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Dear Santa: Another Film Critics’ Christmas, 2002

Dear Santa:

It looks like last year’s letter reached you. This year we saw movies with interesting, well-rounded female characters (Secretary, The Good Girl, Far From Heaven) and got an entertaining blockbuster (Spider-Man). Spirited Away finally got released in the U.S.

However, problems still persist. Britney Spears and Madonna decided to make movies. Halle Berry, to some people’s consternation, was everywhere. Others thought Alexander Payne and Paul Thomas Anderson took big steps backwards with About Schmidt and Punch-Drunk Love, respectively. Another Pokemon movie was released. Most evening shows at metropolitan multiplexes now cost as much as some DVDs.

There are some issues we still need to straighten out, which is why you’re getting another letter. We like the progress we saw in 2002, but things could always be better. Unlike you, Santa, we can’t grow fat and complacent.

Sorry, about that. It just slipped out. Hope the diet is going well.

Love,
The staff at filmcritic.com

MY BIG FAT FILL IN THE BLANK: I’d like to request you help Hollywood avoid something that hasn’t happened yet… but is inevitable. Once My Big Fat Greek Wedding broke the $100 million mark, you could just hear phones ringing off the hook throughout Hollywood, as executive producers clamored to have their top gun-for-hire writers conjure up a clone. Bad idea. Lightning may strike twice, but you can’t catch it in a bottle more than once. It would be great if 2003 isn’t the year of the ethnic/Cinderella/boy-meets-girl look-alike romantic comedy, but I’m afraid that won’t be the case. If Hollywood would just remember a few reasons why Wedding worked: 1) while it appeared to be a quiet, very unassuming film its rollout was masterfully strategic, 2) it featured an ethnicity that’s rarely been seen on film, while still looking like everyone else’s family, 3) it gave a lot of mainstream moviegoers in middle America the chance to say they enjoyed an ‘independent’ film, and 4) it was a good movie! Nia Vardalos is already whoring her idea by turning it into a CBS sitcom. Hollywood shouldn’t join her. Norm Schrager

HALLE-LUJAH? PLEASE! This past year, Halle Berry became more ubiquitous than oxygen. Her constant presence was more annoying than a Joan and Melissa Rivers pre-show. She has been in, or on the cover of, everything from Entertainment Weekly to InStyle to Pageantry magazine, becoming everything to everybody. (England’s Hello magazine even referred to her as ‘half-British.’ Oy.)

Berry’s supporters say she’s made great strides for women and blacks, not to mention models, girls with nice boobs, and ladies that used to be married to baseball stars. All kidding aside, this woman has been everywhere, as the bandwagon press jumped on her after her Academy Award win and weepy acceptance speech, and then for her presence in Die Another Day. But what does Ms. Berry really bring to the movie world? Frankly, I feel that her Monster’s Ball performance was too much, an overdramatic turn in an astoundingly overrated movie. So why did she win the Oscar? I don’t know. I’m not a voter. And has she helped black women everywhere? I don’t know. I’m neither black, nor a woman. I just know that she doesn’t impress me as much as she seems to impress the rest of the country, and I would sure like to see a lot less of her. NS

ACKNOWLEDGE AND MOVE ON: Even as I live in and love New York, let’s get over this supposed sensitivity crap of not releasing films because of current events (Phone Booth being the most recent example of a release date moved in the wake of the sniper shootings). We know it’s more of a publicity stunt, a way to gain expectancy momentum for film that may not deserve respect otherwise. So why bother pre-coating it with rationalizations over the public’s reactions? It started with the painfully inept Collateral Damage and I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel yet. Rachel Gordon

WE DON’T NEED ANOTHER HERO: X-Men 2, Spider-Man 2, Daredevil, and The Hulk are upon us. While Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon director Ang Lee might be able to do something with Marvel Comics’ not-so-jolly green giant, the other films have every indication of being franchise pictures drained bone-dry of depth by the timid studios. The comic books had richer eye-popping visuals than anything we’ve seen yet in these films or trailers, and the colors that were so vivid on the printed page turn tacky when put on celluloid (check out all those lousy post-Tim Burton Batman -which don’t leave hope high for the upcoming Superman vs. Batman project).

