I know what you mean about including titles that have not yet opened in Chicago. But Black Hawk Down opens nationally on Jan. 18, and Monster’s Ball on the 25th, so it seems they are a better fit for this year’s list (when they are getting various year-end nominations) than a year from now.
I haven’t seen Spike Lee’s Huey Newton movie, and don’t know how I have so far missed it, but there were other good cable movies during the year, including Alison Anders’ Things Behind the Sun and Henry Bean’s The Believer (scheduled for Showtime, yanked after 9/11 however). Both were made for theaters, of course, and then went to cable because of difficult subject matter. In its own way, Billy Crystal’s 61*, about Roger Maris, was also very well done.
In the Bedroom is, I suppose, technically about vigilantism. A crime is committed and a character takes the law into his own hands. It seems to me, however, that such a reading reduces an ending that doesn’t want to be so simply reduced. Also, of course, one’s own feelings about vigilantism should not cloud the ability to admire a great film, even if in the process it is necessary (as David finds) to quarrel with it.
It may be that the film is being embraced now because of the parallels you find with 9/11, but in all fairness In the Bedroom has been hailed ever since Sundance 2001, where it won the Special Jury Prize for Wilkinson and Spacek. I was there when it played, and it made quite an impact—as did The Believer, which won the Grand Jury Prize but at present has been rendered moot by 9/11. (The Believer is about an anti-Semitic Jew, a skinhead who engages in violent anti-social behavior and finally, in what I suppose is an attempt to reconcile the two sides of his nature, attacks a synagogue and himself simultaneously.)
A.I. for me was both wonderful and maddening, as I wrote in a 3.5-star review. It started with the potential for greatness, but the third act was long, indulgent, and an open invitation to bad laughs. One of my problems was my inability to invest myself emotionally in a character that had no emotions. Bresson’s donkey does have emotions and feelings, I believe, but all David has is clever programming.
You wonder what Ghost World, Mulholland Drive, Gosford Park, and Waking Life, which, you, I, and David all seem to agree that we like, have in common. Can it be among other things the quality of the dialogue? And the way each director has brilliantly solved a technical problem that another director might have tripped over? Bridging the distance between the Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi characters in Ghost World is, in a way, as great a challenge as telling Lynch’s dream-puzzle film, balancing Altman’s house full of characters, and making an animated film about philosophic rants. The common thread might be that each of the directors rose magnificently to the occasion.
You write, “[T]he very thought of going to see any war film for pleasure right now gives me the creeps.” But isn’t it true that all good films give us pleasure, and all bad films the opposite, and it’s not so much what the movie is about as how it’s about it?