Negative Space


This was the worst year in the 85-year history of Hollywood. —Gerald Peary

Frankly, I prefer a year where you mention a title and get a drink thrown in your face. —Dennis Dermody

This was only a terrible year for movies in the sense that most critics determined their sample group based on what Variety calls the “number of engagements.” —Rob Nelson

Nondistribution is less of a problem than underfinanced promotion. How many good movies were released this year that sank for lack of a competitive advertising budget? Critics don’t help—they’re too allied with the media conglomerates (and too fond of Hollywood hype). This pretty good year for movies was also the year of the disappearing movie. The most imaginative and thought-provoking films left town as quickly and quietly as they arrived: L’Humanité, Time Regained, The Little Thief, Orphans, Beau Travail. Critics never mourned their passing, even though it meant strong movie culture was passing, too. —Armond White

Sending moviegoers off to be emotionally raped at Dancer in the Dark is a betrayal, not just of the audience but of the movies themselves. Hapless at everything except its sadism, Lars von Trier’s “dark” musical (now, there’s an original idea) shows no sense of color, rhythm, or movement—the elements that might be considered the minimum requirement for the genre. Flaunting its incompetence, Dancer in the Dark is designed to make the very idea of competence seem hopelessly retrograde. —Charles Taylor

Lars von Trier’s religious allegory as modern musical works best in its most spirited moments of Bergman-esque audacity, restoring near forgotten notions of theatricality to film artistry. —Gregory Solman

The controversy over Dancer in the Dark (a/k/a Breaking More Waves) beat the film itself, as does the soundtrack album. I much prefer The Idiots—the best episode of The Tom Green Show ever made, as well as an elaborate autocritique of von Trier and the Dogma crew’s bad faith. —Steve Erickson

It was amazing how many reviewers bought into the hype surrounding von Trier and Dogma when reviewing the disgracefully manipulative Dancer in the Dark. As for the mealymouthed attacks on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, they smacked of a snobbish intellectual resistance to a film designed to please mainstream as much as art-house audiences. —Graham Fuller

Don’t forget to celebrate the small victory of the New York Film Critics Circle’s near shutout of Crouching Tiger—the silly, unimaginative film that still proves the culture’s lack of interest in Foreign Language Art Movies. Ang Lee’s only success was in showing how the blockbuster mentality has taken over all film culture. Lee’s imitation of Hong Kong cinema is the sincerest form of flattening. —Armond White

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is made with a level of craft, passion (more than many people are willing to acknowledge), and respect for the tradition of the wu xia pian that I would never have expected from the guy who made The Ice Storm. All the comments about it being a pale, diluted rip-off of “real” Hong Kong movies are delusional. I love King Hu, but he rarely had acting this good or nuanced. —Kent Jones

Crouching Tiger can safely be enjoyed without necessarily agreeing with the crowds of those same dilettantes who wouldn’t know Peking Opera Blues from The Blues Brothers, and who cannot get over how much international influence The Matrix has had. —Michael Atkinson

Neo-neo-realism is lighting up world cinema from Argentina to Turkey to Taiwan, and we’re stuck with what seems like the only fiction cinema incapable of making convincing films about ordinary people. This was supposedly the raison d’être of the Amerindie movement, but instead we get timid melodramas and aimless rural geekfests passed off as authentic slices of everyday life. Leaving aside Jim McKay’s plangent Our Song, the only jolts of social reality I got last year were accompanied by subtitles. —Paul Arthur

George Washington gave me more hope for the future of American movies than anything I’ve seen in a long, long time. For a 25-year-old to make something like this—as opposed to another caper comedy of lightly worn sociopathy, “edgy” rats in an urban trap melodrama, or brutally honest seriocomic “relationship” movie—with these kinds of flaws and these kinds of virtues, is pretty significant. And cause for celebration. —Kent Jones

In a year when the DV explosion furthered the trend toward visual indifference in American independent films—a fellow critic noted that Chuck & Buck “looked like it was shot through a dirty sponge”—I suspect at least part of my rapture over George Washington was its insistence on going the opposite direction. On the other hand, if we must have visual indifference, may it be in the service of films as astutely observed and impeccably performed as You Can Count on Me. —Scott Tobias

One thing Time Code‘s “revolutionary new look at motion picture storytelling” proves definitively: Digital video looks much better at one-fourth the size. —Rob Nelson

Pola X‘s river of blood counts among the three visual epiphanies in 2000 (others were in The House of Mirth and Mission to Mars). And I know Kubrick is spinning in his grave that he never matched it. —Armond White

The savaging of Brian De Palma’s tender and poetic Mission to Mars is the disgrace of the year. For American film critics, pig-piling on a perceived bomb in order to distance yourself (“Don’t blame me. I panned it.”) has replaced bothering to look at what’s in front of you. By asking how it’s possible to avail yourself of technology without losing your humanity, De Palma, at a time when CGI threatens to turn movies into nothing more than spectacle, is confronting the dilemma that affects every filmmaker attempting to work in commercial cinema. —Charles Taylor

The difference between Hollywood and the Rest of the World may be exemplified in the otherwise stunning sound design of Cast Away jolting into vomitous sapdom whenever Robert Zemeckis insists on laying the Alan Silvestri score on like butter. As for next year’s Kammerspiels, give me Werckmeister Harmonies, or give me death. —Mark Peranson

