Days of Heaven

Far From Heavenis something close to universal. As predicted here when the movie opened in early November, Todd Haynes's faux-'50s melodrama has proved to be the movie of the year—at least as far the nation's alt-press reviewers are concerned.

Listed by over 60 percent of the 78 participants in the Voice's fourth annual film critics' poll, Far From Heavendominated the 2002 voting as much as David Lynch's Mulholland Drivedid last year—finishing well ahead of its nearest rival, Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mamá También.

Haynes edged Paul Thomas Anderson (Punch-Drunk Love) for Best Director and won for Best Original Screenplay as well; Ed Lachman nearly tripled the points accrued by Tilman Büttner (Russian Ark) for Best Cinematography; Far From Heaven's star Julianne Moore swamped hambone Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York) for Best Performance. Chris Cooper (Adaptation) managed to top the voting for Best Supporting Performance, but two of the closest runners-up were Far From Heaven's Dennis Quaid and Patricia Clarkson. The biggest margin of victory was achieved by Adaptation for Best Adapted Screenplay. In fact, three voters insisted on voting Charlie Kaufman's tailchaser Best Original Screenplay as well—fittingly, Haynes won that category for his "adaptation" of All That Heaven Allows.

Far From Heaven, which was similarly wreathed in glory by the New York Film Critics Circle, is a paradox of applied cinephilia. Its fans love it because it is steeped in a now vanished "movieness"—the resurrection of a once wildly popular, then déclassé style associated with the mid-'50s "women's film" directed by Douglas Sirk. (There are also those who dislike it for the same reason—as the imitation of Sirk's imitation of life.) Haynes evokes the Eisenhower era by re-creating its artifacts. He speaks the language of Sirk, but outside the bounds of cinema studies or film culture, he might as well be talking Latin. Or so it would seem. So far the movie has only grossed around $10 million—about as much as the anti-feel-good disaster Death to Smoochy(#89), albeit in one-tenth the number of venues.

Its style experimental now for having been mainstream then, Far From Heaven is first among a dozen scarcely less self-conscious movies. Unlike last year's poll, when dreams and fantasies haunted the top-10 vote getters, the rest of the list is highly varied and largely unclassifiable. Haynes's Sirk pastiche is complemented by three oddball road movies, Y Tu Mamá También, Laurent Cantet's Time Out(#4), and Alexander Payne's About Schmidt (#10); two metaphysical farces, Spike Jonze's Adaptation (#3) and Tsai Ming-liang's What Time Is It There?(#7); two historical tours de force, Alexander Sokurov's single-take Russian Ark (#5) and Zacharias Kunuk's Inuit epic The Fast Runner(#8); and two eccentric romantic comedies, Anderson's avant Adam Sandler vehicle Punch-Drunk Love (#6) and Pedro Almodóvar's Talk to Her(#9).

Just outside the first 10, Martin Scorsese's blockbuster maudit Gangs of New York (#11) and Hayao Miyazaki's feature anime Spirited Away (#12) contribute a bit of mall-rat name recognition, but by and large, it's a rarefied group. The sexy, youth-oriented Y Tu Mamá También—named Best Foreign Film by both the New York and Los Angeles film critics—is likely the most populist winner, but it has only truly been popular in its native Mexico. You'd have to go all the way down the list to Steven Spielberg's Minority Report(#16) to find anything approaching a genuine megaplex hit.

Call us cheap. The combined budgets of the top 10 movies probably couldn't pay the marketing tab for Spider-Man (#48) or cover the cost of Gollum's loincloth in The Two Towers (#29). The first 10's combined grosses are around $54 million, $10 million shy of the money made by Jackass: The Movie(#60) alone. Indeed, were it not for the $18 million contributed to the pot by real-world flopperoo Punch-Drunk Love, the combined grosses would barely equal that of our #136, Undercover Brother. Where Punch-Drunk Love really scored, however, was in the all-important, just-invented barometer of obsession: the passiondex—derived by dividing a movie's total points by the number of mentions to get its average "score," and then multiplying that figure by the proportion of that movie's supporters who named it their number one.

By that standard, Punch-Drunk Lovedominated the top 10 with a passiondex of exactly 2 (compared to Time Out's 1.44 and Far From Heaven's 1.41). The higher the vote count and the lower the passiondex, the more a particular movie suggests bland consensus: Adaptation, ranked first by only two of its many voters, managed a passiondex of only 0.5. Every top-10 movie was rated first by at least one voter, but going down the list, it's a different story. Number ones mean more, and the passiondex naturally rises. Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale(#19) had three number ones and a hefty passion index of 2.90, while Eric Rohmer's The Lady and the Duke (#28) weighed in at 3.35. Only seven people listed it, but two of those listed it first. (To achieve a perfect 15 on the passiondex, a movie has to be ranked first by every one of its voters, as happened with the lone vote for Dahmer. But let's not go there.)

Were there any unexpected showings? Lynne Ramsay's Morvern Callar finished a strong #13—particularly impressive given its late-December limited release. Other December movies that would likely have scored higher had they opened earlier include About Schmidt; Gangs of New York; Roman Polanski's The Pianist(#17), particularly as Polanski himself tied Sokurov for fourth place in the Best Director voting; Spike Lee's 25th Hour (#25); and Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can (#49), which was notably well regarded by the few who voted for it.

Perhaps the real surprise was how poorly some alleged critics' favorites fared in the voting: Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine barely edged Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco's Daughter From Danang(#62) for Best Documentary but finished in a tie for #22. Steven Soderbergh's Solaris wound up #31, Todd Solondz's Storytelling at #39, Paul Schrader's Auto Focusat #43, Henry Bean's The Believer at #51, Miguel Arteta's The Good Girl at #68, Steven Shainberg's Secretary at #75 (although Maggie Gyllenhaal gave the #6 performance). Most amazing: Curtis Hansen's Eminem vehicle 8 Mile turned up on only one ballot to finish tied for 99th place with 25 other movies (including Lilo & Stitch and Road to Perdition).

Dare we draw any conclusions? For the second consecutive year, American movies have dominated the leading vote-getters. Three of the four youngish independent or maverick Americans who finished in the top 10—Spike Jonze, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Alexander Payne—had their previous movies in the top 10 of our inaugural 1999 poll, in which Todd Haynes's Safe was voted the film of the decade. Grouping these men with the five mavericks (Terry Zwigoff, Christopher Nolan, Richard Linklater, Todd Field, and Wes Anderson) and two old masters (David Lynch and Steven Spielberg) who occupied the top slots last year, it would seem that, against all expectations and however far from heaven, U.S. movies are experiencing their best period since the mythologized early 1970s.


J. Hoberman's Top 10

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