0030: Top Ten 2001 Films
Submitted by lbangs on Sat, 03/24/2001 - 08:08
- 1) Mulholland Drive - Like most Lynch films, Mulholland Drive starts as if it might make some sort of sense. Of course, towards the end of Mulholland Drive, as toward the end of many of Lynch's films, one begins to reach the conclusion that nothing in the film will make sense. Then, to everybody's surprise, the film ends, and the entire experience makes perfect sense (at least, if you were keeping up with things). This film is dazzling, mesmerizing, thought provoking, captivating, confident, and completely satisfying. Naomi Watts probably deserves the Oscar for best actress. As much as I want to go on, I don't want to spoil this film for anybody, since any serious film fan should run to see this one, quite easily the best new movie I've seen this year.
- 2) The Royal Tenenbaums - Inventive, odd, funny, and just barely this side of too-quirky-for-its-own-good, The Royal Tenenbaums manages to wring some true drama from the eccentric plot set-up. The sets and mise-en-scene are terrific, but the great rock soundtrack may just trump everything in this film. Wes Anderson amazingly continues to hit farther each time he steps up to bat.
- 3) Moulin Rouge - What a year - we've been consistently deflated with false promises, sold a bill of high-costin' snore-inspirin' spectacles, drowned in a monochrome barrage of boredom. Pop down a few bucks and find salvation, brothers and sisters, for even including all its flaws and pretensions, Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge is a orgasmic geysmic explosion of color splattering the black and white world that is 2001 cinema. This film throbs with life bloody life, baby, and you are simply dead if the first 30 minutes of this film don't spew your ya-yas out.
- 4) Amelie - Since this delightful little film offers up a recipe for love, I'll offer a recipe for this film. Take 7 parts Emma and add 2 parts Run Lola Run. Simmer in a warm water bath of Paris while stirring in 1 part each of Ally McBeal and City of Lost Children. Garnish and serve. On an entirely non-critical note, I'll add here that France certainly produces the most beautiful actresses in the world, and that, after spending some time in Paris this summer, I was enthralled to see several locations I left behind on returning home. While not quite as enchanting as some of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's earlier work, Amelie is still quite fun and miles ahead of any other romantic comedy I've seen this year.
- 5) Spirited Away - I have been a Miyazaki champion for some time, but even I was taken aback by Spirited Away. Sure, he has shown an amazing ability to tap into a young child's view of the world before, as in My Neighbor Totoro. He has exhibited an incredible imagination and power of imagery in films such as Kiki's Delivery Service, and with Princess Mononoke, he proved that his animation ability was up to the challenge of any computer. I'm not really shocked that he swirled all these streams together in his latest offering; I am stunned, however, by what seems to be a quantum leap of brilliance from a man who has already shown himself one of the few masters working today. Like Almodovar's Talk to Her, Hayao Miyazaki's take on a magical wonderland in Spirited Away is an amazing, surprising masterstroke that leaves even those of us who expect excellence from this fantastic director dumbfounded. With his careful yet never boring pacing, his startling, creative imagery, and his observant, daring directing that would be a highlight even in a live-action film, Miyazaki has not just created the greatest animation film in the last few years. He has created a timeless masterpiece for the ages.
- 6) Mad Love - Wow, how did Oscar miss this one? This is a grand historical costume affair firmly in classic award-snatching mode, and it is marvelous. The photography and the costumes combine for frames that could hang in museums, the story is suitably grand, and the acting is stellar. In fact, why has hardly anybody heard of this film? Sure, the dialogue is in Spanish, but still...
- 7) Intacto - With a striking, intelligent style, an incredibly intriguing high concept, and an emotionally resonant story that actually expands the great idea into a great story, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo has created the finest feature debut of the year. What is luck? Are we responsible for it? Does every personal gain in the universe come about from someone's loss? Are we estranged from our parent (creator?) and now wish to avenge ourselves? Fresnadillo asks these questions while never giving the audience easy answers. In fact, his respect for the audience's intelligence is striking in a new director; he tells the story and expects you to keep up. The effort a viewer provides in following the plot also pulls him or her into the film, and the atmospheric film has enough mysterious, empty space to accommodate all. In one scene, Max Von Sydow sits down with a young challenger. Their arrangement brought to my fellow viewer's mind the seats around the chessboard where Sydow once played a game with the devil. That film, The Seventh Seal, worked with extracting myth from base reality and with pondering the metaphysical inside a narrative. Seeing that Intacto has many of the same goals, I'm sure that echo was intentional.
