The Year of Living Dangerously

Michael Fox recaps the best in Bay Area film for 2002 and recounts the first annual awards handed out by the S.F. Film Critics Circle

"Even the past isn't worth living in," Graham Parker sang in the late '70s, but I'll ignore his wise counsel just this once. The year 2002 started promisingly, with plush new seats at the Castro and a Bay Area grand jury prizewinner at Sundance (Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco's heart-rending documentary Daughter From Danang). Then Robin Williams bombed in Death to Smoochy, and the star-struck S.F. International Film Festival stumbled badly by giving the Akira Kurosawa Award for Lifetime Achievement in directing to actor/producer Warren Beatty. Speaking of '70s ladies' men, wasn't this a heckuva good year for Robert Evans (The Kid Stays in the Picture), Roman Polanski (The Pianist), and Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt)? But I digress.

Largely because it was demonstrably less awful than the first prequel (or last sequel?), George Lucas' Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones was embraced by critics and moviegoers in late spring. East Bay producer Saul Zaentz returned to the spotlight for the Cannes premiere and the release on DVD (and, briefly, in theaters) of Milos Forman's director's cut of Amadeus. Another costume extravaganza, David Weissman's The Cockettes, had a très colorful theatrical run at the Castro and around the country. Albany writer/director Finn Taylor mixed a '60s palette and '80s songs in his romantic comedy of confinement, Cherish, which unspooled to mixed reviews during its national run. After a slot at Sundance and a spin around the festival circuit, Silas Howard and Harry Dodge's gender-bending By Hook or by Crook enjoyed theatrical runs in New York and Boston (and airs Sunday, Dec. 29, on the Sundance Channel).

Far and away the biggest Bay Area hit of 2002 was Rivers and Tides, which the Roxie Cinema -- and its distribution subsidiary, Roxie Releasing -- pounced on at the S.F. International Film Festival. German filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer's portrait of Scottish artist Andy Goldsworthy grossed an astonishing $631,000 around the bay -- a number that'll only go up, given that it's back on the Roxie's screen through Jan. 7 and opens in New York Jan. 2 -- and saved the Mission District theater from the brink of extinction.

There was movement aplenty at other local institutions, as Film Arts Foundation, Frameline, NAATA, Canyon Cinema, S.F. Cinematheque, and the Jewish Film Festival moved into the Ninth Street Media Arts building between Mission and Howard. A pair of programming and exhibition veterans, Steve Anker of the Cinematheque and Janis Plotkin of the Jewish Film Festival, moved on to fresh opportunities after two decades each at the helm of their respective organizations.

Back on the star beat, director Philip Kaufman gave the local economy and the gossip columns a boost by shooting Blackout with Ashley Judd here. Robin Williams rebounded with Insomnia and One Hour Photo, and Robin Wright Penn was honored by the Mill Valley Film Festival, only to cancel at the last minute when she fell ill. Director Wayne Wang scored a year-end hit with the Jennifer Lopez fluff Maid in Manhattan; maybe the studios will start funneling better scripts his way.

The Bay Area celeb story of the year, of course, was Winona Ryder, who's surely speed-reading Robert Downey Jr.'s 10 Rules for Successful Comebacks. (I figure an Ed cameo next spring is the first step.) To wrap on a brighter note, though, we have the excellent news that Ms. magazine named Lourdes Portillo one of its women of the year for her gutsy, unflinching documentary Señorita Extraviada.

Bells Are RingingIn its first annual awards deliberations, the San Francisco Film Critics Circle voted The Pianist (opening in S.F. on Jan. 3) best film of the year. The group of 15 Bay Area reviewers -- which includes this correspondent -- named Y Tu Mamá También the top foreign-language picture and Rivers and Tides best documentary. Michael Caine (The Quiet American) and Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher) took the acting kudos, with Miranda Richardson (Spider, hitting the Bay Area in spring 2003) and Chris Cooper (Adaptation) nabbing best supporting actress and actor. Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven) topped the poll for best director, and writer/director Dylan Kidd (Roger Dodger) was saluted for most promising debut. In addition, the Circle awarded special citations to local filmmakers Jay Rosenblatt and Caveh Zahedi for "Underground Zero," the compilation of post-9/11 shorts that they curated and contributed new films to, and to Aussie director Philip Noyce for Rabbit-Proof Fence and The Quiet American.

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