My Favorite Year

Critic beholds screen, sees miracles

2. Ain't That America! Something from this particular continent called out in 2002, and it was literally awesome. Alexander Payne's About Schmidt tore into the staid heart of Middle America and let us have a good long laugh (and weep) over it, and Jack Nicholson delivered one of the three top performances of his career (alongside Cuckoo's Nest and The Shining). Equally impressive this year were two native films, both beautiful, funny, harrowing and exciting. Zacharias Kunuk's The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat) held me totally compelled as an Inuit legend unfolded across the Canadian tundra and an indigenous cinema strode boldly forward. Meanwhile, Skins by Chris Eyre (Smoke Signals) showed us "the other American heroes" on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. It's a humble film, simple in execution, but greatly absorbing, especially for the unforgettable presence of Graham Greene as the dispirited Mogie Yellow Lodge, fighting to hold onto any shred of his people's heritage while parading around in his favorite Madonna tee shirt. All three of these films enthusiastically hold up to North America their scintillating mirrors. By all means, take a look.

Time bandit: Edward Norton ponders his 25th Hour with Rosario Dawson.
Time bandit: Edward Norton ponders his 25th Hour with Rosario Dawson.
Portrait of a lady: Salma Hayek in Frida.
Portrait of a lady: Salma Hayek in Frida.

1. Girl Crazy! At the very, very last minute, Lynne Ramsay's poetic and deeply emotionally revelatory Morvern Callar (co-scripted by Liana Dognini, from the novel by Alan Warner) has swooped in to claim the top spot! And despite a comfortable acceptance of self-contradiction, I'm generally not the fickle type! (Although it wouldn't be impossible to cram Miguel Arteta and Mike White's The Good Girl in here, too . . . ) Starring current hipster chick Samantha Morton (the primary "pre-cog" from Minority Report), Ramsay's film has delivered an incredible, impressionistic inner and outer travelogue employing pure cinema light, color, sound, feeling and their respective absences to explore the perceptions and reactions of a miserable, pathetic girl in soul-sucking times. The film features obvious stylistic lifts from Trainspotting and Breaking the Waves, and closer comparisons include "Withnail & I for Sad Lasses" and "Last Tango in Scotland and Spain." But however you look at the project (which is open to interpretation), Ramsay (Ratcatcher) possesses rare and unique vision and has delivered this year's winner.

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