- 8) Ghost World - Ghost World is an amazingly perceptive coming-of-age film for the present age of irony. Some criticism has hinted that the film simply skewers modern life, but I fear those critics have failed to penetrate Thora Birch's Enid, a girl who rolls her eyes at the world by day and dances to the television or cries into her pillow at night. Enid sneers at her surroundings, but by painting her world black, she is left huddled in the corner with no place to stand. As the film progresses, and her high school world fades, she becomes desperate to find a sliver of the world to belong to. Does she? No, but there is some guarded hope that she might. Illeana Douglas gives us perhaps the best laughs of 2001, Buscemi proves he can act beyond the creepy psyhco Bruckheimer usually presents him as, and Scarlett Johansson, the young girl from The Horse Whisperer, seems uncannily like a young Chloe Sevigny. This film is one drama that largely plays by the rules of the real world, and is all the more resonant because of it.
- 9) Monsoon Wedding - You can spend days picking apart this film. The ending is too pat. Every move is telegraphed well in advance. The good are very good, while the bad are very bad. Still, this film (along with Ghost World) further highlights the Hollywood studios' current failure to produce any drama worth watching. Stripped of the extraneous crap the big players think we dumb viewers need to be drawn into a drama about real people, this film overcomes its weaknesses and emerges a triumphant celebration of family, hope, and the courage of taking risks. If it sounds touchy-feely, well, yes. It is touchy. It is feely. It is warm, and it is resplendent with life.
- 10) Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring - A fine, fun film, Lord of the Rings shows what wonderful results you can get in an adventure film with great source material and a respected, talented director mixed in with a decent budget and good actors. The mythical world is especially breath-taking and perfectly realized, and if I'd like a bit more characterization our of the characters of Orlando Bloom and John Rhys-Davies, the fact that this film not only didn't suck but actually went a great way to meeting J.R.R. Tokien's vision is enough for me to forgive tons.
- Films I Have Seen That Were Intentionally Left Off This List
- In The Bedroom - A fine, if severely over-rated debut from director Todd Field, In The Bedroom almost manages to save it's Ordinary-People-meets-Crimes-and-Misdemeanors plot by a patient, lingering style and excellent performances from its surprising cast. Sure, huge chucks of this film are quite impressive, but the ending seems like it was added to a shorter film to bring it up to feature-length and stole quite a bit of visual style from the Coen's superior debut, Blood Simple. I'll keep my eye on Mr. Field, but I'm not quite ready to crown him the new king of art cinema yet... (Besides, I'm not entirely convinced that Hal Hartley isn't still using his headpiece).
- The Man Who Wasn't There - If you believe that the Coen brothers are two of the funniest people living and breathing on this here planet, especially when they make people tawk all fun like, then you can probably ignore anything I am about to say. However, if you are a huge fan of the early work of these two obviously talented brothers who often of late have felt that their attempts at humor can be juvenile at times and work against the tone of some of their films, then read on. This really isn't a Coen brothers' film. Roger Deakins (the cinematographer) and Billy Bob Thornton own this film, and to the extent that this flick succeeds, the credit should go to these two individuals. While this film isn't the outright failure that O Brother Where Art Thou was (and again, if you loved that film, you can stop reading right now), it is nowhere near the early heights the brothers hit with Blood Simple and Miller's Crossing. Perhaps, by removing the tongue from the cheek, this might have been an extremely interesting, Kafkaesque film noir. Perhaps, if they had went all out with the humor, this may have played more like the genre-implosion of The Big Lebowski. Unfortunately, a compromise of sorts was attempted, and the film doesn't really quite survive this misguided try at creating an alloy. Not a complete failure, but frankly, this isn't worth half the attention the media has showered upon it. Still, Thornton and Deakins probably make this worth watching once...
