The Year in Movies

Gus Van Sant's Experiment
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 8 2004 8:48 AM

The Year in Movies

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Hi guys, and good morning cyberspaceland. You'll be fascinated to know that my civic duty has, for the moment, been discharged and now I'm looking at a mountain on my desk of displaced yadda-yadda (not yours, mine).

Tony, I salute you: How do you manage to turn out these cogent, erudite posts at a rate of two a day? Plus, sardonic off-group asides—and don't you readers just wish you knew what they were? I dared you to find a political subtext for The Barbarian Invasions and, embarrassingly for me, you did! (Why couldn't I have steered the conversation around to La Commune?) I love your notion that the movie puts the "Marx" in "Miramax." You've identified Arcand's hitherto unnamed tendency: Miramarxist. (Are there others? Would the hateful City of God be an example?) Describing Arcand as part Brecht, part Neil Simon is also choice, although for me he's more a cross between William Inge and Norman Lear or maybe Albert Camus and the people who write Friends. When I called the characters "dimensionally challenged" I was looking for a fancy way of saying "flat." Life is less a school than a schoolyard. I am confounded by your sense of history and impressed by your argument, but it doesn't make me like the movie any better—rather it leads me back into the murky realm of subjective response. (As one of those Romans said, "I love and hate and who can tell me why?") The last word, should you care to have it, is yours. A final absurd rhetorical question on history, ideology, and the movies: Would it not have been neat if, rather than French, the enemy in Master & Commander was, as I believe to be the case in one of its source novels, American?

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Sarah, please accept my punch-drunk apologies for not plunging into Mystic River. Rather than your thoughtful response, I experienced something like the masterpiece-overrated syndrome David described right there watching the movie in the Palais. I liked it well enough—which is to say I welcomed its melodramatic brio and old-fashioned movie values—but, blinkered by the unique viewing experience that is Cannes, I could see it only in festival context. The passionate enthusiasm that greeted the movie seemed a form of mass relief. Something had finally arrived to challenge the dread Dogville! (Now there's a mix of Brecht and Neil Simon or perhaps Clifford Odets and Alfred Jarry—whatever, me like it.) French and Americans could unite in a new cinéaste international behind Clint. But juries move in mysterious ways, which brings us to the enigma of … Elephant.

David, I hope I'm right in sensing that you plan to start the ball rolling on this one and, as ambivalent as I am about it, I'll be grateful to follow your lead. One thing I would like to get to is the remarkable persistence of film experimentation—by which I mean Van Sant, Guy Maddin, and (in your extremely perceptive analysis) Christopher Guest—as well as the great gift I say (in respectful defiance of MC alum Roger Ebert, to whom I send all good wishes) of DV. Hopefully, I'll be able to post again later (much later) today. As for Peter Pan … I'll see that one when I grow up.

Manohla, as always, I await your latest missive with exquisite anticipation. Don't pay any attention to those snoids in the Fray: Jack Black is only a demigod. You rool!

Yours truly,
Jim

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