The Year in Movies

The E-Mail Gaze
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 8 2004 4:24 PM

The Year in Movies

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As we approach the end of the Movie Club (no, not yet, don't leave: tomorrow), I want to acknowledge the hundreds of people who've e-mailed and to apologize for not answering every letter at length. The level of engagement (at least, ahem, outside the Fray) is extremely gratifying. Thank you. My instinct is to end with something ironic and deflating of the sentiment here, but it should stand as is. (That said, mentioning my impulse to be ironic and deflating is itself a kind of ironic deflation, and going on about it moves us further from—yet paradoxically, I think, closer to—the original sentiment. Thank God we're not discussing Adaptation this year or I'd have a stroke.)

Many people want to know why we're not discussing Pirates of the Caribbean. I'm not sure that that enjoyable movie (which is about 45 minutes too long) needs elaboration, although I have enjoyed watching Johnny Depp (here and in the atrocious Once Upon a Time in Mexico) move to a new, Brandoesque level of virtuoso weirdness.

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Now to some of the letters:

Vince Keenan wants us each to pick "one critically drubbed or largely ignored film from the past year and make an impassioned case for it." He remembers my case for Gun Shy, and cites Hollywood Homicide: "It's not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination. Just an enormously entertaining one, an attempt by Shelton to illuminate different aspects of the lives of Los Angeles police officers. There's a direct line between this film and the work of Joseph Wambaugh. And Harrison Ford gives a terrific comic performance." I couldn't agree more and want to mention again Looney Tunes and Duplex. And Gun Shy

Sudhir Muralidhar, film editor at the Columbia Daily Spectator, wants to know why Capturing the Friedmans "hasn't gotten more respect." I respect it, and I note that Jesse Friedman is going back to court with an appeal and say, "Godspeed." Manohla, I know you disliked the movie: Care to take on Sudhir?

Sean Gallagher thinks it's great that directors "knew how to use pop songs in movies again. This isn't just people like Richard Linklater (School of Rock) or Quentin Tarantino, who are acknowledged fans and were making films where music was already an integral part of the movie. I'm talking about all the musical moments in Cold Mountain (OK, that's old folk music, but it's done by modern artists), or the wonderful karaoke sequence in Lost in Translation or Sarah Bolger singing her heart out on 'Desperado' in In America, and even Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci making out to Journey's 'Don't Stop Believing' in Monster. … In an age where most studio executives still see music in movies as a marketing tool instead of an artistic statement, it's nice to see movies which see otherwise." Amen.

Here's scholar Jeanette Zissell on the tabloid antics of Sam and Frodo: "The intense relationship between Sam and Frodo, for example, is exactly of the same kind as Patroclus and Achilles, or Roland and Charlemagne. These men were extremely close, bonding in situations where their lives depend on each others' actions. Their relationships read as verging on the homoerotic to a modern reader, and yet fall short of actualizing that tension. In Sam and Frodo's case, as Tolkein was a devout Catholic, this relationship also reflects the communion between believers, and the respect, self-sacrifice and love they owe to each other. And while such sexual tension may or may not be present in any instance, each has a theme of friendship it is easy to miss. If these were stories of women, would we be so quick to discount feelings of loyalty and sentimental love in this way? As a culture we are often uncomfortable with male sentiment, something medievals had no difficulty in expressing. And while I understand your assertion and to a large extent agree, I would bring attention to the complications of these concepts that modern culture does not understand. We could well benefit from an inspection of that kind of bonding, and to look further at the self-assurance and lack of shame at male feeling that it involves." Bravo. Gimme a kiss, Jim.

Richard Kim thinks that Wesley Morris couldn't be more wrong about the absence of non-whites in movies and gives too many examples to list.

Alice Aixel lauds our colleague Roger Ebert as "the last groovy white guy who liked KillBill as well." Hey, what about me? She goes on: "The female sexuality in In the Cut is perverse and dank. What about some strength and sexiness à la Uma Thurman's Bride? Kill Bill is like rock 'n' roll, seemingly dangerous but really just good clean fun all the way."

Kareen Rampy wants to know if I'm "satisfied with the smallness of [my] love muscle" and suggests some Web site that features a product with a peculiar name that I can get at a big discount. Hmmm. I guess I'm not wholly satisfied, Kareen, but to enlarge my love muscle would lessen my reliance on the masturbatory fantasies of people like Quentin Tarantino and hence affect my criticism—for the worse, as I think my readers (but maybe not Sarah) would agree.

M. Rantanen asks: "When can a movie character or story be just about that particular character or story and when does the character or story have to represent its respective group (gender, race)? I then ask when does the politics of a movie be called into question? In other words, is it possible to have a movie about women or African-Americans without said characters having to represent its own identity? Does every woman or black character in a movie have to represent all women or all black people? I'll answer my own question and say that it all depends on the person doing the criticism. That's where the politics really exist." I have a hunch we would all find reasons to refute this. Someone please do so.

Casey Tourangeau has read through the Fray (I haven't) and says: "I can't believe how angry people are at the mere discussion of movies. What's baffling to me is that people aren't reacting to your takes on specific films, but that they're upset that you're discussing them at all. It's as if the mere notion of criticism has become a target because it interferes with their care-free consumerist lifestyle." Hey, I have a care-free consumerist lifestyle, but I love to talk movies!

On that note—more letters tomorrow.

Good night, all.
David

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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