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 Heavenis 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 Heavenas 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 OutLaurent 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

Don't know why anyone was looking for rom-com chemistry in a Kafkaesque waking-dream like Punch-Drunk Love—essentially a 4D map of the depressive mind. Barry's blue suit is a hard insect casing. The tire blowout, a serotonin sunspot. The harmonium, scoffing possibility. The soundtrack, a migraine. His sisters, a swarm. The story has nothing to do with pudding and everything to do with the impossibility of returning to the womb—and the charitable sweetness that has to compensate. —LAURA SINAGRA

Zacharias Kunuk kicked off his icefield epic, The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat), with an appropriately Homeric invocation that doubled as a challenge to the non-Inuit among us: I can only sing this song to someone who will understand it. Capturing—hunting—the preliterate tale with postfilm technology, Atanarjuat at once defies time and raises the threshold of the seeable, and months later the viewer recalls a searing white canvas, soaked with myth and endlessly renewable. —ED PARK

Y Tu Mamá También + Weekend at Bernie's = Talk to Her. Is it just me, or does that film beg to be remade by Cameron Crowe with Tom and Penélope? —MARK PERANSON

Exactly when did it become apparent that Jack Nicholson is the reincarnation of Ben Turpin? —MICHAEL ATKINSON

What I learned from watching About Schmidt: that anyone who ever ate at a Tony Roma's restaurant is a fucking idiot. And oh yeah, ordering a Blizzard from Dairy Queen makes you a pretty big putz, too. —JASON ANDERSON

If Jack wins an Oscar, will he give back the one he got for As Good As It Gets? —MARK PERANSON

Evoking a sort of double nostalgia (for the city before skyscrapers, for the cinema before computers), Gangs of New York is its maker's only slightly premature lament for the passing of cinema. —ROB NELSON

Gangs of New Yorkhas the year's most haunting metaphor: the metal in the eye of Daniel Day-Lewis's Butcher, stamped in the shape of an American eagle, projecting the film's memories of medieval Manhattan into the uneasy here and now. —ED PARK

A special "Oh, the Humanity" award for most species combined in one breathing organism goes to Gangs of New York, the best Western since Unforgiven, the best Dickensian Western, well, ever, and an achievement it aspires to quite consciously with its capping shot of the Twin Towers: The Last Picture of the 20th Century. After a while I stopped trying to catch the reference points—e.g., after the first Gone With the Wind pullback, the fireworks from Leos Carax's Les Amants du Pont Neuf, the set-ups from Once Upon a Time in America, Lean's Oliver Twist and The Warriors, Vermeer's View of Delft, the reveal from The Ladies Man, Captain Blood, blood and more blood! —MARK PERANSON

This year, Spielberg's output is like nothing I've seen since Godard made Two or Three Things I Know About Her and La Chinoise in the same year. Both Spielberg's films are challenging, personal, and spectacular. He has done for the commercial movie what Godard did for the art movie—made it a form of surprise, innovation, and truly moving ethics. I know this is heresy at the Voice where the staff seemingly swears to oppose anything with Spielberg's name on it, but come on guys. Remember why you started loving movies in the first place. Those reasons are all in Catch Me If You Can and Minority Report. —ARMOND WHITE

Why didn't a larger audience embrace Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale? Yeah, OK, sure: it's an exploration of destiny and divided nature, a witty deconstruction of the film-noir bad girl (and suspense moviemaking in general), and a fever dream of awakening conscience and redemption. But it has naked women! High-tech heists at the Cannes Film Festival! A jewel switcheroo disguised as a lesbian make-out session! You'd think that alone would entice the Skinemax crowd—but the idea that sex sells to mainstream audiences has always been overestimated. Video killed celluloid porn because people could watch it without fear of being seen—or more to the point, of being noticed. De Palma's mid-career erotic thrillers made audiences uncomfortable because he toyed so openly with our secret voyeuristic wants and desires. His are the movies that watch us. —JIM RIDLEY

Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People was the first movie structured like a DVD bonus feature. And I mean that in a good way. The hilariously self-deprecating spectacle of Steve Coogan providing first-person running commentary as he fast-forwarded through the good bits of Tony Wilson's career seems perfectly suited for the target audience: collector-obsessed info-dweebs weaned on liner notes. —ED HALTER

