2001 was a good year for movies. It was the last year when moves were fun before Obama Bin Laden blew up the American Flag… or something… I can’t remember anymore. Some things were still funny, and some things were still over the top, most were just fun genre films that were a little lighter than the darkness that descended over the planet after September. There were so many good movies like “Go Tigers!,” “Legally Blonde,” “The Piano Teacher,” “The Gift,” “Ghost World,” which couldn’t make the final list. There were also some terrible movies like “Ghosts of Mars” or “Blow” that were just not bad enough. All in all it was a good way to end the world.
10 BEST OF 2001
1. DONNIE DARKO – DIR: Richard Kelly “Donnie Darko” was only playing on one screen in a little theater in all of New York, but I had read about it in the Sundance Film Festival breakdown a couple months before. I knew nothing about it besides the little blurb in the catalog, and that it had the guy from “October Sky” and his sister. Two hours later I walked out of the theater a believer, and was little surprised that two years later it was still doing solid midnight movie business at another small theater in New York. The tone and tempo of this film brake your mind as it toys with you, and the bizarre theories of Time Travel and metaphysics were just immature enough to really sell the almost over serious ominous feel of the picture. And the little kid yelling at the fat girl, “Go back to China, bitch!” really got me.
2. GOSFORD PARK – DIR: Robert Altman On the surface this movie looks like Merchant & Ivory, but it is pure Altman. The pacing, the camera work, and the editing are classic RA, matching that of “Short Cuts” or “The Player.” It isn’t 1970’s Altman, nothing he made in his later life was, though he was still making solid pictures up until his death. For a movie set in one location Altman packs in about thirty characters including Clive Owen, and since this was before I noticed Owen doesn’t blink when on screen unless it is in a big wide shot, I could still watch him without being a little creeped out.
3. HEIST – DIR: David Mamet I know I said that the pacing was the best thing about David Mamet’s filmmaking in the Y2K Review, but “Heist” is all about the lines. “My man is so cool when he goes to sleep sheep count him.” “Cute as a Chinese baby.” “She could talk her way out of a sunburn.” Damn, that is cool.
4. THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE – DIR: Coen Brothers Out of all of their films this one could be my favorite. Roger Deakins’ lush, beautiful photography is 50% of it, Billy Bob Thorton’s controlled, almost menacingly stoic performance is 50% of it, the amazingly understated and strange script is 50%, and the violin string tightness of the direction is 50% of it. That’s 200%, and that is impossible. That’s because this movie is impossibly good.
5. MULHOLLAND DRIVE – DIR: David Lynch I have this sinking feeling that “Mulholland Drive” will be David Lynch’s last great movie. “Inland Empire” is an unwatchable mess, and his next film is going to be an experimental documentary on the founder of transcendental meditation. Maybe that will be cool. But this movie was cool. A bewildering mind crusher, which tries to drive the audience as mad as the characters inside the film. Originally conceived as a pilot of ABC, but scrapped when the result was deemed too Lynch-y, it is easy to spot where it moves from the Pilot footage to the addition scenes shot for the movie. Hint- it’s where Naomi Watts gets naked.
6. OCEAN’S 11 – DIR: Steven Soderberg This is the closest thing to a really commercial picture that Soderberg has ever made, and it shows what an immense talent he really is. It takes a great leader to wrangle the egos of a bevy of superstars like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia, Matt Damon, list goes on. The real magic of this movie is in the transitions. The movie flies by at a break neck pace because every scene moves into the next seamlessly without ever pausing.
7. THE ROYAL TENNANBAUMS – DIR: Wes Anderson Wes Anderson has been on a slow decline since “Rushmore,” but this movie is still his second best. Gene Hackman is priceless in pretty much every scene, and Owen Wilson is hilarious throughout. The movie played as a good extension of “Rushmore,” but as the rest of his movies came out, and they were about basically the same thing, told in pretty much the same way, it starts to get a little old. Yeah he’s an auteur, but if that were the only criteria Uwe Boll would fit in as well.