- Honorable Mentions
- The Others - Unlike many modern twist films, this one stands up to scrutiny, and the scares and suspense still set off squirms long after the viewer learns to pay attention to the man hiding behind the curtain. Regardless of what Nicole Kidman says, The Others might very well contain her best performance, and the child acting is top-notch. Really, looking over the horror films of the past ten years or so, this easily ranks as one of the best, and could easily hold its own against any spooky house or ghost movie I know of. Let the public say what it will, viewing The Others and Open Your Eyes, I can only conclude that Alejandro Amenabar is the twisty, scary genius every one seems to have mistaken M. Night Shyamalan for. Here's to his continued success in Hollywood.
- The Tailor Of Panama - Quite clever, this one. Dress it up like a slow-burning spy thriller. Load it up with tons of political commentary, making full-drawn characters double as symbols. Use a slightly vulgar and quite amoral James Bond five years later, when he has reached his unavoidable conclusions, as a living embodiment of American/European greed, arrogance, and twisted genius. Who to play the Bond character? Hell, while we're at it, we might as well have Bond himself do it! Oh, maybe we can cram a little humanity in there as well.... Before release, some feared that, with the peaceful transfer of the Panama Canal, The Tailor of Panama had become irrelevant. Boy, substitute "Middle East" for "Panama" and I bet they would finally find a clue. Insightful, and loaded with great performances (Brosnan is a revelation). Bulging with literary references, both to Fleming novels and to much higher-brow fare. A model of novel adaptation to film. Funny, too - If Austin Powers is the Bond spoof for college kids, surely this fits the bill for adults.
- Apocalypse Now Redux - I'm not going to include this as a 2001 film since all the footage was shot in the 70s and the original film was released over twenty years ago, but Apocalypse Now Redux is a mesmerizing film. Better than the original? I'll very timidly claim not; while the added scenes certainly make the story more logical and fill in plenty of bits, the extra length isn't always justified by the revelations. Additionally, the character of Willard seems to grow confused with the additional scenes, and the infamous French plantation scenes simply do not live up to their legendary status. In fact, they are rather weak. Still, this serves as an interesting footnote to the original film and an intriguing, captivating film on its own. Were it a true 2001 release, it would easily claim a spot somewhere around the top of this list.
- Gosford Park - Not really a stellar comeback for Altman, and certainly nothing much compared to his most recent hot streak (Short Cuts and The Player), Gosford Park is a perfectly fine piece of acting and directing from a cast and director that deliver modest pleasures. In fact, this film pretty much defines a "good", yet not "great", film. Not an artistic hair is out of place here, all work is performed admirably, and no daring revelations or artistically dazzling moments blaze across the screen. This is simply well-done and enjoyable, and some times, that is all that is needed. Not quite worthy of all the Oscar hoopla USA Films generated for it, but I suppose that could just make up for the fact that Short Cuts is still one of the most widely unseen masterpieces of the last decade.
- Festival in Cannes - This little gem was a very nice surprise. Playing as a breezy version of The Player minus any murder intrigue, Festival follows a large cast of characters around the Cannes Festival trying to pull together money and talent for various film projects. They talk a lot, and that coupled with the subject will turn many viewers off, but I am sucker for a good inside look at the making of films, and I found the characters very interesting and true to life. Greta Scacchi positively glows on every frame she graces, and Anouk Aimee and Maximilian Schell give wonderfully natural performances playing off their real identities. Ron Silver brings a film producer to sympathetic life (no easy task), and Zack Norman was a revelation to me playing a scrappy low-on-the-ladder producer dying to get a film together. Perhaps the story line with Jenny Gabrielle as overnight sensation Blue was the weakest, but her story arc was still better than the main plot of many dramas. This may not be a major masterpiece, but I adored it; if 2001 wasn't already such a strong year, it would have certainly found a place on my top ten. As it is, it is still a film very much worth finding and enjoying.
- Y tu Mama Tambien
- Italian for Beginners