Friday, February 10, 2017

The 2000's: A Retrospect (Part I)

The 2000's: A Retrospect

Part I of X

I have been in a nostalgic mood as of recently, and I have been thinking about how I got to be  the person I am today. Movies, if you could not tell already, was a big part of my upbringing. My mom has told countless people that I have loved movies ever since I was able to talk, and she's right. Growing up when not even in your teens, or let alone your double digits, you don't have much of a perspective of the world of film, what is good and not good. I loved movies at a very young age, but my tastes, what I look for in genre, it didn't really start to take shape until one millennium ended, and another took its place.

The first decade of the new millennium will always be a special decade of film for me. It was the year where I really took a huge interest in the world of filmmaking and finding what to watch. These were the years when I first started using the internet to read about movie rumors, gossip, news and the like. These were the years where I would endlessly listen to Ebert and Roeper. These were the years where I would pro-actively try and see as many new releases each year as I could, while also enriching myself on the classics, and other films I missed for one reason or the other. Basically, its the 2000's that formed the film advocate that you are reading about today. So I wanted to take time and celebrate this decade. It may not have been the most important decade of film ever (I would probably give that award to the 1970's, thus far), but it was a time I hold very dear to my heart, because I am who I am today because of it. It is this reason that I am going to write a full blown, year-by-year retrospect on the 2000's in film.

What does that mean? Well, over the course of the next ten Fridays, I am going to look each year individually, from 2000-2009. I will discuss that year in movies, the good and the bad. I will present my top ten of each year, a top five Runner Ups list, my top ten worst of the year, and my favorite performances; whether that's leading roles, supporting roles or even cameos. I understand that it may feel like the 2000's are old, but sometimes it takes some time of reflection to really understand and appreciate something that happened a long time ago. I have wanted to write something like this for the 2000's ever since they ended, and now that I have my own movie blog, now seems like a good time. Besides, with all the craziness going on in my social media accounts, I feel we need something fun to debate over for a little bit now. Be warned though, I already know there are decisions I have made that people are going to get up-in-arms about. I understand, that's the nature of this stuff. I hope this leads to some fun debates.

2000
Much like 1990 and 1980 before it, 2000 was a year that was still coming down from the previous decade. There was still a fresh 1999 anesthetic in many of the movies being made this year. The themes, notions, and trends that would eventually define the decade would not come into focus until much later in the decade. There were signs of life though, actors and artists who were destined to grab the reigns of Hollywood and push the medium forward were hard at work. Trying to making something out of this new millennium, driven to make their mark.

1. Battle Royale
Ahh, it was "The Hunger Games" before "The Hunger Games." Except, this little gem of a movie had a little twist to it that really separated it from what would be popular over a decade later. As much as I love "The Hunger Games" series, I feel like "Battle Royale" hurts just a little bit more. Instead of a government body picking people at random from districts to face off in gladiatorial-like combat, the government in this movie takes an entire class from a school and pits them against each other. Its easy to fight against someone you don't know to keep you and your family alive, its something else to have to put a bullet in the head of someone you grew up knowing. "Battle Royale" maybe over-stylized at times, but its pitch black in its tone and atmosphere, is guided by a rich cast of wonderful young actors, all of whom are taking their work incredibly seriously, and creates a authentic backdrop for this dystopian future. The stakes felt high in this movie, and the well- written script only elevated this material to its highest potential.

2. Gladiator
Ridley Scott is a director who has dabbled in just about every genre, whether its science fiction or drama or action. Some of his best material has come from the action arena, and if he'd just chosen to be an action director exclusively, he'd go down in history as one of the very best, maybe even be regarded as a anti-Michael Bay. Ridley Scott has made more conventionally greater films than "Gladiator," but he hasn't really made films as confident, crowd-pleasing, rousing and entertaining as "Gladiator." The story of Maximus may feel like a thousand other sword-and-sandles movies you can name. But the movie is big, bold and aggressively told, so much to the point that Scott makes it count. He gets his incredible cast; which includes Russell Crowe, Connie Nielsen, Joaquin Phoenix, Oliver Reed, Jared Harris and Djimon Housnou to contribute stellar work. Maximus may have never defied the Roman Empire anywhere in history, but all the hard work put into this epic makes it feel like he did.

3. Almost Famous
This film maybe total fiction, but it was based on the real first-hand accounts of writer-director Cameron Crowe when he used to tour with rock bands in the 1970's. Before becoming a filmmaker he would tour with bands like Poco, Led Zeppelin,  The Allman Brothers Band, The Eagles and even Lynyrd Skynyrd. While the band in this movie is fictional, there is an authentic flair which builds over the course of the film, making this not just a fun time at the movies, but it feels like a full blown time machine experience. Kate Hudson has never been this good in her entire career, and even Billy Cudrup gives her a run for her money. We may not have been there to experience all of that with Crowe, but he makes sure we understand what it was like.

4. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Not even close to best Coen Brothers movie ever made, but certainly one that got stuck in my head throughout the entire decade. Even though I feel the Coen's do their best work in the world of drama, when they connect with a piece of comedic material, words can't describe the type of experience you will have. "The Big Lebowski" is a classic of the genre, and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" comes pretty damn close as well. Loosely based on The Odyssey by Homer, three escape convicts try to get to buried treasure in the middle of the 1930's depression. Accidentally becoming singing stars along the way. The movie had one of the most addicting soundtracks of the entire decade, and features a cast of actors on their A-game. The Coens weren't very funny the rest of the decade, but they sure connected here.

5. Traffic
 I always find it funny when people complain that a movie will automatically suck just because it features a big cast. It doesn't matter how many characters or story threads someone chooses to present in their movie. All that matters is how well you can convey the ideas you want, and how well you write your characters. "Traffic" features several parallel and interlocking stories about the War on Drugs in America. We follow cops, criminals, drug users, drug dealers, individuals affected by it and everyone in between, on all sides of the America-Mexico border. "Traffic" presents a sensational landscape of storytelling, but what it also does best is highlight something that is sadly, still relevant today. This war isn't getting any easier, and we really need to change our approach if we are ever going to get a leg up on the War on Drugs.

6. Boiler Room
"You're either slinging crack-rock, or you've got a wicked jump shot" so says a narration done by Seth Davis at the beginning of this film. Seth Davis is a money-hungry young man living in New York City and he continues to discuss how nobody wants to work hard in America anymore. Everybody is in such a hurry to get rich quick and it doesn't matter how you get the money from. Seth is continually just looking for a way to easy money, that he runs an backdoor casino in his own home, he understands he is constantly looking over his shoulder that way, so he joins a small stock broker firm. Everything seems to be going well until he learns this firms secret. At first glance, "Boiler Room" may feel like several other crime movies, but it paints a believable portrait of a guy so desperate that he doesn't care how he becomes successful, just that he is successful. Eventually that success will lead to his downfall.

7. High Fidelity
This may blow some people's minds, but before I was known as a "movie guy," I was a pretty big "music guy" too. I was probably more inclined to buy a music CD with my allowance back in the day than I was to buy a movie. Just like I can tell anything about a particular movie, I can tell you something particular about most pieces of music. Seeing a movie that blended the love of music and the love of finding the right person to spend the rest of your life with was monumental to me. Not to mention that John Cusack's Gordon is so fun to watch, not the typical lead we find in most romantic comedies. We follow him through his relationships as he has a life crisis of sorts, trying to figure out why his relationships constantly go wrong. This is a truly funny movie that allows its sweeter moments to not fall into sappiness. Quite the accomplishment by itself.

8. American Psycho
Its always amazing to watch Christian Bale appear in movies. He is always willing to throw himself into any role. He's never afraid to make himself look bad or real. It always feels like he has a hunger every time he signs onto a film, acting as if its the only time he'll ever act in a movie. Patrick Bateman is one vile son-of-a-bitch in "American Psycho," a 1980's Wall Street yuppy who is always looking for some kind of release. Maybe due to boredom? Maybe due to a psychological imbalance? We never know or find out, we just know there is a killer instinct hidden inside him, always waiting to crawl out at a moment's notice. What's crazy about "American Psycho" is how it gets you to feel shocked by violence at one moment, then laughing out loud the next. Its an engrossing motion picture, fun to quote and impersonate, and one of the strangely satisfying films of the year.

9. Requiem For A Dream
I always love to show films to my friends, I have been quite the showman throughout my life. Every once in awhile, I make a mistake. When I showed a group of friends this movie one night in high school, I realized how big a mistake I made. Yes, its true."Requiem For A Dream" is nowhere close to being a movie for everyone. Its probably the most messed up movie to come out this decade (on second thought, not true, more on that later though). The way director Darren Aronofsky leads us into the world of drug addiction is hypnotic, dreamlike, and completely terrifying. Every time I watch the last half hour of this film, I feel stuck to my chair, eyes glued to the screen, wanting to look away but not being able too. If you ever worried about your child getting into drugs any time in life, strap them to a chair and show them this. They'll never think twice about it ever again.

10. Castaway
It would seem to me that a movie revolving around one actor would be difficult, but leave it to none other than Tom Hanks to make it look effortless. Who would have thought that something so simple would be so engrossing. Tom Hanks. One island. For nearly three hours of film. Tom Hanks takes full command of  the film, making the most of his situation. Creating a world we would find unthinkable, and making it real enough to count. Who would have thought that a bloody volleyball could be so endearing.

Runner Ups

1. Unbreakable
A story where Superman goes his whole life not knowing he's Superman? It makes for an interesting story, a lonely God that has no idea how much potential he truly has. When someone comes along to unearth that unchecked potential, it can be scary. "Unbreakable" is a movie where Superman finds out who he truly is, and just what he can do in the world. It may seem like a guy who has a unique gift at first, but M. Night Shymalan digs deep in this particular sand box, unraveling things we didn't think were possible. What I can't wait for is the potential to see more of these characters in the future.

2. The Patriot
A rousing period piece war film that has lots more on its mind than it may seem. Sure, its a movie about the Revolution, and the images created here are enough to make any true, red-blooded American swoon. But, the movie is also about family. At first Benjamin Martin doesn't want to fight in the Revolutionary War because he doesn't want to leave his family, but when the war comes to him he has no choice. This costs him dearly, and he feels like its karma, from a dark past he alludes to several times in the film. Not only is this an importance about family, but it shows us that war is a disease, ready to tear us apart at a moments notice. Its amazing all the themes on display in this war film and just how entertaining it is as a result.

3. In The Mood For Love
Or, An Education on Why China Cinema Rocks, Part I

4. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Or, An Education on Why China Cinema Rocks, Part II

5. Small Time Crooks
Compared to the other films made by Woody Allen in his career, this might not be as important, as unique or as long-lasting as his other, older work. But that's not to say that Allen doesn't know how to entertain. Allen has always played and dabbled in various kinds of comedy and sometimes its mere goofball hilarity that he excels at. First, a group of criminals make a bakery as a front for a robbery, then when the heist is a bust, they focus on the bakery, only to make millions. Woody Allen brings people like Jon Lovitz, Michael Rapaport and Hugh Grant into the mix, and the result is a fun bag of silliness that has me laughing for days.

Worst of 2000

1. Battlefield: Earth
A completely embarrassing science fiction, action film that raises no stakes, creates an unbelievable word and forces its actors to say the dumbest, corniest dialogue ever written. If aliens came down to invade us, and men devolved into cavemen once again, why would the alien invaders educate the humans? Wouldn't they be worried they'd rise up? There are so many weird choices made that its almost mind numbing. It seems John Travolta and Forest Whitaker came to this for a paycheck, and the film itself is a test between to the two as who can be the worst actor. There is no tension, no thrills and no fun in this clunky, murky mess of a movie. 

2. Mission: Impossible II
Looking back on it now, I am really glad this franchise reverted to such fun as "Ghost Protocol" and "Rogue Nation," two "Mission: Impossible" movies I dig the living shit out of. This sequel to the original 1996 film, is a complete betrayal of everything the first film and its TV series stood for. "Mission: Impossible" was never once, a James Bond clone. It had its own DNA, its own way of doing things, which is why it was so popular. John Woo decided it would be fun to make "Mission: Impossible II" into a James Bond clone. Gone is the outwitting of the villains trope, and in came beautful babes, exotic locations, cool cars, and a mustache-twirling cartoons for villains. The thing is, Woo added his beloved doves and his "Matrix" style kung-fu fights and sadly it never adds up to a compelling action film. Its all nonsense, thankfully it was the only movie in the series Woo made.

3. Dude, Where's My Car?
I can handle a goofy comedy where two dummies loose their car, but when the strange alien women got involved, it went from funny-stupid to just plain stupid in a matter of minutes.

4. Book of Shadows: Blair Witch II
"The Blair Witch Project" took a gamble on a new gimmick which would become common place. The worst idea I could think of at the time was the idea that there would be a sequel. What I also didn't expect was the sequel would be a total bastardization of everything that made the first film great. There was nothing scary about this film, nothing even remotely spooky about the film. This was just a naked cash grab and nothing more.

5. The Replacements
Hum. When Keanu Reeves tries to be dramatic, he's hilarious. When Keanu Reeves is trying to be funny, he's not at all. Who knew?

6. What Women Want
The idea of a guy getting involved in some kind of crazy ritual then waking up and being able to hear the thoughts of every girl he comes into contact with is actually an interesting idea for a romantic comedy. There is some potential to that idea, and where it could go. Sadly, this movie decided it was a good idea to suck out all the potential and make a cliched, sappy romantic comedy that is just the same as all the other lame ones. Throw in two bad performances by Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt and it gets even worse. My least favorite thing is a movie that wastes its potential, and "What Women Want" smells badly of it.

7. The Cell
I have heard several people defend this movie. I have heard people even  go as far as to compare it to classics like "Silence of the Lambs," "Se7en" and even "2001: A Space Odyssey." To those who partake in that gross opinion, all I can say is shame on you. This is an empty, ugly movie that offers nothing to the world of serial killer films, police procedural or horror films. Its thriller with absolutely no thrills and creates a terrible character as a serial killer that we have to feel bad for? The science behind the film make no sense, its filled with plot holes, and its the worst case of style of substance that I can think of. But hey, we are supposed to be glad that Jennifer Lopez looked so fabulous, right?

8. Dinosaur
It astounds me that the same studio that gave us such animated classics as "Cinderella," "Beauty and The Beast," "Alladin" and all the other classics from Disney made this. Every moral lesson and idea Disney has ever had got shoe-horned into a poorly-animated movie about dinosaurs surviving after a meteor strike. Never once is this movie cute, or fun or even something to recommend to children. This is a Disney movie that is dark and sad, and children will end up confused as to what is happening most of its running time. Why Disney made a dark movie wrapped in its trite, sentimental bow, I will never understand.

9. The Beach
This decade was good in the way that it gave Leonardo DiCaprio a new outlet to display his talent, he started making good decisions in his career and is now in the greatest stretch of his entire career. Not before he made this horrid turkey of a film about a thrill-seeker who finds himself on a mysterious island. I can't believe that the same Danny Boyle who directed this piece of crap also gave us such films as "28 Days Later," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "127 Hours." I guess even the best of directors have their bad days, right?

10. Mission To Mars
I was in fourth grade when this movie came out. I saw it on my birthday with my brother and my father. I remember that it was being marketed as a thriller in space, and I was absolutely fascinated by space at the time. Whatever this movie was about completely lost me, turning into a boring character study in space. Several years later, I still have no idea what the fuck this movie was all about, and now I have no more fucks to give. I just don't care.

Performances

1  George Clooney “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
      Christian Bale, “American Psycho”
      Michelle Yeoh, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”
      Julia Roberts, “Erin Brockovitch”
      Tom Hanks, “Castaway”
      Ben Affleck, “Boiler Room”
7  Russell Crowe, Connie Nielsen, Joaquin Phoenix & Oliver Reed, “Gladiator”
   John Cusack, Iben Hjejle & Jack Black, “High Fidelity”
9  Eihi Shiina, “Audition”
      Kate Hudson, “Almost Famous”
1  Robert De Niro & Ben Stiller, “Meet The Parents”
   Mel Gibson & Jason Issacs, “The Patriot”
1  Hugh Jackman, “X-Men”
.   Catherine Zeta-Jones, “Traffic”
1  Denzel Washington, Ryan Hurst and Wood Harris, “Remember The Titans”
1  Juilette Binoche & Judi Dench “Chocolat”
1  Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Connelly and Jared Leto, “Requiem For A Dream”
1 Sandra Bullock, “Miss Congeniality”
      Michael Douglas, “The Wonder Boys”
   Geoffrey Rush & Kate Winslet, “Quills”


   I sincerely hope you enjoyed this first piece. Hope to see you back in week for my look at 2001.

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