Light into Darkness

New Year's resolution: resist the hype. Ignore it. Pay it no heed. Don't get sucked in.

As we buckle up for another annum of stunning masterpieces and electrifying thrill rides, it could do no harm to recollect where we stood at this exact moment twelve months ago. Imagine that you then had peered into your crystal ball and could see that in the year ahead you would be assured of films directed by such personages as Steven Soderbergh, Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, Wes Anderson, Jim Jarmusch, Richard Linklater, Kevin Smith, John Sayles, John Waters, Jonathan Demme, George Armitage, Philip Kaufman, Quentin Tarantino, Vincent Gallo, Mel Gibson, Sam Raimi, M. Night Shyamalan, David O. Russell, James L. Brooks, Barry Levinson, Martha Coolidge, Spike Lee, Mike Nichols, Michael Mann, Frank Oz, Joseph Ruben, Joe Johnston, David Koepp, David Twohy, Pedro Almodóvar, Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo Del Toro, Lars von Trier, Margarethe von Trotta, Wolfgang Petersen, Istvan Szabo, Bernardo Bertolucci, André Téchiné, Patrice Leconte, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Jean-Paul Rappeneau, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Zhang Yimou (two films by him), Takeshi Kitano, Mira Nair, Mike Hodges, and, fresh from his freshman effort, Sexy Beast, Jonathan Glazer. To name a few.

You might, squinting into the bright promise of it all, have been forgiven for supposing that in the course of such a year you would have plenty to chew on. Now that that course has been run, however, you might also be forgiven for feeling that pretty much the entire year could have been consumed through a straw. One big bottomless smoothie -- even if from time to time a fragment of soft, squishable fruit would manage to pass through the tube and between your lips: the Linklater (Before Sunset), the Raimi (Spider-Man 2), the Zemeckis (The Polar Express), the Scorsese (The Aviator), one of the two Zhangs (Hero), one or two others.

Perhaps, in the interest of making a point, I have slightly padded the roster with names that only a devotee would recognize, much less anticipate with anything like eagerness; names, in contrast to the multiple household words, that mean more to me than to the moviegoer on the street (Joe Johnston, David Koepp, David Twohy, et al.). And without a doubt, in the interest of preserving the point, I have left off the roster the names of filmmakers who would have intensified the glare of promise, and who in my estimation came through with something whose consumption demanded a knife and fork: Michael Moore, Mike Leigh, David Mamet, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Alexander Payne, the Coen brothers, among others. (I refer you to last week's column.)

The point I was interested in making, and preserving, was not just how eminently forgettable most of the films were when they finally materialized, though that's a point, too. Try to remember, if you can: that burbling stew of sex, politics, and cinemania, The Dreamers (could it be released in the U.S. without cuts? could the film buffs of today comprehend the passions of the film buffs of the Sixties?); the softer, warmer Kevin Smith of Jersey Girl, with Ben Affleck grieving on screen, for all the world to see, over the loss of J. Lo; Coffee and Cigarettes, the quintessence of cool; I Heart Huckabees, the epitome of hip; the deep dark secrets of Secret Window, The Village, and, possibly the most aptly named movie of the year, The Forgotten. Puffs of smoke. Gone with the wind.

But my point was something blacker than that; sootier than that; grimier than that. From the delivered goods of the fifty filmmakers enumerated above, it would be possible to compose two perfectly respectable Ten Worst lists for the year gone by.

Hypothetical list number one:

Alexander (Stone)

The Passion of the Christ (Gibson)

Ocean's Twelve (Soderbergh)

The Terminal (Spielberg)

The Stepford Wives (Oz)

The Chronicles of Riddick (Twohy)

Hidalgo (Johnston)

Hellboy (Del Toro)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Cuarón)

The Prince and Me (Coolidge)

Hypothetical list number two:

The Brown Bunny (Gallo)

A Dirty Shame (Waters)

Dogville (Von Trier)

Kill Bill, Vol. 2 (Tarantino)

Twisted (Kaufman)

Birth (Glazer)

Envy (Levinson)

Silver City (Sayles)

The Manchurian Candidate (Demme)

The Big Bounce (Armitage)

I don't say that either list is my own. Nor do I say that either one could not be improved by opening it up to less reputable, less hotly anticipated filmmakers: Stephen Sommers (Van Helsing), Alex Proyas (I, Robot), Antoine Fuqua (King Arthur), Tony Scott (Man on Fire), Brett Ratner (After the Sunset), Joel Schumacher (The Phantom of the Opera), Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook), Jay Roach (Meet the Fockers), Howard Deutch (The Whole Ten Yards), Garry Marshall (Raising Helen and The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement), another plausible Ten Worst list right there. What I did mean to say, though, was simply that when you look ahead to the coming attractions of 2005, don't get your hopes too high. Resist the hype.

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