The Year in Film
That contempt fairly dripped from multiplex screens as moviemakers migrated en masse from even basic concepts of coherent narrative and set their films in a Sharper Image mall-world where product-encrusted ciphers cracked glib and people of color, over-30s, and below-six-figure-earners were relegated to the back of the frame. The atrocious Hannibal featured the wealthy cannibal trying to literally screw working-class agent Starling. Swordfish offered John Travolta as a black op performing terrorist acts because mere citizens cannot be entrusted with democracy. 15 Minutes, a luridly violent media product, lambasted its audience as bloodthirsty ninnies sucking up violent media products. (Who says irony is dead?) A love for everyday people was also frowned upon in Rock Star and The Princess Diaries, while the pre-9/11 fear of a blue-collar planet formed the nexus of terror in John Dahl's viciously skilled Joy Ride.
Hollywood also exploited repulsive new ways to capture the teen-and-under demographic and its seemingly bottomless disposable income. There was the studio-slaughtered interracial romance of crazy/beautiful and the inevitable, inferior American Pie 2. The makers of The Musketeer and A Knight's Tale teen-ified costume drama by co-opting Hong Kong action tricks and anachronistic classic rock, respectively.
Comedy wallowed witlessly in teen-friendly, Farrelly-inspired gross-outs (The Animal, Freddy Got Fingered, and Scary Movie 2 come, unfortunately, to mind), while the brothers themselves emitted three inferior gagfests. Ironically, one of the year's finest, Ghost World, was powered by teen concerns, but it used them to frame a bittersweet valentine to mall-culture-estranged outsiders. The fitfully interesting K-Pax gained novelty value by being marketed to adults, albeit ones with too many Enya CDs.
But "adult" didn't mean "better," as we suffered through upscale kvetchs strolling the Sidewalks of New York and the corporate females eager to shed self-esteem in the service of romantic up-trading/ticking bio-clocks, as typified by Bridget Jones's Diary. Mature African-American films such as Baby Boy and The Brothers had good intentions but iffy execution. With some mainly negligible exceptions, the few black films released were marketed as though aimed at a miniscule audience on a distant planet.
Summer disposables such as Jurassic Park III, Final Fantasy, Planet of the Apes, and the justly maligned Pearl Harbor faded from memory seconds after viewing. The first Harry Potter movie product accomplished the same thing while still unspooling, while the definitive nadir of pre-9/11 kick-seeking came with the grotesque, pedophilic slasher Jeepers Creepers, made by a convicted child molester yet. The year ground to a close with Vanilla Sky, one of the worst films ever made.
But onto higher ground: Memento lived up to the technical demands of its backwards-narrative gimmick, although what ultimately emerged was a skilled muddle (not all my colleagues agreed; see below). There was no denying the spastic invention of Moulin Rouge (an Australian/U.S. co-production). The Man Who Wasn't There proved the Coen brothers could be simultaneously misanthropic and ache for the human condition. And serious reappraisal is due Steven Spielberg's intermittently brilliant, $100 million Oedipal crisis, AI: Artificial Intelligence.
Really good stuff was most likely imported. Amores Perros (Mexico) meditated on love and violence, while showing the dark consequences of both. The Princess and the Warrior (Germany) offered gorgeous images and heart to burn, while Sexy Beast (Britain) was a gruesome delight driven equally by both its dialogue and visuals. If foreign fare such as Our Lady of the Assassins (Colombia), In the Mood for Love (Hong Kong), and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (uh, New York) fell short at all, it was only due to over-ambition. The French Amelie was inventively adorable, while Catherine Breillat's Fat Girl (also French) limned an astringently devastating portrait of teen sexuality and male predation. It's unlikely that Breillat will be invited to direct next year's inevitable American Pie 3.