Were My Big Fat Greek Wedding about a Jewish family, I suspect it would be accused of anti-Semitism—hell, the subplots about the Costanza family in Seinfeld were far more nuanced. Late Marriagewas its antidote: a painfully funny examination of an oppressive family that doesn't offer any comfortable way out, either by bringing everyone together for a happy ending or pretending that you can snap your fingers and escape patriarchy. —STEVE ERICKSON

The overwhelming sentiment for Bowling for Columbineseems to me a matter of wish-fulfillment (getting the movie you want to see confused with the one you actually do see), the worst kind of bullying self-promotion (Moore actually wrote himself a rave review on his Web site, and equated not liking his movie with going neo-con), and a general lowering of expectations (like: hey, he can shout just as loud as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter). Good political stance, lousy movie. —KENT JONES

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'spointless, 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


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 Arkand 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 Mindall explore the entertainment industry's grim "reality" by explicitly foregrounding their own distance and cinemanic unreliability. Of course, In Praise of Lovesublimely 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 Moviecouldn'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 Heroesand 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 Conductleft 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 Dukethe 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

As Hollywood's lust for instantaneous distribution threatens to turn 35mm film into a relic, who wants to bet that the mad slashers of metathrillers in the all-digital era won't be out-of-work negative cutters and disgruntled union projectionists? In the meantime, we have Robin Williams's Seymour Parrish (how's that for a name that spells the death of film?)—the lonely, celluloid-obsessed customer-care specialist in a suburban discount-store photo department. The new medium is the message: Go digital or die. Indeed, no one seeing One Hour Photo will continue to consider 35mm to be a safe choice for the family. It's a full-service movie. —ROB NELSON

Will someone please wake me when the DV revolution is over? I can only hope that a decade from now, technology will improve so dramatically that eyesores like Tadpole will seem amusingly quaint, like coming across that Deep Purple eight-track in the back of your closet. At least Jean-Luc Godard (In Praise of Love) and Steven Soderbergh (Full Frontal) showed enough contempt for the format to make its limitations seem expressive. —SCOTT TOBIAS

In a year for teeming, obsessively detailed worlds—Scorsese's (and Spike Lee's) New York, Peter Jackson's Middle Earth, Spielberg's futuristic (M)etropolis, Curtis Hanson's Detroit—only one marked its maker, George Lucas, as the most obsessive miniaturist in movie history. He's like a guy who woke up to a voice one day telling him to build France out of toothpicks. Watching When Clones Attack, with its vast model-train environments that swarm with massed pixels, I couldn't wait for the next establishing shot—something I don't think I've done since Barry Lyndon. But as the scope gets larger, the characters become pinpoints in a landscape—even (or especially) when they're at full-frame center. As Lucas's digitized imagery gets warmer and more accessible, his human characters grow increasingly remote and mechanical. It may be that those are the emperor's wishes—the ultimate blurring of man and machine, a fusion of pixel and molecule. —JIM RIDLEY


Starlet Divas

"Joy-eeen me or di-eee!" might not have quite the same ring as "Geef me that Coparah chewel!," but Jack Smith would have been thrilled by the late Aaliyah's final performance as the title character in Queen of the Damned. More golden than (one of Smith's trademark words) moldy, Aaliyah gleefully provides the kind of looks-that-kill rarely—if ever—seen on the screen today. Fiery instead of just venomous, her Queen adds fatally immortal intelligence to the ecstatic narcissism of Maria Montez's Cobra Woman. To paraphrase Smith himself, Aaliyah was remarkable for the gracefulness of her gestures and movement. Don't slander her beautiful womanliness—or whatever in her turned cheap CGI sets to beauty. —JOHNNY RAY HUSTON

