Children by the Millions Wait for Dr. Chilton
11. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN and MINORITY REPORT (5.5): I like the turn that Spielberg has recently taken, first with A.I. and now with these two films-- they're tentative and messy, but you can feel something struggling to take shape, a synthesis of his earlier self and the director of prestige award winners, something that suggests the possibility of him making a film as good as THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS or JAWS somewhere down the road. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN is the easier and more focused of his two 2002 releases, although if you know anything about Spielberg's well-documented relation- ship with his father, you can see where it's as personal as anything he's ever made. J. Hoberman in the VOICE had a funny dismissal of Tom Hanks's performance, but I actually thought Hanks was quite good. MINORITY REPORT is cold and efficient, though it too aspires to something more. 12. THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE (5.5): I have this ranked too high--unless you're deeply interested in American films of the early '70s, and even then, it's basically 90 minutes of a much bigger blowhard than Ron Jeremy trying to impress you with the dimensions of his former glory. But, like a lot of people my age, that's the period that most shaped me as a film- goer, so the inherent interest of KID's subject battles the amateurishness of the film itself to a draw. Peter Biskind's book on the period is better, Harlan Lebo's THE GODFATHER LEGACY better still, and DEEPER INTO MOVIES, REELING, and WHEN THE LIGHTS GO DOWN even better yet. I'm guessing that 37% of Evans's bluster happened exactly as he says it did. 13. IGBY GOES DOWN (5.5): I found it much more compelling watching Max go down in RUSHMORE and then Enid in GHOST WORLD, but this wasn't bad. Not much shading to anyone, though, Igby included. 14. THE GOOD GIRL (5.5): Jennifer Aniston does all right, though her per- formance mostly seems to consist of her frowning a lot. It's the Adam Sandler phenomenon times three: besides being a comedienne by trade, she's a beautiful woman who's deglamourized herself, with an accent thrown in for good measure. I was with this for a while, and then, the problem with half the films I see, characters started doing things that weren't plausible at all. John C. Reilly's good, as always--he and Tim Blake Nelson are the best pair of couch potatoes since John Lurie and Richard Edson in STRANGER THAN PARADISE. (I'm winging it here; it's a highly specialized category I don't really keep track of.) 15. 8 MILE (5.5) Another variation on the playing-against-type route to instant dramatic credibility. Whatever ambivalence I've always had about Eminem the pop star has always been rooted in the fact that his lyrics are so much more alive than his music--verbally, he's sharp and funny and engagingly profane. You get a glimpse of that right near the end of 8 MILE, in the rap that wins his showdown with Papa Doc, but for most of the film he's been carefully made over into this tortured, humourless, deadly earnest plodder, a hip-hop Barton Fink. There's a lot of screaming in 8 MILE; my least favourite scene in BOOGIE NIGHTS is where Wahlberg and his mother go at it just before he clears out, and Curtis Hanson basically gives you two hours of the same. 16. ATANARJUAT: THE FAST RUNNER (5.5): Pretty heavy going for the first hour--four people walked out of the screening I attended, something you don't see too often at the rep theatres. (I'm not sure what exactly those people were expecting.) Things picked up beginning with Atanarjuat's mad dash across the ice floes, and his return a few months later was stirring. But I didn't get a whole lot out of this. 17. INSOMNIA and ONE HOUR PHOTO (5.5): With the exception of high-profile annoyances like FAR FROM HEAVEN and GANGS OF NEW YORK, a lot of what I saw last year starts to blur together around this point. Most of what's listed below, I saw and then immediately forget almost everything about it. These were the two Robin Williams psycho movies. Two hours of Al Pacino always feels like community service these days, so ONE HOUR PHOTO gets a slight edge. 18. LOVELY AND AMAZING (5.5): I saw this after THE GOOD GIRL, so when Jake Gyllenhaal showed up halfway through to rescue Christine Keener from her humdrum life, it was stuck-inside-of-Memphis time. This is not the kind of thing I need to see. The young black girl with the weight problem was a very unusual, forceful presence throughout. 