2004: The Year in Movies

Spidey Love
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 7 2005 8:34 AM

2004: The Year in Movies

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Hello out there,

Everybody, as I type, our pal (and fearless Gwen Ifill) David Edelstein is sitting in a megaplex watching Flight of the Phoenix (aloneish, presumably). I wonder if he'll think the movie, which I admit is visually well-composed, has the depth and intelligence of a soda ad. It's funny hearing you rhapsodize about it with so much thought, Armond, because it never allowed me to take it seriously (the elemental script, the sand-smart Arab, Giovanni Ribisi's hair, Sticky Fingaz!). You were drinking Romanee-Conti Richebourg; I was drinking Kool-Aid.

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Scott, welcome, at last! And thanks for offering another heartfelt defense of Million Dollar Baby. Will its detractors answer your question about Tom Stern's photography as relative to Gordon Willis'? I'd like to say that I had the purest emotional response to this movie. I felt taken into a world whose citizens moved me. This is a rare American movie, for me anyway, that operates on a basic human level without it seeming emotionally bankrupt. Hilary Swank's face will never stop haunting me.

Some readers have told David they wanted to hear more about movies they actually saw, like Spider-Man 2, which is an ideal occasion to mention one of my favorite scenes of 2004. It's the great subway/el sequence, in which Spidey stops a runaway train. The movie, up to that point, had been a perfectly competent exercise in a sequel outdoing parts of its predecessor without escaping its duties as a sequel. Sam Raimi threw in the splatter-flickesque arrival of Dr. Octopus (its movieness was fun but ephemeral), but it's what happens after a totally spent Spidey is rescued from almost falling to his death by the commuters whose lives he's just saved. They pull him inside, pass his almost lifeless body over their heads to the back of the car, stand over him, and marvel at the unmasked specimen. He's just a kid. The love in the passengers' faces and its woozy reciprocation allowed me to see what's so special, so "amazing" about Spider-Man. The holiness of this moment is stirring because the movie treats the encounter almost as a sudden act of worship that turns into a sort of tacit covenant: We won't tell a soul. Moreover, when Dr. O reappears in the subway car, the former victims form a wall of security around their hero. Their effort is futile, of course: The thing they're staring down knocks them aside. But it's their faith (in Spider-Man, in themselves) that's astonishing. If Mel Gibson had allowed just that, just a glimpse into why people felt his Jesus was so amazing, other than his being Jesus Christ, I might have been able to cry in time with my mother. But as I said earlier, we're never given such a window to identify the wounded person in Jesus; we never get deeper than his bloody skin.

Scott, another favorite moment is in Collateral, which is a movie I love more mightily and more thoroughly the more I think about it and the more I see it. The moment is at the end, which I know a lot of people, including David, didn't really care for, but, really, as a necessity of its genre, that showdown between Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx has to happen. But the reason for its happening is a tiny stroke of brilliance. We've spent the whole movie getting to know Max as a person who wants more from his life. He wants to start a business, and, after Jada Pinkett Smith's Annie gets into his cab, he clearly sees a future with her. (JPS is so sexy you feel you can smell the scent of the Chloe she's probably wearing when she leaves the cab.) Anyway: the moment, the moment, I know! So Annie is on Vincent's hit list, and Max, who's already expressed moral disproval with Vincent's job and has already probably lost any chance at his dreamt-of professional aspirations, has to save his romantic-sexual-familial ones. But my moment comes after Vincent's been disposed of, and Mann shows us this black woman sitting next to the black man who rescued her from this crazy, lupine white mega-star. Their being black is significant only if you go to the movies all the time and never see this sort of thing, or if you live in a world that contains these sorts of regular black people. This is not Denzel Washington-Wesley Snipes muthafuckin' heroism but a quiet moral triumph. It's classy a moment that has a revised classic Hollywood ending. As they headed somewhere after sunrise together, I saw a future in them. (And if this be hack work, then surely I'm a hack whore.)

Mark Wahlberg was another moment for me. Where has this brave, rhythmic, funny, fearless, spontaneous, wounded, self-parodying comedian been hiding? I loved I [Heart]Huckabees with all my [heart], but Walhberg was a film unto himself. Another reason I go to the movies is to see an actor grow before my eyes, which Wahlberg did, for me, almost steroidally. Meanwhile, I have my thoughts about how I wish David O. Russell's movie could have been deepened from a class perspective, which I'll share later if people are interested. (I wrote them down after a dream, so consider yourselves warned.)

Here are some other drive-by topics we can discuss later. Sandra Bullock gives a million dollars to the Red Cross. It's significant only because I always wonder what I'd do with $14 million a picture. And the Director's Guild of America nominees were announced today, and they seem to crystallize some of the extremes of our discussion. Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne, Marc Forster (Finding Neverland), and Taylor Hackford (Ray): the latter two selections are bewildering. I found both movies dreary, one with tastefulness, the other with bad good intentions. Do we dare discuss?

Also, a reader wrote in to ask how we can be so frivolous in times of such woe, talking about movies. If the TV news coverage of the tsunami weren't so self-congratulatory and the print coverage of other concomitant atrocities so finite, my posts might be shorter. Regardless, questioning our participation in this Movie Club presumes we don't care about the world about outside the movie theater; it presumes we're tragically stuck on ourselves. But concerned readers, the last time I checked, my name was not Steve Zissou.

Love,
Wesley

David Edelstein isSlate's film critic. Scott Foundas is a film critic for LA Weekly. Christopher Kelly is a film critic for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Wesley Morris is a film critic for the Boston Globe. A.O. Scott is a film critic for the New York Times. Charles Taylor is a film critic for Salon. Armond White is the film critic for the New York Press. Stephanie Zacharek is a film critic for Salon.