By Stephanie Zacharek
By Simon Abrams
By Michelle Orange
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Nick Schager
By Amy Nicholson
By The Invisible Woman
By I Used to Be Darker
The stars of Dig!, Brian Jonestown Massacre's Anton Newcombe and Dandy Warhols frontman Courtney Taylor, probably wouldn't go in for a little head-shrinking but sure as hell could use it, even after their rise turns into a protracted fall. Someone oughtta make an album about them. -- Wilonsky
The Year in Queer
The gay films of 2004 merit a solid fair-to-middling overall rating, with a couple of lovely exceptions. Chief among those was Luis Miguel Albaladejo's Bear Cub, a poorly titled but beautifully rendered story of a (tubby, hairy) gay man who learns how to parent his abandoned nephew. The Legend of Leigh Bowery, a documentary from Charles Atlas, chronicles the life and all-but-indescribable career of the eponymous club-goer, performer, musician, provocateur and fomenter of outrageous artistic expression. The film presents a cascade of unforgettable images, all of them engineered by its subject during his brief and blazing reign over the '80s club scene in London.
The year's other notable gay movies came with flaws:
• John Waters's A Dirty Shame was a sore disappointment, opting for hysterical, mind-numbing farce rather than bothering to make a shred of sense.
• There was plenty to love in Pedro Almodóvar's Bad Education, including a foregrounding of male homosexuality rare for the Spanish director and a superstar turn by Mexican delicacy Gael García Bernal. But Almodóvar undermines the power of his material by forcing it into a genre (noir) that doesn't suit.
• Newcomer Jonathan Caouette blazed into town with Tarnation, a sui generis scrapbook of his tormented childhood assembled from countless hours of stills, Super-8s, video, DV, and everything else he used to record the events as they happened. Tarnation doesn't linger on Caouette's sexuality, and that approach works beautifully; the trouble is the abundance of on-screen titles and their overindulgence in explanation.
• In a historical turn, director Rodney Evans brought us Brother to Brother, an uneven, overly earnest film that nevertheless has its merits, including a young, gay black man with a healthy dose of self-respect and a look into the lives of key players in the Harlem Renaissance.
• Jim de Seve's Tying the Knot is a heartfelt endorsement of gay marriage that fails to consider whether the rights of unmarried and uncoupled people, gay or straight, should be considered in the struggle for equal rights.
Meanwhile, lesbians? Anyone? Anyone? -- Levine
Kid Movies Grow Up
Have we finally outgrown the notion that movies have to be cloying and cute in order to be acceptable to children? It sure seemed like it this year. Possibly the most sentimental major entry was The Polar Express, but that was due only to the source material -- director Robert Zemeckis did his best to distract from the sap with several runaway-train sequences and scary wolves that pushed the boundaries of a G rating. Pixar simply ignored the G for the first time with The Incredibles, in which characters die and children are menaced with guns.
It should go without saying that Shrek 2's references to Angelyne and Ricky Martin and Shark Tale's riffs on Mafia movies aren't exactly targeted at an innocent audience. Nor was Disney's Teacher's Pet, in which a boy's favorite dog becomes an adult human who romances his momeewww! One might suspect that a Garfield movie would be aimed only at preschoolers with no standards, but by adding Bill Murray's voice to the mix, the filmmakers actually managed to make something entertaining out of almost nothing. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie even alienated some critics on the religious right by being "too dark and edgy" -- the bit with David Hasselhoff's morphing pecs was probably too much to handle. Naturally, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban induced frenzies among those same prudish faithful, with its freaky werewolves and demonic Dementors.
Yet one smaller, under-the-radar family flick that even managed to get approval from notorious right-wing scold L. Brent Bozell and his Parents Television Council was The Dust Factory, a surprisingly complex and mature piece of surrealism that packaged a variety of philosophical and spiritual ideas about death in an appealingly odd tale of a drowning boy trapped in a purgatory-like dreamscape. Little seen in theaters, it deserves your attention on video.
If sickly sweet crap was what you wanted for your kids in 2004, you didn't have much luck, though Hilary Duff came through for ya in A Cinderella Story. (As for the Olsen twins, let's just say that New York Minute, with all its "accidental" near-nudity, seemed to be shooting for a whole new demographic.) -- Luke Y. Thompson
Ever since Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu's Amores Perros exploded onto American screens in 2000 -- followed soon after by Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mama También and Fernando Meirelles's City of God -- American audiences have been taking notice of Spanish and Latin American cinema. The year 2004 was no exception, with The Motorcycle Diaries from Brazil's Walter Salles and Bad Education from Spain's Pedro Almodóvar the most widely seen.
It may not be fair to lump the movies of Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Spain together under one roof, but it is undeniable that films, directors and actors from these countries have brought a new excitement to film-goers in this country. And the films do share some similarities beyond the obvious Spanish or Portuguese language. First and foremost is their sociopolitical point of view.
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