Most ridiculous car chase: “The Italian Job”
I understand that it’s not easy to re-invent the car chase. I mean, it’s all pretty self-explanatory. But Mini Coopers? My God, this was just sad – souped up Minis scooting around to save the day. To the auto industry, Mini Coopers have come to represent the Ewoks of car civilization. Lacking all the extended parts of the body, they motor around with just their middles, proving strangely valiant in a time of need. It’s not that the idea of using Coopers as getaway cars is such a bad idea – they’re small and maneuverable and can be juiced up – but in movieland, car chases represent a special kind of aggression that requires special vehicles to carry the mood. And while it could be said that the Minis are a special kind of car, it could only be in a “special people” sense. Granted, “The Italian Job” was a bad movie with Hollywood formula written all over it, but the Cooper car chase – the only original idea – was indeed the icing on a very clich? cake.
Most likely to get you laid: “Love, Actually”
It’s a Christmas movie. It’s full of British people and their awful smiles. It has about two dozen main characters and nine intersecting plot lines. And despite all that, for sheer heartwarming, eye-watering, leg-opening, feel-good magic, nothing released all year can touch “Love, Actually.” If whomever you’re sitting next to isn’t at least a little tempted to jump you by the end of the movie, then I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it’s never going to happen. The movie is just funny enough, just sarcastic enough, just plausible enough that you won’t notice it slowly wrapping its tendrils of idyllic love and happiness around the cockles of your heart and gently tugging at your better nature until you find yourself positively needing to hold someone. I hugged the cleaning lady on the way out of the theater. I couldn’t help myself. It was that good.
Least likely to get you laid: “Something’s Gotta Give”
The thing that gives in “Something’s Gotta Give” is the want for undergarments for its elderly actors. In Mr. Nicholson’s case, this is manifested during a scene in the hospital, in which the 66-year-old Jack displays his apparently 95-year-old posterior three times. And Diane Keaton, at 57, skims across the big screen wearing nothing but a pair of reading glasses, going full frontal, much to audiences’ shock and nausea. I don’t recommend eating before the movie, but one may get a strange craving for cottage cheese and dried apricots. Avoid them; they will only hark back short-term memories that could haunt you for days on end. The term “romantic comedy” has been misconstrued so exponentially – “Something’s Gotta Give” is crassly devoid of both romance and humor – that one wonders if the real wit is to be found in the irony of that fact, and if the real warmth is to be felt when the credits finally roll after an agonizing two and a half hours. In conclusion, dear lovebirds, if the notion of commitment has got you positing about a relationship in its (and your) autumnal season, this film will provide no hope at all of getting laid. It may, however, increase support-bra and Thighmaster sales.
The best shootouts: “Matrix: Reloaded,” “Terminator 3” and
“Once Upon a Time in Mexico”
The winner: “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”
Despite all the flack about the “Matrix” sequels this year, the second movie featured a fight sequence for the ages. What begins as a standard car chase turns into a wonderfully inventive and stylish gun battle on the tops of moving cars as Trinity and Morpheus try to free the Key Maker. It was simple yet satisfying and cloaked in a sense of impending doom that was hard not to relish. Yet it resolved nothing and came far too early in the movie, making viewers ready to leave with an hour of schlock left to go. So ultimately, it’s more aggravating than anything else.
The same can be said for “Terminator 3.” The Terminator carries his young wards away from certain death by hiding them in a coffin that he holds in one arm while firing a machine gun with the other. There’s something about watching a death-dealing android march slowly toward you with a coffin and a machine gun that’s so deliciously campy and dark at the same time that it makes me quiver with happiness. But by the same token, it is campy, even a trifle stupid when you consider it, and it’s a total letdown when the rest of the film resumes its death march to mediocrity.
“Once a Time in Mexico” was a delirious amount of fun, and the end of this splatterfest is both elegant and disturbingly messy at the same time. Watching Johnny Depp hunt down his prey with no eyes evokes a kind of visceral charm that nothing else released this year can touch, while Antonio Banderas and company whip out their trademark death guitars to liberate a nation. The scene is not just about eye candy – though the shots are spectacular pieces of film work in the tradition of Sergio Leone – it’s also emotionally gratifying and provides closure to a well-told story. That’s a hell of a triple whammy, and any film that pulls that off deserves to be recognized.
The “it seemed like a good idea at the time” award: “Underworld”
This special award could have been the film’s battle cry. And to be honest, it really did sound like a great idea to have the werewolves battle the vampires in a timeless metropolis. Then common sense hits and the idea eventually reveals itself as a hedonistic, childish impulse to everyone except the producers, who actually went forward thinking that vegan vampires and thugged out werewolves could actually make a box office hit. There didn’t even seem to be any shame in the fact that every shot dripped with “Matrix” schmaltz – the tight leather, the bullet-time photography, the guns, the music, the set designs. There are ideas out there that sound great in our heads, but irrationality really peaked when this movie was made.
Most Nautical: “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Master and Commander”
and “Finding Nemo”
The Winner: “Finding Nemo”
It was a hell of a year for water on film. “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” is the first commercially successful pirate movie made in my lifetime, which is striking considering that pirate once constituted a wildly successful genre. Beyond that, though, it was just a good movie propelled by solid direction and a few remarkable performances. Johnny Depp’s turn as Captain Jack Sparrow managed to get him the notice he’s deserved for years, while Orlando Bloom managed to stand there, look pretty and not screw things up too badly. But “Pirates of the Caribbean” is a little bloated in places and just a touch heavy-handed in hammering home the obligatory message that accompanies all Disney movies.
