The Year in Movies

Quentin Tarantino's Celluloid Masturbation
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 8 2004 8:57 AM

The Year in Movies

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Dear Manohla, Tony, David, and Jim,  I saw a really interesting film last night—Korean director Kim Ki-duk's Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... And Spring. Witty, bluesy yet puritanical fable of a monk's progress from boyhood through adult love, sin, contrition, meditating, and getting kickass at martial arts in middle age, and raising a new baby monk to start the cycle again. It's out in April. What with this and The Return and Lars Von Trier's loathsome but brilliant Dogville (tune in next January for a fight on this one—me like, too, Jim), I'm starting to think (and pray) that 2004 could be a more fertile year.

On Manohla's question about women in film, I actually haven't given much it as much thought this year as in years previous. Am I complacent or are things a little better? No doubt my job protects me a little, in that I don't have to see buddy junk like Bad Boys II if I don't want to—not priority No. 1 for the Vogue audience. But let's see, outside of Hollywood bloaters (a big caveat, true) I'm heartened by the number of projects this year in which women brought stories of women to the screen—and, more important, the films more or less worked and got seen. There's Lost in Translation, Whale Rider, Thirteen, The Company (Neve Campbell, producer and driving force), Sylvia (Tony, I totally agree with you that this is underrated—not as an exploration of the Plath-Hughes relationship, which it handles cornily, but as a disturbingly sensual portrait of depression—that scene of Gwyneth Paltrow on a boat hurtling out to sea, heedless and dead-eyed!). For characters, there's Keira Knightley in Pirates of the Caribbean, cursing her corset, and Miranda Otto in LOTR joining in the fight. And the adorable girl whiz kids, Angela and the winner Nupur, in Spellbound. And the Calendar Girls ladies, and Diane Keaton. Did I love love love any of these films? Not exactly. But often the men couldn't seem to get too far either. What depressed you most of all about women in front of or behind the camera this year? What occurs to me is the Monica Lewinsky rehash in Love, Actually, but I'm sure there's a better example. Actually, while I cried at the end of Barbarian I thought the women in it were gruesomely weak; Tony's beautiful defense of the film almost, but didn't quite, erase the memory.

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That said, I stand with you on In the Cut, my sister. The film just isn't anywhere near bad enough to warrant the scorn heaped on it. More than scorn: desire to crush like a bug. With heavy heart I remember going to dinner in Toronto with 10 or so men and enduring Neanderthal riffs on Jane Campion. "Everyone knows she's the biggest bitch in international film, with the thinnest skin, and the bitch thinks she's an artist!" one charmer went on and on.

Oh I tell you, it was a delight. I could never entirely dismiss this film, because Mark Ruffalo's performance so triumphed over the lurid, indulgent mess around him. Just so you know where I'm coming from, the first piece I ever published about a movie was a long essay against The Piano called "Shoot the Piano Player." In no way is Campion of my favorite filmmakers, but the woman deserves—no, has earned—a hell of a lot more respect.

On to Kill Bill for a moment. Jim, do you really think Tarantino is a victim of the system? I think we're a victim of his not writing a screenplay, indulging in a quite boring obsession with his leading lady, and essentially masturbating on screen, with the gall to invite us back for a second installment. I hated Kill Bill not in a tsk-tsk, scolding way but because it induced boredom to the level of panic—a desire to flee the theater—and self-pitying rage that work required me to stay put.

Which brings us to Peter Pan, a movie David seems set to go to bat for. I'm waiting for you, David (though prepared to salute the little actress who plays Wendy—she's a wonder). Also readying for Elephant, which Jim's post, just arrived in my box, paves the way for. And hoping to get to a few comedies this afternoon.

Till later,
Sarah

Each year, film critics gather in the "Movie Club" to chew on the year in film. This year's group includes Manohla Dargis from the Los Angeles Times, David Edelstein from Slate, J. Hoberman from the Village Voice, Sarah Kerr from Vogue, and A.O. Scott from the New York Times. Hoberman is the author, most recently, of The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties.

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