2004: The Year in Movies

That's What You Think!
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 6 2005 4:21 PM

2004: The Year in Movies

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Armond, prompted by your evocative words, I am planning to see Flight of the Phoenix today at 4:40 (AMC Times Square if anyone wants to buy me popcorn and a Diet Coke). And let me publicly apologize for referring to some of your reviews as "slightly nuts," a tactic that I hoped would make my celebration of your stature seem less sycophantic. (Although, really, if you can't take being made fun of by people who revere you …)

Premiere's Glen Kenny writes to remind us all of the classic exchange in Duck Soup:

Trentino: I didn't come here to be insulted!
Firefly: That's what you think!

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Thank you, Wesley (and Tony), for helping me put my finger on what I loved about Bad Education, a film I found miraculous for its classical fluidity. That's right, I experienced that fancy-pants genre noir homage with its film within a film within a film as something both seamless and organic. And it is organic, insofar as its narrative is filtered through the racing, guilty, horny, haunted, besotted, movie-obsessed mind of its film-director protagonist. The movie is all of a piece. And while I know this is a stretch, I have somewhat comparable feelings about Quentin Tarantino; I think his joy in directing Kill Bill (and getting off on it, as its ideal viewer) makes his wild, juvenile pastiche feel organic, too.

The Jewish Freudian in me would love to see Mel Gibson's Bad Education—or have we seen it already? Let's not go there.

I'm still synthesizing my mail, but there is a remarkable consensus that 1) We're all so full of ourselves and that 2) this is "Criticism Club" and not the "Movie Club."

Here's a particular biting e-mail: "Why, at the end of a year that saw the continuation of a possibly endless war, a natural disaster of unthinkable scale, the reelection of a rube, the erosion of even more civil liberties, genocide in Sudan, a potential Rwanda in the Congo, and the collapse of Haiti and numerous other countries, do intelligent people like you sit around talking about movies? And why on earth do I sit around reading it? Even worse, you've spent most of time talking about talking about movies. The self-absorbed self-references are killing me."

As readers never tire of telling me, I'm not especially qualified to talk politics. But then, politics is never far from our discussions of movies. The tension between a political message of which we approve (well, some of us) and an aesthetic we despise was at the core of our argument over Fahrenheit 9/11. The Demme Manchurian Candidate addressed the deceptive rhetoric of the current administration and the abridgement of civil liberties in a roundabout but effective way. Hotel Rwanda contains an explicit rebuke of our unwillingness to pay attention to human rights abuses in countries without strategic importance or vast natural resources. I don't know what we can say about Indonesia, etc., right now except, "Give generously." It would be an obscenity to invoke The Day After Tomorrow, and we have never claimed that this is the "Tsunami Club."

The reader who argues that we are like electricians whose job is to make appliances work properly instead of debating the merits of AC versus DC is not only selling us short, but selling movies short. As Tony said, in the course of making sense of the year in film we encounter the "inarguable puzzle of our own subjectivity"—which could be taken as a cop-out, insofar as the best critics, like the best artists, find ways of transcending that puzzle. But it isn't necessarily uninteresting or unhealthy to take some time (some time) to explore one's own prejudices and modes of perception. If you, Movie Lover A, love a movie that your best friend, Movie Lover B, hates, don't you want to go beyond "I liked it"/"I hated it"/"Oh, well, let's get drunk"? Perhaps in those responses is a key to understanding who you are. (The Jewish Freudian speaks again.)

One reader mentioned that Godard predicted the re-election of George Bush based on seeing Fahrenheit 9/11: Sound about right, Armond?

Max Milton says that Spanglish is the first mainstream American movie in years to acknowledge class—in a way, let me add, that leaves many of us implicated.

Many readers hope that we will talk about mainstream movies—movies that people who don't live in big cities can see—Spider-Man 2, The Incredibles, The Aviator (which a lot of people seem bored by). Many others want us to address such "difficult" films as I [Heart] Huckabees and The Life Aquatic, both of which I regard as honorable failures but know that some in this group liked very much. I don't get TheGarden State. Many younger folks felt it expressed their spiritual dislocation like nothing else this year. (I kept getting thrown out of it by the star's actorish epiphanies and his big teeth.) The self-obsessed movie that spoke most clearly to me was Tarnation, in which an out-of-control exhibitionist exhibitionistically mined his autobiography—and in the process, yes, transcended the inarguable puzzle of his own subjectivity.

More reader mail, synthesis, probing questions, later. The Phoenix must fly.

David

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.

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