2001, a crop of movies as polarizing as the movie "2001" itself wasMar 9, 2003 (Updated Sep 16, 2011) Write an essay on this topic.
The Bottom Line "Moulin Rouge" is the one!
Yeah: I know that I'm far behind in viewing and assessing movies. Indeed, I've been toying with a list of the ten best films of 1938. I'd be more confident about such a list than about one for 2001. On the one hand, it is still early for the owl of Minerva to fly and pronounce final judgment on 2001's best. Moreover, even this late, I still have not seen all the contenders for inclusion.
Movies that appeared on some other people's top-ten lists but that I haven't seen include The Anniversary Party, Chunhyang, Endurance, Lagaan, Lantana, Monsoon Wedding, The Others, Startup.com, Shrek, and Time and Tide.
There was great polarization about many 2001 movies, that is, the same movie being adored by some and loathed by others. Even "Gosford Park" was not universally loved. It may be that the only 2001 movie that was not attacked by anyone was the low-key "Ghost World."
There were a number of films with one or more outstanding acting performances embedded in questionable or mediocre movies, most notably Russell Crowe in "A Beautiful Mind," but also Ben Kingsley in the wretched "Sexy Beast," Denzel Washington in the pedestrian "Training Day," Renee Zellweger in "Bridget Jones's Diary," the valiant Charlotte Rampling in the insipid "Under ths Sand", Omar Epps in "Brother", Brian Cox and Paul Dano in "L.I.E.," Marisa Tomei and Sissy Spaceck in the unbelievable "In the Bedroom." I was not particularly impressed by either Halle Berry or Billy Bob Thornton in the somewhat interesting but to-me-unbelievable "Monster's Ball," though I was more tolerant of the cast in "The Shipping News" than many others have been. The cast of "Iris" was superb, with uncanny young-old matches, and I liked Joshua Bell's violin riffs, but the movie was formulaic tv disease movie.
I loathed "Sexy Beast" (/http://www.epinions.com/content_31814160004) and "Mulholland Drive," thought that "The Man Who Wasn't There" was devoid of interest. (I thought that the much-castigated "The Mexican" or the critically ignored "O" were more interesting than any of these three, and the somewhat disturbing "With a Friend Like Harry" [http://www.epinions.com/content_70127357572] much more interesting.) I was underwhelmed by "Hedwig and the Angry Inch": if it had not been so loud, it would have put me to sleep. "Black Hawk Down" was visceral, throwing the audience into the confusion of battle, but almost as messy as the initiative portrayed in it — as well as being irremediably racist. I found "Le Fabuleux destin d'Amelie Poulain" hideously boring, showing that art direction and sound engineering are not enough to make a movie worth viewing. I though "Lord of the Rings" (I) was boring with a listless lead (at least Kevin Spacey in "The Shipping News" was supposed to be numb). It was spectacular, but I preferred Harry Potter (I) to it. I thought "Bread and Tulips" uninspired.
I was not enthusiastic about "Memento" as some, though I thought it was interesting and that Guy Pearce outstanding in it. I also found a mixture of interesting and maddeningly boring stretches in "The River" (directed by Tsai Minglian) and in "Amores Perros" (directed by Alejandro Gonzales Igarritu (http://www.epinions.com/content_25752211076).
I can understand what led some viewers to reject and even to walk out on several films (including the first and last) on my list of the ten-best 2001 films.( Indeed, I thought both started very badly.) And I am well aware that most of the other films on my list were dismissed or trashed by some cineastes, just as I have dismissed or trashed many of the films that were on others' lists.
(I have included URLs for my own reviews or a pair of URLs for films I have not reviewed. I have excluded reviews by CLs from consideration on the grounds that their reviews are already listed first automatically.)
(10.) A. I. (directed by Steven Spielberg)
I didn't mind that there were three endings. I thought the first half hour or so was far too Kubrick-affectless. If I'd known that William Hurt was in it, I would have avoided the movie, but Jude Law and Haley Osment are so perfect that they got me through the Hurt scenes. I'm confident that appreciation for "A.I." will increase with time (which I do not think is true of "Eyes Wide Shut": I am part of the camp believing that Kubrick lost touch not only with ordinary reality but with how to make movies in the isolation of his last years and don't at all regret that he didn't shoot "A.I.")
(9.) The Royal Tenenbaums (directed by Wes Anderson)
I thought that some of the humor worked and some didn't. Gwyneth Paltrow and Gene Hackman were very good; Danny Glover was disappointingly stilted, Bill Murray yawn-inducing, with Anjelica Huston. Ben Stiller, Owen and Luke Wilson somewhere in between. In the theater in which I saw it, some other viewers thought everything in it was hilarious and others walked out.
(8.) The Deep End (directed by Scott McGehee and David Siefel)
This very melodramatic new take on Max Ophuls's noire classic "The Reckless Moment" has stunning color cinematography by Giles Nuttgens, and lots and lots of water (not just Lake Tahoe), plus compelling performances by Tilda Swinton as a protective mother, Goran Visnjic as a thug whose heart isn't into thuggery, and Jonathan Tucker as an edgy adolescent who does not think he needs his mother's protection.
