BEST FILM (2000)

hypercaffeinated meditation

Writer-director Tim McCusker's hypercaffeinated meditation on the similarities between a battlefield and a French bakery in St. Paul may be the most outrageously verbose local movie ever made--and it runs only 20:15. "The redeeming roll is sweet, it's true," says the pastry-loving, clock-punching protagonist (played by McCusker) to the cabbie who whisks him away to a long lunch hour at the titular bakery, "yet so balanced in its attack of toothsome flavors [that] it's hard to know what to appreciate most: the cinnamon-dusted dough, baked to almost-golden perfection, or the tray-fresh roasted walnuts, strewn with decadent abandon atop the glistening surface of rich and plentiful caramel--caramel that trails in long, stretching strands, photogenically, as the hefty confections are lovingly selected by the rare, polite teenagers who..." Obviously, this guy is wound a little tight. Yet the film itself (which screened at this year's Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival) is a clear-eyed and vividly imagined satire of the consumer culture that renders every cash transaction as akin to a power play--not least in our fair state. ("My icy tone would convey the depth and finality of my feelings on the subject," our hero speculates while preparing to lure the last remaining caramel roll away from a little girl.) Following McCusker's stark, seasonally affected "Winter" from 1996, "Napoleons" confirms its maker's standing as an articulate chronicler of Minnesota Mean. So, too, there's something pleasingly Sturgesesque about the director's insistence that any ordinary schlemiel can speak like Hamlet. (Honorable mentions: Matt Ehling's "Access," Wes Jones's Apt. 6, Reilly Tillman's Madison on Tour, and Darren Roark's "A Young Man's Guide to Dating.")


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