Most vapid diva trip: Enough. It takes true huckster zeal to use the ads for a battered-wife melodrama to plug your latest recording, but that's just what "J to tha L-O" did with this piece of SH to the I-T. Regarding the pack of dangerous lies this movie peddled to abuse victims, how did this ever get greenlighted in good conscience? I see some Hollywood chowderhead watching Frederick Wiseman's Domestic Violence and saying, "Y'know, Fred, why don't these babes just contact their absentee millionaire fathers, hire identical look-alikes, acquire ninja skills, buy and master a zillion bucks' worth of surveillance equipment, and get a personal trainer for a month?" —JIM RIDLEY

Scoffed at sight unseenfor being based on a video game (yeah, I'm talking to you), then derided for being too gory and braindead for a zombie movie, Resident Evilcouldn't catch a break. What gives? Relentless, sexy, and utterly synthetic, this may have been the year's only film to score perfect marks on its own terms, the purest sci-fi trash art since Alien. The soul of the beautiful machine was Milla Jovovich, delivering a knockout performance of few words and tremendous stoicism that actually merits comparison to Buster Keaton. Milla kicked crazy zombie ass and looked fabulous doing it; is this not what the movies were invented for? Writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson obviously needs a name change. Might I suggest Takashi Miike? He'd get better reviews. —JOSHUA ROTHKOPF

Resident Evilrealistically addresses some of the big issues of our time, such as safety in the workplace, biological research run amok, and everyone's obligation to keep America zombie-free. This was also an unapologetically educational film. Before we saw Milla Jovovich kick the shit out of the zombie dog, most of us probably believed that only a bullet to the brain could kill the Undead. Now we know better. What this movie was saying just then was "If a firearm isn't handy, don't be afraid to kick a zombie dog in the head—and don't be afraid to do it while wearing a really sexy red dress." —JUSTINE ELIAS

Mix tapes were such an integral device in Alan Warner's original novel that I was overjoyed Lynne Ramsay deployed it equally well. After seeing Morvern Callar, Can's "I Want More" replaced Kylie's "Can't Get You Out of My Head" as the song I wanted to hear every morning. Come to think of it, I look forward to a movie that finds an appropriate use for the Kylie track, too—maybe something with a lot of sexy robots. —JASON ANDERSON

Asia Argento is a spoiled prima donna confabulist, sure. But come on, when your friend dates a jerk, doesn't it make you as irate as if he'd left her ball-gagged for three days? And when you're creating, doesn't your muse come and go like a boy rock star? And aren't powerful men who front as mentors just withered, zombified addicts who try to smother you and fuck out your vitality? And when you're bursting free of their influence, lunging through their paper-bag blindfolds, doesn't it feel like a birth? Well, doesn't it? —LAURA SINAGRA

No, Scarlet Divais not a great movie (not sober, anyway). Nor is Asia Argento a particularly stellar actress, even when playing "herself." Then again, she's good enough to prompt those quote marks, no? —NICK RUTIGLIANO


Sneak Piques

I really like that part where Arwen the elf tells Eminem, "I've got a feeling about you. You're gonna be great," before he leads the Dead Rabbits to battle the Butcher. Who says female characters are an afterthought? —LAURA SINAGRA

Denzel Washington and Halle Berry both suffered inane backlash from their Oscar wins, with angry white pundits demanding to know when politics entered the Oscar competition (the answer would be, day one). Angela Bassett checked in with the snooty assertion that she wouldn't have played Halle's part in Monster's Ball because she wouldn't play a whore. That part was many things—shoddily conceived, poorly written, and ineptly performed—but the character wasn't a whore. That Bassett and so many black folk saw it as such is very revealing about black folks' own puritanism, our deep-rooted apprehensions about the black body, as well as well-founded frustration that we never get to see that kind of physical and emotional nakedness in the context of a black-on-black relationship. —ERNEST HARDY

Collateral Damage, which inspired picketing in Colombia, reveals the degree of acceptable loss within the industry's saturation-bombing method of global marketing. The Kazakhstan-set Rollerball, meanwhile, reads as an unintended allegory of Hollywood's fear that those reliably exploitable territories might start producing American culture more profitably than we do—and with our own talent! Funny that the original Rollerball from 1975, with its futuristic vision of a benevolently totalitarian energy company (!), would now appear no less contemporary than the remake—which ultimately urges us sporting slaves to slam our corporate oppressors against the boards. Not to sound like a terrorist here, but I can't help wondering whether the lion that sits at the gates of MGM is trained in self-defense. —ROB NELSON