8. SPY GAME – DIR: Tony Scott By far my favorite Tony Scott movie. Brad Pitt and Robert Redford are great together, like two generations of the same actor. It kind of reminds me of “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,” in the sense that it gives a real feel to what it would be like to actually be a spy; no gadgets or Sat links to Langley, just your wits and your balls.
9. THE TAILOR OF PANAMA – DIR: John Boorman I hadn’t seen a John Boorman movie since 1987’s “Hope and Glory,” but the guy made “Zardoz,” enough said. This picture goes hand in hand with “Spy Game,” and much for the same reason. Pierce Brosnan plays Andy Osnard, a British agent, lurking around Panama during the handover of the canal by the U.S. Brosnan plays Osnard as what his Bond should have been; sleazy, driven, cold, and viscous. Also on hand is Jeffry Rush, whose character Henry Pendel reminds me a lot of Alec Guiness from “Our Man in Havana.” The epitome of Boorman’s vision is the scene in Osnard’s hotel room where he and Pendel are talking, and in the backgrounds of their alternating coverage is a porno playing on the TV, and two people having sex in a building next door. Thanks, John Boorman. Thank you.
10. ZOOLANDER – DIR: Ben Stiller Easily one of the most quotable movies of the decade, and easily one of the funniest. It is also back when we as a nation were just learning about Will Farrell, and his purely ridiculous turn as Mugatu could be, rivaling Ron Burgundy, his funniest role to date. And Owen Wilson, before the suicide mishigoss, was an inspired funny man. “You can Dera-licht my balls.” No one pulls that off any better.
10 WORST FILMS OF 2001
1. BEAUTIFUL MIND – DIR: Ron Howard For the most part I’m not a fan of Ron Howard movies, so it should come as no surprise that this one just didn’t catch my fancy. This picture could have landed in the “Over Rated” section of my list, but since there is a doozy there it had to reside among the worst films. I was with it for a little bit, when Ed Harris was a shady Government Agent asking for Russell Crowe’s help, and if there had been some ambiguity for the entire picture as to whether he existed or Crowe’s character was just nuts then I could have been into it, but when they defused the mystery, and the guy is just schizophrenic I stopped caring.
2. BEHIND ENEMY LINES – DIR: John Moore Let’s face it, Owen Wilson just can’t be an action star. That is one lemon I’m not buying. When his plane goes down in Serbia Wilson has to get out behind the titular demarcations, and he throws in some wise cracks. Wilson and the Hackman don’t have nearly as much invested in this movie as they did in “The Royal Tennanbuams” and it shows. They might not be phoning it in per se, but they might be radioing this one in.
3. CROCODILE DUNDEE IN LOS ANGELES – DIR: Simon Wincer Back in the day Simon Wincer directed a little film called “D.A.R.Y.L.” which I L.O.V.E.D. Here he’s trying to rescue Paul Hogan from Outback Steakhouse obscurity and failing miserably. He does pull of the pretty staggering feat of making a comedy absolutely devoid of laughter, which is pretty impressive if you think about it.
4. THE CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION – DIR: Woody Allen When Woody Allen is on it is gold; “Crimes and Misdemeanors” could be a perfect film. But ever since the onset of the age of Sun-Yi Allen has been off and on, and when he is off it isn’t even gold leaf. “Jade Scorpion” is more like untreated particle board, and is just about as wooden. The one trick that Woody has always employed, casting a young, hot girl as his love interest, isn’t even in effect here. Helen Hunt occupies the role usually reserved for Winona Ryder or Charlize Theron, but she is decidedly unlikable and makes Woody’s bizarre performance all the less palatable.
