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In the Mood for Wong Kar-wai 

The year’s best films

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Manohla Dargis' List

Ali (Michael Mann, USA)
Apocalypse Now Redux (Francis Ford Coppola, USA)
Faithless (Liv Ullmann, Sweden)
The Gleaners and I (Agnes Varda, France)
I’m Going Home (Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal)
In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong/France) Intimacy (Patrice Chereau, France)
Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, USA)
The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, USA)
Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m. (Claude Lanzmann, France).
(In alphabetical order.)

Films to look forward to in 2002:
Éloge de l’Amour (Jean-Luc Godard, France)
The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke, Austria/France)
Time Out (Laurent Cantet, France)
Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (Shohei Imamura, Japan).

 

Composing a list of the year’s best films is one of our favorite indulgences — a time to right everyone else’s wrongs, as well as to marvel over just how many movies we’ve watched. For my part, though, this pleasant ritual was more difficult than usual, because this year I could barely remember a single movie I’d seen before September 11. So I began poring over the lists of releases, as well as festival selections, trying to forget the lost hours of too many bad movies while summoning up the movie hours in which I had been very happily lost. It worked: I not only rediscovered films I’d loved before this year was violently cleaved in two, but their pleasures. It’s in this spirit of reinvigorated movie love that I asked the Weekly’s regular film contributors to write about a film or film-related subject that they felt had been slighted, overlooked or somehow done a critical injustice, even by this paper.

At the time, I didn’t know what I would choose; now, however, after having read the parsimonious reviews of two of the year’s best features, I realize that what’s burrowed under my skin more deeply than usual is the refusal of many American critics to look at a film as more than the sum of its plot and that miserable excuse for their own aesthetic judgment, “sympathetic” characters. That a film’s images make as much meaning, sometimes more, as its story and dialogue seems a simple and obvious point. The experience of watching a movie is both fleeting and evolving: There is the actual moment of watching, of seeing how characters move through the frame and how scenes follow along, and the later moments of reflection, when you replay the film in your head and the images blur and connect with the ones already there. It’s certainly possible to not like the way a film looks, but you have to actually look first.

To watch, then, Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums and not understand its style, what one reviewer dismissed as “eye candy,” is to miss not just one of the crucial points of the movie — the cost to the children of the family’s mythology — but one of the truths of film itself. Similarly, to watch Michael Mann’s Ali and not see how the director makes meaning out of his breathtaking imagery, out of music, montage, even different shades of black skin, is to completely miss the movie. The first 10 minutes of Ali are among the finest in any film of the last 10 years, and it’s telling of Mann’s brilliance that this sequence is essentially wordless. The film opens with Sam Cooke singing to swooning women and somewhere else a young black man running in the dark. Finally, someone speaks — a white cop yells to the young man, “What you running from, son?” Everything you need to know about the film exists in this scene, in the way the women writhe for Cooke, soon dead, and in the way the cop shouts to the runner, who just keeps going. At this moment, everything comes together — the soul-stirring music, the ecstasy of the audience, the beauty, charisma and sexual vibrancy of these men, as well as the perils of living in an America where to be a black man running in the night must mean you’re running from something. Barely a word of dialogue has been spoken, and none is needed.

 

Hazel-Dawn Dumpert's List

Ali(Michael Mann, USA)
Enlightenment Guaranteed (Doris Dörrie, Germany)
Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, USA)
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, USA) In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong/France)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson, USA)
Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, USA)
Rat Race (Jerry Zucker, USA)
Together (Lukas Moodysson, Sweden)
We Sold Our Souls for Rock ’n Roll (Penelope Spheeris, USA).
(In alphabetical order.)

Hollywood has always had its way with the supremely malleable border between reality and fiction. Truth is blended into fiction, and, more frequently, fiction is blended into truth, sometimes in such a way that a movie’s version of the facts can, to the popular consciousness, become the facts. We’ve come to take such shortcuts and softenings for granted — a composite character here, an enhanced happy ending there — but since the world changed in a day last September, what we say and see in the movies carries more critical implications. Pinning down the truth is always a tricky business; representing it in the movies has just become even trickier. The most immediate effect of this dilemma was the post-9/11 scramble by studios panicked over potentially inappropriate or offensive releases. Yet even in those movies that made the cut, which were in production long before the fall, we can catch a glimpse of the future. Two films, released within a week of each other and based on real events, stand in illuminating counterpoint, giving some idea of the highs and lows we can expect.

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