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Are You In or Out?

It's almost easier to pick the year's worst than its finest. Leading the pack is I Am Sam, in which Sean Penn does his retard dance for Oscar only to watch it horribly misfire, followed closely by Captain Corelli's Mandolin (Nic Cage, who might be retarded), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (Kevin Smith proves you can make a movie with your head up your ass), The Center of the World and Intimacy (highbrow porn, which is so beside the point), Hannibal (Ridley, eat me), The Mexican (Brad + Julia - George = oh God, no), Novocaine (and what ever became of Steve Martin anyway?), Waking Life (not stoned enough to care, dude), Mulholland Drive (a lot of film critics must owe David Lynch a lot of money), and Vanilla Sky (did I say that out loud)?

Fine, that's a bit too much hyperbole; the bad always outweighs the good in an industry that abhors its audience by giving it only what it thinks it wants. Yes, we desire more Chris Kattan and Tom Green. Can't live without more laughless movie parodies. Will cease to exist unless Adam Sandler or Rob Schneider or David Spade make a movie a year. Studio bosses and their evil minions might as well spit in our eyes. No, wait, they did. Or didn't you see America's Sweethearts?

And on that note.

In the Bedroom and A Beautiful Mind will linger long after the expiration date stamped on so much Hollywood and indie "outsider" product offered this year. They're touched by magic, much more so than those two movies about stones and rings. (Speaking of which, I'm still soliciting offers for my porno Tolkien, The Lord of the Cockrings, starring Johnny Wadd as Frodo Ballbaggins -- any takers?) Same goes for Monsters Inc., which has made nary a top-ten list and finds in its rightful place Shrek, which is as empty as the head of Kevin Spacey, who once more loses cred and goodwill with K-PAX and The Shipping News, two films that so want to be liked that you can't help but loathe them.

There were some intriguing contenders for this list, among them In the Mood for Love (how could something so Wong be so right?), The Devil's Backbone (spooky, at least to the art-house set), The Royal Tenenbaums (warm heart but cold to the touch), Panic (the best Sopranos episode ever), Gosford Park (Altman's best in years, for what that's worth), The Million Dollar Hotel (loathed for all the wrong reasons), even the terribly flawed Black Hawk Down, which is the best sort of war movie -- overwrought but ashamed of its thrills, proheroics but antiwar -- undone, finally, by its hysterical anti-Clinton politics and the uncomfortable sight of watching a few dozen good ol' boys mowing down a few hundred black men without thought or consequence. (The film breaks your heart by playing up the deaths of 19 soldiers; it breaks your spirit by playing down the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Somalis.) But even The Good Stuff was too much like Ali (the movie, not the man), which floats like a butterfly only to sink like a BB. We expect too much; we get too little. Sounds like business as usual.n time, 2001 might well be remembered as the year of the overhyped and undercooked, the year storybook wizards cast spells to eradicate critical good judgment, the year from which there was so much detritus to choose that much of the good stuff makes a best-of list only by default. It was the year that proved synthespians could star in hollow sci-fi-action junk as easily as their flesh-and-blood counterparts; it was the year Steven Spielberg played Stanley Kubrick and rendered gigolo Jude as lifeless as, well, Stanley Kubrick. Some insist it was the Year of Nicole Kidman, which it was if you didn't mind her, ahem, "singing" and "coughing" in the dazzling (and ultimately dazzlingly vapid) Moulin Rouge and "acting" in The Others, which wasn't half as terrifying as How High or Freddy Got Fingered.

A Beautiful Mind The biopic Ali should have been -- a "true story" reverie never caught flat on its feet. Don't know when Ron Howard learned to direct, but this adaptation of Sylvia Nasar's biography of John Forbes Nash Jr. is wrenching but never strained, poetic but never sentimental. Trapped inside the broken mind of the mathematician who won the Nobel Prize in 1994, we're never sure what's real or imagined, and when the truth's revealed, it's devastating. Too bad Russell Crowe won the Oscar when he didn't deserve it.

Chopper Former music-vid director Andrew Dominik makes his feature-length debut with a movie about a violent, self-righteous criminal whose published (tall) tales may or may not be the stuff of self-made myth. Eric Bana plays Mark "Chopper" Read as likable rogue, and the movie never judges; we've plenty of room to do that ourselves in a film that eschews narrative for vignettes woven together with blood and bullets and the occasional knife to the ear.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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