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Dear Santa: A Film Critics’ Christmas, 2001

Dearest Santa,

The staff has been very good this year. Some of us sat through Pearl Harbor, while others cringed as an all-star cast was abused in America’s Sweethearts. And then there was Soul Survivors. And Domestic Disturbance. Well, you get the idea. Yet here we are, still reviewing movies, despite the fact that coming up with a Top 10 list this year will be difficult, if not impossible, for some of us.

Santa, you’re a man of reason and compassion. Surely, you can see what we’re going through? By god, help us! You must sympathize. You work roughly 1 day out of the entire year, so you must fill up the months with something. We’re thinking it has to be movies, unless you actually try talking to Mrs. Claus. So, why don’t you get off your fat butt and do help us out? Instead of giving a $1,000 toy to some petulant, snot-nosed punk, why don’t you read this letter?

A few of us at have come up with a few ideas that are sure to make everyone’s New Year a lot better. Plus, if you come through, you’ll be known as more than an over-the-hill toy peddler who has a questionable relationship with animals and kids. You’d be the man who revitalized movies. Sounds pretty good, huh?


Rachel, Chris, Frank, Jeremiah, Norm, and Pete


SUMMER MOVIES THAT DON’T SUCK: I consider this to be the Tickle Me Elmo or Playstation 2 on the list. Every movie lover, no doubt, wants this. If they don’t, then I want whatever medication they’re taking. I remember when comparing summer movies (my definition: big budget movies from big studios) with friends was done with pride. Now, it’s something we talk about in hushed tones and loud sobs. There was a lot out there in 2001, but most of it was rotten. Where’s the Oscar contender: Forrest Gump, The Fugitive, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Where’s the smart movie like Out of Sight or Election that make you look like a multiplex snob. Can someone tell me where the critically acclaimed blockbuster of my youth went? Wherever they are, somebody please bring them back. And drop off Michael Bay when you do. –Pete Croatto

FEMALE CHARACTERS WITH CHARACTER: Why can’t we have three-dimensional women in the movies? The age-old extremes of saint, woman-who-does-it-all, or gold-hearted whore are present to the extent that these stories are constantly regurgitated and have become boring. Why are today’s starlets so scared of defying the norm by having a character actually learn something new at the end of two hours? Meg Ryan is one of the worst offenders — does anyone actually want to see Kate & Leopold? Maybe if the highly paid actresses wouldn’t take such predictable roles, a writer would be forced to pen something intelligent. –Rachel Gordon

BETTER HORROR MOVIES: When was the last time a good horror movie was released? I don’t count The Blair Witch Project because it gave me headaches instead of thrills. I want my eyes glued to the screen, unable to predict who might die, or have extraneous dialogue thrown in for an easy excuse as to why a chain of events occurs. I don’t think I’m asking too much here. –RG

GIVE THESE UNDERAPPRECIATED CHARACTER ACTORS MORE WORK: Some of this year’s highlights so far include great performances from an array of criminally underused character actors. These sideline heroes can liven up an otherwise horrible movie (Pam Grier, Ghosts of Mars) or enhance a good one (Tony Shalhoub, The Man Who Wasn’t There). Note to filmmakers: Please put these people in your movies, and they will be that much better.

Steve Buscemi may have given the performance of the year in Ghost World.

Campbell Scott’s delivered a deliriously brainy turn as Hamlet, dancing intellectual schoolboy circles around his supporting cast.

Brooke Smith lent pathos and integrity to her ferocious and pregnant white trash killer in Series 7. Also deserving credit: Illeana Douglas as the skittish Bohemian art teacher in Ghost World.

Runners-up: Bob Balaban (Ghost World), David Caruso (Session 9), Dylan Baker (The Tailor of Panama), Robert Forster (Diamond Men), Ann Miller (Mulholland Drive), Tom Noonan (The Pledge), and Dave ‘This is America, dude. Learn the rules!’ Sheridan (Ghost World). –Jeremiah Kipp

A WAKE-UP CALL FOR GEORGE LUCAS: You may be a (sometime) visionary, but you’ve never been a master craftsman like your neighbor Steven Spielberg. Your story construction is haphazard and uneven, your character development appears to be virtually nil. Do yourself a favor and allow others to facilitate your beloved Star Wars universe. That means enlisting new writers, directors, and co-producers who will not kowtow to your childish whims. Listen to them. You can’t save Clones (your silly title), but it’s not too late for Episode III. And by the way, Han Solo drew first, you idiot! Please cease and desist in rewriting screen history. –JK

