Everything Is Illuminated

The Critics Speak

Could an independent film like Russian Ark ever gross $200 million like My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Not likely; one must concede the brute appeal of flaming plates of cheese. But isn't it high time the connoisseurs of art cinema took a page out of Wedding's playbook? Regarding the gorgeously mournful Ark, there are czarist history buffs to mobilize, art history departments to target. And would it hurt us bowled-over critics to take a break from the sophisticated references to consider the pivotal role we might be playing if only we pitched a rave to intelligent readers with no background in cinema studies at all? —JOSHUA ROTHKOPF

Flaming Creatures

Only one American film delivered an adequate payload of fear and transgression in aught-2: Jackass the Movie, the leering, drooling, monobrowed baby of The Phantom of Liberty and Titicut Follies, proudly flying a freak flag of a soiled diaper. The gayest mainstream movie since Top Gun—not even Kenneth Anger would have dreamed we'd one day see rough boys shooting fireworks out their asses on mall-cinema screens—it coughed up taboos viewers couldn't even remember. Is it an expression or subversion of angry-white-guy privilege? Is it the ultimate skatepunk conquest of mass culture? More importantly, does it hurt to take a bowling ball in the "gooch"? (Answers: I don't know; I don't know; and I don't want to know.) —JIM RIDLEY

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)

Best Documentary: Jackass, far and away. It makes the self-important, pseudo-political quests of this year's trust-fund and grant-hound filmmakers irrelevant. Fuck Bowling for Columbine. Ass Kicked by Girl, Roller Disco Truck, Paper Cuts, and other Jackass routines show what's really going on in the frustrated hearts and minds of America's misdirected white youth. Johnny Knoxville could kick Eminem's ass and Chris Pontius can certainly out-dance Slim Shady. What Bam Margera does to his dad on the toilet brings new meaning to "Cleaning Out My Closet." —ARMOND WHITE

Is it possible to miss the queer subtext of the sea cucumber masturbation, testicle torture, and anal bottle rocket launch? —STEVE ERICKSON

Fifty million badly injured young fans can't be wrong. —JASON ANDERSON

Beneath the proudly flaunted idiocy and boundless bad taste of the Jackass gang is homoeroticism pushed to the point of cultural revolution. (You just know in your gut that the debauched, hetero frat-boy dares of Johnny Knoxville & Co. that are relegated to the cutting-room floor—or don't get filmed at all—involve boy-boy fellatio and double-dog-dare sodomy.) Mom & Pop suburbia think the biggest thing they've got to worry about is young Bobby watching Jackass and then setting fire to himself in the garage . . . Meanwhile, their darling little flamer is getting far more subversive cues from Johnny, Steve-O, and the rest of the honorary queer posse. —ERNEST HARDY

Regarding Derrida, overheard at party: "They should have called that movie Jacques Ass." —ED HALTER

The Reality Principle

No matter how much we need escapism at a time like this, most comedies are ignoring the widening wealth divide affecting both Red and Blue America. Economic anxiety runs through The Good Girl, Sunshine State, One Hour Photo, Read My Lips, and Time Out. Even on the big screen, everyone is clinging to their job, fearful of firing, hustling to make ends meet. —BRIAN MILLER

A sobering depiction of the woes of inflation, from Catch Me If You Can: A night with Jennifer Garner, in 1960s dollars, goes for a thousand bucks. Hell, by 1993 all you could get for a million was Demi Moore. —JIM RIDLEY

Bloody Sunday was everything that Black Hawk Down, to its disgrace, was not: a war movie on the side of people, not machines; an indictment of hawkish folly, not the unfortunate breakdown of expensive toys. And fuck the Academy—it had better things to do on the 30th anniversary of the event, when it was screened on British and Irish national television and thus disqualified, than sit in a closet waiting for their precious consideration. —JOSHUA ROTHKOPF

The true ideological con job of the year is The Two Towers. War films are by their nature delicate enterprises, but how irresponsible is it in this climate of saber-rattling to present one where good and evil are so clearly demarcated? One in which the faceless hordes of ultimate evil—there's even a suicide bomber in their midst!—are fended off by our motley crew of racially mixed, unquestionably pure heroes, who engage in a running tally of how many lowdown dirty Orcs they've felled with a mighty video-game swoop? —MARK PERANSON

As part of the movie industry's lingering denial of 9-11—and its complicity with Dr. Strangedubya, who wants us all to stop worrying and love the bomb—the studios took care to shield audiences from anything that might suggest violence is more than a special effect. The Duck and Cover Award goes to The Sum of All Fears, which depicts a thermonuclear device flattening Baltimore and incinerating its residents. No, wait—that's what would really happen. What we saw was Ben Affleck as Rhett Butler tooling his SUV through a burning back-lot Atlanta dusted with wisps of flaming debris and artfully arranged rubble. Nice of the collateral-damaged filmmakers to keep the carnage offscreen, so we wouldn't be troubled by the horrific deaths of tens of thousands of people. Runner-up: the holdup of Phone Booth, safely postponed to some happy day when viewers can again enjoy senseless killings in comfort. —JIM RIDLEY

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