Most Impossible to Put Into Words, But How We Tried: 2046
Words seem to fail me on the subject of Wong Kar-wai’s 2046. By now, with his second, maybe third masterpiece, it’s fair to say that Wong works entirely, idiosyncratically, in the language of the cinema, and any attempt to describe this particular film’s content (to invoke words like “love” or “time”) or its accomplishments (to label it “ravishing” or “masterful”) feels hopelessly mediated, like an awkward attempt at translation. My only recourse is to analogy. That Wong, along with longtime collaborator Christopher Doyle, Kwan Pung-Leung, and Lai Yiu-Fai, has achieved a dazzling beauty here that recalls, in its level of artistry, the finest work of Bergman and Nykvist. That the film’s vision of a future receding infinitely into the past, a future born of yesterday’s heartbreak, echoes the tragic romanticism of Fitzgerald’s Gatsby. That its exploration of the texture of sex and desire, its excavation of the emotional debris that settles where history and memory collide, has something Proustian in it. Still, none of this really captures what Wong is doing with 2046; for that task, all I can offer is the image of a tear falling from a betrayed lover’s face, refracting a prism of light. But if Wong’s film cannot be understood through an appeal to Bergman or Fitzgerald or Proust, it is enough to say that his art now warrants the comparison. ­—Chris Wisniewski

No, It Ain’t Cool Award: Sin City
Like the dames in the films noir it cannibalizes, Frank Miller’s Sin City looks like a dream, but it’s rotten to the core. A compendium of fantasies that would be laughable if they weren’t so appalling, Sin City wastes its sui generis look on an anthology of stories that could’ve been compiled from the doodlings of pimply adolescents sitting in the back of the class. Featuring the second-best pedophilic subplot of the year (Memoirs of a Geisha takes number one), Sin City purports to explore masculinity, but only revels in chauvinism. The script aspires to pulp poetry, but there’s nothing consequential in its anguish—it just comes off as risibly bombastic. It reminds me of what I loved about comic books, and why I stopped reading them in the first place. ­—Elbert Ventura

Most Disappointing Movie Based on a TV Show: Jiminy Glick in Lalawood
I can understand the indifference and even annoyance some people feel towards Martin Short. A passing familiarity with only Ed Grimley, the apparently dirt-dumb comedies like Pure Luck and Captain Ron that aren’t hard to miss on Saturday channel surfs, and his massive-smile song-and-dance awards show spots could give the impression of a Hollywood long-timer whose continued presence owes more to prestigious friendships (“Everyone loves Marty!”) than a relevant sense of humor. But the Comedy Central series Primetime Glick should have thoroughly vanquished concerns that this Rat Pack mocker was turning into the same sort of camp niche talk-show standby he was viciously satirizing. Even if you didn’t find Short in a fat suit stuffing donuts and Jujubes into his face and routinely falling off his chair funny (we’re very different people), it’d be difficult to deny the incisive, absurd hilarity of his outrageous interviews. (To the hairy Alec Baldwin: “You're just next door to ape, aren’t you?") Hollywood fakeness had certainly been lampooned before, but in Glick it found its ridiculous, riotous personification. Tragically, next to none of anything that made the show such an offbeat perfection made its way into Vadim Jean’s abortion of an adaptation. It feels like it was made in a weekend. It’s visually drab and, without the distance provided by a television studio, often grotesque. It’s slapdash and surprisingly complicated plot figures highly on the character of David Lynch as played by Short, despite the fact that Lynch hasn’t been a widely recognizable public figure since his “Czar of Bizarre” days during the height of Twin Peaks. But obviously one doesn’t go to Jiminy Glick in Lalawood for cinematic precision. It’s just not funny. The red carpet stars interviewed by Glick seem to have little patience with him, and you can understand why. There is no reason for this to exist; it merely reeks of sad retread. —Justin Stewart

Most Punchable Movie: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Self-awareness! In a sarcastic, slickly violent neo-neo-noir! It's a stale brew, but Kiss Kiss Bang Bang accomplishes the unexpected feat of being so smug, so annoying, so winky, that it bypasses mediocrity and welcomes your appalled but smiling affection. This is no backpedaling apologia —Lethal Weapon (and The Long Kiss Goodnight) screenwriter Shane Black's directorial debut really is success via excess, a funny send-up of L.A. and the action movies she's backdropped and starred in. Black throws so much out there that just as you're groaning over another flat-footed as(n)ide ("Don't worry, I saw Lord of the Rings. I'm not going to end this 17 times."), he hits you with an "I'm retired; I invented dice," or an amusing, English major-baiting spat over adverbs and the pluperfect. Robert Downey Jr., as petty thief-turned-actor Harry, and Val Kilmer, as “Gay” Perry, have precise chemistry ­ Downey Jr. is convincingly irritating and Kilmer is convincingly irritated. Old reliable Corbin Bernsen turns up playing who he plays best ­ a rich asshole. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is so in love with itself that it doesn't matter if it wins you over, no matter how hard it sometimes strains. But it also has an endearing appreciation for pure pulp ­ the stuff of books like Bodies are Where You Find Them, on which the movie is based ­ and the paperbacks of a cheapster author named Jonny Gossamer figure big into the crafty plot. Sure, it all feels a bit 1992, but the appeal of entertainment this relentless never expires. ­—JS

Stepping Out Award: Joan Allen in Yes
So, maybe I just never paid too much attention. Maybe I never looked past the pantsuits and blouses, the grimaces and icy glances, the years of repression written all over her features, but I honestly never would have imagined Joan Allen and sexpot in the same sentence. Thankfully Sally Potter’s got a good eye for actresses (though, Christina Ricci in The Man Who Cried?…hmmm)—her exercise in cross-cultural iambic pentameter romance is notably steamy, all thanks to the too-long typecast Allen, who obviously relishes the opportunity to literally let down her hair. More than a few folks snickered at Potter’s attempt to fuse her old-fashioned conceit to a post-9/11 world, but damn if she didn’t largely pull it off—Yes is graceful, melodious, and hugely sensual. When was the last time we could say that about a mainstream American romance? (And no, I’m not counting The New World as mainstream.) Even if the meter forces an awkward linguistic fumble here and there, Allen—more than radiant at 49, she’s legitimately hot—pulls things back together. I left the theatre like a starry-eyed fanboy, convinced I’d just (re)discovered my new favorite actress. Cool kids can chuckle their way to Me and You and Everyone We Know but should remember that people will still be quoting Shakespearean sonnets to get laid long after their favorite indie rockers have faded into single entries on a Rhino box set. And the starlets of today will be lucky if they can muster this kind of on-screen heat in their twenties and thirties, much less pushing 50.—Jeff Reichert

Trapped in the Closet Award #1
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: The year queer broke was complicated by a countertrend—the no-big-deal acceptance of gay-bashing. While Brokeback, Capote, and Breakfast on Pluto played on multiplex screens, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Wedding Crashers, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin were right next door sniggering at the homos. Perhaps years from now (trend lines willing) we can look back at such complacency with fondness and understanding. Right now, however, the blithe mode of gay putdowns is a little too calculating on the part of hetero filmmakers: it’s a laugh both post-PC libs and Neanderthal white hats can share. America coming together, indeed. ­—EV

Trapped in the Closet Award #2
So this is the year we all went to Brokeback, and America finally came out of its centuries-old homophobic shell: gays were paraded around city streets and lauded with buckets of flowers and tickertape, Richard Simmons was elected to the U.S. Senate, and senator Rick Santorum finally came clean about his passionate affair with fearsome American Idol judge Simon Cowell. Okay, well, not exactly, but from the endless AP transmissions and blog thinkpieces it looked like Hollywood finally came out of the closet. Never mind that Jake and Heath were still championing their own “bravery” in swapping guy-spit while making the talk-show rounds, while their heterosexuality was being constantly reaffirmed—at least onscreen things were changing, right? The problem was that regardless of representation, this year every gay romance or sexual encounter or heck, even thought, seemed more steeped in shame and shadows than ever: the clandestine mountaintop fishing trips in Brokeback; James Marsden and Jesse Bradford’s Macaulay Culkin shock-face-making twisteroo kiss at the end of the toweringly shitty Heights; Peter Saarsgard and Campbell Scott’s unctuous and unpleasant backroom fuck sessions in The Dying Gaul. And honor of honors goes to the French horror film High Tension, in which one lesbian’s crush (spoilers alert) manifests itself as a chainsaw-wielding murder spree. Progress. Just like that final shot of Brokeback suggests, maybe it’s better to stay in the closet—all the better to avoid getting the crap beaten out of you. Take that to heart, kids, and there will always be a place for you in the movies. —Michael Koresky

