The problem with listing 34 movies and inviting feedback is that you get it, oh boy—and you realize that, after opening the gate so wide, you forgot to let in a few more horses. I inadvertently omitted Man on a Train, The Barbarian Invasions, and My Architect, all of which are certainly worthy of recognition. I still haven’t seen Peter Pan, which I’m told by a few correspondents—and my 5-year-old (although not her great aunt)—is really something to see. (Today, maybe.) My tape of the documentary To Be and To Have, which just won an award from the National Society of Film Critics (without my help, obviously), is sitting in a FedEx office in the bowels of Brooklyn. My worst-of list was patchier. Why no comments on Gigli? I suppose because it has been beaten up so badly, even by its own stars, that further abuse would be ugly. (I almost wish I could make a case for it, but I’m not that perverse.) I didn’t catch Bad Boys II. The one I repressed was The Life of David Gale, which is maladroit even for Alan Parker. But it could be a great midnight movie. Imagine men dressing up as crusading TV newswoman “Bitsy” and women as the lurking Puccini-loving cowboy. Imagine lethally injecting Parker in effigy.
Several readers have challenged my airy dismissal of the number 10, which does indeed have a correlative in nature if one examines one’s fingers and toes. (Thanks, Jim Emerson and others, for the anatomy lesson.) My brother, the Orthodox rebbe, informs me that it has great significance in Torah as well. My apologies to homo sapiens and the Almighty. Also, I pushed some buttons in my aside on Glory and am grateful for the very civilized objections. I am persuaded that, statistically, African-Americans did not fall in greater numbers in Vietnam. But I can think of at least a couple of warmongering white world leaders who strongly supported the war but preferred to let others do the dying.
Out of a couple hundred e-mails, less than 10 were abusive—surprisingly. Those that were suggested the omission of Mystic River and inclusion of Kill Bill, Vol. 1 was reason enough to cancel their Slate subscription. Refund’s in the mail. I have written too much about Mystic River to rehash it all here, but I was taken to task by some readers in October for liking it too much and now am scorned for withholding accolades. A lesser man would stop opening e-mail, but I say, “Bring it on!”
Only one person quarreled with my omission of Cold Mountain. He asserted (irrefutably, I think) that critics used the occasion to attack Harvey Weinstein’s hankering for another Oscar instead of reviewing the movie. I poked fun at Harvey—he’s irresistible—but have quite a few Miramax movies on my list and would have loved one more.
Many, many rebukes for the failing to mention Seabiscuit. I’m on record as being underwhelmed: You’ll have to read my review. As for Whale Rider: Yes, I cried, the filmmaking was elegant, and the girl extraordinary. But I’m increasingly impatient with a certain kind of cheap movie mysticism—the kind that goes into overdrive whenever Maori show up. I realize that In America, which turns on the transmigration of life forces, is among the most cornily mystical of films this year. Yet I think that every movie makes its own rules (hence my love for Kill Bill, Vol. 1 in spite of my impatience with the vigilante motif), and In America has plenty of realistic (borderline tragic) elements to serve as a counterweight.
The love in some circles for Big Fish I don’t get—and Tim Burton is among my favorite American directors, at least when he stays antic and/or mean. Although it’s based on a semiautobiographical novel by Daniel Wallace, I think of it as Burton’s pre-emptive justification for not paying enough attention to his kids (all those fantasy worlds to explore, etc.). The film opens wide this week, so the volume of my hate mail might swell.
Reader Pam Inglesby asks whether documentary and fiction films have been borrowing more and more from one another—with good results. I think that’s a great point. Even fairy tales like Lord of the Rings and In America are incorporating hand-held cameras and limited points of view, and this year’s good zombie flick, 28 Days Later, learned the most important lesson from George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which often resembles a newsreel. Documentaries, meanwhile, are consciously going where fictional films these days won’t, posing questions with no clear answers and positively reveling in the ambiguities. Stranger than fiction, indeed, they are saying. They also serve as a ferocious rebuke to the vapidity of most TV reporting. There is no more potent metaphor here than the one in Bus 174, with its drama unfolding in front of TV cameras that see only a fraction of the picture.
“Please discuss Mel Gibson’s Passion,” writes one reader. I can’t: I haven’t seen it. And I’m frankly dreading its release and the pots of anti-Semitic mail I’ll doubtless get if I respond in any way except religious conversion. I don’t doubt Mel Gibson’s belief, his—if you will—passion; but I also think he has a bit of a fixation on excruciating martyrdom. He’s all but crucified in his Lethal Weapon movies, and in Braveheart he gets to be drawn and quartered while shouting “Freedom!” I suppose I betray my Jewish psychiatric roots here, but I’d love to hear him think aloud on this subject.
If there’s anyone I haven’t pissed off, here’s a question for J. Hoberman. You wrote, in your review of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, “Its hobbituary denouement is gayer than anything in Angels in America.” Dude! Having speculated on Mel Gibson’s fixations, can we move on to the erotic life of hobbits?