(7.) Adventures of Felix (directed by Olivier Ducastel and Jaques Martinac)
I was fascinated by the family dynamics (including a very ad hoc family) in this also beautifully photographed French road movie with Sami Bouajila as a vulnerable questor (a demonstration of what is missing at the center of "Lord of the Rings"!).
(6.) Ghost World (directed by Terry Zwigoff)
also has adolescents surer of themselves than any rational justification could provide. Thora Birch surpassed her work in "American Beauty," and Steve Buscemi (who has a longer c.v.) turned in a performance rivaling the one he delivered in "Parting Glances").
(5.) Gosford Park (directed by Robert Altman)
There is often a very lot going on in a Robert Altman movie, and the audience has to work to follow the proceedings as the cameras swirl and dialogue overlaps. I'm not sure that Altman deconstructs the country-house murder mystery (did he deconstruct the detective genre with "The Long Goodbye"? or the western with "McCabe and Mrs. Miller"? — two of my favorite Altman movies). "Gosford Park" delivers astounding ensemble acting, surpassing even that of "The Royal Tennenbaums."
(4.) No Man's Land (directed by Danis Tanovic)
Filmed in Slovenia by Bosnian writer-director Danis Tanovic, "No Man’s Land" is set in Bosnia of 1993. The situation of three men in a trench between Serbian and Bosnian lines provides plenty of absurdist humor of the Samuel Beckett kind. Enemy soldiers thrown together in Hollywood movies discover each other’s humanity or at least learn to co-operate (Hell in the Pacific, Enemy Mine), but this is not what happens in the former Yugoslavia during this film. It is more like Beckett set amidst ethnic cleansing.
(3.) Our Lady of the Assassins (directed by Barbet Schroeder)
explores inter-generational relations in a setting considerably more fraught with danger than the "Ghost World": Medellin, Colombia. Dangerously filmed on location, this adaptation of Fernando Vallejo's meditative novel shows the fatalism and culture of violence fostered by American drug policy and the American market for cocaine. As the US verges on trying to solve complex problems partly of its own making (in supporting Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran back when Ronald Reagan was Manichean-in-chief), I'd suggest that "Our Lady" is the most important 2001 film, though "No Man's Land" is also essential viewing.
(2.) The Pledge (directed by Sean Penn)
Released in January and forgotten by those bestowing awards after the year was over, "The Pledge" has a genuinely great performance from Jack Nicholson. He has played characters who disintegrate on screen before, but here collapses on the inside without mugging. He plays a police detective who promises parents of a young girl who was murdered that he will to catch the killer. He puts everything he cares about at risk to do so and loses his dubious gamble. Robin Penn Wright and the rest of the cast are superb, as is the photography in what one may hope will be the first of Sean Penn's great films. (I won't go into the irony of Sean Penn being nominated for an Oscar that a performance he directed should have received.)
(1.) Moulin Rouge (directed by Baz Luhrman)
I found the first 20 minutes of this almost unbearable and can well understand that the incessant cutting (and/or John Leguizamo's Toulouse Lautreac) turned off some viewers, but I thought "Moulin Rouge" was intensely cinematic (in the Eisenstein tradition, not the Renoir one), technically brilliant, and surprisingly touching (especially in that this required Ewan MacGregor to play innocence). It also had the best song of the year (not only in being a rousing song but in being absolutely central to the movie), which, of course, was overlooked by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (as was Luhrman) even for nominations. It is also an auspicious choice for a list of movies from a year in which so many of the films loved by some were loathed by others. There is not even a consensus on whether Nicole Kidman was inadequate or superb as Satine. (I lean to superb, which Jim Broadbent certainly was.)
I think that great musicals are mostly about staging musicals or musical performances (Cabaret, Band Wagon). The central sequence that I think has been too little recognized is "The Show Must Go On," sung by Jim Broadbent and as brilliant a montage as the justly celebrated "Roxanne" one. I'm partial to bandying song titles back and forth and enjoy the top of the elephant sequence, even wishing for a more extended rendition of "We Coule Be Heroes." Christian clambering up the elephant more than compensates for Toulouse's two descents...
Best direction: Baz Luhrman, "Moulin Rouge"
Biest actress: Judi Dench, "Iris"
Best actor: Russell Crowe, "A Beautiful Mind"/Jack Nicholson, "The Pledge"
Best supporting actor: Jim Broadbent, "Moulin Rouge" (and "Iris")
Best supporting actress: Kate Winslet, "Iris"/Helen Mirren, "Gosford Park"
(2006 update: "The Life Aquatic" soured my memory of "The Royal Tennenbaums."
I have also posted lists of
ten greatest movies of all time,
my favorite movies,
best English organized crime movies
best French organized crime movies,
best westerns not set in the American west,
best romantic movies with happy endings,
best romantic movies in which the lovers do not end up together for reasons other than the death of one or both of them,
best romantic movies including the death of a lover,
best religious movies celebrating a religious figure,
best movies portraying the dark side of religion,
best holidaze (Christmas and Thanksgiving) movies,
best rock-n-roll movies,
best gay feature film,
best gay documentary film,
best cult movies,
best black comedies,
best World War II movies,
best post-WWII German films,
best French movies
and best anti-epics,
best movies of the 1940s, the 1980s,
1939, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010,
and my favorite tearjerker songs.
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