Curtis Hanson’s “blame pot” bastardization of novelist Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys was one of the year’s most propped-up disappointments. Thank James Toback, then, for not wasting all of Robert Downey Jr.’s fleeting straight time. In Black and White, when Downey comes across Mike Tyson at a party, what does the ever deranged Toback encourage him to do? Cinch the year’s best American acting honors by pitching woo at the unpredictable pugilist. “Don’t do this to me, brother,” Tyson pleads in response, stuck between temptation and eternity, “I’m on parole.” So, at that very moment, was Downey—dreamboat, daredevil, drugged man walking. —Chuck Stephens

Julian Schnabel has always been one of the most hetero of artists. His mighty brush is at times so unwieldy he has to paint outdoors. His sculptures look like they fell off the back of D.W. Griffith’s Babylonian prop truck. And his CD. Tell me that’s not a giant penis on the cover. Now he hits his stride as a director, and makes a sensitive, sprawling biopic about a gay Cuban poet! (And just wait until you see Johnny Depp.) —Chris Chang

If nothing else, let Gladiator serve as fitting tombstone for Oliver Reed, rapscallion, debaucher, thespian. Looking less like a fallen version of Caesar than The Wild Bunch‘s lost lad, Reed seems to turn up in Ridley Scott’s toga-rama only to utter the line that may as well serve as his epitaph. Flinging open his arms in contemplation of a glorious return to swollen Rome, the immortal star of Curse of the Werewolf, These Are the Damned, and Women in Love intones, “Let the great whore suckle us until we’re fat, and happy, and can suckle no more.” —Chuck Stephens

Guy Maddin’s The Heart of the World packed the visual wham of Eisenstein and Vertov and the narrative blam of a Mack Sennett two-reeler into five dazzling minutes of frantic formalist fun. I could watch this film every morning as a substitute for coffee. Kino, kino, kino! —Mike Rubin

Nagisa Oshima’s Taboo and Jang Sun Woo’s Lies were two of the funniest comedies on display this year, though the humor is so subsumed by the outrages at center stage as to be nearly subliminal. Jang lays most of his yuks in the paths of unsuspecting passersby. Oshima, on the other hand, uses “Beat” Takeshi precisely the way Carol Burnett used to use Harvey Korman: He surrounds the funnyman, so clearly aching for imperturbability, with so many mug-shot goons and double-edged gag lines that he might as well have blown a peck of peppers up the poor slob’s nose. Alternate title: I Was Stoic, But . . . —Chuck Stephens

The year’s most terrifying cinematic development: the evolution of former “reviewer” and celebrity shitnoser Rod Lurie into a DreamWorks auteur, hitting the big time with a two-faced political screed that sells its righteous snake oil as if Monica Lewinsky never went down. What’s next? Jeanne Wolf helming the next Denzel Washington civil rights melodrama? Jeff Craig adapting Flaubert? Did the late Paul Wunder miss his opportunity to become the next Rivette? —Michael Atkinson

Besides the identity of our next president, the nagging question of the year was what did the MOMA regulars do during the museum workers’ strike? You know, the plastic-bag-rustling, candy-wrapper-crinkling, deceased-relative’s-voice-hearing, seating-arrangement-bickering, loudly-wheezing-and-snoring, late-arriving-and-early- departing folks who can make the viewing of a Bresson film into the experience of being in a Buñuel film. Which side were the muttering classes on? Was a picket line and a museum boycott enough to keep the hardcore Titus-heads from their appointed rounds? —Mike Rubin

American Psycho, the film that finally links two things we always knew were connected: yuppie homicide and yuppie skin-care products. This, of course, picks up a thread from the greatest pair of dissolves in recent movie history. Toy Story 2: Little Emily grows up fast—as we watch first her collection of girlie horses turn into an array of cosmetics, and then her childhood knickknacks into rock-and-roll detritus. The surface rules. The surface kills. Plow down another community garden. Gentrify. —Chris Chang

World cinema doesn’t lack for vision, it lacks for distributors with vision. The movies are out there, the filmmakers too; I prefer to think we have failed as a nation of entrepreneurs rather than a nation of potential cinephiles. —Ray Pride


  • “Better than Age of Innocence. Not as good as Merchant Ivory.” —a patron providing Sony Pictures Classics with ad copy following the New York Film Festival press screening of The House of Mirth

  • “Wait, there’s subtitles?” —heard three times on line for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at Lincoln Plaza

  • “Please be aware that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is in Mandarin Chinese with subtitles” —ticket-counter sign at the Loews E-Walk

  • “That’s like crying at a porn movie.” —a patron gently chiding his girlfriend for getting misty at Crouching Tiger

  • “I hate these movies with, like, literary references that make you feel stupid.” —a patron presciently explaining Wonder Boys‘ lack of popular appeal to her boyfriend, halfway through an opening-night screening at the Loews East Village

  • “That scene, with the party, it went on for so long, I mean, back in the ’70s, did they think that was cool back then to have parties like that?” —a confused audience member after BAM’s Cold Water screening, to presenter Kent Jones, who calmly replied, “People have been having parties for thousands of years.”

  • “That was the worst movie I’ve ever seen! And it’s based on a book—can you imagine? Now I’ll never have to read it!” —a journalist divesting herself of Herman Melville after a press screening of Pola X

  • “He already made this movie, and I don’t know, at least that one was the first one, and in this one the ending is even more despicable. You’re crying, well that’s fine, I’m going to vomit and throw stuff at the screen. What was the point? The point was to pile on a lot of crap, and he’s just a fucking sadist.” —a patron evaluating Lars von Trier and Dancer in the Dark

  • “It made me want to pee.” —Tom Hanks, in the men’s room after the premiere of Cast Away