A Decade In Films – Why ‘Das Experiment’ Was The Best Film Of 2002

It’s fair to say that my memory of 2002 isn’t that clear. Being in my second year of university (the one where you say I’ll try hard next year) and enjoying my first real festival (Glasto 2002! Wooo!) and all that goes with it (i.e. copious amounts of weed and a naive belief that sitting on your arse all day smoking said weed is what life is really about) led to a fairly frazzled existence.

But with a host of film magazines at my side and an internet full of facts and figures at my fingertips, here’s a run-down of that wonderfully palindromic year that was, 2002.


Bookended by ‘The Fellowship Of The Ring’ still going strong at the box-office and ‘The Two Towers’ closing the year, 2002 was a huge, huge year for the busting of blocks, with not one but three trilogy-spawning movies: ‘Spider-man’, ‘Oceans 11’ and ‘Ice Age’.

Each had its flaws, ‘Spider-man’ had a rushed, re-thought ending, ‘Oceans’ had a David Cameron-esque smugness to it (even before the sequel) and ‘Ice Age’ was only really great when Scrat was nut-chasing, but each one was better than good. The greatest thing was they all felt fresh and original (even if one was a remake and another an adaptation).

After ‘The Phantom Menace’ Lucas unleashed his latest CGI-athon upon the world, ‘Attack Of The Clones’. Now this I do remember. I remember the midnight screening, hugging a stormtrooper and getting excited like it were 1999 all over again. The phrase ‘Once bitten’ really should have sprung to mind.

Having an unhealthy obsession with Ms. Portman helped get me through the scenes with more slush than a thousand puppies but even the angelic Natalie couldn’t save the creeping suspicion that this was one of the worst films I’d ever seen. Then Yoda got out his lightsaber, the crowd cheered and suddenly it was the greatest film of all time again.

Hindsight puts it somewhere in the middle. But as my friend Chris said at the time, “R2-D2 does not fly.” I concur.

Other films to note were flawless Pixar ‘Monsters Inc.’, average Spielberg ‘Minority Report’ and boring Bond ‘Die Another Day’. Two of the greatest film-makers working today, Nolan and Fincher, released two films that failed to really set my world on fire with ‘Insomnia’ and ‘Panic Room’ respectively.


‘Donnie Darko’, contrary to popular opinion in last week’s look back on the decade debate, actually got its UK release in November 2002. A film that I broke Scroobius Pip’s 37th commandment by “not liking once it became popular”. Actually ‘not liking’ is a bit strong I think it’s a great piece of cinema with some clever ideas, a great soundtrack and a great “Check me out” performance by Mr. Gyllenhaal.

Sadly part of the majesty of the film was the wonderful closing montage to the cover of Tears for Fears’ ‘Mad World’. That majesty faded into obscurity once you heard it for the 4000th time that day on every radio station ever. Maybe in a decade’s time I can re-visit it and enjoy it is as much as I once did.

My Film Of The Year
After two fairly mainstream choices in ‘High Fidelity’ and ‘Almost Famous’ it was only a matter of time before I went all ‘up my own arse’ and picked a movie that grossed under £60,000 at the box office and that most of the general public wouldn’t have seen.

So I’ve picked ‘The Experiment’ for three reasons. Firstly by writing “most of the general public wouldn’t have seen” I should be overloaded with pissed off people saying, “Well I’ve seen it so shove it up your pretentious posterior”. Secondly while it was a good year, there were very few stand-out classics and thirdly I picked this film because it’s really fucking good.


Based on the real life “Stanford Prison Experiment”, 20 men get to play at prison life, 10 as guards, 10 as prisoners, with one journalist, ‘Run Lola Run’ star Moritz Bleibtreu, undercover as a prisoner. The ‘prisoners’ are locked up and have to follow seemingly mild rules, and the ‘guards’ are told simply to retain order without using physical violence. It’s fair to say that doesn’t last long.

There’s a bone of contention as to who said “Society can be judged by how it treats its prisoners”. Some say it was Dostoevsky, others that it was Gandhi. I’m pretty sure it was Jeremy Kyle. Regardless, the quote perfectly encapsulates the film. And along with last year’s ‘The Wave’ is a perfect example of German Cinema dealing with its checkered past (yes the film could have been made anywhere but it’s given extra weight by its setting).

‘Das Experiment’ is thought-provoking cinema, the kind that you can talk about for days on end, the kind of film that stays with you long after the credits roll. But that isn’t why it’s made the list. Its made the list purely and simply because of its dramatic tension.

It may take a little while to get going but once the nail-chewing kicks off you’ll be passed your knuckles and down to your elbows by the time the first hour is up. As for the climax no other film has left me in need of a quiet lie down in a dark room since, well, next week’s choice.

If you have seen ‘Das Experiment’, good for you, if you haven’t but believe a word I say, check it out as soon as possible.

A Decade In Films – 2001
A Decade In Films – 2000

And over to you, what was your favourite film of 2002? Do you want to dispute release dates? Anything you’re aggrieved I’ve left out? Have you seen ‘Das Experiment? Can you guess what next week’s film is?