(prologue) As we can begin to hear the death rattle of the oughts, we in the third row decided to start on this continuing series throughout 2009 that will look back at our favorite films of each of the past ten years (2000-2009). This will ultimately culminate in a “ten best/favorites of the oughts” piece sometime in early 2010.
As you may have noticed, we’ve changed the title of this series to simply the year; no “best of” anymore since as one reader pointed out, proclaiming one film better than another is preposterous. These are simply a consensus of our favorite films from the given year. See our top five for 2001 below underneath the seats…
Please rise for the second lesson: 2001. The same way in which we always do our annual top ten list, each of the admins here took our top three of the assigned year and relegated a point system (with a bit of arbitrary) and came up with a consensus list of our top five favorite* films for that year.
5) Lord of the Rings:
The Fellowship of the Ring
– In Fellowship of the Ring, the first entry in the “Lord of the Rings” Trilogy, filmmaker Peter Jackson brings to life J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, recreating this magical world in exquisite detail. What’s more, with Fellowship, Jackson successfully pulls off what few others seem capable of achieving in this era of CGI-laden motion pictures: he proves that million-dollar effects can co-exist with, and not overshadow, a richly detailed story. As exciting an adventure as Fellowship of the Ring can be at times, it remains the characters, and not the spectacle, that are the focus of it all, molding the personalities and relationships that will make up this story over the course of three films. Whereas the sequels would plunge us into the battle for Middle Earth, Fellowship takes it’s time in demonstrating exactly why it’s a place worth fighting for. – DAVE
4) Donnie Darko
– A funny and rare thing happened with Richard Kelly’s filmmaking debut, Donnie Darko. In its very limited theatrical release, a release that was plagued by the plane crashes of September 11 (a major plot point involves the crashing of a jet engine into a house), it was one of these sort of movies that made a strong impression on cineastes and hipsters. Many ‘slightly off the mainstream’ critics had this one near or at the top of their list. Yet when the film filtered into a traditional mainstream success (making it one of the key ‘cult films’ of the new millennium) via DVD and world of mouth, many original supporters sort of walked away from the film. I do not understand why. The film balances a very human nuclear family story with apocalyptic fantasy and interesting (if vague) science fiction concepts. The balancing act of this alone is daunting, and it is pulled off with rare grace, humor and feeling (and not a small amount of showmanship). Credit the collection of actors and the showy, but appropriate directorial flourishes for this. The film is highly re-watchable for the performances alone, but the ‘right on the edge of understanding it’ factor is the real key to the films appeal. Teen narcissism? Over medication in an indifferent collection of institutions? A Christ parable? Crumbling of traditional family structure? The movie has so much stuff wrapped up in a neat (some – I am not one of them – may argue too neat) economical package. Any movie that has a theatre showing a double bill of The Last Temptation of Christ and The Evil Dead is alright in my book. A classic case of a film benefiting from studio interference, avoid the windier and hand-holding directors cut – it stinks. – KURT
3) Mulholland Dr.
– Mulholland Drive is many things: a dreamscape and a nightmare of mythical Hollywood; an attack on the Hollywood that David Lynch so often crosses horns with; a reverie on love, betrayal, loss, and identity; a mystery that refuses to answer all ambiguity; and probably the one film by Lynch that is both quintessentially Lynchian and relatively accessible. For those reasons, and probably more besides, Mulholland Drive made this list of our favorite 2001 films almost unanimously. Naomi Watts is a revelation as optimistic Betty Elms, arriving in a sunny, too-good-to-be-true Hollywood to make her way as an actress. When she meets Rita (Laura Elena Harring), an amnesiac after an accident on Mulholland Drive, the two girls embark on a Nancy Drew-esque attempt to discover Rita’s true identity – but end up discovering, well, something else entirely. The film is all-consuming – not only does it make you think and try to unravel everything (something that’s not necessarily worth the time), but it overcomes you, fills you up, and refuses to let you go, even after the credits have faded, the lights gone up, and you’re trying to stumble to your car. That’s great cinema. – JANDY
– David Lynch’s TV pilot was shunned by the ABC television to the point of being thrown away until a french distribution company financed the completion into a feature film. And there was much rejoicing for lovers of the surreal commentary of Americana – the director is in full Blue Velvet mode here. The movie is named after a famous and dangerous stretch of road in the Hollywood hills and ends up being a “poisonous valentine to Hollywood” (something Lynch would take even further with Inland Empire) . The film begins in an atmospheric, yet quasi-normal way, but as more and more characters are introduced, a plucky aspiring actress with Nancy Drew tendencies (effectively the launching pad for Naomi Watts as an A-list actress), an intensely strange movie producer that simply will not take no for an answer, and a weird psychic cowboy) and things plug along, there comes an event that shatters the narrative and begins a new one, with many of the same characters. This is sure to divide the audience into two camps, those who are Lynch fanatics, and those who hate sloppy messy convoluted plots. The structure is reminiscent of Lost Highway and like that film, there are some simply jaw-dropping moments sprinkled through Mulholland Dr., specifically Rebekah del Rio’s version of Roy Orbison’s, “Crying” which is one of the peak cinematic moments in the new millennium. This movie does go over-the-top at times which almost requires laughter at the sheer audacity of it all. It also clearly shows that it was to be a TV show because there are more loose ends than a ball of string that has been worked over by a dozen kittens. Yet for whatever reason, on some primal level, the thing leaves an impression. A big one to make it stand out as one of Mr. Lynch’s finest achievements. – KURT
– Amélie is a film and a character that could have easily become one of those quirky films that just tries so hard to be cute that it ends up being annoying. But thanks to the unique style of director Jeunet and lead actress Audrey Tautou, the film did nothing but turn heads at every screening from fans and critics alike. Not only did it make Tautou a household name, but it helped bolster the foreign language film into the mainstream (which is a rarity these days). Amélie is immensely likable from the get-go and never has a romantic comedy been so rich with detail and delight. From the unique construction to the unique way in which our protagonist interacts with the world, there is no question that Amélie was one of the finest films of 2001; if not the decade. – ANDREW
1) The Royal Tenenbaums
– Everyone has their own favorite Wes Anderson film and it’s easy to see why. Each one plays to its strengths and even its weaknesses usually end up being pleasant imperfections. So while a lot of viewers walked out of Tenenbaums scratching their heads proclaiming that they sort of liked it but weren’t really sure why, ask those same viewers three months later after a second viewing and listen to them proclaim, “I loved that movie!” Yes, The Royal Tenenbaums is truly like a fine wine in that it definitely is a movie that just gets better after each viewing. Is it the odd familial relations of the Tenenbaum family? Is it the unique style and attention to detail that accompanies all of Anderson’s films? It could be the dark, comedic way the film somehow manages to tug on the heart strings a little. Maybe it’s the deadpan humor of Paltrow in probably her best role to date. Or it could be the goofball comedy of Gene Hackmans in one of his finest roles (and that is saying something, the man does always turns in fine work, despite his prolific C.V.) Likely a combination of them all I would suspect. But whatever it is, it certainly struck a chord with everyone sitting in the third row and we just couldn’t, in good conscience, not have it in our #1 position. – ANDREW
– – one honorable mentions from each admin: The Pledge, Black Hawk Down, Monsters Inc., Moulin Rouge!, Gosford Park, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Waking Life
We’ll see you in a few weeks with our picks for 2002.