City Paper film writers Lee Gardner, Eric Allen Hatch, Adele Marley, Luisa F. Ribeiro, and yours truly were asked to make the best of if and cast their votes for the 10 finest films of the year. You can find our individual lists at The Unabridged List; the poll came out as follows. Films marked with an asterisk are available on video as of press time. (Ian Grey)
Amores Perros (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Mexico)* Alejandro González Iñárritu's gruesome, graceful, and morally centered trilogy of thematically locking tales is the real, humanist deal, red, raw, rough, and delighted to disturb. Whether he's filming a top-dollar model, an impoverished pregnant teen, or a lost revolutionary, Iñárritu is deeply in love with his characters, but not so subjective as to spare them the good, bad, and ugly fates that might await them in the real world. (Ian Grey)
Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, United States) The narrative film debut of Crumb documentarian Terry Zwigoff also mines disturbing adult comics, tweaking Daniel Clowes' moody, subversive graphic novel just enough so that both Ghost Worlds stand as distinct, fully realized realms. Zwigoff's version juxtaposes Steve Buscemi's apotheosis of the hopelessly specialized collector nerd with two jaded female hipsters' coming of age, striking a tone consistent with superlative recent dark comedies like Todd Solondz's Welcome to the Dollhouse and Buscemi's own Trees Lounge. (Eric Allen Hatch)
Memento (Christopher Nolan, United States)* Most Hollywood films are so predictable you know how they're going to end within the first 10 minutes. Memento begins with the end and starts working its way backwards, and it only gets less predictable from there. Memento has its weak aspects and logic lapses, but Christopher Nolan's adroit direction of his own script roused the logy thinking skills of filmgoers like no other American film this year, and Guy Pearce gave the ever-clever proceedings a haunted heart as a man who's sure of nothing but who he is--and he might be wrong about that too. (Lee Gardner)
Fat Girl (Catherine Breillat, France) The latest effort from cinematic provocateur Catherine Breillat (36 fillette, Romance) initially reads as an engrossing if almost clinically chilly drama involving two teen sisters, their self-absorbed parents, and the metaphorical wolf at the door. It ends up as a one-film auto-critique and shredding of the U.S. media's essentially pedophilic dehumanizing of young people into consumable consumer fetish objects. Fat Girl is shocking, potentially enraging, and a bitter but welcome tonic against Britney culture. (IG)
In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong)* Pulling back from the blurred neons and jumpcuts of earlier works, master filmmaker Wong Kar-wai turned his attention to 1960s Hong Kong and crafted an elegant romance that's as much old Hollywood as it is New Wave. Wong allows forbidden lovers Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung to communicate their passion with the subtlest of glances and gestures, resulting in a refined love story that's modern and stylish, yet completely antithetical (and antidotal) to American cynicism. (EAH)
The Man Who Wasn't There (Joel Coen, United States) A mesmerizing, beautiful ode to 1940s film noir, this luscious black-and-white tale is stimulating food for the cinema palate. A passive observer in his own life, a small-town barber decides to make a change, which, while leading him to ruin, also brings him unexpectedly to life. A treasure of small moments, endless references to 20th-century American culture, and unerring performances by stars and supporting players, this is one of the Coen brothers' best. (Luisa F. Ribeiro)
The Low Down (Jamie Thraves, United Kingdom) Unstable moments and the pressure to define oneself mottle this British gem about the inner lives of urban young adults. Director Jamie Thraves' gift for character and subtext recalls Fassbinder, Leigh, and Losey as his Frank (Aidan Gillen) internalizes profound doubts about his vocation, friends, and sexuality. This intuitive debut, part of the now-defunct Shooting Gallery series, is well worth seeking out. Its characters and their decisions will still be dogging you days later. (EAH)
The Princess and the Warrior (Tom Tykwer, Germany) German director Tykwer (Run Lola Run) provides another uniquely enthralling, mind-bending brain teaser with this tale of destiny--or is it just chance? Tykwer's muse, Franka Potente, plays a mental-hospital nurse who has an extraordinary meeting with a handsome stranger who saves her life. Certain that their fates must be linked, she is determined to get to know the stranger, and the subsequent interweaving of coincidences between them lead to surreal experiences both for the couple and the audience. (LFR)
Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, France) Pained by an inhibiting shyness, the titular protagonist (played by Audrey Tatou) of this luscious, terrifically vibrant Gallic import is so socially inept that she prefers to connect with others by stalking them, playing practical jokes on them, and concocting all manner of mischief behind the scenes rather than using simple forthrightness to melt their reserves. The subtle melancholy that undercuts Amelie's playful spirit is what saves director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's visually dazzling confection from being almost too charming to bear, but its intoxicating rush will probably leave you quivering and giddy with sugar shock nonetheless. (Adele Marley)
Divided We Fall (Jan Hrebejk, Czech Republic) Everything that Life Is Beautiful was not, this film set during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia spellbinds with a ring of authenticity. A small-town couple is mortified when their Jewish neighbor, recently hauled away to a concentration camp, returns, desperate after having escaped and with nowhere to go. Reluctantly they agree to hide him and a mounting nightmare punctuated by very real moments of mad hilarity ensues as each discovers their own humanity. (LFR) H
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