Trapped in the Waste Bin Award: Separate Lies
Not that this clever, well performed, but decidedly minor outing from first-time director Julian Fellowes should have been some kind of slam-dunk, but in a better universe it would have at least registered. Though, given that it probably saw more than 100 times the screens of something like Tropical Malady, it may seem a bit unnecessary to single it out. Yet I can’t shake the feeling that a ruddy little movie like Separate Lies was once upon a time the kind of thing Hollywood churned out almost unthinkingly, and made a decent return on—now the studios send us off to Doom and The Island. The marginalization of serious flicks for adults that aren’t actively baiting Oscar may represent a development even more dire than the squeezing out of foreign films. Films from abroad have always been, and will always be a tough sell, but if we’re looking at a landscape where we’re no longer able to bridge the cinematic gap with a movie like Separate Lies, I fear that those of us who care about the art will be increasingly forced to watch the next Tropical Malady or Kings and Queen recede in the distance.—JR

Most Underrated Horror Flick: House of Wax
Rusty shears clipping an Achilles’ tendon; a pruned pinkie; a chunk of cheekflesh coming off with a peeled-back hunk of wax—I can’t name a movie in recent memory that’s logged so many creative, cringe-inducing mutilations. Spanish music-video director Jaume Collet-Serra’s feature debut never stood a chance with critics; it’s a winkless, straightforward horror flick, a remake, and it co-stars Paris Hilton. But for those of us who like our genre offerings stiff and straight-up, House of Wax was this summer’s real unheralded delight. The set-piece backwater of Ambrose is a small soundstage wonder, and the film’s runny “Fall of the House of Usher” finale, including a chase where every footfall puckers into melting floors, easily vanquishes any of Red Eye’s awkwardly manufactured suspense. If something this basic is so easy, how come it’s so rarely done this well? ­—Nick Pinkerton

Best Trend: Value Added Cinema
Sometimes you just want to go and see a movie, but no one knows how to make those anymore, so in these years of increasingly diminishing returns at the multiplex, here’s to a few talented filmmakers who in 2005 got their mitts on well-trod material and left indelible stamps where lesser artists would have just sleepwalked their way to mediocrity. The Bad News Bears, Oliver Twist, War of the Worlds, Pride and Prejudice—all films based on pre-existing works, yet rendered fresh and exciting by the care of their creators. We shouldn’t have been totally surprised—Linklater, Polanski, and Spielberg have made their careers on this kind of stuff, so Joe Wright’s carefully crafted Pride and Prejudice is perhaps the only left-field surprise of the bunch. I could go on at length about the visual goodies packed into each of these four—Linklater’s fresh re-imagining of the sports montage, the couldn’t-be-anyone-but-Polanski camera perspectives of Twist, Spielberg’s entirely unnecessary, entirely ridiculous, and entirely virtuoso camera move that captures Cruise and family’s minivan flight, Wright’s underlining zooms—but why ruin their pleasures for those uninitiated? Maybe we need to drop the “value added” and call these movies for what they really are. But that then begs the question: What do we call the rest of the crap out there?—JR

