Sunday, November 10, 2013


2001 is a year more well-known for things, other than movies. That's not to say there weren't some good ones, but other things come to mind first, and as I go back through this little time travel of years, I remember that 2001, was the first year that I started seriously thinking about cinema as an art form that I might one day venture into. That was the year that I first became conscience of my discovering of films, and started searching and finding films that were hard to find, and zeroed in on them, and not just trying to find whatever blockbuster or notable film was on the shelves at Blockbuster. (Oh, note-to-self, ideas for a new blog, "'Blockbuster,' I predicted it! Ha-ha! Why and How the Video Store can Start Making a Comeback, NOW!") DVDs were still coming out, and the transition was just beginning to take shape. I remember 9/11, still like it was yesterday, and waking up to see the plane, and the most disturbing and intense day of school, as suddenly all the classrooms had CNN somewhere, and what little work we were supposed to get done, was basically thrown out the window, and I was desperately trying to find my friend Renee, who I knew would be stupid enough to sign up for military duty, as I was determined to sneak her into Vancouver with some of my buddy passes I used to keep extra in case of a draft. Sure enough, I was too late and she had signed up for the Marines already; she and her family are stationed in Japan now, and after I-don't-know how many tours, there's nobody more-suited to be a Marine than her. The next week, I was already arguing that patriotism was worse than terrorism in my AP U.S. History class, and winning the argument, despite it not being a popular opinion of the time, but I knew immediately that we're long screwing things up beforehand. Yeah, it's easy to say those things now, but I was saying them then, and frankly it annoys me that I can see things so clearly. It annoys me more that others couldn't or can't, and worse yet that too many people weren't believing me at the time.

There were good films that year too, and that's why entertainment in all forms is truly great, to get our minds off the struggles and worries of our day-to-day life and escape into another world for a crucial brief moment or two in time. It takes a lot of reality, to realize just how precious fantasy can be. Still, just like with my 2000 list, I haven't seen nearly enough or as many of the films from the year 2001, as I would've preferred to be completely certain of the legitimacy of my list, so once again, with me having only seen 77 films from that year so far, I warn others that I consider this list to be incomplete presently. There were definitely good films from 2001 though, a lot of them, I've noticed, got better in hindsight than they actually were within the year. Maybe our perceptions were a little skewed at the time, but even still, it's an underrated year, with a lot of surprising impressive films that hold up today, even with my limited sample.

So, as we continue to go year-by-year through the decade, here we go, my choices for the "Ten Greatest Films from 2001"! As we had to back then, let's have some fun and get away from our troubles for a couple hours.


10. Memento

Some maybe surprised by how low I rank Christopher Nolan's breakout film on this list. And honestly, I almost didn't include "Memento", for reasons that I'll describe later in this blog. That said, if there was a script that I wish I wrote from 2001, it would be "Memento", not because I wish I had Christopher and Jonathan Nolan's talents, (although I do) but I want to see how they wrote it. Did they start at the end, or is that the beginning? Or are we back at the end again? This was the year of the puzzle films, and the first one to come out was "Memento," and I think part of the reason I don't rank it higher is because I think it's the easiest of those films, and once you're able to reconstruct it, I'm not sure it's still as interesting. That said, the story about a former insurance man, Leonard (Guy Pearce) who suffers from a rare condition that causes him to not have any short term memory, was original and unique in its time. The movie also created a now-heavily copied structure (Well, not created, Harold Pinter with his play "Betrayal," but it wasn't used like it was here until now.) where the movie begins at the end, and works its way back to the beginning of the story, and in doing so, we get to that same sort of disfiguration that Leonard might be feeling. He's resorted to numerous photographs and notes in order to keep track, in order to find the guy who murdered his wife. Even tattoos, for clues that are particularly important to remember. This was Guy Pearce breakout role, he became a major movie star from this film despite memorable work in films like "L.A. Confidential" and "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" beforehand. Now, you can look back upon it, and see the film that Nolan would eventually make after becoming Hollywood's biggest action director, "Inception", which he started writing while working on this film. Now, it's a simpler early version. There's some great supporting work from Joe Pantoliano and Carrie-Anne Moss as well, but few films have a character who so captivated us and Pearce's Leonard, especially for one, who we, and neither does he, even really have a handle of.

9. Ghost World

If I wasn't friends with people like Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlet Johansson) at the time I was in high school, I certainly made a conscious efforts to become friends with them after watching "Ghost World". Based off of the Daniel Clowes graphic novel, and directed by "Crumb" director Terry Zwigoff, "Ghost World" is one of those perfectly rye movies that can be taken both deadly serious as well as darkly comic. The two girls are friends because they're the only ones who can really see both the absurdity and cliche in high school, and the simplicity in their friends, family, and the whole surrounding town. From the opening scene at their high school graduation, I felt a kinship with these outsiders, especially Enid and Seymour (Steve Buscemi) an aging record-collector who they meet originally through falsely answering a personal ad he took out. These are two characters who would be perfect for each other, if they weren't so many years apart. They're sardonic view of the world makes them outsiders, and are unable to fully enjoy the cool and hip as well as the ordinary and domestic. I still get in some arguments over this film; it's certainly for a particular audience. The ending is both sad yet hope-inspiring depending on your point of view. Others see these layers to the film as ambiguous, leaving them cold; I disagree, and that the film shows exactly how life can be filled with contradictions and how sometimes it takes certain hardships and mistakes to help lead a person to their true goals in life. Consider Seymour and Enid, and see that, she got to leave the town, Seymour stayed. If they are two ships passing through the night, missing each other by just enough time, she's herself in the future if she stays, and now, she's getting out. Whether that was the plan or not, isn't relevant, as much as the result is. It's definitely the kind of movie where, you do have to relate to these characters to understand it, that said, if you don't relate to these characters, the ones you probably relate to, well, you see how they are in the film as well, and frankly that's more worrisome. That means that you can't tell the difference than when someone's stuck in CBGB's punk era with their fashion, or when they're being intentionally ironic by seeming out-of-date. That little difference..., and it's in those details, how these characters relate, or can't relate to everybody else the way they relate to each other, really encompass the greatness of the "Ghost World".

8. Audition

At the time, even if I did see all the films from 2001, back in 2001, Takeshi Miike's film "Audition", wouldn't have made my Ten Best List then, because hardly anyone in America saw it, until later. Depending on when you start counting, "Audition" is considered the pioneer film that started the Asia Extreme movement in horror films, but it originally made it to America as a direct-to-DVD foreign film that slowly grew in popularity here. (It original release date in Japan was 1999, it's barely counting as 2001 film, in America.) The film involves a man, Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) who through a fake audition process setup through a friend of his who works for a film/TV production company, tries to find a date for him, by auditioning a bunch of girls. He eventually picks, a very wrong choice in Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina), and he doesn't find that out until way, way too late. If you thought Alex Forrest was the nightmare girlfriend.... Well, I won't give the whole thing away. The sickening violence is built up and saved to the end, and what's really quite special about "Audition" is the way this horror film does that. The camera angles and the supporting characters and tone, there's a David Lynchian quality to the film, that always insinuates that something is a lot off, and uneasy for the viewer, and for the character, and that's really what separates "Audition," this constant misdirection of the genres, which is really what's separated the Asian horror films from the American horror films for the last decade plus. The not-always-using the bloody and gutty scenes for a shock value, and setting that up with, stupid teenagers and/or other typical horror film cliches, the one's we've seen a million times. While other horror films, seemed to be aimed for teens, this was the first crop of the truly violent films, that was made for and by adults. "Audition" marks the first inclination of the last truly original approach to the horror genre, and the sad thing is, despite us making interesting remakes of these Asia Extreme films like "The Ring", and the upcoming "Oldboy", we've really got a lot to still, catch up on. And the film still holds up; it's creepy in it's quieter mood moments, and perfectly sickening in it's most violent, and it's intense, all the way through.

7. Amelie

Few foreign films in recent years have had as much of a cultural impact in America as Jean-Pierre Jeunet's "Amelie". It received five Oscar nominations, and if you wonder if it's still relevant, watch an episode of "The Amazing Race," where you'll find that damn roaming gnome is still roaming and getting deals from The full translated title of the movie is "The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain" and the film remains one of the quirkiest, strangest and most fun movies of the decade. Amelie (Audrey Tautou, in her breakout role), is a waitress in who grew up without real contact with people after having a misdiagnosed heart condition by her father, and spends her days observing the world through her unusual fantastical perspective. Then one day, she begins to make a conscious effort to forego her own happiness, and instead uses inventive and peculiar ways to make others around her happy. This includes her father, neighbors, co-workers, someone who's little box of secret things was found in her bathroom wall, and finally an equally strange young man, who works at a sex shop. Jeunet's unusual filmmaking style is perfect for Tautou, who's beauty and smile are perfect for his material, there might not have been a better director/actress pairing in the decade. Only she could've played this role, and his best films, like "Amelie", and their later film, "A Very Long Engagement", are with her. Without her, his films like "Delicatessen" and "Micmacs", seem like random pieces of production design and using of props without a purpose other than to be cute. She brings these strange and sometimes wonderous stories together by seeming to be not only believable in these words, but believable in that they're created in her mind. Nobody looks better into the camera than Tautou, she always seems to be hiding a secret from us, and in this film, which is a rare brilliant mix of style and emotion, we delight as we wait for her to reveal these secrets to us, (but not to other characters), and as she tries to find out other secrets as well. It's almost like some of the other great puzzle movies that came out and were popular in 2001, like "Memento" and "Vanilla Sky," but instead of trying to solve them, we're watching someone create them, and then watch as others solve them. It continues to be delightful and everytime you watch it, and it's amazing-looking film too. Lots of different color patterns and cinematography used, the greens and the yellows that dominate.... This is a film that looks and feels like everything is apart of someone's imagination, but not in a computer-generated way, very hard to do, and it just happens to be a fun imagination to be apart of. Very special film.

6. Monsters, Inc.

2001 was the first year the Academy introduced the Best Animated Feature category, and it was a good year for animation as there are two animated films, that I rank in the Top Ten of that year. The winner of that Award went to "Shrek", but the film that's actually held up best of the nominees over that time was "Monsters, Inc." Yes, "Shrek" is probably a more technical and groundbreaking achievement, but "Monsters, Inc." really works on an emotional level that few films really truly achieve. The story is simple as best pals Mike and Sully (John Goodman and Billy Crystal) work at scaring children at night, in order to generate Monstropolis's power supply, which is run on scares, and lately there had been rolling blackouts. (There's some interesting timing with Enron regarding the film's plot) They do this, by seemingly having a countless amount of doorways that connect to children's closets everywhere, and leads to an amazing climatic sequence at the end, with a chase sequence involving all these doors piled in a conveyor stockroom somewhere. Things get complicated when a toddler girl named Boo, sneaks into the world and Mike and Sully commence trying to hide her. They got this believable girl, at the age of about 2, not just through great animation, but some key Oscar-nominated sound design, as one of the film's story artists, Rob Gibbs, his daughter Mary was followed around with a boom and recorder from Gary Rydstrom and Michael Silvers, recording random strange sounds she made, as she's in that, in-between area where she's only knows a few words and is still learning to talk. The unique recording is really a critical key to the film working, because there hadn't been a kid that young accurately portrayed in animation before, certainly not this believably. It might be an animated film full of monsters and great voice acting by talents ranging from James Coburn, Steve Buscemi, and Jennifer Tilly among others, but the real key to the film is how they manage to pull off this emotional connection to this little girl; this is a film with a final scene that makes me cry every time. Yes, it's funny and full amazing computer animation, but it's a surprisingly emotional film. It's grown in popularity over the years, a prequel just got made of it, but the original "Monsters, Inc.", really holds up well. It also won the great Randy Newman his first Oscar for Best Original Song, his first win after 15 nominations, and he won for a good one too.

5. Gosford Park

The only film that got a Best Picture Oscar nomination to make my list was Robert Altman's last great film, "Gosford Park".  The Oscar-winning script was written by future-"Downton Abbey" creator Julian Fellowes, and the movie is like the ultimate murder in an English country mansion film. The kind where everyone's afraid the murder will inconvenience the foxhunt later. There's thirty-four main actors and we get to see the upstairs sophistocates, the downstairs maids and butlers, and the cooks, and the separations among everyone, and everyone's got the sharpest of tongues. It's witty, it's filled with great actors, and it's both a tribute to films like "The Rules of the Game", as well as a satire of the whole genre. This is the perfect genre for the great Robert Altman, who earned his last Oscar nomination for the film, who revolutionized sound mixing and editing, by allowing to have conversations and half-conversations sputtered and heard throughout all his films as background, and here's the perfect example of a master filmmaker finally finding the perfect genre for him to explore in. The movie isn't about the murder, or the whodunit, or the who cares, it's the bitchy and sincere wit of the characters, as well as the subtle ways in which everybody relates and talks with each other. You can turn the film on at any real point and not know what's happened before or even know any of the main characters, and still be incredibly entertained. That's really the secret to the film, and why we still remained obsessed with these wonderful caste system films and TV shows that come from Britain and Europe, and are filled with characters and dozens of stories that can be told about them. "Gosford Park", in many ways was a rebirth of that genre, the fact that is was a satire was interesting, but as with all satires, the best ones come from a place of admiration, and this one certainly comes from that.

4. The Royal Tenenbaums

Another film about the upper class of society seems to continually be overlooked by people, even among fans of the film's director Wes Anderson. At least among fans of his in my circle anyway, I seem to be one of the few that considers "The Royal Tenenbaums" to be among his very best films. There's a trick to it, I'll admit, but I genuinely think a lot of people don't realize all the extra jokes and layers to the film. The production design of this movie is as great as any of the great performances in the film; you have to pay attention to catch everything. The Tenenbaums are a upper-crust New York family, similar to that of the Kennedys by reputations and stature, or at least they used to be. Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) was a well-respected lawyer who had three genius children, all of whom have grown up, and all of whom have problems and quirks of their own, as everyone comes back to begin living in their house for the first time in years, including Royal, who's lying to the family, saying that he's dying from stomach cancer, in order to regain their sympathy. While there's a lot of grasp, Wes Anderson typical details and shots, I've always felt the real clue to this movie lies in the opening shot of a library book, with the film's title, as well as the chapter cues we run into as we watch. And the movie feels like the kind of overwraught sweeping, albeit, bad book about a family. It's got scenes that run a little long, it's got melodramatic moments and dwells on things that, in a normal movie, had this been an adaptation, might've been cut. However, that's the real trick, it's not adapted from a novel and Anderson and co-writer and co-star Owen Wilson, earned Oscar nomination for the film's Original Screenplay. It isn't a great book about a great American family fallen on hard times and rumors and innuendo, it's not even a book at all. This adds an extra level of depth to the film. In my Canon of Film post on it, I described the movie as being a Woody Allen-esque plot, with Zucker Brothers-style jokes. Slowspeed Zucker Brothers, and they're subtle, but it's upon closer and closer inspection, it's a film that keeps growing, and always seems to be full of surprises. I see something new in the film, every time I see it, that's a sign of a great film.

I'm gonna stop the list for a second here, because I just realized that a film that was going to be on my list, was listed in the wrong year. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's film "Amores Perros", I had listed as having a 2001 release, but technically, it was an Oscar-nominated foreign film for the 2000 Oscars, so while it didn't make it to American shores 'til '01, I use the Oscars as a standard that supercedes an original release date if possible, so I have moved that film to my "00 list, and I rank it number 2 for that year.)  So, anyway, I just switched the number, I added "Memento," and now, to my #3 choice:

3. Waking Life

"Waking Life" is noted as the first ever motion-capture animated film, but that's not the only reason why I'm ranking it so high here. Richard Linklater's transcendental, philosophical and a whole lotta other entals and icals masterpiece, essentially starts as a character, known only as our Hero (Wiley Wiggins) wakes up from a dream, or maybe he didn't and he's still in a dream. Whatever it is, he goes from person-to-person and character to character, some real, some imagined, some seem to have come from other movies like Jesse and Celine from Linklater's "Before Trilogy", or the New York tour guide from "Cruise", and he listens as all these characters spout their peace, thoughts, ideas on life, and just random ramblings from people, and discussions about philosophical issues, the kind that intellectuals have everyday. These are the kind of movies and the kinds of dialogue that every film should have, people with brains and something to say, something new to say, and can actually articulate it. It's stimulating to hear such dialogue, and just like Hero, we find ourselves just listening in, and soaking up everything that's said. Yet, the film wouldn't work as well without the spectacular animation. First, he shot a live-action version of the film, with actors and cameras, and then, software genius Bob Sabiston took the footage, and him and his team, painstaking animated it using Mac computers and what was at the time, the latest in animation technology. He'd use the same formula to make "A Scanner Darkly" a few years later, another good film, based on the Philip K. Dick novel, and it's been used for commercials since. You don't need to have shot live-footage beforehand to match up, a technique not used since the days of Dave Fleischer, first tried it, but never was it this successful. A similar technique has been used with green screen for films like 'Beowulf" and "300", but the wonderful flowing, dream-like reality seen in "Waking Life", is just mesmerizing, at another level. Some of the best and most inventive uses of animation ever, and one of the greatest animated films of all-time. Truly a unique experience, that simply describing the film, can't fully encompass; this is a movie that has to be seen, to stimulate your eyes, and your mind.

2. Dinner Rush

I spoke about "Dinner Rush" very recently as I added it to my Canon of Film series, and part of the reason I'm ranking it so high here, is because of how unknown it still is. Even among food movies, this one doesn't get the attention it deserves. Some described it as a combination of "Big Night" meets "The Sopranos", and that's a nice definition, but no other movie I can think of, really gets the movements and feelings down of what it's like to work in a major 4-star restaurant like this one. I remember one person, a waitress who saw the film and complained that it felt too much like work. Maybe that's true, but living in Vegas where I'm literally a couple bus rides from some of the best and most well-known restaurants in the world, run by some of the most famous chefs in the world, there's a romanticism to these wonderous and sometimes, outstretched places, that some wait months for a table, and some take months earning the money just to eat at some of the places. Going out to eat, is not just about getting a good meal, it's about the experience, and "Dinner Rush" got that right. It should've. The movie director Bob Giraldi, shot the film in his own restaurant, and it's the only feature film he's made in three decades, since he gave up his lucrative music video and commercial directing to become a restaurateur. If there's a movie I like to show people, that they likely haven't seen in order to get their reaction, I show "Dinner Rush". It's a fun, small little independent gem, and it's a lot cheaper than actually going to a restaurant with a date, unfortunately.

1. Mulholland Dr. 

At around my 15th viewing of David Lynch's "Mulholland Dr.", I actually figured it out. I went frame-by-frame, every little detail and scene, and I'm pretty sure I know exactly what happens in the movie, when it happens, why it happens, what part is really what happened, what part is dream, and even what kind of dream the dream parts actually are. And I could explain it, point-by-point and detail-by-detail, and I can't imagine a more useless and unimportant exercise than to do that. I think a lot of people would rank "Mulholland Dr." as their number one for 2001, and I'm no exception. Lynch, who always uses dream logic for his films, made his masterpiece which, supposedly was intended to be a TV pilot according to legend. Instead, he makes a movie that's just visually intriguing from the opening shot to the very end shot, and if he wanted it to actually make sense, and be explained, he would've put the film in an order that would've explained everything clearly, he's done that many times when he wanted to. To describe the movie, is to describe a strange dream that goes down many paths that seem to either lead nowhere or everywhere, and depending on how you interpret it, it could be real, or not. Is there a murder? Is there a mystery? Is it a riddle trapped in a mystery. In the year of the puzzle movies that challenged us to reconsider and think about what we saw and what we're actually seeing, "Mulholland Dr." didn't have an answer. It just existed to exist, and the movie is about the way it tempts us into watching and seeing what's about to happen next. Not that it helped us understand, but we wanted to see anyway. The movie earned Lynch a Best Director Oscar nomination, and remains his defining work, and was his most well-received film to date. He had toyed with dreamworld and logic, and here, there's nothing but. The movie begins with two girls, Betty and Rita (Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Herring). One's a young starlet, the other doesn't know who she is, as she's suffering from amnesia after a car accident, or are they who they say they are, or was there even an accident. It's all fragments and pieces, some we dwell on, others we lose interest in and forget, and new streams and images come up periodically, and occasionally it seems, we even wake up. All the other puzzle films of 2001, usually had some explanation. There's one to "Mulholland Dr." too, but it doesn't even really hint it at us, instead it just exists. It's pure cinematic eye candy. It tempts, it intrigues, it arouses, and even if you can figure it out, it's still compulsively watchable.

Well, 2 down, 8 more years to go. I'm sure some of you think there were a few good films too low or not on the list, and few interesting that made it. So, how do you guys rank 2001?

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