One of the year's great unsung pratfalls: Chuck Workman's three-minute splooge of nationalism, The Spirit of America, reportedly shown in thousands of theaters. Assisted by Hollywood unions and studios, Workman assembled a litany of chest-swelling movie moments subtitled with helpful generalities like "diversity," "family," and "patriotism." The industry's idiotic hypocrisy emerged whole and healthy: Amongst other foolhardy equations, Dr. Strangelove was summoned to evoke "courage"—excerpting George C. Scott's notorious speech advocating nuclear holocaust: "I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed!" but leaving out, "But I do say, no more than 10 to 20 million killed, tops! Depending on the breaks!" We may all remember 9-11, but Hollywood would have us forget virtually everything else. —MICHAEL ATKINSON

Surely the most sustained frustration of the year has been provided by Wes Craven's planned remake of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Pulse. First the disappointment of realizing that Kurosawa's original wouldn't get a U.S. release, then the nagging info about Craven's version, which offered brief hope (Kirsten Dunst in the lead) only to crush it months later: Dunst pulled out, and Miramax is requiring Craven to retool the script. Meanwhile, thanks to Tom Cruise's creative consultants, the Pang brothers' inanely derivative The Eye, which transforms Pulse's doom-laden climax (a plane careening into a city, a hope-shattering image I first saw on September 10, 2001) into an opportunity for jingoistic heroism, is getting a U.S. release, as well as a remake. —JOHNNY RAY HUSTON

The five films on my undistributed list technically have distributors. However, Lions Gate released Dagon (which played a weekend at Anthology) straight to video. The original versions of My Sassy Girl (a gross-out love story along the lines of the Farrelly brothers, only better) and Pulse have been shelved to make room for remakes. Who knows when Tears of the Black Tiger and Avalon will make it out of Miramax's vaults? Hell, Abel Ferrara's 'R Xmas had a one-week, one-screening-per-day "release." Cine-philes have a lot of fun getting into a righteous lather about Miramax, but the practice of sending interesting films straight to video or burying them in favor of remakes is no longer restricted to Harvey Scissorhands. —STEVE ERICKSON

Attending My Big Fat Greek Wedding some 22 weeks into its legendary courtship of middle America, I felt like the nuptial party-crasher who shows up late for what he knows will be a mediocre meal, then leaves complaining about the meager portions. But really: Is there even enough meat on this movie's bones to fill half a gyro? Directed by 60-year-old TV-sitcom vet Joel Zwick as if he was auditioning for close-up work on a Crest commercial, Wedding is scarcely a minute into the second meeting of Toula (Nia Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) when it scurries for the safety of its genre's lamest convention: the cute musical montage. Never mind about sorry: Here, love means never having to say anything at all. —ROB NELSON

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

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

I had a hard time taking seriously the complaints levied against Michael Moore and Bowling for Columbine: Oh, he's mean to Charlton; oh, he's mean to that cop; oh, he's doing an end-zone dance. This, from so-called "down" people presumably on the left. Whatever. The polite, evenhanded argument for gun control is made everyday—and it's certainly not deserving of any awards. It's called the Democratic Party platform. —JOSHUA ROTHKOPF

The chasm between harsh and complex sociopolitical realities, including the threat of a catastrophic war, and the insulated, complacent world of commercial and independent filmmaking grows ever larger. Something has to give. —DAVID WALSH

I don't know if it's related to the collapse of the New Economy, but at the movies it was the year of living fraudulently. Time Out, set in the wintry twilight of capitalism, went the furthest. But many of the year's great characters are fabulous hucksters who, in some cases, even delude themselves. When has a year given us—without moralism—the protagonists of Time Out, Catch Me If You Can, Chicago, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Adaptation, Igby Goes Down, Morvern Callar, 13 Conversations, and even The Kid Stays in the Picture? We are increasingly coming around to the idea that in an insane system, it's impossible to succeed by doing anything straight. —DAVID EDELSTEIN

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