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Cine Bon!

Remembering the films that heated up cinemas this year.

The real breakthrough is still coming. Now that Lucas, Conran and Zemeckis have pioneered the technology, it's going to get cheaper and easier, and proof of that arrives in spring 2005 with the Henson Company's Mirror Mask, a computer-generated/live-action fantasy film by Sandman comic-book creators Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, shot mostly against a greenscreen for a paltry $4 million. Robert Rodriguez, who experimented with the style in Spy Kids 3-D, will follow shortly thereafter with Sin City, a highly stylized rendition of Frank Miller's hard-edged graphic-novel series. Early glimpses of these flicks wowed the faithful at the San Diego Comicon last July.

Also hitting the festival circuit in Œ05 will be a remake of the classic German-expressionist horror movie The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, in vintage-style sepia and white, but utilizing virtual sets to re-create the surreal look of the 1920 original.

Oh yeah, and there's that one with Darth Vader in it, too...-- Thompson

Wake Up, Spike Lee
Dear Spike Lee:

The opening words of Do the Right Thing, your 1989 breakout film, were these: "Wake up!" You wanted the world to awaken to the deep and painful rifts in American race relations -- between black and white, brown and white, black and brown, the whole enchilada. You followed your feminist debut, She's Gotta Have It, with this electric and thoughtful movie. We saw it. We talked about it. And you opened the door for a new wave of African-American filmmakers. We were counting on you to keep making intelligent, provocative films. So when did you fall asleep? 2000's Bamboozled was an utter mess of stereotypes and misdirected rage. And this year's She Hate Me? Perhaps the angriest, most obnoxious movie to pollute the screen.

You're blaming lesbians for the unhappiness of the black man? Lesbians are the problem? It didn't help that you admitted to not knowing any lesbians of color; did you have to portray them as scheming, manipulative and man-hating bitches? Whose conversion to bisexuality is just one good (or even mediocre) fuck with a man away? Puh-lease. We're not buying it. Frankly, it's perplexing. How is the same man who made 25th Hour, 2002's gorgeous, jazzy tribute to New York City (among other things), capable of She Hate Me? Maybe it was the writing. (And maybe you should leave the writing, as you did in 25th Hour, to others.) Where did your brain go, Spike? Wake up. We miss you. -- Levine

They Sucked: A Contrarian Perspective
It's easy to bash the big-budget blow-'em-up epics that Hollywood wants audiences to like, but harder, as a critic, to go against the tide of movies deemed Important Artistic Triumphs. I've always been a contrarian, though, so with due apologies to my critical colleagues, here are the movies you're wrong about:

Closer.A better movie back when it was called Your Friends and Neighbors and directed by Neil LaBute.

Maria Full of Grace. "Based on 1,000 True Stories" is the most pompous tagline of the year by far, especially from an American director claiming to speak for all the people of Chile. It does, however, explain why the characters feel so one-dimensional: They're ciphers standing in for a thousand others, after all. Yes, the drug-swallowing scenes are discomforting, but I saw the same shtick in a Beavis and Butt-head episode a decade ago.

I¹ll Sleep When I¹m Dead. Mike Hodges and Clive Owen tried to repeat the cleverness of Croupier and ended up sending us to slumberland a good deal sooner than the title implied.

Open Water. Just because Blanchard Ryan does full-frontal nudity doesn't make her a good actress. Especially since, while she's suffering from sunstroke, dehydration, hunger, seasickness and jellyfish stings, she still looks like a million bucks. Applaud the actors for swimming with real sharks, but don't applaud the lack of drama that ensues.

Bright Leaves. Director Ross McElwee seems to have no idea how boring he and his family history are. Understandably, those who liked Sherman's March wanted to find out what happened to its director-protagonist; the answer turned out to be not much.

Red Lights. If you want good reviews, make your film in French. American critics will hail films on that basis alone -- even this tonally inconsistent hodgepodge about an obnoxious drunk who drives badly.

The Aviator. Of all the figures in cinematic history I'd be willing to spend three hours watching, Howard Hughes ain't one. If you genuinely think the special effects here are good, you might be on crack.

Mean Creek. Angry kids on an unsupervised boat trip? Constant ominous music? Gee, wonder what's going to happen next?

Garden State.You mean to say that depressed people can snap out of their funk after sex with Natalie Portman? Never woulda guessed.

Shrek 2. Using "Livin' la Vida Loca" as a set-piece musical number should be grounds for an automatic thumbs-down. Stealing an entire song from Footloose for the climax ought to clinch the deal. Mostly, though, depending upon a stale pastiche of recycled gags from other movies is pure cinematic laziness and needs to be labeled as such. -- Thompson

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