It’s not impossible to do a class act hero movie. When Christopher Reeve learned to fly in the original Superman and battled across cityscapes against Terence ‘Kneel Before Zod’ Stamp in the sequel, the pop mythology of comics was embraced and given due awe-like when the awestruck parents of Baby Supe watched him lift up their car in his tiny little arms. Or the wonderfully idiosyncratic casting choice of Michael Keaton as an unpredictable Batman in Tim Burton’s modern-meets-gothic city of Gotham against Jack Nicholson’s Joker and, later, Michelle Pfeiffer’s svelte Catwoman. The superhuman was plunged into the world of the everyday in Donnie Darko. But until filmmakers realize that these movies were made with affection, not an exclusive eye on toy sales, they should declare a moratorium on superhero movies. Ben Affleck as a crusader in tights? What’s next? Harvey Weinstein as Doctor Doom? Wait, he already is! Jeremiah Kipp

THE LORD OF THE RINGS ON IMAX: If they can do it for Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones, they can do it for Peter Jackson’s visionary feat. Those fantastic New Zealand landscapes and epic battles are already breathtaking, but why not take this larger than life fantasy and make it way larger than life? [Wouldn’t gigantic hobbits be an oxymoron? -Ed.]

Most of those IMAX movies look like utter bores: life under the sea, hokey outer space adventures, and traveling across the sea of time to a sickeningly sentimental Nickelodeon past. Hey, I know these movies are expensive to put together-but what I’d like to see almost as much as The Lord of the Rings on IMAX is The Matrix. Maybe if the IMAX movies are of some level of quality, people might care about them besides tourists and casual thrill-seekers. Movie lovers could have another reason to rejoice. JK

WOODY ALLEN AND… EEWWW: I try to see Woody Allen’s movies when they first hit theaters, but it’s getting tougher to do that. Not just because of the diminishing quality (Hollywood Ending felt like a sitcom), but because it’s safe bet that he’s going to suck face with Charlize Theron, Helen Hunt, or a Mouseketeer.

Jason Biggs and Jimmy Fallon are scheduled to star in Allen’s next movie. That’s a good start-they’re smart, funny and blandly handsome. But there’s a major problem in Anything Else: Allen’s character is the one having an affair with Christina Ricci.

Allen has publicly said that if he could find someone else to portray his screen roles he would do it, and now couldn’t be a better time. Only four AARP actors can pull off being paired with a younger actress-Sean Connery, Warren Beatty, Clint Eastwood, and Harrison Ford. That’s because their rugged sex appeal transcends crow’s feet and wrinkles. Allen just doesn’t fit into that category. In the ’70s and ’80s it was a neat sight gag seeing him bed Diane Keaton or Mariel Hemingway because it made his neurotic comedian routine shine. But that was before age and scandal made future, similar romantic pairings creepy.

Allen’s days of living in the young man’s romantic world are over and seeing him ignoring that logic makes him look desperate. No number of willing co-stars or witty one-liners can erase that stigma. Pete Croatto

STILLMAN… STILLMAN? Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan and Barcelona are personal faves. While The Last Days of Disco was a big disappointment, that was four years ago, with no sign of another Stillman movie in the works! Get back on the horse, Whit! (Also, if Warner Brothers could stop packaging DVDs in those crappy cardboard cases, that’d be great, too.) Christopher Null

WHAT, NO JUWANNA MAN 2? Please no more cross-dressers, Santa. As if college guys posing as females in Sorority Boys weren’t enough to ignite a few sparks of protest, Rob Schneider transforming into a popular high school cheerleader in The Hot Chick only threw more gasoline on the fire. These jokes were milked for all that they were worth back in the Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire days. Blake French

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