19. 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE (5.5): The second half of this loosely chronicles the rise and self-destruction of Happy Mondays, who I know for many of us were at least as important as the Dead Milkmen in the grand scheme of things--you may experience the same disconnect that I did there. (To somebody's credit, director Michael Winterbottom or the screenwriter or even Tony Wilson himself may be in on the joke: my favourite line in the film has a drug-induced angel solemnly advising Wilson that a "Vin Reilly compilation is long overdue.") The first half's a little more grounded in reality, highlighted by some too-brief footage of the Buzzcocks, Siouxsie Sioux, and what appears to be an actual video for Joy Division's "Atmos- phere"--very spooky. The Joy Division part of the story isn't what it could be, though: "She's Lost Control" gets buried under chatter, "Transmission" is intercut with narrated news footage, and "Love Will Tear Us Apart" is more resonant in DONNIE DARKO. The one thing I know about Happy Mondays is that they were "shambolic," and if I understand that term correctly, that's what this film is--better than THE CLAIM, Winterbottom's comatose McCABE & MRS. MILLER imitation (McCABE & MRS. MILLER can't withstand a whole lot of slowing down), but formless and precious and ultimately all surface. I did enjoy hearing 10 seconds of Ralph Vaughan Williams' "The Lark Ascending," one of my favourite pieces of music, even though I had no idea what Wilson was doing in a field of sheep at the time. (Scott Woods, Greil Marcus, and Dennis Lim think the Joy Division scenes are strong--I didn't connect with them the way others seem to have.) 20. FAR FROM HEAVEN (5.0): As a stunt, sort of interesting, just like Douglas Sirk films are sort of interesting. The idea that FAR FROM HEAVEN is a great film, though, strikes me as even sillier than ranking Sirk's movies with ON THE WATERFRONT, SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, PATHS OF GLORY, or any of the other truly monumental American films of the '50s. What I especially find way off base is that, in view of the wide- spread backlash that has been heaped upon AMERICAN BEAUTY the past couple of years, the reviewers who now dismiss Mendes's film as facile and cliched are obviously some of the very same people who are fawning over Todd Haynes's secondhand version of essentially the same story. Both films want to show you that if you lift up the veil on the middle- class American family, you'll find all sorts of simmering chaos under- neath. It's a tried and true theme that goes at least as far back as Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT, and probably a lot farther back than that. That it's not an earth-shatteringly new idea should be a given, and I don't think, as the accusation has been thrown at AMERICAN BEAUTY, that Mendes tried to pretend that it is. What he did try to do was have some fun with it--there's a lot more verve in AMERICAN BEAUTY than it ever gets credit for, from the cheerleading Lolita who curses like Sam Jackson to the startling cut from Annette Bening's orgasm to the opening chords of "American Woman." It's a *funny* film, even allowing for the softheadedness of Wes Bentley's paper-bag reverie (which I'm softheaded enough myself to love anyway). FAR FROM HEAVEN doesn't try for anything beyond staying religiously close to its arcane and very dubious source, and in its oppressively narrow way, it suc- ceeds--to what purpose, I couldn't say. I'm glad Greil Marcus called the film on something that made me squirm the whole way through: Dennis Haysbert's uncannily precise resurrection of the "good Negro" role that used to belong to Sidney Poitier, complete with a martyred daughter this time around. Whether a comment on the thing or the thing itself, not my idea of a good time in 2002. Ditto Julianne Moore's acclaimed performance as Joan Allen. 21. AUTO FOCUS (5.0): As with CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, there's a great freewheeling period piece that could be made from this material, but Paul Schrader is just about the last guy capable of making that film. (He was a good match for AFFLICTION.) STAR 80 was crucified in its day, and it is pretty lurid. But that same luridness charged it with some feeling for the subject and period at hand--I still have a vivid memory of Mariel Hemingway rollerskating to "Sing, Sing, Sing" at the Playboy Mansion, one of the emblematic goodbye-70s images of its day. AUTO FOCUS is severe and careful and sexless; if the idea was to mirror Bob Crane's own duplicitous blandness, on those paltry terms it succeeds. 