What Were They Thinking?

A critic looks back on a year's worth of movie miscues.

Johnny Depp is famous for his range, originality, inventiveness. So why did he blatantly re-use the tranced-out voice and rictus grin of Ed Wood in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? And why did he add a Michael Jackson impression to the creepy mix? And most of all—why did he wear that Anna Wintour bob?

Why did DreamWorks push the hopeless Oscar hopes of War of the Worlds and bury The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio? Weigh Julianne Moore and Tom Cruise on the scales of acting, and the scales become a catapult. The ironic thing is, War IS an evil totalitarian alien invasion force trying to bend humanity to its will and wreak absolute destruction on culture, whereas Prize Winner is a plucky little human that won't be destroyed. A cultured human at that.

How come desperate copy editors were unable to talk Universal out of releasing a film with the impossibly, obviously incorrect single hyphen of The 40 Year-Old Virgin? And how did the necessary second hyphen manage to creep back onto the DVD box, but not the (marvelous) soundtrack CD?

What do Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Gabriel Byrne, Geraldine Chaplin, and Kathy Bates have in common? They all had the uncommon lack of common sense to star in the senseless third adaptation of Thornton Wilder's demonstrably unfilmable book The Bridge at San Luis Rey.

What were film critics like me thinking when we confidently predicted that nobody would go see a Christian movie full of black people, crude Viagra gags, male-bashing female uplift, pot-smoking grannies, and a formerly homeless director/writer/star with a penchant for cross-dressing with gigantic fake breasts and an accessorizing handgun in a handbag? How did we fail to see the audience that made Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman a $50 million hit, No. 1 at the box office its opening week?

How come the explicit, hardcore sex acts of Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs were so utterly unsexy? Would it have been sexier if his name were Michael Hotbottom?

What, precisely, was the first hour of King Kong for? And with fat Jack Black, bent-beaked Adrien Brody, a tall, dark leading man desperately in need of a chest wax, and a giant uncircumcised worm with fangs, could they have done anything else to drive away female moviegoers?

Why did the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences permit its notoriously mysterious documentary experts to field a list of best-doc candidates that omitted Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man? A passion for pinheaded, literal-minded rules (like too much found footage from the grizzly-loving hero and not enough from Herzog)? The New York Film Critics Circle and Los Angeles Film Critics Association have already voted it the year's best documentary picture, as have multiple other critics' groups. Do the Oscar documentary people want to be known as weirdo morons out of touch with cinema?

Why did Lions Gate release Grizzly Man on DVD on December 26 without sending a lot of review copies to critics, who almost universally raved the flick? Do they not like publicity? (And just one bonus feature on the music? Go figure.)

Was Steven Spielberg wise to restrict virtually all publicity for Munich to one suck-up feature in Time magazine? He left himself open to preemptive, Oscar-poisoning attacks by political pundits anyone could've seen coming for a thousand miles.

And was Spielberg's publicity apparatus wise to ban most critics (except broadcasters) from the early screenings of Munich? In Seattle alone, this policy may have cost the film at least a half-dozen votes in important national critics' polls (Film Comment and The Village Voice among them). Is the traditional movie publicity model—New York and L.A. dictate, Seattle supinely receives their big-city wisdom—really in touch with modern reality? Should studios work so hard to prevent writers outside those markets from including their best films on year-end 10-best lists?


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