Crouching Pussycats, Hidden Gems

Moviegoers Avoid Big-Budget Pitfalls

And so we emerge like depressed, tick-plagued groundhogs not from merely a winter of withering cinematic mediocrity but an entire year of moviegoing from which we've taken home with us little more than the conviction that if it's got Steven Soderbergh's name on it, it's safe to give an award to. OK, so there were imported high points amid the sweepings, but fewer than we have a right to—was this all the globe had to offer? Actually, no: The last three or more films by Godard, Hou, Kaurismäki, Sokurov, Makavejev, Gianni Amelio, Stanley Kwan, Miklos Jancso, Marta Meszaros, Jacques Doillon, and Bela Tarr—and a hundred less-renowned masters—have not tempted distributors who are otherwise plopping their bankrolls on 8 1/2 Women, Mifune, The Prince of Central Park, and Up at the Villa. As everyone has duly noted, 2000's domestic scene is best left to molder in the shallow roadside grave critics have dug for it. But having survived an ominous plague year with very little if any apocalyptic fall-of-cinema blather, we face the new season with prudence. Does the spring have more to promise?

Because we're dumb animals, we can hope, though the question might be what exactly do we hope for? Not the reliable dream-building filmgoers expected in the '40s, not the perspective-prisming epiphanies of the '60s and '70s; not much, it seems, beyond the privilege to be regarded as something other than lazy, flush adolescents, juiced for druglike bedlam and comic-book naïveté. 2001, by the looks of things, may not be much of an improvement, with the spring dominated by serial-killer procedurals (Along Came a Spider, 15 Minutes, etc.), gimmicky heist capers (The Mexican, Sexy Beast, etc.), and ill-advised westerns (Ring of Fire, Texas Rangers, etc.), topped off with the pickled cherry that promises to be Josie and the Pussycats.

But springtime isn't the traditional season for Bazooka Joe excess, nor is it the time for Oscar-priming, so the possibility remains that movies less stock-leveraged and more idiosyncratic may emerge. For sure, we've got a new union-rallying film from Ken Loach (Bread and Roses), the first film in nine years from Ousmane Sembene (Faat Kine), Michael Winterbottom taking on Hardy again (The Claim), Zhang Yimou taking up Crouching Tiger's Zhang Ziyi in a Gong-less world (The Road Home), and another gourmet crop from Iran: Jafar Panahi's acclaimed The Circle, Bahman Farmanara's gently funereal Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine, and Mohsen Makhmalbaf's wife/student Marziyeh Meshkini's The Day I Became a Woman. Likewise, Christopher Nolan's Mementoand Shinji Aoyama's Eurekahave already been hosannaed at festivals. What we cannot be so certain about, given their auteurs' hill-and-dale filmographies, are the new films by John Boorman (doing le Carré's The Tailor of Panama, which seems like somebody else's job), Woody Allen (The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, whose title alone can make your eye veins redden) and James Ivory, who with The Golden Bowl returns to the Henry James waterhole like an old horse walking in circles. The optimists may be right this time, but the pessimists have the point spread—after all, Steven Seagal is back as well (Exit Wounds).

Often, the authentic deliveries come in reality-bite packages, and so both Ted Demme's Blowand Jean-Jacques Annaud's Enemy at the Gatesare generating anticipation, though they, like every 2001 film so far, muster very little saliva indeed next to the trailer for The Lord of the Rings(the first third of which opens in December). Even the Pearl Harborad, red white and goddamn blue as it is, is a stone-cold wimp, though the movie promises to at least prove again that if you spend $200 million on a movie and its marketing, you could probably make $100 million back and have it labeled a smash-hit. Sell your shares in Disney now, before Wall Street realizes that a headline in Varietyand a buck-fifty will get you on the subway.

No matter. If the prospect of a Kiss the Girlssequel or a James Van Der Beek oater doesn't make your weekend float, then act like the market you are by definition and don't go—force the industry to conform to your specs, not vice versa. Things can change. Every ticket sold to Josie and the Pussycatsis a Texan-like vote for new epic versions of Mork & Mindyor Land of the Lostor the already upcoming Scooby-Doo. Boycotting the deep-pocketed candidates amounts to a loud vote for the good guys. If you don't care about the contest, this Seagal's for you.


Listings compiled and written by Michael Atkinson, Dennis Lim, and Jessica Winter


TEN TO WATCH FOR

Memento
Second-time director Christopher Nolan ingeniously inverts and singlehandedly revitalizes neo-noir with this backward-spooling revenge drama, which plunges the audience mercilessly into the addled consciousness of its antihero (the astonishing Guy Pearce), a man with no short-term memory seeking his wife's killer. MARCH 16

Faat-Kine
Ousmane Sembene's new film again holds a steady microscope to the ever-changing political realities of Senegalese society as it juggles modern capitalism and tribal tradition. Focusing on a businesswoman and her struggle between economic success and familial stress, Sembene remains a filmmaker unambiguously dedicated to sociocultural truth, which puts him in august company. MARCH 28

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