TEACH SINGERS NOT TO BE ACTORS: The proof is in the pudding: Mariah Carey in this year’s woeful Glitter, Madonna in any movie, DMX in Exit Wounds, Snoop Dogg in Bones and The Wash (with Dr. Dre), N’Sync heartthrobs Lance Bass and Joey Fatone in On the Line… The list goes on and on. I understand singers have the urge to explore their range. Some can accomplish this feat and make for great double threats — Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minelli, Barbra Streisand, or Cher. Some have shown potential — Bette M
idler, Jon Bon Jovi, Courtney Love, and sometimes Jennifer Lopez. But the bottom line is that most songbirds should stick to their day jobs. No, it doesn’t hurt to spread your wings and try something different. But if you can only sing a sweet note, stick to that. Remember, only you can prevent Glitter II. –Frank Ochieng

BRING BACK SHORT FILMS AND NEWSREELS: If there’s something I can’t stand more than anything else, well, it’s terrorists — but after that, it’s definitely television news. Big-haired anchors misreading the TelePrompTer? I have better things to do with my 6 o’clock hour. That’s why I want to see the newsreel come back! Once a week, I can get the updates on the celebs, the stock market, and the state of the war — and what better time is there to build patriotism than in a crowded movie theater? And if the news is light, why not throw in a short film or two? I’m not talking about the Coca-Cola commercial disguised as an independent film, I’m talking about a good, 3 to 5-minute film. Animated flicks often include shorts, but why can’t grown-up fare? I hate watching shorts back-to-back, like you see at festivals and on the IFC channel… that gets old, fast. But if you wanted to throw a couple up while we’re waiting for the movie to start, then sign me up. –Christopher Null

BETTER WRAPPING PAPER: Santa, you like coming attractions, right? Who doesn’t?! They’re cool, well-edited commercials – kind of like mini-movies. Well, at some point in modern film history, they stopped teasing us with the story, and just started telling it outright. Sad ending, happy ending, violent ending? You’ll know the deal by watching the trailer. I wish, Santa, that more coming attractions would tease the audience instead, just skillfully enough to make them want more, but keeping the finer points of the movie at bay. I offer as a shining example the short trailer for Cameron Crowe’s upcoming Vanilla Sky. It starts as a romance, becomes some sicko thriller, and then looks like a murder mystery. Cool! It changes themes within 30 seconds of trying to explain what the movie’s about! The capper, though, is for anyone who has seen Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), the film on which Vanilla Sky is based. There is a major subplot to the film that’s not even revealed in the trailer! Yippee! All that moviemaking fun in 30 seconds, and no mention of what people will really talk about when they leave the theater. I love it. Santa, can you bring more of those around before the movie begins? –Norm Schrager

SENIOR CITIZENS ARE PEOPLE TOO: Here’s a reason why Paul Cox’s Innocence is one of my favorite movies this year: Senior citizens are treated like regular people. They’re not heard uttering lines like, ‘Who let the dogs out?’ or, ‘I did the wild thing all night long with Irv.’ They aren’t doing oddball things like paying people in meatballs, which in the real world would be looked at with concerned frowns and calls to the family physician. I’d like for senior citizens to be treated decently in the movies. God knows it’s tough enough for them without having to sit through these awful representatives. Think of it this way. What if every movie featuring a man or woman in his late teens or early 20s acted like Stifler from American Pie? I’ll end it here. — PC

STOP COPYING THE MATRIX: From feature films to Moviefone commercials, the overabundance of mid-air action needs to stop. It was a good adventure film, but repeating its technical tricks doesn’t necessarily make another movie worthwhile. Plus, The Matrix is almost three years old. Let’s appreciate the trend for what it was, and move on. –RG

OH, AND ONE LAST THING: If Pixar could release a film every six months, that’d rock my biscuit. –NS


Please declare a moratorium on American remakes of foreign films. The Vanishing? The Visitors? Scent of a Woman? Diabolique? They all stunk. So why on earth is Christopher Nolan remaking Insomnia, the disturbing Norwegian chiller starring Stellan Skarsgård? With Al Pacino!? I shudder at the thought. –JK

We’re still awaiting Hayao Miyazaki’s follow-up to Princess Mononoke, a magical fable for the entire family called Spirited Away. Surely some American distributor will find a place for it in their lineup, because Miyazaki’s films are sure-fired crowd pleasers that retain an ambiguous and haunting note of mystery… just like the best children’s books. –JK

For the grown-ups: Who is going to release the ultra-violent Battle Royale from Kinji Fukasaku? It’s Lord of the Flies meets Survivor as 42 high school students are forced to kill each other on an abandoned island. Takeshi Kitano plays the wily schoolteacher, and when he throws a dagger through some kid’s head for talking out of turn you know this movie ain’t messing around. There’s an audience for this movie, I tell ya. –JK

Finally, please stop pairing Michael Douglas with a love interest two decades younger than he is. Please. –PC

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