Part 2 of CineScene's best of 2001
The rankings here are in part deliberate, and in part arbitrary. The films are so different in style and mood that I found it difficult to rank them against each other - feeling compelled to order and reorder them after every entry. But of the first one, first placed, I have had no doubt since I first viewed it.
1. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-Wai)
Set in 1962, in a Hong Kong no longer real, Wong Kar-Wai's meditation on love unbidden, inevitable, confined, and overwhelming, carries within it a sense of nostalgia and regret for the subtleties of eroticism revered and restrained, of rebellions that reverberate in shadows, and of quiet liberations that echo equally through narrow corridors and vast expanses. Always, and in all ways, breathtakingly beautiful, it is a cinematic masterpiece: textured, colored and profound. Romantic, yet grounded. Compelling from within rather than manipulating from without. The pace is lingering but never lags, the movement is in mood, and the tone is poetic without pretension. It is a film so carefully constructed that situation is matched to space, and character to circumstance, and yet it never feels anything less than smoothly and naturally sublime. The camera caresses, the streets and buildings move in the darkness and light, and each shift in weight of the characters conveys an idea or significance. The year's very best, without a doubt.
2. A.I: Artificial Intelligence
3. For My Sister /aka Fat Girl (Catherine
|5. Mulholland Drive
With a street sign and a twisted tale of darkness and light reprised repeatedly in fugue-like rhythms, David Lynch traces down a celluloid boulevard of broken dreams and makes it concrete, blending over the false dividers between illusion and delusion, desire and regret. Criticized for its too-numerous touchpoints and lack of coherence, Mulholland Drive is in fact an oneiric wonder, entirely of a piece - and amazingly linear in its conceptualizations, if not its representations. Mesmerizing, visceral, musically engaged and engaging - never more profoundly than at its a cappella center - it is an indictment of the Hollywood idea, directed with a wink at the audience (as with the opening scene at Winkies Diner) and a nod to the intertext (a blonde fantasy "Betty" straight out of Riverdale, matched by a dark and sultry Rita, whom - as the Gilda poster reminds us from the background - there never was a woman like). And if it reminds us constantly that what we see is not necessarily what we get, it nonetheless allows us the phantasmic comfort of believing that if we do not get what we see, the fault lies somewhere other than in ourselves.
|6. Gosford Park
A witty aggregation of everything cinematically recognizable as British - an upstairs downstairs, country house, bird-hunting party, financial rumblings, fumblings and ruin, infighting, shenanigans, mystery, murder and bumbling inspectors, invaded subtly by a film star cousin, a Jew from Hollywood, and the valet at his (and everyone else's) service - all perfectly quivering under stiff upper lips, and resonating with the foment of changes inevitable, Gosford Park is a politically charged social satire that pokes and digs under the most traditional of surfaces without ever tripping over its sophisticated good humor. Altman invites us to share in a conspiratorially knowing smile from the moment the credits role. The scrolling cast reads like an impossibly complete listing from the who's who of British stardom, rendering the who's who plot of the ensemble set-up a sardonic jeu de more-than-mots, in which, not surprisingly, the acting, like the writing and direction, is never less than divine.
7. The Man Who Wasn't There (Joel Coen)
|9. The Fellowship of
Jackson's adaptation of the work that obsesses masses of Tolkien acolytes effectively creates seamless worlds of character and circumstance that engage even the non-believer. A tale of archetypes and heroic quests, it manages to convey a depth of humanity and multi-dimensions in a cast of dramatic personae that could easily have played as stock troupers: elves, hobbits, dwarves, wizards and men who traverse mythical traditions, confront fantastic obstacles and interact with a sense of fellowship both powerful and poignant. It is a tale of ultimate masculinity never compromised by its storybook underpinnings. The look of the film is in itself fantastical, the colors lush, the settings magical, and the illustrations of evil both dark and intimidating. The subtext - the suggestiveness of sword and ring and the soul's temptations that build as text but linger below the surface - seems to await discovery, resolution, and victory beyond, and makes the mouth water at the thought of what's to come.
|10. Bridget Jones's
Diary (Sharon Maguire)
Neither as profound nor as far-reaching as some other entries on this list, what raises this lightest of films to the merits of ten best is its full-frontal honesty about what isn't profound or far-reaching in any of us: self-doubt, self-obsession, and the longing for the ideal lover who will take it all away. Updating Pride and Prejudice, the film is unabashedly female, if not traditionally feminine: Bridget Jones is the single, over thirty everywoman torn between feminist obligations and little-girl wishes. The tongue set in cheek here clearly understands that any Cinderella wish-fulfillment requires that a self-deprecating mirror be countered and completed with a handsome and patient Prince, poised to embrace us with unconditional love, whether he arrive on a white horse or in a reindeer sweater. The inner voice of the inner desire, recorded in diary and on film, and finally answered by the age's Mr. Darcy. With this, the most essential of fairy tale and Jane Austen promises come true - this last film named may well be the greatest fantasy, and unlikeliest celluloid dream, to appear on this list. But then it's also the most effective of antidotes to negative thoughts such as these . . .
