating: B-

The Hours (2002)

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Starring: Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Toni Collette, Claire Danes, Jeff Daniels, John C. Reilly, Miranda Richardson, Allison Janney, Stephen Dillane, Jack Rovello, Beloved Character Actress Margo Martindale

Director: Stephen Daldry

Summary: The story of how Virginia Woolf’s novel “Mrs. Dalloway” affects three generations of women

Other Nominations: Director, Actress (Kidman)*, Supporting Actor (Harris), Supporting Actress (Moore), Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Costume Design, Film Editing

Huh. Well, it hard to fully appreciate without having actually read Mrs. Dalloway, although I did read enough about it to know it echoes the plot, themes and structure of the book. But how does it hold up as it’s own independent work? Reasonably well, although not without problems. This is the rare movie starring three Best Actress winners, and they’re all very good; ironically, I think Kidman is the weakest of the three and the least deserving of praise. A lot of that goes back to her character, Virginia Woolf herself, being the least interesting: she’s mostly just being flat, dour and lacking the kind of intelligence and wit you would expect out of one of the greatest writers of the 20th century). Whether it was really possible for Kidman to have been exceptional in the role is hard to say, but I didn’t see it here. I also thought the story was creative, well-executed and Moore and Streep’s characters had some real complexity, although maybe it tries too hard sometimes-while my reviews clearly show I have no problems with darker, sadder stories, a few times the movie felt like it reveled in being moody for its own sake-Harris’ character especially seems excessively depressing just to be depressing. Lastly, I enjoyed the score from Philip Glass; everything he does basically sounds the same, but it fits here. Overall, a solid drama although held together by some quality performances and writing, even if some of the characterization and general tone had problems.

Rating: B-

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

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Starring: Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Orlando Bloom, Ian McKellen, Brad Dourif, David Wenham, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Miranda Otto, Christopher Lee, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Karl Urban, Cate Blanchett

Director: Peter Jackson

Summary: While Frodo and Sam edge closer to Mordor with the help of Gollum, the divided fellowship makes a stand against Sauron’s new ally

Other Nominations: Sound Editing*, Sound Mixing, Art Direction, Film Editing, Visual Effects*

*Note: I watched the theatrical cut (179 minutes) as opposed to the extended cut (235 minutes) because that’s the cut Academy voters would have seen*

This definitely feels like the middle chapter: after the first part, we know where we’re going and where we need to end up, but we still have to get there-it wouldn’t be much of a story if they simply walked into Mordor. That’s not to say the movie was bad, far from it. The problem is just that now that you’ve laid out your premise in the first movie and you know things don’t wrap up until the third, the second one needs to be primarily focused develop the characters and setting them up for the final installment, something that I think it only partially succeeded at. As good as the movie looks (slightly better than FotR), as epic as the story is and as much as I like the cast, it lacks compelling heroes with Gandalf the Grey gone (although Gollum is clearly an exception if you can call him a hero). It introduces some new characters but fails to develop the ones already there like a good middle chapter should-I found myself not really caring about Aragorn or Arwen or most of the Fellowship outside Gandalf and Frodo. The other thing about the movie is that for most of it, everybody’s split up which means having a bunch of different subplots that converge at the end. Most of them are good, but whenever Pippin/Merry/Treebeard show up, the movie crashed to a halt.

Besides the look, scale and the score being great again, the two things I enjoyed most were Andy Serkis’ fantastic performance as Gollum, where this (now pretty mediocre looking) CG effect is by far the most interesting character in the whole series, most of it thanks to his performance. The second is that the Battle of Helm’s Deep is a lot of fun and is a fitting big action set piece to conclude the film on. While The Two Towers is definitely the weaker entry compared to Fellowship of the Ring, I’m looking forward to how the series concludes with Return of the King.

