Flashbacks: The Year in Movies

Some movies are ahead of the audience—and the critics. Maybe Eyes Wide Shutwill be the best film of 2001. Robert Horton

The worst offenses of the year were Jar Jar Binks, Eyes Wide Shut, and the news that Jodie Foster will play Leni Riefenstahl—will that be Hopkins or Hedaya as Hitler? —Graham Fuller

Kudos must go to The Matrix and its message: Love can change the very fabric of reality. The catch? It only works if the object of adoration is Keanu Reeves. —Chris Chang
Sticks and stones: Blair Witch Directors Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick
photo: Robin Holland
Sticks and stones: Blair Witch Directors Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick

The more I watched the brothers Dardenne's Rosetta, the more it reminded me of, and seemed to conceptually redress, the brothers Wachowski's The Matrix. Both films detail the Sisyphean efforts of a solitary individual to slip the surly bonds of gravity and soar into a self-determined sky. Rosetta (Emilie Dequenne) lives in a box (her bunk) within a box (the trailer home she shares with her mother), plugged-in to an appliance (her blow-dryer) which is her only source of physical comfort; in the end, she joins the planetary workforce, but finds its demands more alienating than her earlier exclusion. Neo (Keanu Reeves) is a Web jockey, plugged into a box within a box, who, once liberated, joins a planetary resistance, but retains his solitary mantle, "The One." Both are unwitting coppertops, lulled to sleep in Capital's cradle; both are rezapped into living by heterosexual encounters of the moist kind.

Rosetta is a realist (and perhaps—egads!—a Marxist) endeavor, which means, at its end, there is no closure, only the inevitability of further fight before further flight. The Matrix is a Joel Silver joint, which means, at the end, there's a sequel coming. And the redressing? Imagine, if you will, in the place of Carrie-Anne Moss's aquiline Trinity, Rosetta—an action hero who battles gravity with mud-stuck boots, not wire-work wizardry. Ah, the various liberations that might foretell: there'd be no wake-up kiss for Keanu, only Neo left drowning like Mouchette in Bresson's pond while Rosetta, her blow-dryer now a jet-pack, soars off into the CGI sky. One yearns to imagine the Dardennes' remix of Fight Club (itself The Matrix in a muscle shirt), in which the boys are all long by the wayside, and Dequenne, Moss, and Helena Bonham Carter band together as a kind of rubber-clad, ass-kicking, socialist Heroic Trio. —Chuck Stephens  

To say The Blair Witch Projectis an emotional experience says everything—there's nothing to it except the high-octane Fun Factory of don't-knows and whazzats; no text, no plot, no layers, no history. It's raw tumult, conceived so beautifully it could allow itself to be executed sloppily, and the result is a movie-audience relationship that seems to be less a relationship than a visual gauntlet, an ordeal by light. In terms of traditional film syntax, which has always implied that you the viewer will unambiguously receive all of the pertinent information you need, the movie is a radical act, withholding information and contriving to be without control over its own visual narrative. (No film since Michael Snow's Wavelengthhas prioritized off-screen space as profoundly.) This structuralist chestnut opens a window on how terrifyingly shallow and tenuous our grip on the world is. What more do you want? Michael Atkinson

The second time I saw The Blair Witch Project, it was in a nearly empty screening room. The first viewing had really unsettled me, but I'd decided, going in, that it wasn't going to work its devious magic on me now that I knew its secrets. I sat there in the last row, arms crossed, for almost an hour. About the time Josh disappeared, I felt somebody tapping my shoulder and I screamed my head off. I jumped up and started yelling, "Who are you? Who are you? What the fuck do you want?" And it was just some bewildered guy who'd come into the wrong theater. He goes, "I . . . I . . . I just walked in here and I wanted to know what movie this is." And I said, "It's called The Blair Witch Project, and you should NEVER sneak up on a person when she's watching this movie." —Justine Elias

I hope Paul Thomas Anderson doesn't read the reviews of Magnolia, though he seems exactly like the kind of insecure young megalomaniac who would not only pore over them but take them to heart. Most critics, schoolmarmish in their chagrin, prescribe discipline: "He's so talented and so good with actors—if only he would applyhimself." (The most condescending review called it "a great terrible movie.") Those who claim that, in its unabashed lunacy, its breathless embrace of excess, Magnolia self-destructs, or turns desperate, or presents no more substantial a "message" than we have to be nice to one another, misdiagnose the film's towering ambition as out-of-control brattishness and dismiss its ardent humanity as a glib attempt at closure. But, built to spill over, Magnolia holds up to scrutiny. The self-consciously melodramatic pitch and the diagrammatic relationships make sense in the big picture, thanks to Anderson's deconstructive intelligence and his sincerely benevolent attitude. I wouldn't contest that the movie is an act of supreme indulgence, but I'm amazed, thrilled, and grateful that it exists. Dennis Lim
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