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Flashback: The Year in Movies

The savaging of Brian De Palma's tender and poetic Mission to Mars is the disgrace of the year. For American film critics, pig-piling on a perceived bomb in order to distance yourself ("Don't blame me. I panned it.") has replaced bothering to look at what's in front of you. By asking how it's possible to avail yourself of technology without losing your humanity, De Palma, at a time when CGI threatens to turn movies into nothing more than spectacle, is confronting the dilemma that affects every filmmaker attempting to work in commercial cinema. —Charles Taylor

The difference between Hollywood and the Rest of the World may be exemplified in the otherwise stunning sound design of Cast Away jolting into vomitous sapdom whenever Robert Zemeckis insists on laying the Alan Silvestri score on like butter. As for next year's Kammerspiels, give me Werckmeister Harmonies, or give me death. —Mark Peranson

Curtis Hanson's "blame pot" bastardization of novelist Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys was one of the year's most propped-up disappointments. Thank James Toback, then, for not wasting all of Robert Downey Jr.'s fleeting straight time. In Black and White, when Downey comes across Mike Tyson at a party, what does the ever deranged Toback encourage him to do? Cinch the year's best American acting honors by pitching woo at the unpredictable pugilist. "Don't do this to me, brother," Tyson pleads in response, stuck between temptation and eternity, "I'm on parole." So, at that very moment, was Downey—dreamboat, daredevil, drugged man walking. —Chuck Stephens

Julian Schnabel has always been one of the most hetero of artists. His mighty brush is at times so unwieldy he has to paint outdoors. His sculptures look like they fell off the back of D.W. Griffith's Babylonian prop truck. And his CD. Tell me that's not a giant penis on the cover. Now he hits his stride as a director, and makes a sensitive, sprawling biopic about a gay Cuban poet! (And just wait until you see Johnny Depp.) —Chris Chang

If nothing else, let Gladiator serve as fitting tombstone for Oliver Reed, rapscallion, debaucher, thespian. Looking less like a fallen version of Caesar than The Wild Bunch's lost lad, Reed seems to turn up in Ridley Scott's toga-rama only to utter the line that may as well serve as his epitaph. Flinging open his arms in contemplation of a glorious return to swollen Rome, the immortal star of Curse of the Werewolf, These Are the Damned, and Women in Love intones, "Let the great whore suckle us until we're fat, and happy, and can suckle no more." —Chuck Stephens

Guy Maddin's The Heart of the World packed the visual wham of Eisenstein and Vertov and the narrative blam of a Mack Sennett two-reeler into five dazzling minutes of frantic formalist fun. I could watch this film every morning as a substitute for coffee. Kino, kino, kino! —Mike Rubin

Nagisa Oshima's Taboo and Jang Sun Woo's Lies were two of the funniest comedies on display this year, though the humor is so subsumed by the outrages at center stage as to be nearly subliminal. Jang lays most of his yuks in the paths of unsuspecting passersby. Oshima, on the other hand, uses "Beat" Takeshi precisely the way Carol Burnett used to use Harvey Korman: He surrounds the funnyman, so clearly aching for imperturbability, with so many mug-shot goons and double-edged gag lines that he might as well have blown a peck of peppers up the poor slob's nose. Alternate title: I Was Stoic, But . . . —Chuck Stephens

The year's most terrifying cinematic development: the evolution of former "reviewer" and celebrity shitnoser Rod Lurie into a DreamWorks auteur, hitting the big time with a two-faced political screed that sells its righteous snake oil as if Monica Lewinsky never went down. What's next? Jeanne Wolf helming the next Denzel Washington civil rights melodrama? Jeff Craig adapting Flaubert? Did the late Paul Wunder miss his opportunity to become the next Rivette? —Michael Atkinson

Besides the identity of our next president, the nagging question of the year was what did the MOMA regulars do during the museum workers' strike? You know, the plastic-bag-rustling, candy-wrapper-crinkling, deceased-relative's-voice-hearing, seating-arrangement-bickering, loudly-wheezing-and-snoring, late-arriving-and-early- departing folks who can make the viewing of a Bresson film into the experience of being in a Buñuel film. Which side were the muttering classes on? Was a picket line and a museum boycott enough to keep the hardcore Titus-heads from their appointed rounds? —Mike Rubin

American Psycho, the film that finally links two things we always knew were connected: yuppie homicide and yuppie skin-care products. This, of course, picks up a thread from the greatest pair of dissolves in recent movie history. Toy Story 2: Little Emily grows up fast—as we watch first her collection of girlie horses turn into an array of cosmetics, and then her childhood knickknacks into rock-and-roll detritus. The surface rules. The surface kills. Plow down another community garden. Gentrify. —Chris Chang

World cinema doesn't lack for vision, it lacks for distributors with vision. The movies are out there, the filmmakers too; I prefer to think we have failed as a nation of entrepreneurs rather than a nation of potential cinephiles. —Ray Pride

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