We Heart Huckabees!

The Everything Movie lands on all four of our film critics' top 10 lists


9. When Will I Be Loved

The most flamboyantly unhinged, unpredictable, and unnerving Amerindie since Masked & Anonymous (let's keep this a cult movie, shall we?) had two weeks at the Block E last summer and then it was gone, baby, gone. But I don't think a day has passed when I haven't looked back on it in anger and awe. Neve Campbell plays the first scene buck naked in an open shower high above the class struggle of Manhattan, water spraying out of a well-placed nozzle and R&B pumping out of the speakers. Could anybody guess that this slinky, sleazy New-Wave-in-New-York number will invite The Sopranos' wrinkled ol' Uncle June (Dominic Chianese) to make an Indecent Proposal-type deal with the nubile heroine and her dumb-fuck hustler beau (Fred Weller), then turn her into...? Rent the DVD when it comes out in a few weeks and tell me I'm nuts for thinking that writer-director-actor James Toback--here playing horny Professor Hassan al-Ibrahim ben Rabinowitz behind impenetrably dark shades--is a provocateur par excellence.


10. Dawn of the Dead

I know the not with a bang... theory, but I still say the end of the world demands depiction with total ferocity. And this zombie revival by first-time director Zack Snyder does just that--from the chaotic cul-de-sac nightmare of the opening reel (they won't go gently in suburbia, it seems) all the way to the end credit sequence, which appears to get eaten alive itself. When the damn thing was finally over, I left the Yorktown Cinema Grill(!) shaking like a leaf, but oddly relieved: You think you've seen it all before and then along comes a movie--a remake, yet--that proves pop still has the power to sink its teeth into you. Maybe it's not the end of the world.


Honorable Mention (alphabetically): Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer; Bad Education; Blissfully Yours; Control Room; Cowards Bend the Knee; Goodbye Dragon Inn; Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle; Metallica: Some Kind of Monster; Notre musique; Tarnation.


As Good As It Gets

Not a good year for great movies, but a great year for good ones. Besides those listed below, I enjoyed the mirror-hall reflections of Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's InfernalAffairs and its crackerjack cast. Alfonso Cuarón magicked Harry Potter and his friends into real teenagers with unreliable bodies and moods. The first half of Kinsey went in unexpected directions with pleasing verve (before the movie settled into middle-class morality lessons). Vera Drake's heavy hand of fate was leavened by keenly perceptive performances, especially Imelda Staunton's. Likewise, Jeff Bridges (The Door in the Floor) and Clive Owen (Closer) pierced their stale chamber pieces with exuberant nastiness.

As for Sideways, the "year's best reviewed movie," it gave me a headache.


1. Hero

My reading tells me that Zhang Yimou's film is a candy-colored spectacle, a mass-market version of wild-eyed Hong Kong enthusiasms of old, an apologia for the brutalities of Chinese governments past and present. Certainly Zhang's banal House of Flying Daggers doesn't argue for his thematic perspicacity. But I appreciate the way that Hero's fight scenes de-escalate over the course of the film, as if Zhang is trying to wean the viewer off that thrill. The image of an individual's silhouette marked out by arrows seems all too perfect right now. And to rest in the elegant, experienced arms of Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung, I will even bear Zhang Ziyi.


2. The Saddest Music in the World

Guy Maddin's rowdy farce--with Isabella Rossellini as a beer baroness perched on brew-filled glass legs!--got less respect than his melodramatic vampire ballet Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary, but to me it's just as beautiful and twice as rich. Under cover of tipsy one-liners, the Canadian director blasts imperialist U.S. spectacle (wars and movies both) at the same time that he himself puts on one helluva Hollywoodesque spectacular.


3. Bad Education

No offense to Jude Law, but Gael García Bernal is easily the sexiest (wo)man alive. And Pedro Almodóvar's tricky noir polishes his boyishly vulnerable surface until we see ourselves, endlessly desiring. (Bernal's character himself lusts for his surface.) Bad Education is wiser (and wider) than Closer in its examination of unexamined passion and its costs. (Opens January 21 at the Uptown.)


4. The Aviator

Gangs of New York looked a clomping mess, but by the time Scorsese hit the graveyard and the modern street sounds of the credits, this viewer's chest was hurting with love of country: love in all its painful complexity. Scorsese's The Aviator left me unmoved, but marveling: So big! So smooth! So miraculously engineered! In the guise of portraying Howard Hughes's (mostly) glory years building solid aircraft and movies, the director has fine-crafted a tribute to making things well--something Americans were reportedly proud of doing in the early 20th century. Whether Scorsese intends the charismatic Hughes's eventual coddled paranoia to be representative of our last half-century, well....


5. I Huckabees

I laughed more than my friends, who thought it a trite Philosophy 101 lecture. To me, writer-director David O. Russell trumps fellow loser-art practitioners Charlie Kaufman, Wes Anderson, and even Richard Linklater in that: a) he acknowledges his white male privilege (see the movie's unpacking of the "magical" black man trope), b) his absurdity is uglier and funnier (see the mud-sex scene), and c) his characters actually confront a world outside their own mirror (see the saving-meadow-from-big-box-retail crusade, played for laughs and chills).

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