OCEAN'S ELEVEN (A-3, PG-13): Good-looking, charismatic
crooks (including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon)
plot to heist the $150 million take from three Las Vegas
casinos owned by ruthless Andy Garcia on the night of a
heavyweight title fight. Makes it hard to know who the bad
This remake of the 1960 Rat Pack yawner by A-list 21st-century
talent, including current Oscar-owning director Steven Soderbergh
(Traffic), is spectacular to look at and fun as a
preposterous fantasy. Vegas has transformed itself in 40
years, visually, socially and culturally: The movie reflects
real progress (from ugly to sane) in race relations and
offers a lovely backlit moment when the characters admire
the Bellagio's fountains dancing at night to the music of
But mostly it looks like every other computer-trick-driven
action flick. Unlike The Sopranos, which also charms
us with low-lifes, Ocean's fails to move or connect
with anything identifiably human.
Clooney's characters are always just out of jail (Out
of Sight, O Brother, Where Art Thou?). Another unpromising
trend is that caper films now violate the genre rules and
seem to show the crooks getting away with it. O.K. for
Movies in 2001
MOVIES IN 2001 had a huge box-office year, especially in
the last quarter. Terrorism and the economic slump influenced
people to stay close to home and seek comfort in less expensive
entertainment. In addition, there was an unusual flood of
Parents got a break with such family-friendly hits as Shrek,
Monsters, Inc. and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's
Stone. Shrek was also probably the year's best-reviewed
film, indicating (with Monsters and Richard Linklater's
Waking Life) that a new era of quality animated features
On the less-than-immortal side, The Princess Diaries
also grossed over $108 million, which hasn't been scored
by a live-action G-rated movie in a while. In addition,
several big moneymakers were strictly escapist, such as
the Planet of the Apes remake, Rush Hour 2, Jurassic
We can hope that the future is not mortgaged to these sequel
franchises, some of which are trash-beyond-belief, like
American Pie 2. But a large chunk of this profit-driven
industry is headed that way, even with quality products
such as Harry Potter and the adult-oriented The
Lord of the Rings series.
That leaves room for special films aimed at a more selective
audience, including adult Catholics, who hope that serious
(or funny) movies can still be made that deal with contemporary
insights into eternal human issues. There were a few superb
ones early in 2001 (Traffic and You Can Count
on Me), butuntil the still undigested slew of
Oscar hopefuls late in Decembernot much in the second
The Best: These nine (in the order in which I saw them)
were the best re-viewed here since last February (and are
all highly recommended for video rental): Cast Away
(A-3, PG-13), Traffic (A-4, R), Crouching Tiger,
Hidden Dragon (A-3, PG-13), O Brother, Where Art
Thou? (A-2, PG-13), You Can Count on Me (A-4,
R), Moulin Rouge (A-3, PG-13), A.I.: Artificial
Intelligence (A-2, PG-13), Legally Blonde (A-2,
PG-13) and The Man Who Wasn't There (A-4, R).
The Sigmund Freud Traveling Trophy (for trying but not
quite understanding women): What Women Want.
Best Cinematic Use of an Object: "Wilson," the volleyball
humanized by the stranded hero (Cast Away) as a silent
Doting Grandpa Award (for best A-2 movie not previously
praised): A Knight's Tale.
A Good Year for Rotten Teenagers: Traffic, What Women
Want, Life As a House.
Favorite Female Actors (not Oscar winners): Zhang Ziyi,
as the quicksilvery swordswoman and problem politician's
daughter (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon); Mika Boorem,
as the kidnapped child who refuses to be a victim (Along
Came a Spider) as well as the "special" Carol, the first
love whose kiss is "the one by which all others will be
judged" (Hearts in Atlantis); Reese Witherspoon,
as the sorority queen who escapes to law school (Legally
Blonde); Laura Linney as the steadfast churchgoing sister
(You Can Count on Me) helping a loved but troubled
Favorite Male Actors (not Oscar winners): Topher Grace,
as the arrogantly cool, drug-addicted Seth, every parent's
worst nightmare of their teenage daughter's boyfriend (Traffic);
Tim Blake Nelson as the goofiest of the trio of escaped
cons (O Brother, Where Art Thou?); Paul Brittany's
funny and charismatic Chaucer (Knight's Tale); Jude
Law, both the heroic Russian marksman (Enemy at the Gates)
and the kind robot (A.I.).
God's Footprint Award (to the film with a memorable moment
of grace) is not easy this year. How about the poetic justice
of the KKK's burning cross falling on a villain at a key
moment (O Brother, Where Art Thou?)? No? Then maybe
the last sequence (A.I.) when David finds his mother.
Not that either? Certainly not when the loopy lovers finally
locate each other (Serendipity)? Well, in Cast
Away there are those angel wings, but even better, the
strong message about timethat we can't count on having
all of it that we want or need.