Worst Trend: Documentary Films
In a year where documentaries kept raking in the dough (and squeezing worthy foreign titles off screens) why is it that the best of the genre that I saw was a re-release of Peter Watkins’s 1984 Edvard Munch that’s 100% faux? More films were short-listed for the feature-length Academy Award than ever, yet the doc committee’s generosity only served to highlight the paucity of the ’05 crop. From Rock School to Mad Hot Ballroom to Murderball to March of the Penguins to Grizzly Man, the year was an utter snoozer at best, and the chilling Darwin’s Nightmare (thankfully, one of the five Oscar contenders) is the only new documentary that I plan on reserving space for in my memory banks. Eugene Jarecki’s tepid Why We Fight started ’06 off with a whimper proving that once moneyed interests smell more money (here, in center-left political documentary) innovation gets snuffed and tropes push the limits of cliché. Wasn’t it just two years ago that we spent a large part of this same column praising the docs of ’03? My, how quickly times change.—JR

Most Dubious Comeback: Jane Fonda
Letter to Jane: Your stellar big-screen work in the sixties and seventies stands up to this day with intelligence, clarity, and daring. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, Tout va bien, Klute, Julia, Coming Home…heck, we’ll follow you all the way to 9 to 5. It must have been difficult for viewers to trust that you could disappear into character roles following your utter domination of the exercise video market in the Eighties and your emergence as a TV and video personality. Your political passion, widely criticized, made you somewhat of a pariah to many, but we understand that politics aren’t so cut and dry and that you were just trying to feel out your beliefs in your youth and to be something more than just a movie star. Becoming a mogul’s wife, you then retreated from the spotlight completely. Raising a family seemed more important to you, and perhaps you felt you said all you needed to say. So then years later…you emerged from the shadows….you came out of hiding….you looked absolutely gorgeous, not stretched all that tautly, and you were ready to put yourself back up on that big screen for public scrutiny. In….Monster-in-Law? With second billing to J. Lo? Acting as mother to that genetically generic piece of TV blah Michael Vartan? Getting into bitchy catfights with the star of Anaconda? Monster-in-Law was the kind of movie that should have been headlined by a mid-period Elaine Stritch, not transformed into this comeback queen’s vehicle. Wretched, rejected-sitcom-pilot junk that deserved even less of an audience than it barely got, Monster-in-Law only springs to life when Wanda Sykes makes improvisatory reference to her vagina. Welcome back, Jane. ­—MK

Most Underappreciated Performance: Embeth Davidtz in Junebug
Not to begrudge the dazzling Amy Adams her time in the spotlight, but Junebug protagonist Embeth Davidtz could use some of her award and praise drippings. A remarkably expressive actor who’s been doing consistently complex work in movies for over ten years, Davidtz was the unheralded heart and soul of Phil Morrison’s wondrous ensemble. Davidtz first caught international attention as Helen Hirsch, the unwitting object of Ralph Fiennes’s malevolent, self-loathing desires in Schindler’s List, her sunken cheeks and downcast eyes portraying endless confusion and resilient victimization; then in Danny DeVito’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, one of the best kids’ movies of the Nineties, she did a complete 180 as the sunshiny elementary school teacher Miss Honey, while still peeling back layers to express years of melancholy. Impossible to pigeonhole, Davidtz creates entire worlds for even her smallest character: often, you won’t know for much of a film’s running time whether she’s a villain or a savior (Mansfield Park, Bridget Jones’s Diary). The apotheosis of this befuddlement, thus far, is Junebug, in which her ultra-sophisticated Madeleine could come across as either art-world prig or overly conciliatory and disingenuous. Instead, Madeleine reveals something new in every scene, and right up until the end we’re never sure if she’s made the right or wrong decisions about her career and newfound family. Watch the astonishment subtly cross her face as she sees her newlywed husband sing a hymn in a church basement, or her disappointment and hurt at her brother-in-law’s vicious assault on her intentions after she tries to help him with a Mark Twain book report: every moment is a revelation. ­—MK

