The leading man of the fake movie critic scandal heaps praise of the altogether undeserving
Credit: David Manning Illustration by Chris Niemann

There is a moment toward the majestic finale of Tim Burton’s ”Planet of the Apes” — the sci-fi action spectacle of the summer! — when I found myself weeping tears of joy. I wept, as we all did, for the sheer beauty of the scene: In the midst of an edge-of-your-seat battle between human freedom fighters and their simian overlords, a lone chimpanzee descends from the heavens in a sun-dappled space pod, bringing peace to the battlefield and inspiring the gorilla played by Michael Clarke Duncan to utter the beloved name of his messiah: ”Semos!”

What jaw-dropping brilliance! What eye-popping grandeur! It left me breathless! But I wept for another reason, too: While I gazed at this exquisite moment in cinema, it dawned on me that I, David Manning, was lucky enough to live through what will surely be remembered as the greatest year in film history.

I mean, what a year! A dazzling achievement from start to finish! Whether we’re talking about ”Saving Silverman,” ”American Outlaws,” ”Freddy Got Fingered,” ”Corky Romano,” ”Pootie Tang,” or Julia Roberts’ poignant portrayal of an overweight and abused Hollywood assistant in ”America’s Sweethearts” (let’s hope this sweetheart has made room on her dresser for Oscar No. 2!), you couldn’t shake a stick in 2001 without hitting another timeless box office classic. Mark my words, America: Someday they’ll talk about this as the year Freddie Prinze Jr. matured into one of Hollywood’s finest young actors (not to mention its hottest hunk!), the year Warren Beatty turned in the most charismatic performance of his career in ”Town & Country,” and the year Mariah Carey reminded all of us that ”Glitter” is a verb.

We live in a cynical world, of course, and the delight that I’ve felt in the presence of all this pure movie magic means that I’ve taken a few lumps from my colleagues in film criticism. They’ve called me a hack, a stooge for Sony, a blurb whore. When I had the courage to stand up for ”The Animal” and ”A Knight’s Tale” — both unforgettable masterpieces! — the usual media-elite party poopers tried to brush me aside, implying that I’d never existed in the first place.

Well, sorry, guys. I’m here to stay! Like that gorilla, I am a true believer, and I have a sneaking suspicion that David Manning is going to look pretty smart once Oscar season rolls around. Mark my words, America: If Rob Schneider doesn’t walk off with the Best Actor statuette for ”The Animal,” I’m a monkey’s uncle!