22. BOLLYWOOD/HOLLYWOOD and MONSOON WEDDING (5.0): BOLLYWOOD/HOLLYWOOD is probably about two steps away from what I'm guessing MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING is like, but to borrow an oft-repeated joke, Lisa Ray in a sweater is the special effect of the year. She reminded me of someone I worked with last year, the kind of woman who's so comically voluptuous and beautiful she's like a total solar eclipse--you can only look at her for a couple of seconds before you have to look away. All I remember from MONSOON WEDDING were more beautiful Indian women, and how tiresome the comic-relief guy was through most of the film, until he redeemed himself towards the end. 23. THE BOURNE IDENTITY (5.0): Empty countrysides and farmers' fields are integral to the spy thriller: NORTH BY NORTHWEST, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, MARATHON MAN, and now THE BOURNE IDENTITY all end up there sooner or later. 24. CQ (5.0): The year's other 8-1/2, this one directed by Sofia Coppola's brother, the other by her husband. THE VIRGIN SUICIDES is the last new film I really loved, so I hope she doesn't give in to the indecisiveness that's weighing down the men in her life. CQ's a real novelty--I wish it had more feeling for the period than it does, but there are moments that suggest better things ahead for Roman Coppola. 25. JOURNEYS WITH GEORGE (5.0): I saw this with an audience that was clearly ready to howl derisively every time George Bush opened his mouth; just for the sake of being able to hear the film, I was glad they didn't get what they came for. Five years ago, when I followed the political round-tables a lot closer than I do now, I may have found this more compelling. I don't know, though--Bush doesn't let down his facade for a second (maybe for a split-second at one point, when he appears to be all hopped up on non- alcoholic beer), and it's no great revelation that the media gets spoon-fed a lot of junk by politicians. Hearing the filmmaker field questions after- wards was interesting: she couldn't seem to decide whether she was an over- dog or underdog in relation to the people she was covering, barely mentioning in passing that her mom was in the process of taking over as Democratic Leader in the House. 26. RED DRAGON (5.0): I've seen both follow-ups to THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and if they put out HANNIBAL LECTER MEETS ABBOTT & COSTELLO next year, I'll probably be dumb enough to go see that, too. RED DRAGON is less gory than HANNIBAL, a relief, but doesn't have anything as diverting as Gary Oldman or the excellent shot of those birds that Ridley Scott devised. The whole enterprise is becoming dangerously clubby at this point: "Look, it's Barney! Hey, the original Dr. Chilton!" 27. UNFAITHFUL (5.0): Basically A WALK ON THE MOON all over again, with all the modest virtues of the first run-through replaced by Adrian Lyne's heavyhanded bluster. It'd be better if they hadn't cast a French guy as Diane Lane's plaything--he's as cartoonish as Woody's old nemesis Henri on "Cheers," and Henri was supposed to be ridiculous. Sometime in the next year or two, Lane and Jake Gyllenhaal will do a film together. 28. GANGS OF NEW YORK (4.5): I'm more sure about this one inevitability than anything I say anywhere else here: down the road, GANGS OF NEW YORK will be viewed as one of the clumsiest, least successful films ever made by Scorsese. Part of me finds the acclaim for it inexplicable, another part understands that acclaim very well. Virtually anyone who cares about movies counts at least one of MEAN STREETS, TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL, or GOODFELLAS among the most indelible experiences of the past quarter- century--there's a lifetime of goodwill locked into those four films. Three of them were nominated for, and lost, three of the more ludicrous Academy Award votes ever, so Scorsese remains the eternal underdog as far as that kind of thing goes. Even more than any of that, though, is the graciousness of Scorsese himself: all the good work he does towards film preservation, his unfailing enthusiasm and erudition when interviewed (I don't think I've ever read or heard him say anything truly negative about another filmmaker or film), his accessibility when it comes to things like guesting on Ebert's show. More