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Passion of the Critic

Collias' top and bottom seven of 2004

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THE BEST THAT CAME TO BOISE

1. SIDEWAYS

Director Alexander Payne thrives in the unhealthiest depths of unremarkable people. His heroes, be they vindictive schoolteachers, unhappy widowers, pregnant paint-sniffers or failed authors, inevitably make far too much of their meager victories and fail splendidly without learning a thing. Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church twitch and shout their way through a script that is very difficult to make funny, but both create characters that resonate long after the film ends. With the Coens in steep decline and Wes Anderson entrenched in cold, calculated irony, Payne has no peer among American humorists.

2. the tRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE

My favorite film of the year is also my favorite film in years. However, I feel compelled to penalize The Triplets because it actually came out in 2003--in every city but Boise, anyway. Here, it ran on the same weekend as Mel Gibson's Passion, and provided a hilarious, nasty and hopped-up antidote to Gibson's simpleminded, slow-mo bogged travesty. In writer/director Sylvain Chomet's animated world, people act like animals, animals act like people and there are no words because everyone is ugly beyond words. It must be seen to be believed.

3. MOTORCYCLE DIARIES

This story about 24-year-old Ernesto "Che" Guevara is historical filmmaking of a rare and fine order. Gael Garcia Bernal is magnetic as the pre-revolutionary medical student, who takes a 10,000-km motorcycle trip across South America and finishes "a different me" than when he began. This isn't pushy political filmmaking, nor is it a flowery biography; it is gritty, profane, funny and drenched in beautiful South American landscapes. Worth searching out, worth owning, and worth pushing onto friends like a communist pamphlet.

4. NAPOLEON DYNAMITE

You don't have to be from small-town Idaho to appreciate Jared Hess' unnervingly accurate portrait of the cultural arrested development that surrounds us on all sides--but it doesn't hurt. Napoleon himself, moon boots and all, is either the hero of geek-chic, or the ultimate expression of an uppity Mormon director's desire to humiliate "the losers." Either way, I can name five more just like Napoleon from my own school, and this film is a flat-out hilarious dissection of Idaho's ongoing awkward phase.

5. A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT

The film world needs more directors like Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Directors who can reinvigorate tired movie topics--war and marriage--by cramming them through a visual filter that is both intensely distinctive and almost primordially familiar. There's no threat of this WWI adventure showing on American TV during Veterans Day a la Saving Private Ryan--it is far too proud of its own strangeness. But it is Jeunet at the top of his form: fastidious, difficult and Godlike in the distance he keeps from his characters' inner lives. His longtime fans, after newfound accessibility of Amelie, will be enthralled.

6. MARIA, FULL OF GRACE

Director Joshua Marston's straightforward story of a Columbian drug mule is so subtle, so deceivingly simple, that a viewer may not realize its magnificence for days after watching it. Marston doesn't exaggerate anything; he doesn't focus unduly on any specific emotions or characters--I can't even comprehend the dramatic restraint he maintains. But his hyper-realistic style and many excellent performances add up to one of the most quietly unnerving immigration fables of modern times.

7. FAHRENHEIT 9/11

After first watching Michael Moore's hateful executive diatribe, no one could have convinced me that I would ever include it on a best-of list. I liked the message (the President, he dumb), but loathed the smarmy, childish messenger and his ego-driven methods. But after six months and an Armage--er, election, it seems destined to be an historical document that will only get more valuable as the years unroll.

THE DISILLUSIONING DREGS

1. THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST

Mel Gibson's religious snuff film is a classless pandering to America's most unhealthy urges. Watching The Passion in a theater packed with Boiseans who were crying, applauding and spilling their soft drinks on me like some demented conversion rite, I didn't feel sorry for my sins. I felt depressed to be part of a culture audacious enough to use this sickening spectacle as a proselytizing tool. As for Oscar talk: Yes, Jim Cavaziel looks authentically pained during his scourging, but his is the easiest Jesus in the history of cinema. The makeup and the holy baggage that audiences inevitably carry do all the work. Pauly Shore could have performed the role just as well, and the beatings would have seemed far more justified.

2. ALIEN VS. PREDATOR

This inter-franchise turd wouldn't even be worth mentioning, if not for two crucial offenses. First, the cosmology: The premise is that Predator is God, and that all of Earth's great lost civilizations, from the Incas to the Egyptians, were modeled according to teachings spouted by the B-movie monstrosity. And second, the romance: As it becomes clear that Predator is the hero and Alien the villain, the human female lead enters into a quasi-romantic relationship with the former. They almost kiss on three different occasions. If gay marriage is illegal, how is that allowed?

3. SHREK 2

William Steig, author of the fantastic children's book that inspired this insipid film series, is reportedly spinning forcefully enough in his grave to be harnessed as an energy source. In the quest to keep up with Disney, Dreamworks systematically avoids everything that can make "family" films as satisfying as any others. Instead of imagination, Shrek 2 thrives on shallow, self-referential Hollywood mockery. Instead of heart and humor, mind-numbing sentimentality. Ten years from now, none of the oh-so-timely jokes in either Shrek film will make a lick of sense; last year's Peter Pan will seem as pertinent and powerful as ever. Your children deserve better than this ogre and so do you.

4. COFFEE AND CIGARETTES

Few directors could turn a coffee shop conversation between Tom Waits and Iggy Pop into a suffocating pile of boredom that makes me want to yank out my hammer, stirrup and anvil with a pair of needle-nose pliers. That Jim Jarmusch was working on this irritating drivel throughout great films like Dead Man and Down By Law only makes it more infuriating. If this is what he has in mind for the 21st century, I'd rather drink myself back a decade or two.

5. SECRET THINGS

Oy, another French softcore date-porn for Americans who like to get their rocks off under the guise of "legitimate cinema"--or is it? The gasp of horror that rippled through The Flicks on a Friday night during the film's dramatic climax--a graphic brother-sister sex scene--was as hilarious and memorable as the rest of these bad movies combined. I retain some affection for director Jean-Claude Brisseau purely for his meanness. But otherwise, this faux-feminist drama preaches empowerment through sex, but ends up conveying the same old shallow, patriarchal jive. I've never been so bored in a movie with so much nudity.

6. SPIDER-MAN 2

Is this 2.5-hour therapy session pretty and exciting? Yup. But I'm so tired of being expected to care about the delicate psyches of superheros, I could suck a fly. Sam Raimi relishes punishing his hero as much as Mel Gibson loves whupping the Jebus, but Raimi also paces Mel in terms of melodramatic Christ imagery. Between the pair, I've seen enough heavy-handed religious bullying to last five lifetimes. Watch an intricate, gripping historical film like Motorcycle Diaries, and you'll realize how grand of a wank Spider-Man 2 really is.

7. THE LADYKILLERS

I really, really wanted to like it. Really. But between Intolerable Cruelty and this disappointing comedy, rife with uninteresting, un-Coen-like characters, the brothers have stumbled on a grand scale. I don't want to make any unduly bleak prognoses, but if the minds behind Blood Simple, Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski break my heart a third time, I may have to stop watching movies altogether.

NOTE: Due to early press deadlines, movie times are not available. For current schedules contact: Flicks, 342-4222; Egyptian, 345-0454; Northgate, 377-2620; Edwards Boise, 377-1700.

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