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Dear Santa: Yet Another Film Critics’ Christmas, 2003

Dear Santa,

Seeing how you’re probably still steaming from your portrayal in Bad Santa, we know the timing for our annual Christmas letter is rotten. But it’s two weeks before Christmas and the staff has checked its list twice. Quite frankly, our list needs to be read. I mean, look at all we’ve had to endure – crappy sequels, a pretty flat fall line-up, and an American Idol . And that’s not even on the list. It’s a miracle we haven’t bought a rifle and rented out a clock tower. You should be thankful for just the letter.

We haven’t put all of our requests in this letter – most of us have day jobs – but we think we make some pretty compelling arguments, even if one or two cancel each other out. We can only hope that you help us find that happy medium, and that the new year finds the multiplex a happier place to be.

Oh, by the way, the new Britney Spears CD would be nice, too.

the staff

A FEW TOO MANY WORDS FROM OUR SPONSORS: Santa, I’d like to see the movie industry create a self-imposed limit on the number of gratuitous co-promotions one film can have. I’m not very demanding so let’s say, oh, how about 17? Yes, I understand that The Cat in the Hat would still be over the limit and, thus, susceptible to fines (and unending ridicule).

Is it really necessary for Mike Myers, or a costumed stand-in, to strut around shilling credit cards, party snacks and, gulp, household cleaning products? God knows that nothing symbolizes wholesome timeless shenanigans more than a 6% Visa and some wood polish. The massive promotional machines at the studios may forget that when they saturate the airwaves with one movie, the public believes that such a film might actually be, you know, good. The way The Cat in the Hat is being received, the most appropriate product partner would be Depends undergarments, as most of the film’s viewers think it’s total crap. Norm Schrager

A QUENTIN CHRISTMAS: Thank you, Santa, for a Tarantino film: Kill Bill. He hasn’t made a movie in over five years. That’s a really long time. Could you please deliver some special goodies in his chimney this year? It will encourage him to make movies more often. You probably didn’t like Kill Bill because people behaved naughty – they killed each other and said lots of bad words – but that’s no reason to actually put Quentin on your naughty list. He needs to understand how much we film critics really appreciate his work. That said, there are many who imitate Quentin’s sense of style and structure. They need to stop mocking his schtick and find their own. Please leave Limburger cheese in their stockings, and maybe, if you are feeling generous, a spear or two of asparagus. They deserve it. Blake French

NOT SO FAST: The main gripe about Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein is that he inserts himself too much into his productions. Usually, I think this is a silly complaint: The culture of film auteurism tends to ascribe way too much authority to the ‘director’s cut,’ as if filmmaking weren’t a thoroughly collaborative art. So if production heads want to fuss over the finished product, that’s just fine with me; there are too many pretentious, over-long and just plain bad movies that get released in the name of honoring the director’s genius and not mucking with it. So all the stories about Harvey Weinstein’s notoriously scissors-happy approach to movies he handles doesn’t bother me too much. But his decision to split Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill in two is an outrageous gaffe that any moviegoer should be just plain mad at. While I understand that it’s your gig to give and not receive, please do me a favor and steal Harvey Weinstein’s scissors this year when you traipse down his chimney. They’re on his mantle, next to his self-portrait and his Shakespeare in Love Oscar.

It might have made a certain sense to split Kill Bill in two if Tarantino was the sort of director who was engaged deeply with plot and storytelling. But Tarantino’s an ironist; his every shot, every characterization, every plot device, is a commentary on the concept of shots, characterization, and plot devices. It was hard to mind this in Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs since the results were such breezy, bloody fun. But Kill Bill Vol. 1 is Tarantino at his leaden and most distant – a big fat joke on samurai movies, on the very idea of making samurai movies. If Tarantino believes that there’s wit and music in the Grand Guignol slice-and-dice that closes Vol. 1, that’s his business. But pretending that the mystery of who Bill is might be something we care about — and then making people pay twice for it — well, that’s my business, and it ought to be the business of anybody with a wallet and an urge to see movies. I certainly understand the profit motive: double the money in the theaters and in the DVD releases, and there’ll be a Complete Kill Bill set available soon enough, I’m sure. But I’m willing to bet good money that Vol. 2 will only do half the box office of Vol. 1, precisely because Tarantino’s telling an anti-story: We really don’t give a damn how the tale works out, and we don’t need two Tarantino blood-soaking rituals in the space of a year. So, away with Harvey’s scissors; if he plays nice in 2004 and chooses not to rob us blind, we’ll let him have them back. Mark Athitakis

