Split Decisions: the Critics Speak

Befores and Afters

Bully is the first time since Natural Born Killers that I wanted a filmmaker jailed. Larry Clark is the anti-Renoir, i.e., the Antichrist of movies. He has a way of turning gritty realism into grisly venerealism—he rapes his subjects. To think that Harmony Korine was a humanizing influence. —David Edelstein

Most mystifying critical judgment of 2001: Shrek over Monsters, Inc. The fitfully funny Shrek seems to delight people who complain that computer animation, and animation in general, isn't enough like live action. I hate to be a grouch, but an aimless montage set to Smash Mouth is lame enough in live action; in computer animation, it's a waste of resources akin to putting the Easter Island statues through a rock tumbler. And don't get me started on the supposedly hip pop-culture gags about The Matrix and, oh my sides, Riverdance. The lamest comedy writing in movies today, from Shrek to Scary Movie 2 to Not Another Teen Movie, congratulates viewers just for ticking off references. Plus you've gotta love Shrek's message: Don't judge people by appearances—unless they're short. —Jim Ridley

Shrek isn't the first film in which Eddie Murphy, voice of Donkey, has made an ass of himself. But let's hope (against hope) that his jive-talkin' character represents the last example of a kiddie cartoon animal drawn to signify blackness and scripted to play second fiddle to the non-black—in this case, green—protagonist (voiced by Mike Myers). Sorry to be so literal about it, but really: Would DreamWorks have risked funding this blockbuster if Myers had been the jackass bending over backward to help Murphy's ogre through his identity issues? —Rob Nelson

Back when I was writing for the Voice and speaking up for people like Karen Finley and Todd Haynes, I never dreamed the day would come that I'd be panning a gory, anal-expulsive comedy like Freddy Got Fingered while my New York Times counterpart would be defending the honor of the transgressive artist. The new Times regime is one of the few good things to happen to mainstream criticism in the last decade. But I still think Freddy Got Fingered is a piece of shit. —David Edelstein

If readers are wondering why weekly publications like the Voice sometimes end up reviewing a studio film a week or two late, it's because the studios are often less than thrilled that their movies get reviewed at all. Spearheading a media movement, Paramount officially decided this year that no publication will publish a review of their films even a minute before opening day—which leaves the out-on-Wednesday Voice uninvited to the prom. It remains something of a wonder that the studios allow even half of their product—brainless action films, hollow star vehicles, goofball teen comedies, etc.—to be reviewed at all, but Paramount, with a docket dominated this year by Tomb Raider, Domestic Disturbance, Down to Earth, Enemy at the Gates, Rat Race, and Vanilla Sky, has serious reason to keep its cards close. Any review beyond a David Manning-style blurb can only beat horses already butchered for dog food. The studio's major triumph over unlikeliness—Pootie Tang—suffered the scantest marketing and least trumpeted press screening of the year. —Michael Atkinson

Diamonds in the Rough

Best Mess: Pootie Tang! Packaged as a movie within a talk-show plug for the movie within the movie! Photographed by the DP of Masculin-Feminin! Padded with a music video, needless graphics, and about a dozen "transitional" shots of Wanda Sykes's seismic shimmy—and it's still only 70 minutes! If you replaced the TV-pilot section of Mulholland Drive with Pootie Tang, between the pillow shot and the wake-up call, would it really make that much difference? Don't know—that's why God made DVDs. —Jim Ridley

As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty: Hour three is amazing. Maybe it was hour four. I forget. —Mark Peranson

Though one critic I respect has called Millennium Mambo something like "Hou Hsiao-hsien's most boring film," I can't but fall into its narcotic rhythms and repetitions and its sudden bursts of beauty. A friend turned to me after a festival screening and thanked me for asking her to see it: "I'm glad I was bored. I had time to think about why I was bored, and then snow started to fall." —Ray Pride

Say what you will about the lowbrow shenanigans in How High, but no comedy this year approaches the anarchic height of Method Man and Redman rolling a fatty from the unearthed remains of John Quincy Adams. The five or six runners-up are all in Freddy Got Fingered, but "height" isn't the right word and I'm still not convinced that "comedy" is, either. —Scott Tobias

Twenty-five years after Car Wash, some critics still haven't cleaned up their act. Where Variety's dubiously worded rave in 1976 noted that director Michael Schultz's portrait of black employees at a white-owned business "uses gritty humor to polish clean the souls of a lot of likable street people" (!), a recent review by Bruce Westbook in the Houston Chronicle regarded the DJ Pooh-directed remake as "a dark, dirty comedy" with "a general attitude of selfish, callous contemptuousness." Just what was Westbook reviewing? Certainly not The Wash—which, to its credit, works not as a symbolic sudser so much as a mellow ode to getting paid while doing the least-possible work for The Man (Lions Gate execs included). —Rob Nelson

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