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by Benjamin Strong

Peter Jackson's The Two Towers wasn't the only long-dreamed-about project finally hitting theaters in 2002. Martin Scorsese's much-delayed, over-budget Gangs of New York was originally scheduled for a fall 2001 release, but in the aftermath of you know what was postponed due to its ultraviolence.

Far more chilling than Scorsese's gorefest, however, was Steven Spielberg's Philip K. Dick adaptation, Minority Report. In it, Tom Cruise (newly divorced from Nicole Kidman) plays a cop who more or less enacts the local police version of the Bush administration's preemptive strike doctrine. Spielberg, in his darkest film since 1987's Empire of the Sun, seemed to anticipate all the anxieties of one nation under the Patriot Act. Too bad he fucked up PKD's original story with one of his stupid happy endings.

By contrast, in Adaptation, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman sidestep the very idea of bringing a book to the screen. Then there was George Clooney's debut effort behind the camera, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, which spoofed America's suddenly resurgent appetite for reality television. And Steven Soderbergh released his annual pair of movies, and as usual one of them (Solaris) was overrated, while the other (Full Frontal) was unfairly neglected.

On the foreign front, The Pianist, ex-pat Roman Polanski's autobiographical look at Nazi-occupied Poland, was the director's biggest critical and commercial success in the U.S. since probably Chinatown. Jia Zhang-ke, the Chinese director who was already emerging as one of the world's preeminent filmmakers in 2002, gave us the heartbreakingly entitled coming-of-age story Unknown Pleasures. And from France, we got Olivier Assayas's handheld, neo New Wave take on the Belle Epoque, Les destinees sentimentales.

That film was actually two years old already and Assayas's latest feature at the time, demonlover, wouldn't reach American theaters until 2003. Some critics believe that demonlover is the film of the decade, and certainly nothing else this side of Inland Empire or Mulholland Dr. could rival it for inspired lunacy during the aughts. And yet when judged frame for frame, no movie in 2002 was more fun to watch, not even demonlover, than Brian De Palma's disreputable cult classic, Femme Fatale—or as Moviefone used to pronounce it, "Femmee Fatalay." Remember when you used to call Moviefone for tickets?

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