Everything Is Illuminated

The Critics Speak

Bemused Edward Norton is about as convincing a drug dealer in 25th Hour as Elijah Wood is a low-life murderer (in Edward Burns's atrocious Ash Wednesday, which also features naturelle bombshell Rosario Dawson in a near identical thankless role). 25th Hour's pointless, stilted chatter backdropped by Ground Zero excavation makes for a snooze-en-scène unrivaled by any other auteur vehicle this year. And by the time Norton begs his boys to fight-club him up (so nobody mistakes him for a Nancy in the joint, natch) it's excruciating to sit by without getting a few good pops in too. —LAURA SINAGRA

Viola Davis single-handedly summarized the history of Hollywood's black images in what was probably less than an hour of total screen time, spread over three films: Far From Heaven, Solaris, and Antwone Fisher. Dark-skinned, with nappy hair, huge eyes, and a full body, Davis blessed each character with nuance and shadings, climbing inside clichés and stereotypes in order to explode them. —ERNEST HARDY

To Todd Solondz, if you're listening: Storytelling is a work of genius, an uncompromising portrait of true pain and a masterful anticipation of anything that I or any other mere reviewer could ever conceive. Now do you feel better? —ROB NELSON

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)

Original Pirate Material, and Other Trends

2002: the attack of the clones. This year in movies, everything seemed to be replicated, duplicated, adapted—from literature, nonfiction, comic books, Saturday-morning cartoons, the New Wave, the Land of Geekdom, and sometimes, even real life. —MARK PERANSON

The tendency to repetition, pastiche, imitation, and reflexivity can perhaps be ascribed to postmodernism, but what about the prostheses? —PETER KEOUGH

Call it a meta-trend—a creeping fascination with movies as self-exploding narrative suicides. Charlie Kaufman, both the screenwriter and character, referred to the conundrum and his own film as a tail-swallowing "ouroboros," but Adaptation instead suggests a runaway dream madly rethinking the dreamer. The analytical failure to become an orthodox piece of cinema and yet epitomize what is most rapturously cinematic—the Duck Amuck paradox—is becoming cool again. Russian Ark and 24 Hour Party People unfurl as tissues of self-interrogating hyper-travel through time, The Lady and the Duke and Far From Heaven swap the past for the past's pop art archetypes, Auto Focus, Safe Conduct, and Kaufman's own Confessions of a Dangerous Mind all explore the entertainment industry's grim "reality" by explicitly foregrounding their own distance and cinemanic unreliability. Of course, In Praise of Love sublimely acknowledges plot as whatever happened off-camera, while Storytelling, Scarlet Diva, Hollywood Ending, and Ararat all self-assemble from the ruins of the movie we're watching, which is never genuinely completed. The millions rocked by Jackass the Movie couldn't have cared less that, by any ordinary measure, it wasn't a movie at all. If anything, it's a momentary confirmation of Godard's position as the Elijah of modern moviedom. —MICHAEL ATKINSON

What a year for narration, huh? Almost every big movie was like a narrated slide show. I loved narration when it was a big no-no in Hollywood, but now that it's the fashion I'm getting a little sick of people telling in lieu of showing, or just interfering with our right to interpret images and performances for ourselves. Maybe that's why I loved The Pianist so much: When nothing was happening, it was quiet. —DAVID EDELSTEIN

It's getting hot in hare: From Liam and Leonardo's standard-bearing Five Points posse and the shamanic familiar in Atanarjuat, to Eminem's 8 Mile alter ego, lapinologists could read this year's rabbit run as atavistic identity ritual; in the doc How to Draw a Bunny, subject Ray Johnson's trademark portraits had the opposite effect, imposing on his art-world and celebrity subjects (Shelley Duvall, Christo) a daffy and deadpan shift to anonymity. —ED PARK

It was a demanding year in terms of cine-literacy: Far From Heaven required prior knowledge of the Sirk oeuvre, Auto Focus meant little without a bearing on Hogan's Heroes and Superdad, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was practically incomprehensible to those who don't remember The Gong Show. Adaptation answered a familiarity with Being John Malkovich, Safe Conduct left those without a working grasp of wartime French cinema adrift, Solaris was shunned—ironically enough—only by those without recall of the Tarkovsky original. —MICHAEL ATKINSON

First, there was Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, an animated Equus for pre-teens that had some of the steamiest glances ever exchanged on-screen between man and horse. Then came The Country Bears, Disney's gift to plushie-porn fantasists the world over, in which Queen Latifah and Christopher Walken pretended there was nothing at all unusual about conversing with eight-foot bears in smoking jackets. Then came the salad course: Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, which used talking computer-animated produce to relay the teachings of the Old Testament. Have the people who produce children's entertainment started smoking crack, or stopped? —JIM RIDLEY

Sweating the Technique

DV or Not DV: 2002 spotlighted the vexing aesthetics of digital filmmaking. DV's sallow, smeared, or juddering images, with their flares and contrails, their turbid color, amorphous forms, porous pixelation, and flattened perspective, tend to dishonor the world, as both Cronenberg and Godard emphasize (in Camera and In Praise of Love, respectively). Rohmer ingeniously employs DV to give The Lady and the Duke the fixed artifice of a diorama, both to evoke the visual culture of monarchist France and to make literal the idea of history as backdrop and spectacle. (For Rohmer, aesthetics are related to ethics; he sees the French Revolution as a lapse in taste as much as political regression.) But the digi-freedom that produced such films as Atanarjuat, Russian Ark, and Camel(s), all beautiful and probably impossible without digital technology, turns the anti-DV argument on its reactionary head. —JAMES QUANDT

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