5. EVOLUTION – DIR: Ivan Reitman On the surface this one has a lot going for it. Reitman could have brought some of his “Ghostbusters/Stripes/Meatballs” juice to set, but it looks like he used it all up on “Kindergarten Cop.” Duchovny, right off “X-Files” stardom, tries to cash in, but this wasn’t the one in which to do it. Nothing works in this goofy sci-fi movie. The tone is inconsistent, the jokes aren’t funny, and the creatures are too colorful and cartoonish.
6. THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS – DIR: Rob Cohen Paul Walker is the poor man’s Keanu Reeves, Vin Diesel is the poor man’s The Rock, Michelle Rodriguez the poor man’s Rosario Dawson, Jordana Brewster the poor man’s Mila Kunis. Sadly it spawned three sequels, but this film is so painfully loud and dumb it is hard to sit through without your brain leaking out of your ear.
7. FROM HELL – DIR: The Hughes Brothers This was the first Alan Moore comic to be adapted into a movie, and set the bar low for the future endeavors. Maybe had this picture not been so poor Moore wouldn’t have been so quick to distance himself from all the other movies (though to his credit “Watchmen” is the only one to have much going for it). The production design is actually okay, but the writing is so sensationalistic and silly that it totally degrades everything good about the movie. The Hughes brothers seemed trying to draw some parity between the “Urban” life depicted in their earlier work, and the life of late 19th century London, but the comparison is made too obvious and amateurish, rendering this picture an ignoble failure.
8. O – DIR: Tim Blake Nelson Trying to bring Shakespeare into high school isn’t a new thing, “10 Things I Hate About You” did it with much more finesse than this clunky bore, and Julia Stiles was a lot less strident. Instead of the general of an army Othello is Odin, the only black player on the basket ball team, and Iago is Josh Hartnett. Mixing Hartnett and Shakespeare makes one feel something akin to doom deep inside the place where most don’t care to look, and this movie proves all of their fears true.
9. ROCK STAR – DIR: Steven Herek It starts off with a fight between two rival Judas Priest cover bands, one led by “Marky” Mark Walberg of the clan of Funky Bunch, and the other by Steven Jenkins from Third Eye Blind. Hilarious! But the film never lives up to that moment for the rest of the time, except the unintentionally funny moment at the end where Mark Walberg sings like Eddie Vedder at a coffee shop. All that rests in between has no business being on film.
10. SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK – DIR: Ed Burns This movie made me angry. Ed Burns tries to channel Woody Allen into this pretentious meditation on love in the Big Apple. The dialogue is, like all of that written by Burns, cringe worthy, and within minutes you are punching your self in the ears in hopes that the bleeding might block out the noise.
MOST OVER RATED FILM OF 2001
MEMENTO – DIR: Christopher Nolan To be fair I haven’t seen this since it was released, and my opinion might have been the victim of the hype surrounding the picture. I just wasn’t blown away. All of Nolan’s successive pictures, excluding “Insomnia,” I have loved, and was impressed by his debut, “Following,” which uses a lot of the same gimmick utilized in “Memento,” to better results. To me the film comes off as just that, a gimmick, and when the twist is revealed at the end I was left feeling nothing for the movie. If there was any tragedy in the finale it was totally lost by the fact of the reveal. The big twist is a hard one to get right, and really has only worked well in “The Usual Suspects.” I have to rank this one up there with “The Sixth Sense.”
MOST UNDER RATED FILM OF 2001
PEARL HARBOR – DIR: Michael Bay Of every year of the decade this is the biggest surprise, but I love this movie. Probably not for the reasons that Michael Bay intended, but I still do. Every line is a canned cliche, every effect has too much fire, ever actor is miscast, and it just doesn’t end. For all three hours I was glued to my seat laughing at every moment. Kate Beckinsale reads a letter from Ben Affleck while sitting on rocks as waves crash nearby? She first makes sweet love with Josh Hartnett in the middle of a hanger filled with billowing, white, silky parachutes? Who came up with this?! Michael Bay did, that’s who! And I bow down to his mastery of utter garbage. Carly Simon said it best – “Nobody does it better.”
By Paul S. Myers