Summary Judgment

Love Stinks

Movies

High Fidelity (Buena Vista Pictures). Excellent reviews for this adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel, starring John Cusack as a music snob with a Peter Pan complex who runs a record shop in Chicago. When his live-in girlfriend leaves him, he looks back at his past relationships and tries to figure out what happened. It’s “a sympathetic but unusually incisive portrait of the stunted male ego, perpetually trapped in an adolescent tape loop of sexual insecurity, paranoia and fantasy,” and Cusack is ideally suited to his role: “[He] is a master at playing smart, frazzled, self-flagellating hipsters, and the movie, propelled by his arias of angst, lets him strut his best stuff” (David Ansen, Newsweek). Most critics agree that it’s “a sharp and satisfying romantic comedy about the difficulty of commitment” that provides Cusack with “one of the best roles of his career” (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times). A few find his character unappealingly immature, and kvetch that the movie “isn’t all that romantic and is only half as funny as it thinks it is” (Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today). (Click here to read David Edelstein’s review in Slate.)

Waking the Dead (Gramercy Pictures). Jennifer Connelly and Billy Crudup star as mismatched lovers from opposite ends of the political spectrum. After the radical Connelly is killed by a car bomb, Crudup can’t decide if she’s truly dead or has just gone underground. Unfortunately, the critics can’t decide either and call the unclear ending a cop-out: “We never really know—or care” what happens (Richard Schickel, Time). And despite the physical resplendence of the two leads and the supposed intensity of their beyond-the-grave passion, the critics are remarkably unenthusiastic: “I was swept by a range of emotions more appropriate to winning or losing at solitaire” (Joe Morgenstern, the Wall Street Journal). (Click here to visit the film’s official site.)

Event

The 72nd Annual Academy Awards. The statuettes were stolen, American Beauty swept, Annette Bening was huge, and Hilary Swank’s Best Actress win was a shock. After covering the basics, the critics delve into the behind-the-scenes wrangling: 1) DreamWorks pic American Beauty beat out Miramax’s The Cider House Rules for a “sweet vindication” (Rick Lyman, the New York Times) after last year, when Miramax’s Shakespeare in Love ambushed DreamWorks’Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture. 2) The academy broke the “Hollywood tradition that top awards go to uplifting films” (Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times) by giving five statuettes to the decidedly dark American Beauty; this “confirmed the arrival of a new sensibility in the heart of the moviemaking establishment” (Sharon Waxman, the Washington Post). 3) The Wall Street Journal’s exit poll got one wrong: Denzel Washington lost to Kevin Spacey for Best Actor. All agreed that it was “among the strongest recent years in motion pictures” (Lyman). (Click here to read David Edelstein’s extensive Oscars wrap-up, and here to see a list of all the winners.)

Book

Blue Angel: A Novel, by Francine Prose (HarperCollins). Excellent reviews for Prose’s “astutely observed, often laugh-aloud funny and sometimes touching academic comedy” (Publishers Weekly) about a genial professor who falls for one of his students. Based on the same premise as the 1930 Marlene Dietrich film of the same title, the novel charts the professor’s fall from comfort and safety into dangerous territory; it is “a merciless satire of what [Prose] sees as the new puritanism of academia and the hypocrisy of its sexually political witch hunts” (Christopher Lehman-Haupt, the New York Times). (Click here to read an excerpt from Prose’s Guided Tours of Hell.)