The Year in Movies

The Last Word on Quentin Tarantino
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 9 2004 8:53 AM

The Year in Movies

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Dear gang,

Manohla, I just got off the phone with the gray-haired, blue-stocking crone cackling away in the corner. She wants us to come by around lunchtime for gruel. Later we have that meeting of the Hurtful Speech Patrol, and don't forget: Tonight we move into the convent.

Wait a minute, though. How did I start off Monday wanting movies to quit the formulaic gloom and lighten up and end the week as the group scold? It's hard to get this across, but I really did just feel put-upon and bored while watching Kill Bill—and, OK, a lot of distaste. But no Joe Lieberman,we-have-to-stop-this-guy stuff. Just mostly: can't wait till this is over. Also, and how unclear this must be from my intemperate outburst yesterday, I love Tarantino. Or rather, I have loved him and hope to again. I agree with you, Jim, about the guy having better chops than anyone in Hollywood. Yesterday you called it being smarter. I'd go so far as to say he's more of a genius. That doesn't mean he's very tapped into his intelligence these days. Larissa MacFarquhar's delightful but too determinedly empathetic profile of him in the New Yorker painted the same pure and counterintuitively lovable picture you give. But I also got a musty impression from that article, as if he were in danger of turning into a pale Vincent Price figure, walled for a decade inside his library of schlock. I didn't want to warn him to steer clear of the system—I wanted to say, Get out of the house once in a while! Live!

I could go on: The cannibalism and reordering of old pop imagery seems a staler pursuit than it used to, less in sync with this stressful year than with the '90s, when it seemed for a naive moment like history had ended. That (and the fact that nothing else made a compelling claim) is basically why I put Lord of the Rings at the top of this year's list, even though it suffers many of the flaws Manohla points out, and, I have to admit, crushes Mystic River in the overhyped department. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy it, but it seemed in conversation with the times. Hard not to sound like a cliche machine here—but it said something about dread and uncertainty and the need for hope.

Speaking of which, David, though we rumbled a little more this year I so hope we are not really on opposite sides of the equation. If I came across as grumpy at times, it's because I agree with Tony's statement about the honorability—and the soul-sustaining necessity—of critical enthusiasm. And I'm blue that I didn't feel so enthusiastic this year. (Whereas last year I loved The Fast Runner and Spirited Away and happily waxed too-enthusiastic over About Schmidt, Adaptation, and others.) I'm determined to close on a positive note, though. Herewith: praise.

Eugene Levy: best saucer eyes and hopping eyebrows in the business. Tony, I'm sorry we didn't have time for that comedy conversation.

Pirates of the Caribbean: It spoke to the times in its own way, by offering straight-up fun. Weird to think how few other films even tried.

David and his readers: Can I just say, David, that you have built a following and an engaged relationship with your readers here that seems like a genuinely new thing? This doesn't happen often. Plus, I am ever more aware of your generosity and behind-the-scenes grace in running this show. I wish I could see reader Richard Kim's list of non-whites in (key, non-degrading) roles in film this year. I bet Bend it Like Beckham is in there, and deserves to be. Without the list, though, I'd be inclined to second Wesley Morris' point about non-whites in the movies. But you are right to police our policing.

Male colleagues: Love you! Sorry about yesterday! My shrill bad. And despite my defensiveness, I can't really say you're wrong about Campion's film. So there to me.

Tony, Jim, Manohla (and David, again): It has been, as I'm sure many readers would agree, my privilege to be included among you. Me honored to have been in your company and me wish you all a superb 2004.

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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