Fahrenheit 2004

Remembering the movies that heated up cinemas this year

The real breakthrough is still coming. Now that Lucas, Conran and Zemeckis have pioneered the technology, it's going to get cheaper and easier, and proof of that arrives in spring 2005 with the Henson Company's Mirror Mask, a computer-generated/live-action fantasy film by Sandman comic-book creators Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, shot mostly against a greenscreen for a paltry $4 million. Robert Rodriguez, who experimented with the style in Spy Kids 3-D, will follow shortly thereafter with Sin City, a highly stylized rendition of Frank Miller's hard-edged graphic novel series. Early glimpses of these flicks wowed the faithful at the San Diego Comicon last July.

Also hitting the festival circuit in '05 will be a remake of the classic German expressionist horror movie The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, in vintage-style sepia and white, but utilizing virtual sets to re-create the surreal look of the 1920 original.

Oh, yeah, and there's that one with Darth Vader in it too… -- Luke Y. Thompson

Some Like It -- Not

When My Big Fat Greek Wedding scored a surprise hit for comedienne Nia Vardalos, the former Second City star may have figured any old second act would do -- even a penny-dreadful rip-off of one of Hollywood's most beloved classics. Not so. A flop at the box office, lambasted by critics and quite possibly the most unwatchable movie of the year, Connie and Carla labored mightily to update Some Like It Hot with the tale of two loud-mouthed showbiz wannabes (Vardalos and Toni Collette) who take it on the lam from a Chicago drug dealer who thinks they've filched a kilo of his coke and flee to L.A., where they disguise themselves as drag queens in a gay nightclub. Never mind the conceit that these cornfed pseudo-dragsters convince a far hipper, more observant transvestite crowd in West Hollywood that they, too, are men impersonating women; they also wow the locals with their awful caterwauling. Vardalos attacks the scenery like a starved hyena. Collette shrieks like a banshee, her jaw three inches from the camera.

Accessories to the crime include director Michael Lembeck (although it looks like Vardalos wore the pants on the set); an uncomfortable-looking David Duchovny, who bravely essays the part of a straight guy who falls for Vardalos's overwrought Connie without quite knowing why; and the great minds at Universal Pictures, who bankrolled this lame vanity project in hope of cashing in on the quickly dissipating Vardalos heat.

Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe and Billy Wilder would be been appalled, but have no fear: Their legacy is probably safe for another generation or two. -- Bill Gallo

Wake Up, Spike Lee

Dear Spike Lee:

The opening words of Do the Right Thing, your 1989 breakout film, were these: "Wake up!" You wanted the world to awaken to the deep and painful rifts in American race relations -- between black and white, brown and white, black and brown, the whole enchilada. You followed your feminist debut, She's Gotta Have It, with this electric and thoughtful movie. We saw it. We talked about it. And you opened the door for a new wave of African-American filmmakers. We were counting on you to keep making intelligent, provocative films. So when did you fall asleep? Bamboozled (2000) was an utter mess of stereotypes and misdirected rage. And this year's She Hate Me? Perhaps the angriest, most obnoxious movie to pollute the screen.

You're blaming lesbians for the unhappiness of the black man? Lesbians are the problem? It didn't help that you admitted to not knowing any lesbians of color; did you have to portray them as scheming, manipulative and man-hating bitches? Whose conversion to bisexuality is just one good (or even mediocre) fuck with a man away? Puh-lease. We're not buying it. Frankly, it's perplexing. How is the same man who made 25th Hour, 2002's gorgeous, jazzy tribute to New York City (among other things), capable of She Hate Me? Maybe it was the writing. (And maybe you should leave the writing, as you did in 25th Hour, to others.) Where did your brain go, Spike? Wake up. We miss you. -- Melissa Levine

They Sucked: A Contrarian Perspective

It's easy to bash the big-budget blow-'em-up epics that Hollywood wants audiences to like, but harder, as a critic, to go against the tide of movies deemed Important Artistic Triumphs. I've always been a contrarian, though, so with due apologies to my critical colleagues, here are the movies you're wrong about.

Closer A better movie back when it was called Your Friends and Neighbors and directed by Neil LaBute.

Maria Full of Grace "Based on 1,000 True Stories" is the most pompous tagline of the year by far, especially from an American director claiming to speak for all the people of Chile. It does, however, explain why the characters feel so one-dimensional -- they're ciphers standing in for a thousand others, after all. Yes, the drug-swallowing scenes are discomforting, but I saw the same shtick in a Beavis and Butt-head episode a decade ago.

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead Mike Hodges and Clive Owen tried to repeat the cleverness of Croupier and ended up sending us to slumberland a good deal sooner than the title implied.

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