Can't say that 2002 is much better than 2001. Add in the fact that I skipped the 2001 TIFF and my choices are rather lean.
5. Brotherhood of the Wolf
I stumbled upon this film by chance and was greatly rewarded. It was my first hint that France can produce more than light comedy. The film is mostly mood and atmosphere but it handles it well and entraces the viewer into it. In 1765 something was stalking the mountains of south-western France. A 'beast' that pounced on humans and animals with terrible ferocity. Indeed they beast became so notorious that the King of France dispatched envoys to find out what was happening and to kill the creature. By the end, the Beast of Gevaudan had killed over 100 people, to this day, no one is entirely sure what it was, wolf? hyena? or something supernatural?
The king sends two men to find out. And the battle begins. It's a period costume horror martial-arts werewolf movie and surprisingly all those pieces work together provided you don't concentrate too hard. And it's got Monica Bellucci. God bless the French.
4. LOTR: Two Towers
The first film just whetted the appetite. This film improved on the original and left us impatient for the conclusion. Gollum will go down in movie history as the first truly memorable CGI character (sorry, JarJar) to interact with actors. It's a great performance by Andy Serkis. The opening scene of The Two Towers provides an outstanding, yet very brief, taste of action, cinematography, and special effects, only to be matched (and far surpassed) in the final hour of the film. The stunning events of the third hour of The Two Towers are undoubtedly the centerpiece of the film, and while the first two hours serve finely as story development, they primarily build anticipation for the final hour, which mostly depicts the battle of Helm's Deep. More than anything else, the first two hours merely tease and torment the patient audience. But even though there may not be much action in the first half, it's the time taken to develop the characters that allows us so much investment once the battle begins. All three movies ran 3 hours and I applaud New Line for having the faith in both Jackson, to pull it off, and the audience, to want to sit through it.
3. Rabbit Proof Fence
Director Phillip Noyce had a stong festival in 2002. He brought to the festival "The Quiet American" and "Rabbit Proof Fence."
This is the true story of Molly Craig, a young black Australian girl who leads her younger sister and cousin in an escape from an official government camp, set up as part of an official government policy to train them as domestic workers and integrate them into white society. With grit and determination Molly guides the girls on an epic journey, one step ahead of the authorities, over 1,500 miles of Australia's outback in search of the rabbit-proof fence that bisects the continent and will lead them home. These three girls are part of what is referred to today as the 'Stolen Generations.' The performances by amateur actors Evelyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury, and Laura Monaghan (who had never seen a film before let alone acted in one) are authentic and heartbreakingly affecting. The real Molly is shown over the closing credits. YouTube has a short documentary on the shooting of a scene of the film.
2. Spirited Away
I had heard of Hayao Miyazaki but never bothered to find any of his films. My misconception about Asian animation was that it couldn't be as good as Disney films. I went to see Spirited Away at Toronto only because my first option at that time had fallen through. I was fortunate as this film opened my mind to what storytelling can do. I had no idea where the story was going or how it was going to end, I was just along for the ride.
The story centres around Chihiro, a young girl about to move into a new place and who feels insecure about the new environment she will be living in. These fears become a part of her encounter with a strange abandoned amusement park that she and her parents find when they reach a dead end in their car. At the park they find that their is a stall that is seemingly open, with glorious displays of mouth watering food. There are no people about but Chihiros parents decide to gorge themselves on this bounty and pay later. As Chihioro explores she comes across a strange boy who warns her to get out before dark. It is too late however, because as night falls, ghosts are awakened, and then by the time she gets back to her parents they are turned into pigs. She then finds that the route she came from is gone and she is now trapped in this place, her only allie being the boy she met earlier. She is told to get a job at the centre piece of the park, a bath house run by Yubaba, an evil power mad witch. This is a bath house for the spirits and Chihiro has to find a job there before she is found and turned into an animal herself, then unable to save her parents.
The film is commercial and emotionally manipulative but I don't care. The final confrontation where all the clues come in to focus, "Swing away", still resonates every time I watch it. Of course the clues are much more obvious after multiple viewings, but it doesn't diminish the power of the ending and the fun that's had throughout. There seems to be a lot of backlash at M. Night Shyamalan lately. The one I find funniest is that he is "insulting" the audience with his surprise endings because he thinks he smarter than us. No, he's entertaining us. Not all of his films have worked, but when they do, like this one, there are few who are better at keeping things tense to an almost unbearable degree, with no action. In "Signs", other than a brief glimpse of the alien on video, we don't see the creature until the last five minutes of the movie. Yet you are in constant worry throughout the entire movie and you're not even sure if it really is a 'monster' movie. The acting is superb.