Denver Bar Association
January 2003
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The Best if the Worst of 2002

by Greg Rawlings

What a dismal year. Nothing on TV, the usual onslaught of bombastic trash at the theaters, and radio all but unlistenable. Still, there were the occasional jewels. Here are a few movies, a book and albums (I couldn’t make up a top 10 from any one of these fields).

Spirited Away, directed by Hayao Miyazaki. This Japanese anime film, best seen in dubbed English version, is nothing short of spectacular. In this instant family classic, a 10-year-old girl ends up in a bathhouse for spirits, with her parents turned into enormous hogs and no way off the island that contains the bathhouse. What follows is unforgettable. The visuals are simply perfect. I attended with my 7-year-old daughter and one of her buddies; both proclaimed it to be the best film they’d ever seen.

Y Tu Mamá También. The sexiest film in ages. Wow. And wow again. Maybe Wow a third time. Written and directed by Alfonso Cuaron, a NYC-based Mexican film-maker, this road movie left viewers gasping in their seats. Gorgeous primary color shots of rural Mexico flow by as two guys and a girl seek out the perfect beach, known as Heaven’s Mouth. The acting is superb, even though the cast is mainly made up of Mexican soap opera regulars. And the sex scenes are that rarest of rare things—beautiful, shocking and real. Along with the gripping, and kinda sick, "Amores Perros" from 2000, this portends a hot, and I do mean hot, new wave of Mexican cinema.

Prague, by Arthur Phillips. A comic novel of Americans abroad—in Budapest not Prague—this book bursts with a rare wit. Caustic but not too cruel, it tells the tale of a mismatched crew of post-collegiate Americans wasting time and money in Hungary. Phillips can flat out write and his casts never fail to surprise. I can’t wait for his next effort.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot/I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. Both the album by Wilco and the film about the making of the album, shot by Sam Jones, are definitely worth your time.

The album famously got Wilco booted from its label, only to sign on for more money for another label owned by the same conglomerate that dumped it in the first place. It’s great fun watching a band fall apart while making a brilliant record. Near the end of the recording/film, Wilco boss Jeff Tweedy fired co-writer and multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett, with little if any dissent from the rest of the band. It is a stunning thing to watch happen. The film is an object lesson about the music biz, which is sick unto death. The album is challenging yet very enjoyable, like all of Wilco’s work.

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