than any working director, you want his films to succeed. So now he's made the kind of film that wins Best Picture awards (not his first try--I think that was probably part of the impulse behind AGE OF INNOCENCE), and after a cipher like BRINGING OUT THE DEAD, and knowing all the stories about how troubled the production for GANGS OF NEW YORK was, I think the desire to see Scorsese adequately rewarded for a heroic career has reached some kind of critical mass. But it's a major disservice to him, and to the best work that he's done, for anyone to invest all that goodwill into such a misshapen mess as GANGS OF NEW YORK. It goes wrong immediately: bodies fall all over the place in the big opening show- down, gruesome close-up after gruesome close-up, the crudest sequence I can think of in a Scorsese film this side of CAPE FEAR's hysterical climax, and I could not have cared less. *Who are these people?* No one's been intro- duced yet, so all that death doesn't mean a thing. There's no inherent grandeur in a screenful of dead bodies, one reason I don't care much for war films, but GANGS takes that grandeur as a given and proceeds from there. The whole rest of the way, just about every scene seems two or three beats off, bottoming out with all that amazingly gimmicky knife-throwing hokum. And allowing for the possibility that I may have missed some key bit of explanatory lead-in, I was completely confused by the climactic battle between Lewis's and DiCaprio's gangs--I literally was unsure if they were facing each other from across the street or from opposite sides of the city, what with two or three other factions involved and the U.S. military firing on everyone from off to the side. As murky and befuddling as the climactic battle of HEAVEN'S GATE, from what I remember of it. Cimino's film is viewed by some critics as a misunderstood masterpiece today; GANGS OF NEW YORK, I'm positive, is headed in the opposite direction. 29. CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND (4.5): One great scene: Chuck Barris flips out, and, BIG LEBOWSKI-style, the set of "The Gong Show" is trans- formed into a Busby Berkley fantasy number set to Peter, Paul & Mary's "If I Had a Hammer." I loved that scene, although I had no idea what it had to do with anything. Otherwise, some decent bits here and there, and way too much of George Clooney and the corny spy subplot. Sam Rockwell is very good doing Barris's little ritualistic dance when the Gene-Gene music strikes up, but I'm pretty sure they goofed on Gene-Gene himself. Gene didn't really dance, he kind of stood in one spot and wiggled round just a little bit. He did the Jerry Lee Lewis. 30. CHANGING LANES (4.5): I was very interested in this when I read it was about road rage. I have something of a problem with that--a few months ago I called a guy who'd cut me off a fat fuck, and he ended up following me halfway downtown before returning to his appointed rounds. (Was I nervous? Um, no, not at all...) After I saw the film, I remember being confused on a fundamental point: was it Sam Jackson or Ben Affleck who had the road rage? It was hard to tell. I'm not sure if Ben Affleck is the best choice for a movie about any kind of rage. 31. THE PANIC ROOM (4.5): Not appreciably worse than FIGHT CLUB; good Saul Bass-like credit sequence. 32. SOLARIS (4.5): I also saw Tarkovsky's original for the first time last year. I need for someone to have one more go at it and I'm sure I'll start to figure everything out. 33. SPIDER-MAN (4.5): I liked SUPERMAN, and I liked BATMAN; the initiative to treat such projects as opportunities rather than empty events seems to have gone by the wayside. 34. 13 CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ONE THING (4.5): There were four or five stories going on here, and I can't remember a single thing beyond Alan Arkin's. 35. SECRETARY (4.0): S&M, like cross-dressing, creeps me out enough that I should have skipped this altogether. 36. SPY KIDS 2 (4.0): Instinct always kept me away from Robert Rodriguez movies--he looked like the most obvious beneficiary of the mad rush 10 years ago to jump on anything that seemed sufficiently Tarantino-like. It was an instinct that served me well, but then, handing over first choice to a kid I do some volunteer driving for and occasionally take to a movie, the whole stay-clear-of-Robert-Rodriguez system broke down. 37. TED BUNDY (4.0): A suitable bookend to my #1, I suppose. In the time- less words of Kyle MacLachlan in BLUE VELVET, it's a strange world out there.