Here's my round-up of the ten most engaging movie experiences from 2001. Can anyone actually even say "Best" with a straight face anymore? Even "Favorite" is tough. A few are 2000 holdovers I didn't see until 2001. Included with each is a Hollywood term I recently learned, the "take away scene", i.e. the one that sticks with you and reminds you that is really was a good movie. All contents certified as highly subjective.
|1. Mulholland Drive
The most fun to discover and talk about afterwards. Take away scene: Betty's audition.
2. Band of Brothers (various directors)
Simply staggering - and right on time (first episode broadcast 9/9). Take away scene: Artillery hell in Bastogne. (No, not a theatrical release, but there you go.)
3. Yi Yi (Edward Yang)
Just like life itself. Take away scene: The reversal at the hotel.
4. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-Wai)
Haunting, disturbing, gorgeous. Take away scene: Maggie Cheung's confrontation with her husband...not.
5. Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff)
The greening of the comic book movie. Take away scene: Thora and Steve take a drive.
6. Brother (Takeshi Kitano)
Oh so cool, and (if you let yourself in on Kitano's joke) funny. Take away scene: Even though he doesn't speak English, he understands a racial slur.
7. Under the Sand (François Ozon)
Moody, ambiguous, and Charlotte Rampling's career highlight to date. Take away scene: Making love - in control, but maybe not all there.
8. George Washington
(David Gordon Green)
Although made on a microbudget, it's a first major work. The next Terrence Malick, and hopefully more prolific. Take away scene: Back to the bathroom to find a survivor, just a big tearful kid.
9. The Fellowship of the Ring
Overcomes cuteness with profoundly successful literary adaptation, flawless casting, epic vistas. Pick for Best Picture Oscar. Take away scene: The Mines of Moria.
10. The Man Who Wasn't There (Joel Coen)
Be thankful for the Coens. Take away scene: Jon Polito gets out of line.
Not Too Shabby (admired at the very least):
Guilty Pleasure of the Year:
Filmmaking is among the toughest artistic endeavors, and just to get a film made is an achievement - especially one with any personal vision at all, so I won't list all the disappointments or the flicks I felt were overrated. But if I had to choose a few hours I wish I had back, their name would be Hannibal.
1. Memento (Christopher Nolan)
|4. A.I.: Artificial
The long-awaited Spielbrick film about the potential interaction between future humans and their attempts at creation disappointed some by attempting to marry the two very disparate points of view of its creators. In particular, the final segment of the film seemed to some to be a typical Spielberg happy ending, out of place with the tone of the rest of the film. I view the end as more akin to a coda to a lengthy musical work, taking the film's core to its logical human-free conclusion. Haley Joel Osment gives an even better performance here than he did in The Sixth Sense. Ironically, he'll get fewer accolades for it during awards season, as prepubescents need not apply for leading actor awards. I do have to criticize Spielberg's direction for allowing many in the audience to mistake the advanced mechas for extra-terrestrials, throwing an unnecessary curveball into an ending already bound to be controversial.
|5. Hedwig and
the Angry Inch
(John Cameron Mitchell)
This year's entry in the popular queer cinema category is a film version of a phenomenal play that ran in New York in the late nineties, about a drag performer whose sex change operation was botched (thus the Angry Inch), and is keeping a flippant upper lip while searching for his other half. Take the musical spirit of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the fashion sense of The Adventures of Priscilla, and just a dash of the lighter side of Liquid Sky's humor, and you come up with this year's real reinvigoration of the movie musical. The great spirit of fun is complemented by a genuinely moving story of acceptance of self, and a ying-yang sensibility of love.
6. Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
|9. Keep the River
on Your Right
(David & Laurie Shapiro)
A superb documentary following the travels of a gentle old gay New York artist (Tobias Schneebaum), as he revisits the Peruvian and New Guinea backlands where as a younger man, he joined in cannibalism, and documented the surprising acceptance of gay relationships in seemingly uncivilized tribal cultures. The camera lingers on Schneebaum as he experiences both the dread of revisiting the jungle in which the cannibalism episode obviously disturbed him deeply, and the joy of surprise as he meets an old lover that he never expected to see again. Above all, the documentary is valuable for its portrait of how an apparently gentle and sweet man remembers the most extreme times of his life, both happy and otherwise.
10. Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff)
America’s Sweethearts (Joe Roth)
Dishonorable mentions - movies I either stopped watching or wished I
hadn’t wasted my time on:
Here's a couple I'd have to leave off my list:
1. Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff)
Memento (Christopher Nolan)
Zwigoff does a great job of translating this comic book to the screen. Not surprising, considering his work on Crumb. The performances are all excellent (although after seeing Scarlett Johansson in The Man Who Wasn’t There I realized she wasn’t really acting in this film, it just happened to be perfect for her limited range.) But Thora Birch was wonderful. Then there’s Steve Buscemi. He’s so great in this, the ultimate loser who is anything but.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
(John Cameron Mitchell)
: Perhaps not a great film, but I loved the music and the energy. And Mitchell is amazing. He’s attractive, funny and can belt out a tune. I thought the film meandered a bit toward the end, but overall a fun movie experience.
The Man Who Wasn't There
One of the best looking films of the year, with solid performances. Billy Bob Thornton is sufficiently subdued; Tony Shalhoub is sufficiently sleazy.
|In the Bedroom
At this point, in terms of pure power, I’d say this was the best film of the year. Phenomenal performances by Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson. This is one of only two films (the other being The Fellowship of the Ring with its "I made a promise" scene) that has genuinely made me cry this year. I’m thinking that could be one of the symptoms of post-9/11 syndrome - movies rarely have the power to move me to tears these days. Plus, in most films nowadays it all feels so "manufactured." In the Bedroom is slow (something I’ve heard some complain about), but it gets under your skin and in my case, moved me in a way that few recent films have.
Memento (Christopher Nolan)
A huge adrenaline rush of a movie on first viewing - I felt my mind working and that felt good. Not quite as effective (at least to me) on repeat viewings, but still one of the best, most original films this year. Guy Pearce has the perfect amount of confidence mixed with cluelessness. I never really appreciated his acting until this year. Seeing him in this and then looking back on has varied performances in LA Confidential and Priscilla. Of the men from Oz, I think he’s been a bit underrated (at least by me)…but not any more.
Mulholland Drive (David Lynch) More than a waking dream,
this film is a waking nightmare. Great performances.Weird, very weird.
I'm not exactly sure what happens (I have my theories) but I sort of like
Some others I enjoyed quite a bit:
|Martijn ter Haar|
| 1. Requiem
For A Dream
What begins as a fairly standard anti-drug film soon turns into full fledged psycho-horror. And it is always about chasing those dreams, never just about drugs. A brilliant and heart-wrenching performance by Ellen Burstyn.
Un Ami Qui Vous Veut Du Bien
Also about lost dreams. Worrier Michel is about to sink into a midlife crisis when he meets high school classmate Harry, who reminds him of his youthful dreams and tries to help him realize them, even if real people get in their way. Great black comedy about that fine line between useful pragmatism and losing your dreams. Another great performance here by Sergi Lopez as Harry.
| 3. Amores Perros (Alejandro González Iñárritu)
"Quentin Tarantino with soul." And I actually liked the middle part. It is about not being able to choose who you love. So the wife stays with her abusive husband, the editor with his narcissistic damaged trophy wife and she can't let go of her annoying dog and will have to live on with photos of herself. So to label it as a clichéd comedy about the impotence of the bourgeoisie is, in my humble opinion, wrong.
4. Chopper (Andrew Dominik)
A character study of Mark "Chopper" Read, just your average guy who loves beer and women, isn't too bright but has a lightning fast and razor sharp tongue, and sometimes completely loses it. Chopper is the ultimate version of the guy who punches you in the face because you were looking at his girlfriend. Eric Bana plays him brilliantly as a man who is constantly bewildered by his own actions and then spins them to make his behaviour seem plausible (especially to himself).
| 5. Memento
Think about it and it all works out. Think about it harder and it is all wrong. Still a well acted thriller with lots of atmosphere.
6. Songs From The Second Floor
Actually a pretty crappy film. It is a collection of loosely related sketches about the state of society. Often too heavy on symbolism and full of experimental art film clichés. But when a sketch works you will remember it for the rest of your life. The scene where people with too much luggage try to check in for their flights is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen.
7. Quills (Philip Kaufman)
This, on the other hand, is an extremely well-made film. Well acted, looks beautiful, the plot is tight, moves on at a swift pace and is fairly intelligent. OK, it is nothing you haven't seen before (Can I have a sexually impotent potentate? Can I have sexually liberated working classes? Can I have an institution filled with colourful characters?) but that actually helps to give Quills its old-fashioned quality feel.
8. State And Main (David Mamet)
Out of competition - seen at the Rotterdam film festival, but never released
in the Netherlands: Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku)