"On the fair green hills of Rio / There grows a fearful stain / The poor who come to Rio / And can't go home again." So wrote Elizabeth Bishop, although a visitor to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is just as likely to find something eerily beautiful in the apparition of the favelas, or slums, that litter the hillsides around the city. From a distance, at least, and at night, their disordered plenitude of lights has a fairy-like effect.
Let us hearken back to a time when gangs ruled the world. Gangs sizing each other up, puffed with pride, wagging their weaponry, painstakingly stylized in diction and dress. There were the Bowery Boys and the Forty Thieves, the Plug Uglies and the Dead Rabbits, the riders of Rohan and the Uruk-hai, the hobbits, the elves, the ents. And when Bill the Butcher and his crew finally faced the drooling host of Saruman the White at Helm's Deep (you know, in the Sixth Ward, where Isengard meets Broadway) and Frodo Baggins crossed swords with Leonardo DiCaprio, what a reckoning was there!
One leaf fibrillating on an otherwise naked bough, and a wind that seems to stain the lungs with ice: It's that time of year, so let's start rounding it up, let's start making our lists.
Best films of 2002? Surveying the movie landscape of the past 12 months, it's hard to see the peaks and valleys. It's hard, in fact, to see anything at all. The movies are out there -- the jostling mediocrities, the genuine disgraces, the occasional pockets of virtue -- but a species of haze, a smog of indeterminacy, hangs over everything. What's going on?
As if in answer to a special, seasonal wistfulness silently voiced by the moviegoing public, the film industry seems to hit us each fall with a couple of hero-centered megafilms. Die Another Day is the latest James Bond flick, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the second movie made from the world-beating series of books by J.K. Rowling. Both the heroes are dark, English and privately educated, and both the films are sumptuous: From the blistering action sequences (Bond in his car, Potter on his broomstick) to the thespian blue bloods hired to add class (Bond has Judi Dench, Potter has Maggie Smith), the pulse and glamour of molten Hollywood bullion are overpowering.
It's well known that stand-up comedians are among the most miserable bastards on God's green earth. What a wound it must be, the need to make people laugh, to stand pinned in the never-to-be-dimmed spotlight of one's own vanity, clicking and ticking with gags, bits, asides, routines and one-liners, living and dying by the noises made by a mob of drunk, unmerciful strangers. "You looked like you were having fun," offers somebody in the new documentary Comedian, after Jerry Seinfeld wraps up a short, exploratory set at a small club. "That's my job," returns Seinfeld, grimly.