Rating: B-

The Pianist (2002)

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Starring: Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Frank Finlay, Maureen Lipman, Ed Stoppard, Emilia Fox, Julia Raynor, Jessica Kate Meyer

Director: Roman Polanski

Summary: A Polish Jewish musician struggles to survive the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto during World War II

Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Brody)*, Adapted Screenplay*, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing

My reaction to the first part of The Pianist was “maybe I’m starting to get tired of holocaust movies”, as it basically incorporated most of the things you come to expect in non-documentary movies on the subject and didn’t stand out to me. The second part of the movie though is where it really shines-while there are a number of movies about Jewish people who were terrorized, sequestered into ghettos and eventually sent to concentration camps, I hadn’t seen a movie focused on the someone who escaped from a camp and had to find a way to survive until the end of the war, or on the Jewish resistance-most movies present the Jews as meek victims, but here we acknowledge that there were those who fought back: even if it was a hopeless battle, at least they died with dignity.

The film gives a great sense of just how exhausting it was even for the “lucky ones”, those who did successfully escape, how you would have always been desperately searching for sources of food and water in order to meet your basic needs for survival, how you were never sure if you could trust your neighbor or supposed protectors, and how the wrong move could get you killed on the spot.

Brody gives a strong performance, one that pretty much made his career and he hasn’t done a whole lot of real note since which is a shame. If a person in his character’s position wasn’t sympathetic enough, his big, sympathetic eyes are extremely expressive and along with his whole exhausted body language as the film goes on makes him memorable. Overall, the first hour or so was merely pretty good in my estimation, but the last hour and a half was so strong and original that the whole ends up being a great movie.

Rating: A-

2002 in Review

Other Notable Films from 2002

Spider-Man

About Schmidt

Catch Me If You Can

Talk to Her

Adaptation

Bowling for Columbine

Far from Heaven

Hero

Infernal Affairs

City of God

2002 in Review

The Pianist: A-

Chicago (Won Best Picture): B+

The Hours: B-

Gangs of New York: B-

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: B-

Another very solid year, although a slight step down from last year in my opinion. I have no problem with Chicago winning Best Picture-even if I thought The Pianist was better, Chicago was the more consistent film a

nd it executed its concept about as well as could be done. It’s still one of my favorite musicals ever. The second installment of the LotR trilogy was still good, but for obvious reasons felt less focused and was less interesting to me than its predecessor, The Hours was uneven but had its moments, and Gangs of New York was a disappointing effort from one of the great directors, but was redeemed by an exceptional performance from Daniel Day-Lewis.

For 2003: A winner of 11 Academy Awards and the longest Best Picture winner since The Godfather: Part II; Soffia Coppola didn’t know if Bill Murray would actually show up to do the movie, as they only had a verbal agreement with the famously eccentric star-he finally did show up on the day of filming, and it ended up being his favorite film that he ever made; one of only a handful of modern movies with an entirely male credited cast; one of only five films to win both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor; and War Admiral in this film was actually “played” by one of his descendents, a horse named Verboom.

But first: I’ve been through 75 years of Academy Award Ceremonies and will now go through my Best of the first 75 years of Oscar. For this, I’m not adhering strictly to my letter grades or old rankings, and will be going more based off what I’m feeling at this moment now.

The First 75 Years of Oscar: Best of 1928-2002

Best of the First 75 Years: 1928-2002

Top 25 Best Nominees

  1. Taxi Driver (1976)
  2. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
  3. The Godfather Part II (1974)
  4. The Apartment (1960)
  5. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  6. 12 Angry Men (1957)
  7. Network (1976)
  8. High Noon (1952)
  9. Chinatown (1974)
  10. Casablanca (1943)
  11. Apocalypse Now (1979)
  12. The Godfather (1972)
  13. Schindler’s List (1993)
  14. Ninotchka (1939)
  15. Sunset Boulevard (1950)
  16. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
  17. Goodfellas (1990)
  18. Remains of the Day (1993)
  19. Rebecca (1940)
  20. It Happened One Night (1934)
  21. Amadeus (1984)
  22. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  23. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  24. Barry Lyndon (1975)
  25. Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Ranking the Best Picture Winners