NO MORE UGLY FOR OSCAR! I’m sick of actresses thinking they can earn critical accolades just because they throw on a false nose. Nicole Kidman’s big nose in The Hours is her entire characterization, and didn’t merit Oscar. Charlize Theron contorts herself into a cartoon trailer trash grotesquery as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, putting on weight, bad skin, bad teeth, and a giant fright wig. But underneath all that Lon Chaney makeup is still just another bland model-turned-actress. Meg Ryan desperately tries to shake loose of her cutesy girl trappings in In the Cut, getting frumpy (and naked) – but once she ditches her star persona it’s evidenced very quickly that there’s not much going on underneath. Acting is a craft that demands more than an uglified makeover! Jeremiah Kipp

FEMME FALL DOWN: This may sound unusual, but my request is pretty straightforward. Santa, please give our leading ladies the power to keep from falling over themselves.

Case in point. During one trip to the multiplex, I saw coming attractions for The Lizzie McGuire Movie and What a Girl Wants. In both previews, stars Amanda Bynes and Hilary Duff trip over themselves like the Hilton sisters after a long night at the open bar. A few months later I saw Honey and was treated to the sight of Jessica Alba – who plays a dancer in the movie, mind you – trip over herself while talking to hunky Mekhi Pfiefer.

This is not a new trend. Remember Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s Wedding, Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries, or any other lame romantic comedy starring Sandra Bullock? A foxy female falling on her ass has become the screenwriter’s panacea – it is supposed to show humanity, humor, and vulnerability. And no actual writing is required! Somewhere in heaven Dorothy Parker and Madeline Kahn must be vomiting.

To paraphrase Elvis Costello, actresses need to stand up for not falling down. If the director wants to show vulnerability or humanity, then the actress should ask to carry the emotional load. If they want to be funny, then watch Katherine Hepburn and Kahn, and check out some Nichols and May albums from the local library, and learn how it’s done. Demand better scripts. Just do something or an actress I actually care about (Julianne Moore, Naomi Watts, Maggie Gyllenhaal) is going to end up in traction. Pete Croatto

A SPECIAL REQUEST: While we’re at it, Santa, can you please keep Kathleen Quinlan (The Battle of Shaker Heights) from making any movies ever again? Her acting is starting to get embarrassing. For us and for her. Christopher Null

AND ANOTHER THING: Jack Valenti is a freakin’ jerk. CN

LEAVE THE BOOKS ALONE: Yes, yes, I know what you’re going to say, Lord of the Rings. Fine, Peter Jackson did a fantastic (or at least as good as anyone could expect) job with the trilogy, but that’s an exception to the rule.

In case you were wondering, the rule goes something like this: Everything you loved about a good book will be jettisoned on its way to the big screen, and everything bad will be amplified. Just in the last couple months, you allowed poor casting and a feckless screenplay to ruin a pulsating, powerful novel like Roth’s The Human Stain and must have allowed Michael Crichton’s pets to write the dialogue for Timeline — you see, they were pets, so they didn’t realize when they needed to camp it up. I know it’s tough, the books come with built-in stories, characters, and fans, but please, leave them alone. They didn’t do anything to you. Chris Barsanti

NO MORE HORROR REMAKES! Or, at least, more daring and imaginative re-inventions of horror classics, please! John Carpenter’s The Thing, David Cronenberg’s The Fly, and Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers were three movies that took their original premises and pushed them in a new direction. But all too many of the horror remakes of today feel like unnecessary cash-ins. The upcoming Dawn of the Dead not only capitalizes on the George Romero classic, it’s riding the coattails of 28 Days Later. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre felt retro-fashionable, but one wonders why it had to be made in the first place. Remakes of David Cronenberg‘s Shivers and Scanners have been talked about, but how could they improve on his original (and highly specific) vision. What’s next? A remake of The Sixth Sense? JK

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