Flashbacks: The Year in Movies

  • While the Walter Reade's near-complete Hou Hsiao-hsien retrospective was exceptional, the award for New York's Best Retro of the Year probably has to go to the MOMA for its Robert Bresson series: the same Bresson films that have drawn crowds of five or six to Anthology Film Archives over the years (to watch unsubtitled prints dissolve into vinegar) were the subject of near fistfights in the MOMA lobby as hardcore cineastes, New Yorker readers, and the museum's usual collection of snoring seniors, yammering tourists, and misanthropic regulars all battled amongst themselves for the right to claim seats in Titus 1 as if they were Lancelot's Grail itself. —Mike Rubin

    WIDE ANGLE: THE DECADE, THE CENTURY, THE DEATH AND/OR REBIRTH OF CINEMA

  • One might place the blame for '90s cinema's zeal for bed-hopping from genre to genre, through remix and remodel, and into the polymorphic pantopia of post-irony's last resorts, on Wes Craven's decision, all those years ago, to remake Bergman's Virgin Spring as Last House on the Left. —Chuck Stephens
    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

  • My tie for director of the decade needs a few words. Hou Hsiao-hsien seems obvious—who's greater? But Téchiné merits a bit of explanation. His films are all imperfect, he always reaches a bit further than his grasp, and the tone of his work takes some getting used to—breathless, pouncing on moments rather than letting them flow. But there's no one whose work has touched me more, whose characters' horizons and responses to life seem the most real. —Kent Jones

  • The director of the decade has to be Steven Spielberg for the unbeatable combination of humanist daring (from Hook to Saving Private Ryan) and populist astonishment (from The Lost World to Amistad). One day film culture's pseudo-sophisticates will catch up to him. —Armond White

  • My director of the decade is Richard Lester, not for his The Return of the Musketeers (which went directly to cable in 1991), but for the influence that freewheeling Lester classics like A Hard Day's Night and Petulia had on the likes of Danny Boyle, Steven Soderbergh, and David O. Russell. —Michael Sragow

  • The '90s was the period when the most prominent New York tastemakers turned their backs on virtually everything of importance happening in world cinema; to learn what was going on, one most often had to pay attention to J. Hoberman, Dave Kehr, and Kent Jones. But alas, even the first two weren't much help with Eyes Wide Shut, a film whose New York reception reminded me of the fates of the similarly unfashionable and out-of-time Gertrud and Seven Women in the '60s. No matter: Even if the movie fails to acknowledge the importance of living in New York in the '90s—for me it evokes a dream vision of that city in the early '60s—it will be remembered and increasingly valued in the years ahead, as most other Kubrick features have been. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

  • While Iranian cinema continues to breed boosters like hamsters across the constantly blooming and dying desert of foreign-film exhibition in the States, the renaissance of filmmaking in South Korea this decade has garnered little acclaim, and even less support on American screens. —Chuck Stephens

  • Ten Best Films of the Century?

    Oh please! —B. Ruby Rich

    How the fuck should I know? I haven't seen everything yet. —Justine Elias

    You've got to be joking. Who do you think you are—Time? —Bruce Goldstein

  • All this bavardage about the End of Cinema, raped and looted by digital this and virtual that. Sometime in the future, a perfected electronic form might replace the chemical process, but what's particularly silly is the persistent contention that virtual game-playing, in its present form and beyond, will supercede filmgoing. I'll lay everything on movies and give great odds for a very simple reason: However they may have seemed in the last 20 years to have become pure visual/visceral experiences, movies are still about storytelling. Stories, it should be noted, have endings we can't change, and that's why we like them. Begin to interact and control the story, and what you've got is energy-expending, worklike, and unsatisfyingly shapeless. It's the difference between the number of people who actually play a recreational sport and the number of people who recreationally watch sports. How can controlling a search-and-kill game—and eventually, inevitably losing—rival the voyeuristic thrall of a Hitchcock or a Scorsese? —Michael Atkinson

  • We are witnessing either the rebirth of American filmmaking or the galvanizing flailing of a twitching corpse. In any event, there's ferment in the air—and some of it is wafting off the screen. —Michael Sragow

  • How long are weary, graying baby boomers going to insist that the glory days of creative American cinema ended in 1975? We were in a renaissance then, and we're in a different one now. —Owen Gleiberman

  • Like Y2K and the Apocalypse, the great movie renaissance of 1999 looks like another millennial fizzle. —Peter Keough

  • Note to world-cinema doomsayers (Denby, Sarris, Sontag, et al.): The tragedy these days isn't that foreign masterpieces don't exist; it's that finding them often requires leaving your neighborhood. —Rob Nelson
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