Best Use of Music (and especially old-timey gospel songs):
O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which also became a best-selling
album. Also special was the folk music in Songcatcher.
Memorable Moments: The balletic swordfights in the treetops
(Crouching Tiger) and the dance over the rooftops
of Paris (Moulin Rouge); the sniper-vs.-sniper shootout
in the rubble of Stalingrad (Enemy at the Gates);
Tom Hanks extracting his own tooth (Cast Away); Vanessa
Redgrave's grandmotherly telling of the Hans Christian Andersen
tale about the angel and the good child who died (The
Pledge); Johnny Depp (as the repentant criminal hero)
recording an anguished final message from prison to his
dying father (Blow); the Flesh Fair sequence (A.I.),
which pretty much defines the worst human attitudes toward
those considered subhuman.
The Different Drummer Award (for most dubious gimmick for
attracting attention): telling the detective story backward
(Memento). This is the only movie in which Polaroid
snapshots get dimmer.
The Mortuary Association Prize (for best death scene):
Chow Yun-Fat dies in the arms of Michelle Yeoh (Crouching
Tiger), saying (among many other things), "I have always
loved you....Because of you, I will never be a lonely spirit."
Unlikeliest New Movie Sport: jousting (Knight's Tale).
If you've seen one knight being knocked off his horse, you've
seen them all.
Lines to Remember: "Being a woman is not as easy as it
looks." (What Women Want)
"I want to believe [in God] because it's true, not because
it makes people feel good...." (You Can Count on Me)
"Sorry, I don't remember you....Nothing personal." (Memory-deprived
hero of Memento)
"I don't talk much, just cut hair." (The Man Who Wasn't
"I didn't even know the Japanese were sore at us." (An
American, after the attack in Pearl Harbor, with
eerie echoes in 2001)
"If Brooke Shields and Groucho Marx had a child, it would
have your eyebrows." (The Princess Diaries)
Among Especially Gifted Contributors to Film Culture Who
Died in 2001: producer-director Stanley Kramer (High
Noon, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World); producer Howard
Koch (Becket); directors of westerns Budd Boetticher
and Burt Kennedy; directors Michael Ritchie (The Candidate)
and Herbert Ross (The Turning Point); writer-actor
Jason Miller (Father Karras in The Exorcist). Actors
who died include Ray Walston (the devil in Damn Yankees),
one-time international stars Jean Pierre Aumont and Francisco
Rabal. Actors Jack Lemmon and Anthony Quinn were hall of
famers. Kim Stanley, Dorothy McGuire, Jane Greer and Ann
Sothern were from the Golden Age. Composer Jay Livingston
(Tammy, Silver Bells, Mona Lisa) was from the days
when songs were actually written for movies. Opinionated
critic Pauline Kael, once famously fired from McCall's
for panning The Sound of Music, was notable for her
praise of Catholic directors such as Altman, Coppola and
Scorsese. We'll miss cameraman John Alonzo (Sounder,
Norma Rae, Chinatown), and cartoon creators Bill Hanna
(Tom and Jerry) and Hank Ketcham (Dennis the Menace).
The Education of Max Bickford
THE EDUCATION OF MAX BICKFORD (CBS, Sundays) has the challenge
of following 60 Minutes, in the spot where the long-running
hit Murder, She Wrote once aired. It's just as comfortable
in its way, with Richard Dreyfuss as Max, a feisty but likable
professor of American culture at an elite women's college.
The bright, ironic Dreyfuss tries to understand and explain
life amid bright, idealistic women.
This is the first TV series for the 50ish Dreyfuss, a baby
boomer who starred in many of his generation's signature
movies (including Jaws and Close Encounters).
The academic climate is realistic: Max is a reluctant department
head and has to deal with all the trivia of administration
as well as teaching and counseling. The show plunges easily
into the funny and dramatic aspects of papers, committees,
evaluations, neurotic profs, hero-idolizing students.
Basically, Max is an aging boomer facing common problems.
He's a widower with an edgy, talented daughter who sings
with a rock band and a young son he has to console. In an
early episode, his son studies for bar mitzvah while Max
comes to an openness that may be the beginning of faith.
Max's old flame and former student (Marcia Gay Harden)
has come in from Harvard to take a chair (and some of the
popularity he had coveted). Another prof, a one-time pal
(Helen Shaver), has had a sex-change operation. This rather
sensational plot element is treated with some wryness and
raised eyebrows, but impressive dignity.
The campus locales (including Brooklyn) add a glow of beauty
and authenticity. The script provides the delightful Dreyfuss
plenty of good-natured lectures ("I don't know anything....I
know less today than I did yesterday"), as well as self-deprecating
voiceover observations from a novel he's writing. So
far, a series of mostly happy surprises; for older children