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Sunday, December 29, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Close to heaven: Top 10 films of 2002

Seattle Times movie critic

It's top-10 time again, and as I peruse my list of 300-plus movies seen in theaters this year, I'm again struck by how some films can indelibly etch themselves into the brain, while others dissolve like tentative snowflakes. Scenes from some movies that I saw months and months ago replay in my head like old friends; other titles, of movies seen much more recently, provoke mere head-scratching.

People often ask, upon hearing how many movies I see (although really, the far more alarming statistic is how much popcorn and Diet Coke I consume in lieu of dinner), whether moviegoing just becomes a pleasureless chore. Nope — while there certainly are days when it's all a colorful blur, the anticipatory pleasure of the lights dimming in the theater is alive and well. When you see hundreds of movies, the good ones sparkle like gems against their duller compatriots, and they happily stay with you as the rest fade.

So, my list reflects a handful of those movies that glittered the brightest for me this year — the ones that made me most thrilled to have the privilege of writing about movies. Note that they are listed alphabetically, as I couldn't possibly rate any of these movies higher than any other. Your list, of course, will be different — top tens, by definition, are personal — and I hope each of you saw 10 movies that gave you as much pleasure as these 10 gave to me.

"Chicago": The movie musical is alive again, and it's wearing fishnet stockings and a naughty smile. Renée Zellweger is a revelation as a 1920s jazz baby. Razzle-dazzle of the highest order.

"Far from Heaven": Todd Haynes' gorgeous 1950s melodrama is a symphony in autumnal colors and perfectly pitched emotion, with ravishing performances from Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid and Dennis Haysbert.

"The Fast Runner": Anyone who saw that naked man running across the snow-streaked plain, leaping desperately over soupy puddles of ice, will never forget it. Zacharias Kunuk's camera took us to a haunting Inuit world we'd never seen, to tell a story both unique and familiar.

"Gosford Park": Yes, it's been almost a year since Robert Altman's glorious upstairs/downstairs drama came to Seattle — and yes, this movie richly rewards repeat viewings. The ensemble cast is an Anglophile's dream come true.

"The Kid Stays in the Picture": This documentary about Hollywood producer Robert Evans is about as much fun as you can possibly have at the movies — a wonderfully gossipy story of redemption, creatively told. Irresistible.

"Lovely & Amazing": Nicole Holofcener's funny and devastating second film, about a family of troubled women, simply bubbles with truth. Catherine Keener, Brenda Blethyn, Emily Mortimer and Raven Goodwin etch perfect portraits.

"Monsoon Wedding": Declan Quinn's riotously colorful cinematography sets the stage for Mira Nair's joyous, generous tale of a family preparing for a traditional Indian wedding. Perhaps the year's warmest film.

"Rabbit-Proof Fence": Australian director Phillip Noyce beautifully tells an astonishing story — of three Aboriginal girls determined to return to their families after being abducted by the government — with a surprise ending that took my breath away.

"Spider-Man": Sometimes, Hollywood can hit one out of the park. My favorite blockbuster this year was this tale of a skinny kid who became a webslinging hero, beautifully acted by Tobey Maguire and directed with intoxicating zip by Sam Raimi.

"Spirited Away": An absolutely dazzling down-the-rabbit-hole adventure, from anime master Hayao Miyazaki. Every frame blooms with color and detail; Miyazaki's imagination, apparently, knows no bounds.

A splendid second 10, any one of which might have made my top-10 list on a different day: "About a Boy," "Adaptation," "Catch Me if You Can," "Insomnia," "Kandahar," "Last Orders," "Lagaan," "Road to Perdition," "Punch-Drunk Love," "Talk to Her," "Y tu mamá también."

Best 2002 film that hasn't opened in Seattle yet: A tie between Stephen Daldry's "The Hours" (coming Jan. 10) and Phillip Noyce's "The Quiet American" (late January).

Best 2002 film that may not open in Seattle at all: "OT: Our Town," which played one night at the Naked Eye Documentary Festival, does not currently have a distribution deal and may not play again here.

Regardless, keep an eye out for it, possibly on television: It's the story of an inspiring teacher at a troubled Los Angeles high school who rallies her students to put on the school's first-ever drama production, Thornton Wilder's "Our Town." Along the way, the film turns into a glowing demonstration of the power of language, of art, and of community.

10 worst: Oh, I do hate to dwell on the negative, because it means I have to think about these long-banished movies again. Nonetheless, 2002's roll call of shame includes "Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights," "Collateral Damage," "Dragonfly," "Mr. Deeds," "Serving Sara," "Slackers," "Super Troopers," "Swept Away," "The Tuxedo" and "Van Wilder," miserable turkeys all.

And that's a wrap. May 2003 bring comfort, joy, and cinematic splendor. (And, while I'm asking, a decent romantic comedy? Please?)

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

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