Split Decisions: the Critics Speak

Befores and Afters

Forget Sturges, Salinger, and Welles for a second. Why has nobody pointed out that Wes Anderson makes male weepies? Each character in The Royal Tenenbaums has his or her own little box, from each child's precious room all the way up and down to Royal's elevator. If Douglas Sirk had a better sense of humor, he might have made this movie. —Mark Peranson

I object to the Upper East Side noblesse oblige racial superiority of The Royal Tenenbaums. Until he proves otherwise, Wes Anderson is simply a more visually gifted Whit Stillman. —Patrick McGavin

What can you say about a year when the best and worst pictures, In the Bedroom and The Shipping News, not only were about the same things—grief, family, and renewal—but also shared the same schizophrenic distributor, Miramax. The next Celebrity Death Match should feature Harvey Weinstein versus himself, wielding a pair of scissors. —Andy Bailey

Is it only a movie? The end-of-the-year mass hysteria for In the Bedroom ought to scare folks. Maybe it's the post-9-11 vigilante urge that explains why middle-class and middlebrow reviewers felt the need to endorse that Sundance paean to white suburban vengeance. But even before 9-11 there was a subliminal, privileged anger in American film culture, most notably in the insipid Memento, a noir for hip thugs who think murder ain't no thang—not even worth remembering. —Armond White

At a time in film history when actual celluloid stands as endangered as original music in a musical, Moulin Rouge's corporate-jukebox aesthetic bodes well for the fully digital cinema of the future. When beleaguered celebs like Nicole Kidman would rather not drive to the set to make their movies, they'll be stored on the hard drives of superconductors such as Rupert Murdoch, and double-clicked to duet with other virtual stars for a song. —Rob Nelson

Lukas Moodysson took some heat from more radicalized quarters for zeroing in on Together's desperately utopian commune right at the moment of their unraveling. But wasn't it obvious he was after something bigger-hearted? Tenderness attends to each abandonment of principle—veganism, free love, postcoital Marxist critiques—and the revolution ends not in cynicism, but the gentlest snow-frosted epiphany of the year. Really, what chance did these people ever have against ABBA? —Joshua Rothkopf

The ashes-and-velvet cinematography of Werckmeister Harmonies was palpable and Béla Tarr's hypnotic camera movements surged to Vig Mihaly's mournful, unforgettable score. It seemed to rise up from out of ground zero. —Armond White

My favorite movie moment of the year was when, sitting in the shiny opulence of the Union Square 14 (built on the site of the old Village Voice offices, where mice ran rampant), and waiting for the dull and dour Hannibal to begin, I saw a bilingual trailer for Amores Perros. Funky Mexico City was finally deposited in the lap of indifferent New York, and at least a few hundred people would be transported to the nightmarish fruit of a world made safe for free trade. —Ed Morales

Films like Memento, Mulholland Drive, Donnie Darko, Waking Life, Audition, Cure, Shallow Hal, et al., represent a new developmental phase: They don't trick the audience into living an illusion (the "first stage/all is dream" films, like this year's champs, The Others and Vanilla Sky), but invite the viewer to participate, placing them in the position (or is it the Gaze?) of the obsessed, the paranoid, the sick. —Mark Peranson

Negative Space

The most depressing thing about Hollywood 2001 was exemplified by Apocalypse Now Redux. Coppola's enlarged epic was just as incoherent, pretentious, and unwieldy as it was the first time around—and it still shamed this year's big-studio output for sheer moviemaking excitement. —Robert Horton

The cinematic outrage of the year was the destruction of the original negative of Apocalypse Now, by its own director, Francis Coppola. —F.X. Feeney

The worst films of the year buffed out the blemishes of historical record. The Majestic would have us believe that small-town America was against the HUAC hearings at the height of the Red Scare, Behind Enemy Lines assails NATO diplomacy for keeping our one-man armies from tidying up the former Yugoslavia, and Pearl Harbor (a/k/a Triumph of the Will: The Beer Commercial) was, in spite of appearances, "the dawn of a nation's greatest glory." —Scott Tobias

I came away from the movie Pearl Harbor with great respect for the Japanese, if only because they had far better music cues (scary percussion!), excellent hat plumage, and kickass war dioramas at their military briefings (held outdoors, which must have been good for morale). The wading pool with model boats, and a guy in the water maneuvering the boats with a long stick—that was outstanding diorama work, people!

The United States, according to the Michael Bay-Jerry Bruckheimer reading of history, was sadly unprepared for its diorama presentations. Whenever a general needed an update, he was always stumbling into some dimly lit basement room with maybe a chalkboard and two disheveled guys shuffling badly folded paper maps around. And then one would go, "Yes, sir, I'll show you where all the enemy battleships are located. Ummmm . . . Who had the chalk?" Pathetic! And where was the plumage on his hat? Was he even wearing a hat? —Justine Elias

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