For a while, this looked like a contender for the year's best film. It comes off like a movie version of Pale Fire or something of that ilk -- it's dizzyingly smart and exciting and funny and awe-inspiring in the breadth and inspiration of its self-reflexivity. It's not smug or showy about itself either; rather, it's almost apologetic about having stumbled upon and exploited such a great idea. By that, I mean that the loneliness and self-loathing that permeate the film tend to offset and defuse any hints of oh-aren't-we-clever self-satisfaction that threaten to peek through. (The film's best joke is also one of its most subtle -- Donald's speech about establishing visual themes and Charlie's naysaying of such is shortly followed by about the fifth shot of Charlie masturbating, thus tipping us off that Kaufman realizes what a self-involved exercise this film is.) So, for about an hour and a half, this flick is pure molten genius. Then comes the climax wherin Donald's commercial impulses bleed over into Charlie's work, and the film collapses like a flan in a cupboard. I understand the inherent joke in the sex and violence and life lessons in this final quarter, but it's really such a cheat. It's Kaufman admitting that no, he really didn't have an ending after all, so he was forced to undermine practically all the carefully-wrought character work he'd done up to that point just for the sake of a sour and overlong meta-joke. It's not like he hadn't already worked in the more commercial stuff anyway (Judy Greer's topless scene is one of the most goofily gratuitous in film history) -- he'd just been slyer about it. But he felt he had to push it too hard and the film sails over the edge. Don't get me wrong... the majority of the film is still amazing. It's sharper and more entertaining and better acted (Nicolas Cage alone redeems five years of shit work just with this one film) than 99% of everything else. I wouldn't trade it for the world. But I'd trade that last half hour for just about anything this side of Pluto Nash.