The Even Steven Award: Woody Allen
Starting the year with the turgid experiment Melinda and Melinda and ending with the rejuvenating Chabrolian antics of Match Point, Woody Allen pretty much evened out in 2005. There was little sight more enervating over the past 12 months than Melinda’s huddle of upper-middle-class bohos standing around luxurious Manhattan apartments clutching glasses of chardonnay while bemoaning their finances; likewise, few images were as exhilarating as Match Point’s Jonathan Rhys Meyers weaseling his way into the upper echelons of London’s modern-day aristocracy and then murderously trying to maintain his standard of living. Arguably, the “serious half” of Melinda was far more successful, perhaps paving a way straight to Match Point’s witty but surprisingly yuk-free Woody renaissance. The most straight-faced Woody Allen cinema since Husbands and Wives, the morbid half of Melinda, oddly, refreshingly free of dramatic an arc, was vintage Woody: desolate and fatalistic. The comic half was completely disingenuous and smugly so, almost a rebuke to much of his career, purporting that comedy was itself a lie. Ironic that the head-on plunge into chaos that is Match Point seems so refreshingly fizzy after the tinker-toy games of Melinda. —MK

Can the fucking thing please just come out already?
No, not Kevin Spacey! We’re talking about Olivier Assayas’s moment-to-moment thrilling Clean. We’ve been waiting to get our critical mitts on the great French director’s almost disconcertingly humanistic masterwork for going on two years, when it first premiered at Cannes, taking the best actress prize for the great Maggie Cheung, before showing in New York at the wonderful Film Comment Selects series at Lincoln Center. Rumor has it that Palm Pictures is finally releasing it this Spring, and we’ll be there on opening night to keep on supporting this altogether rare work of popular art: Fragile, strong, and every moment utterly honest, just like its splendid stars, Maggie and the endlessly empathetic Nick Nolte. ­—MK

Best Musical (Sequence): The Devil’s Rejects
As someone with far too many spins of White Zombie’s “More Human Than Human” under his belt than the average, I thought I’d had Rob Zombie pegged as nothing more than a musical sideshow freak whose moment in the sun would last about as long as say, Insane Clown Posse’s. Then he had to go and get all Craig Baldwin on horror movies and pique my interest with House of 1000 Corpses. I left his follow-up, The Devil’s Rejects, with the notion that he’d undertaken, and succeeded in, an even more radical project: the aesthetic recuperation of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Long an indie rock punch line and ironic karaoke selection, Zombie closes his film with nearly the entirety of “Freebird”’s lengthy guitar assault as his protagonists, recently re-christened as such in a notable bit of cinematic sleight of hand, drive, beaten and bloodied in an open-top convertible through a beatific mountain sunrise. Zombie’s camera swoops in and around them, in a gratuitous bit of cinema that captures their stunned awe in the face of unexpected salvation, and when combined with “Freebird”’s lyrical focus on wanderlust and regeneration, I was convinced for a bit that Zombie must be planning a third chapter wherein Otis, Baby, and Captain Spaulding find God and reinvent themselves as traveling preachers. Alas, further adventures are not to be, but the sequence is burned into my brain, and I hummed “Freebird” (unironically) for weeks. You might complain that this is the same gag Tarantino pulled with “Stuck in the Middle With You,” but the difference is that there’s really no gag here at all—just listen to the slide guitars of “More Human” for even more evidence. —JR

The First Ever Gay Best Picture Winner: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Frodo and Sam never had to hide their kissy-face man-love; and that epic love story accumulated to—director’s cuts included—12 damn hours. Maybe Ennis and Jack Twist needed to escape to Middle Earth instead of that fucking mountain. ­—MK

Best Reason to Be Excited for 2006: Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto
No, I don’t believe this has more than a 1 in 40 shot of being worth the celluloid it was printed on, but given that the film’s trailer and website have both provided me with full afternoons of hearty LOLZ, I can only begin to imagine the high comedy of the film itself. And given that most Americans could probably care less about the specificities of Mayan culture, those of us up here in the “cultural elite” won’t have to stare dumbstruck as a zombified populace proudly shells out for the privilege of sanctifying their religion at the altar of one of the most awful pieces of shit in recent memory. We’re all winners with this one. 8/4/06 is the date. Be ready. —JR