Joel Siegel: Best Movies of 2002

It was a good year at the movies — on both sides of the screen.

Hollywood set a box-office record with $9 billion in domestic ticket sales. That's not just on account of inflation or rising ticket prices; the number of tickets sold was way up.

I think there's a simple explanation for the record: The movies were good.

Critics are always complaining about how all the good movies open at the end of the year because the studios think Oscar voters are too stupid to remember the good films that come out at the beginning of the year.

So what do the critics do when they make their 10 best lists? They forget the good movies that come out at the beginning of the year. Not me.

Let's take a look at 2002's best. First a statistic: Six of the 10 films on my 10 best list are the director's first or second films. I like that. It means I'm going to see a lot of good movies in the future.

10. Road to Perdition —We're off on The Road to Perdition, released in July. Forget Tom Hanks' gripping performance, playing a bad guy for the first time in his career. Forget Paul Newman in a career-capping performance. (If there were any justice, they'd mail him the Oscar, so as not to embarrass the other nominees.) You just need to look at the costumes, the colors, the lighting and the vision. One scene in a Chicago library with 200 people reading newspapers is just incredible — enough to land Road to Perdition on anybody's list.

9. About a Boy — Another early achiever, About a Boy, hit theaters back in April. It's an excellent film, true to one of my favorite novels. Hugh Grant plays the same kind of smarmy self-centered egomaniac he always plays. But this time he's a smarmy, self-centered egomaniac with heart.

8. The Quiet American — The Quiet American is the kind of movie they don't make anymore, based on the kind of book they don't write anymore, featuring Michael Caine, one of film's greatest actors, in another career-capping performance.

7. 25th Hour — Edward Norton is going to be one of film's greatest actors. He's absolutely electrifying in Spike Lee's best effort yet, 25th Hour.

6. Narc — Narc is a high-adrenalin, bad-cop thriller with great performances from Ray Liotta and Jason Patric. You're going to be stomping the lobby looking for Gatorade when this film's over. It'll make you sweat. That's how intense Narc is.

5. Far From Heaven — When Far From Heaven opened back in November, I said two things about a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Julianne Moore: for sure and at least. Now I'll say one: Still goes.

4. Antwone Fisher — Antwone Fisher is more than a great film, it's a film that will change lives. It's powerful, life-affirming and true … not to mention Denzel Washington's directorial debut.

3. Catch Me If You Can — Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio team up for Catch Me If You Can. Catch it while you can. Movies don't get much more fun than this.

2. Adaptation — Nicolas Cage plays two characters in Adaptation. One is the neurotic screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman. The other is the neurotic screenwriter's imaginary twin brother, Doug. In real life, Charlie Kaufman was nominated for a Golden Globe for best screenplay. Doug doesn't really exist, but he really got nominated for a Golden Globe, too.

1. (Tie) Chicago and The Hours — And the best movie of the year? It's a tie. Is it a coincidence Meryl Streep stars in The Hours and Adaptation, two of the best films of the year? No. She's one of the greatest actresses who ever lived. Incredible performances from her and Ed Harris and Julianne Moore and, yes, that's Nicole Kidman, make The Hours seem like minutes. And Chicago — It's the Windy City, a toddlin' town, and the only movie of a Broadway showl I've ever seen that's more fun, more exciting, more alive than the Broadway show it's based on.