'The Royal Tenenbaums' best video of 2002


Published: Friday, January 3, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 3, 2003 at 1:35 a.m.

I have to say 2002 was not the best year to be a video reviewer. There were a few stinkers and a few great movies, true, but there were more generic, average, lukewarm releases than ever before. Only one DVD in 2002 made a strong case for Worst Movie Ever ("Rollerball"), but dozens of them were contenders for Most Forgettable Movie Ever (so much so, I can't think of any names to list as examples).

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Matt Damon and George Clooney star in "Ocean's Eleven."

Warner Bros.

Facts

REWIND THESE

The Royal Tenenbaums EEEE (four Es)

Heist
EEEE (four Es)

Frailty
EEEE (four Es)

Fellowship of the Ring EEE1/2 (three and one half Es)

Ocean's Eleven EEE1/2 (three and one half Es)

NATE'S KEY:
4 "E"s: Tremendous (best of the bunch); 3 "E"s: Superior; 2 "E's: Fair (it's been done better); 1"E": Avoid (save your money)

But as the resident video junkyard dog, it is my duty to gnaw through the gristle and give you the prime cuts. So here we go, with my picks for the best films released on DVD in the last year.

When I gave a glowing review to "The Royal Tenenbaums" in July, somebody took my word for it and rented it - only to hate it passionately. So to this man, I suggest skipping the following, as I pick "The Royal Tenenbaums" as the best movie I've seen this year.

Witty, original and divinely strange, this movie follows the Tenenbaum clan as it staggers through a charmed but traumatic existence. Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow are all gangbusters in their roles, but none shines quite so brightly as Royal, the family patriarch played by Gene Hackman.

The film's strength rests in the characters, each of whom are sharply drawn and intriguing in their own way. I liked "The Royal Tenenbaums" more the second time, and I think it would be a fine addition to any film collection.

On the subject of Gene Hackman: He had another four-star film released in 2002, the David Mamet crime flick "Heist." Even without Hackman, the ensemble cast and brilliant dialogue would have put "Heist" on the best-of list. But Hackman takes a great movie and makes it just a little bit better than great.

In "Heist," Hackman is a retiring thief who would like nothing more than to grab the proverbial last big score and fade into the sunset on his sailboat. But the last big score comes with a catch, as weaselly Danny DeVito makes the Hack take his nephew into the job. Double and triple crosses abound, as everyone tries to rip off everyone else.

Fine, fine movie-making that once again makes the characters the focus instead of the plot.

David Mamet has made a lot of great movies (make time to watch "House of Games," "Glengarry Glen Ross," "The Spanish Prisoner" and "State and Main" and thank me later) and proves his worth again with "Heist."

There is no genre of films more near and dear to my heart than horror. "Frailty" was a film that reaffirmed that love. Scares, surprises, twists, turns, axes - you name it. "Frailty" does it and does it well.

Played out over flashbacks, "Frailty" has Bill Paxton (who also directed, with aplomb) as a normal, all-American dad who drafts his two young sons into a life of serial killing. The dad has visions of an angel compelling him to kill "demons," and his two sons debate whether dad is right or crazy. This is a top-notch horror movie, so good it crosses over and becomes more than just a good horror movie. It blows itself out of the genre and puts itself on my best-of list.

I know I'll catch some flack for only giving "Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring" three and a half stars instead of four, so let me repeat my criticism of the film: It doesn't have an ending.

Once the trilogy is complete, I can maybe give it four. We'll see how it turns out. But as it stands, "Fellowship" is a classic film that sadly lacks any sort of conclusion. Even so, it was an easy pick as one of the best of the year.

"Ocean's Eleven" might not have been the best film of the year, but it delivered exactly what it promised: talented, charismatic stars engaging in high-tech shenanigans. Anchored solidly by Brad Pitt and George Clooney, "Ocean's Eleven" is carried by the sheer coolness factor. This is one slick and likable film.

The chemistry between Pitt and Clooney is perfect - old friends weathered by a life of criminal endeavors. But the rest of the cast - including Bernie Mac, Elliot Gould, Matt Damon and Don Cheadle - also helps make the film a great ride.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention a few other films that really lit up a dark and dreary movie year: documentaries "Scratch" and "Dogtown and Z-Boys," Japanese animated "Metropolis," and mainstream hits "Training Day" and "Black Hawk Down."

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