  1. The Godfather Part II (1974)
  2. The Apartment (1960)
  3. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  4. Casablanca (1943)
  5. The Godfather (1972)
  6. Schindler’s List (1993)
  7. Rebecca (1940)
  8. It Happened One Night (1934)
  9. Amadeus (1984)
  10. Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  11. Marty (1955)
  12. All About Eve (1950)
  13. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
  14. Ordinary People (1980)
  15. Unforgiven (1992)
  16. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
  17. Patton (1970)
  18. The Sting (1973)
  19. Annie Hall (1977)
  20. West Side Story (1961)
  21. Ben-Hur (1959)
  22. Platoon (1986)
  23. The Sound of Music (1965)
  24. Gone With the Wind (1939)
  25. The French Connection (1971)
  26. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
  27. On the Waterfront (1954)
  28. Chicago (2002)
  29. Rocky (1976)
  30. The Deer Hunter (1978)
  31. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
  32. The Last Emperor (1987)
  33. All the King’s Men (1949)
  34. You Can’t Take It With You (1938)
  35. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
  36. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
  37. Titanic (1997)
  38. An American in Paris (1951)
  39. Hamlet (1948)
  40. Dance With Wolves (1990)
  41. Rain Man (1988)
  42. Oliver! (1968)
  43. Forrest Gump (1994)
  44. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
  45. From Here to Eternity (1953)
  46. In the Heat of the Night (1967)
  47. My Fair Lady (1964)
  48. American Beauty (1999)
  49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
  50. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
  51. How Green Was My Valley (1941)
  52. Grand Hotel (1932)
  53. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
  54. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
  55. Gandhi (1982)
  56. The Lost Weekend (1945)
  57. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
  58. Wings (1927)
  59. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
  60. Braveheart (1995)
  61. Gladiator (2000)
  62. Terms of Endearment (1983)
  63. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)
  64. The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
  65. The English Patient (1996)
  66. Out of Africa (1985)
  67. Going My Way (1944)
  68. Gigi (1958)
  69. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
  70. Chariots of Fire (1981)
  71. Tom Jones (1963)
  72. The Broadway Melody (1929)
  73. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
  74. Cimarron (1931)
  75. Cavalcade (1933)

Best Actor, Actress and Director

Actor:

#1 Robert De Niro (The Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Raging Bull, The Mission, Awakenings, Goodfellas)

#2 Al Pacino (The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Dog Day Afternoon, The Godfather Part III, Scent of a Woman, The Insider)

#3 Anthony Hopkins (The Lion in Winter, The Elephant Man, The Silence of the Lambs, Howards End, Remains of the Day)

#4 Jimmy Stewart (You Can’t Take It With You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Philadelphia Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Greatest Show on Earth, Anatomy of a Murder, How the West Was Won)

#5 Charles Laughton (The Private Life of Henry VIII, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Mutiny on the Bounty, Les Miserables, Ruggles of Red Gap, Witness for the Prosecution)

Actress:

#1 Katharine Hepburn (Little Women, Alice Adams, Stage Door, The Philadelphia Story, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Lion in Winter, On Golden Pond)

#2 Emma Thompson (Howards End, Remains of the Day, In the Name of the Father, Sense and Sensibility)

#3 Bette Davis (Jezebel, Dark Victory, All This, and Heaven Too, The Letter, The Little Foxes, Watch on the Rhine, All About Eve)

#4 Faye Dunaway (Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown, The Towering Inferno, Network)

#5 Greer Garson (Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Blossoms in the Dust, Mrs. Miniver, Random Harvest, Madame Curie, Julius Caesar)

Director:

#1 Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather Part III)

#2 Stanley Kubrick (Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon)

#3 Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard, Witness for the Prosecution, The Apartment)

#4 Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., The Color Purple, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan)

#5 Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York)