Everything Is Illuminated

The Critics Speak

Sirk du Soleil

A friend of mine insists that Todd Haynes's rapturous homage to the '50s melodramas of Douglas Sirk is the sort of movie that only geeks and critics could really love. So what if he's right? —JASON ANDERSON

Godard once wrote of a favorite director: "People say that Hitchcock lets the wires show too often. But because he shows them, they are no longer wires. They are the pillars of a marvelous architectural design made to withstand our scrutiny." And so it is with Far From Heaven. —NICK RUTIGLIANO

What a carve-up: Diaz and Day-Lewis (#2 performance) in Gangs of New York (#11 film)
photo: Mario Tursi
What a carve-up: Diaz and Day-Lewis (#2 performance) in Gangs of New York (#11 film)

A movie buff's wet dream, carefully tailored to inspire both nostalgic longing and self-satisfied deconstruction, Far From Heaven is a movie I find easy to admire but impossible to embrace. It makes me distrust my distrust, though I don't entirely trust that reaction. —MIKE D'ANGELO

"Oh, Mrs. Whitaker." This one line, as spoken by Dennis Haysbert in Far From Heaven, renders a history of pain and longing, unforgettably. —CYNTHIA FUCHS

Like his Superstar and Safe, Todd Haynes's Far From Heaven is an exercise in eliciting our sympathy for a dangerously thin character—an exercise that depends on our seeing her slim chance of personal growth as symptomatic of a larger disease. —ROB NELSON

Far From Heaven is far from movie heaven. While the memory of Sirk still lives (though apparently not for critics), Haynes's academic, stodgy filmmaking will never take the place of emotion-drenched '50s melodrama. That's not nostalgia; it's a recognition that '50s pop culture confronted life issues more boldly than a 21st-century pseud who refuses to risk the embarrassment of emotion except by putting it in quotes. —ARMOND WHITE

Consider the other great performance from Todd Haynes's young body of work, Christian Bale's vulnerable journalist in the glam-rock elegy Velvet Goldmine, and you'll realize his key theme is revolution. His characters are radicals five minutes ahead of the curve; they alone see the possibility of a bolder happiness and leap for it. That they always fall doesn't diminish Far From Heaven as the picture of the year. And just as many critics are coming to prefer it over Sirk's work, one day Goldmine will overtake Citizen Kane. —JOSHUA ROTHKOPF

Top 40 Countdown

One of the year's moviegoing highlights: Sitting in a sold-out L.A. art house packed with blue-collar Mexicans, West Hollywood queens, and snobby cineastes of all stripes, with all contingents dragged breathlessly to the edge of their seats and then letting out a loud collective gasp at "the kiss" in Y Tu Mamá También. Many viewers (fans and detractors alike) missed the fact that the film is a sturdy, artful essay on class, capitalism, and globalization, and the way those dynamics play out in everything from the ability to feed one's family to the shaping of sexual desires. In the end, that gasp-inducing kiss was powerful because so much of the boys' erotic longing was rooted in their conflicting class status. —ERNEST HARDY

About the end of Adaptation, what's not to love? Kaufman passes the baton to Jonze, who verily explodes into action. Hermetic becomes kinetic, and we're treated to a rocking drug-swoon, kidnap, swamp-chase, gator-attack, car-crash finale. 'Course, metaphorically speaking, Charlie's simply hanging his original self from the top bunk with a belt— internalizing a kitchen-magnet aphorism that's about as big a lie as there is. Adaptation's theme? The lies we tell ourselves to keep on living. —LAURA SINAGRA

Adaptation sets some kind of new standard in congratulating moviegoers for their own hip cleverness. If Jonze and Kaufman could have figured out a way to give the audience hand jobs, they would have. —CHARLES TAYLOR

Times have changed, but I can imagine the protagonist of Time Out—Laurent Cantet's reinvention of the '70s road movie—as a cousin to Rüdiger Vogler's character in Wim Wenders's Alice in the Cities. He's a family man who can't find a job he likes. His scams are merely an excuse to keep himself going. How can he find a job he likes when he only wants to keep driving? The film shows how countercultural wanderlust has turned into burnt-out, post-political nihilism. —STEVE ERICKSON

Technical achievement is for shit (and/or technicians) unless it actually achieves something. Even more thrilling than the massive ball that precedes it, the moment when Russian Ark's roving camera quits the dancefloor to descend the Hermitage's stairs and join the mad flow of human existence confirms not only the film's technical brilliance but also its heart. And then, not content with revealing the past, the present, and the blood coursing through them, Alexander Sokurov's final image tackles the future for good measure. —NICK RUTIGLIANO

Once the workers install the two flat-screen HDTVs on opposite walls of my penthouse, I'm going to loop Punch-Drunk Love's silhouette-besotted Hawaiian clinch on one, the girls traipsing down the loggia in Russian Ark on the other, and leave them on like that forever—an exercise in lepidoptery, those luminous flutters suspended in time. —ED PARK

Adrift, stunted, and raging, irredeemable but in love with the idea of being redeemed, Adam Sandler's Barry Egan was the most convincing (or at least the most recognizable) male character all year. —MARK HOLCOMB

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