“Master and Commander” had many of the same strengths-gorgeous scenery and meticulous art direction, as well as a mostly solid cast, but it suffered from a surfeit of subplots, tedious editing and the ever ham-fisted Russell Crowe barreling through every scene like a loose cannonball. If they’d bothered to hire an actual actor, as opposed to a pompous blowhard whose idea of subtlety is alternating between shouting and mumbling, this could’ve been a real four-star flick. But as it stands, not even Crowe can manage to sink what ends up being a serviceable, if deeply flawed, salt yarn.
“Finding Nemo” may not technically be a nautical movie in the conventional sense, but that’s what makes it so good. Instead of taking us over the high seas like the other two nominees – and almost every other nautical flick ever made – “Nemo” takes us underwater, where we discover a complex society of sea creatures that is filled with imagination, mirth and a sense of wonder that’s all but dead in Hollywood these days. It has heart without being sappy, it’s funny without being sophomoric, and it’s artfully presented without being at all showy. Add all that to the fact that it’s got more water per frame than the other nominees and a turtle-riding scene that surpasses anything in “Master and Commander” for high seas-style action, and “Finding Nemo” is definitely the year’s top nautical flick.
Most choreographed free-floating limbs: “Kill Bill”
Love it or hate it, “Kill Bill” was a hallmark for prosthetic limb manufacturers. Viewers usually take for granted the work that goes into creating an artificial limb. If it gets hacked off, it’s only to be lobbed off screen beyond our sight. “Kill Bill” changed all that with its brilliant display of hands, arms, feet, torsos and even scalps flying through the air in choreographed fashion. Perhaps no scene better displays this than when the Bride takes on Cottonmouth’s Kato-masked posse. At one point Quentin Tarantino indulges us with a long shot of the room after the brawl, where more limbs than people litter the floor. Survivors just limp away, missing one if not two extremities. “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” may have done it first, but “Kill Bill” did it better.
Most unintentionally homoerotic: “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King”
“Oh, Mr. Frodo!” “Oh, Sam!” Come on, people. Sure, “Return of the King” was epic, grand and visually spectacular, but when an old dwarf randomly shows up to jump on a bed with four intertwined midgets with big feet (hint, hint) something’s gotta give. Still not sold? Let’s delve further. How about when Gimli and Legolas have a heart-to-heart about what they’ll do once the battle for Middle Earth is over. “I shall show you the woods,” says Legolas. “Ahhh, and I shall show you the mines!” replies Gimli. Even the die-hard fans cracked when they saw that one put to screen. Hell, why else would Legolas stick around when every other elf has left Middle Earth? Yeah, we all know what Legolas wants to do with Gimli in the woods. How convenient that the forest is empty. And don’t think Gimli’s so innocent, either. After all, dwarf women tend to look just like dwarf men, so it’s all the same to him. Toward the end of “Return of the King,” you can pretty much hear the porno music begin to roar when Frodo gives Sam an affectionate kiss on the forehead, and by the time the aforementioned bed scene occurs I’m pretty sure I heard the cameraman laugh hysterically. The only thing missing was the scene when Sam couldn’t finish writing the book Frodo left him because the pages were stuck together.
Biggest Letdowns: “The Matrix Revolutions,” “Daredevil” and “The Hulk”
The Winner: “The Matrix Revolutions”
It’s a no-brainer. The year had a few disappointing superhero films, but “X-Men 2” turned out well enough that the Marvel fans were sated until the next “Spider Man” movie, and no one else cared that The Hulk wasn’t everything they’d always dreamed it could be. Maybe we’ve come to expect more from “Hulk” director Ang Lee, but everybody makes a dog sooner or later, and he was due. As for “Daredevil,” most of America just sat there scratching their heads and muttering, “Dare-what? Devil-who? A blind superhero? Don’t be stupid.” If only Hollywood had listened. And if you really bought Ben Affleck as a superhero – even a physically challenged one – then you deserve to be disappointe, and kicked in the shins for good measure. I hope you’ve all learned your lesson.
Oh, but “The Matrix Revolutions,” on the other hand.
Wow. I’ll admit I enjoyed “Reloaded” and was even mildly curious about how things would pan out in the final installment. Why did Neo still have super powers in the real world? What role would the Architect play in the final battle? How could Agent Smith ever be destroyed? There were a million questions I was dying to have answered, and I couldn’t begin to speculate about what revelations might come from the third movie.
Apparently, the Wachowski brothers couldn’t fathom the answers, either. So instead they made one of the laziest, most clich?-riddled lumps of flaming excrement that ever touched the screen. It was so bad that I tried to claw my eyes out afterward so I’d never have to feel that way again. Some morons will try to tell you, “Sure, it wasn’t as deep as the first one, but it wasn’t supposed to be. It was a great action movie.” These people were obviously malnourished as children and then kicked in the head by a mule, probably more than once. It was not an action move. It had two fight scenes, only one of which was even mildly entertaining, and ended with probably the dullest sequence involving giant robots ever wrought by the hand of man. There is nothing to redeem “The Matrix Revolutions.” It’s an unforgivable sin, and easily the biggest disappointment of 2003.