Artists Of The Year

From escapist entertainment to aesthetic ecstasy: Twenty-nine writers script valentines to twelve months of culture

Meanwhile, the pleasant but insubstantial film of Chabon's Wonder Boys substituted Michael Douglas's winking roguery for the narrator's acceptance of failure, to the story's detriment. Here's the grace note, from the novel Wonder Boys: "She chose her steps with care, and the escort Crabtree was giving her seemed to be not entirely an act of gentlemanliness. Her ankles were wobbling in her tall black pumps, and I saw it could not be an easy thing to be a drunken transvestite."

It's all there--a touch of humor, a taste of sadness, a sharp-eyed refusal to let hipster cruelty conceal itself, and a nonjudgmental willingness to live and let live. Beauty without cruelty: That counts for a lot these days.

Jesse Berrett is a San Francisco-based writer, and TV critic for City Pages.

Trevor Collis


by Jim McKay


The most exciting and inspiring work I saw this past year was from Sergey Dvortsevoy, a Kazakhstani filmmaker whose last three films--Bread Day, Highway, and the short "Paradise"--all played in New York City (the first two screened at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival as well). Dvortsevoy, a purist observational documentarian like the U.S.'s most valuable filmmaker, Frederick Wiseman, uses his camera to take us to places where it truly feels like cameras have never gone before. Without narration, interviews, or any "story" in the traditional filmic sense, we (North Americans) get a glimpse of life in some startlingly remote cultures.

Here in the U.S., our relationship to the camera has come a long way since the birth of cinema verité, through the evolution of home video, and into the land of COPS and Blind Date. Everyone's an actor now, and capturing "real life" is a nearly impossible feat. But in Kazakhstan and the remote regions of the former Soviet Republic, Dvortsevoy and his camera have connected with people who seem to be unaware of the idolatry, the damage, and the temporary celebrity that a camera can bring, and they allow him access to the most telling and intimate of moments.

What can a National Geographic narrator explain to us about life for Kazakh nomads in light of a five-minute long take of a mother "washing the dishes" by rhythmically, meditatively licking each wooden spoon and wooden bowl of its yogurtlike remains before stacking them neatly in preparation for the next meal ("Paradise")? Or amid the juxtaposition of two elderly citizens arguing about bread rations in a village's makeshift bakery and a trio of dogs outside the window fighting over small scraps of food--again, filmed in long, edit-free takes (Bread Day)? A comparatively new filmmaker ("Paradise," made in 1993, was his student film), Dvortsevoy is an artist to seek out.

Jim McKay is the New York-based director of Our Song and Girls Town, and the co-producer of Spring Forward.


by Cis Bierinckx


This is the time of year when everyone makes lists: best films of the year, best books, best albums, actors, directors, and so on. Among filmmakers, it is perhaps Peter Greenaway, the dandy of British cinema (and an artist who long ago lost my favor), who best articulates the obsession of men to categorize, archive, and order things.

I'm sure that in such columns Lars von Trier and Björk will be placed on a pedestal for their much overrated Dancer in the Dark. Cannes jury president Luc Besson's Euro-film politics certainly contributed to the success of that Palme d'Or winner, in the process denying top prizes to such Asian wonders as Edward Yang's Yi Yi (A One and a Two...), Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love, Jiang Wen's Devils on the Doorstep, and Shinji Aoyama's Eureka. But the show must go on. And in the end, who still cares about aesthetic and ethical values anyway? Certainly not the broadcasters of the U.S. presidential election (whom I initially favored as my artists of the year, until I realized that a single name is preferred). These network showmen were positively sublime in their act of misleading the public while painting the contiguous states in digital reds and blues. Theirs was a masterpiece of suspense to rival even Hitchcock's.

But I digress from the duty of naming my artist of the year. Just recently I came upon the work of a young Chicago filmmaker named James Fotopoulos, whose low-budget (or, rather, no-budget) film Migrating Forms won the best feature prize at this year's New York Underground Film Festival. Reminiscent of early Lynch and Scorsese escapades, Fotopoulos's exquisitely minimalist black-and-white experiment is a surprising treat that leaves us holding a messy array of enigmas in our laps. It's a weird, disturbing work of elemental cinema made by a particularly obsessive "independent filmmaker"--a breed that has become increasingly rare and less pure in America.

Cis Bierinckx is film/video curator at Walker Art Center.


by Henry Sheehan


During the feast of praise that marked the presence of so many Asian masterpieces at Cannes this year, one absent guest was politely overlooked. Although Hong Kong's Wong Kar-Wai caused a positive stir with his period romance, In the Mood for Love, the action films that had made the former colony a hotbed of cinematic fury were missing.

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