My happy one-year stint as film editor has come to its natural end, and I stuck it out the whole year (despite the crop of lousy films) observing two trends in American cinema. First, America is still producing good films, but does so as some kind of penance for the copiousness of crap it provides (like Catholic confession--recite one In the Bedroom for every three Resident Evils).
Second, most people do not care if every critic in the nation agrees a film is utterly predictable, wholly uninspired and mind-numbingly simple--Moulin Rouge, Pearl Harbor and A Beautiful Mind all won accolades from audiences. Basically, I'm irrelevant. Nonetheless, here are the best and worst of 2001-2002:
Acting Around the Script: Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe for A Beautiful Mind. To deliver words like "I need to believe something extraordinary is possible" or "the mysterious equations of love" and not burst into giggles is an example of something extraordinary being possible. As for the equations of love, I know that math geek in all of us, and in John Forbes Nash himself, was dying for a complex proof.
The Art of the Impossible: Gene Hackman out-Mamet's David Mamet in Heist. Where other actors are unable to maneuver around the crazy language of America's greatest modern playwright, Hackman used his own unpredictability and energy to drive right through Mamet's best script (and film). In his fifth decade on the screen, Hackman made acting (like the theft in the film) look all too easy.
Karma for Weinstein and Spielberg: In a refreshing change of pace, media glutton Harvey Weinstein received a lovely comeuppance from the Academy and audiences. This year's lump of sentimental shit, The Shipping News, was almost totally ignored, despite Harvey's efforts to buy himself another Oscar. Spielberg tried our patience ad extremis with A.I. It has been 10 months since A.I.'s release, and Stanley Kubrick is probably still rolling over in his grave.
Come Again?: When did that get so funny? Before There's Something About Mary, semen was not allowed on the big screen (despite its porno popularity). In the last two weeks, following the Mary-American Pie bandwagon, ejaculate has left its mark in two films--Diaz again plays with it in The Sweetest Thing and Van Wilder makes a mess with the special bodily fluid. With this taboo destroyed, I fear what will swim its way on screen in 2003.
Black Actors Abound: It's great that Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won Oscars--but it is still hard to find roles that are not written for black actors actually go to black actors. Washington remains the only black thesp who can land a role despite the race dictated in the screenplay. The NAACP is right to question Hollywood's real commitment to minority performances--hopefully Oscar wasn't just a token. And the more we talk about the beauty of their victories, the more it appears that we still have a long way to go.
The New Composers: John Williams, retire! Orchestral scores are no longer in for a couple reasons--you can substitute one for another seamlessly, and applying the term original to any of them is a disservice to the dictionary. Stand up, Wes Anderson and Cameron Crowe, directors of The Royal Tenenbaums and Vanilla Sky, respectively. Anderson used classic rock and modern folk to set the mood; Crowe outshone his own lackluster film with his eclectic soundtrack--featuring Radiohead, Jeff Buckley and The Monkees. Now that's original.
The Origin of Musicals: Moulin Rouge got all the hype, but John Cameron Mitchell's Hedwig and the Angry Inch got all the acclaim. The latter deserved both. Mitchell's onscreen version of the musical character he has been playing for years off-Broadway was a triumph--not just for the humor in the sad story of Hedwig, but for the real recreation of the movie-musical. No lousy love song montages or fat men singing Madonna--just a real love of musicals and a transsexual who looks like Madonna.
Most Special Effect: Angelia Jolie's digitally enhanced breasts in last summer's Tomb Raider.
Special Ed. Effect: The desire to make all things computer-generated left Pearl Harbor's action sequences looking like a cartoon.
Big Men Do Cry: Tom Wilkinson's father in In the Bedroom cried for good reason in an absolutely amazing performance that challenged middle-aged men in audiences everywhere. Kevin Kline made middle-aged men wonder why their wives were making them watch him weep like a sissy in Life as a House.
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Jack-ass Black: Your 15 minutes are up. In Orange County and Shallow Hal, Black proves that his career has stalled faster than the mindless teen movies that he's now appearing in.
The Trick Ending: Some films twist the ending seductively: Heist, Mulholland Drive and The Others. Other films twist like a dominatrix: Birthday Girl, The Fast and The Furious and Vanilla Sky.
Five Films and Five Actors That Deserved Better: Reward the following with rentals: Nico and Dani, Black Hawk Down, Ghost World, Monster's Ball and Sexy Beast. Patronize these actors' next films: Tilda Swinton (The Deep End), Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi (Ghost World), Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive) and Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom).