The 2000's: A Retrospect
Part II of X
If you are tuning in for the first time, I am taking a look back at the 2000's, the decade of film that transformed me into the cinephile you see before you. For a more in depth look at why I chose to do this now, please click this link. Let's move onto the next year!
This, of course, was the year 9/11 occurred. While Hollywood didn't start making movies abotu the subject until muich later in the decade, there is no denying that 9/11 was a defining moment of the decade. It affected not just the entire country, not even the entire world, but it affected the industry. Although meaning did pour out this year in unexpected ways, either by accident or not.
This is not just the best film of 2001. Its not just the best film of the decade overall. Oh no. "Memento" is quickly becoming one of my very favorite films of all time, a testament and masterpiece for the ages. Sure, people like to say that Christopher Nolan's masterpiece is "The Dark Knight" or "Inception," but neither of those films can touch the power "Memento" has every time I watch it. I don't know what Warner Brothers saw in this that warranted them to hire Nolan for Batman, but I am sure glad it happened. A man is on a hunt for a killer who raped and murdered his wife. It turns out though that on the night of the attack, he was hurt. The man has short term memory loss and cannot make new memories. So on his way for revenge, he constantly has to take pictures, cover himself in tattoos and write a long essay of notes. This may seem like a more clever-than-usual mystery, and when you hear about the "gimmick" that's attached to the film, you may not believe in this film's power. But the movie moves backwards for a reason, it leads to a heart-crushing crescendo of an ending, that always punches me in the heart. Every time I watch it. So many revenge movies are so straightforward, so clear-cut that you can teleplay them from the start. "Memento" makes you feel its going to play by those rules, but by the end its made up its own rules. Its slick, but original and utterly transcendent.
2. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
A tremendous celebration of filmmaking, that thankfully, still holds up today. This is (along with the other two films in the trilogy) created a new, vital life in the fantasy genre. How did Peter Jackson managed to pull this off? He made Middle Earth real. He treated his characters with respect and filled them with humanity. He made this rather silly fantasy story feel like it was pulled from our history, just like Tolken did. This trilogy is proof that there is no such thing as a bad idea for a movie, its all in the execution of your story. How you go about telling it. Another reason why this hit me so hard was that it came out mere months after 9/11, and even though I was in grade school at the time, the idea of seeing the most unlikely of heroes march off out of their comfort zone to save the world, to stand against a great and pure evil. That even the most insignificant of us can be real heroes. It was a message I really needed at the time, and clearly the rest of us did too.
3. Vanilla Sky
Proof that not all remakes are just big pieces of crap. Originally from the country of Spain, and also originally starring Penelope Cruz, "Vanilla Sky" truly soars. Yes, its another brain-teaser, but much like "Memento," it proves more and more fun to play every time you watch it. It also helps that Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz seem more alive than at any other point in their careers up to this point. It also helps that the movie remains engaging from start to finish. It also helps that its a movie that completely embraces its themes without restraint. "Vanilla Sky" will be something I study for many years from now, and something that feels riveting.
4. Mulholland Drive
The year 2001 was for some reason, a big year for mind-fucking mysteries, as four made my top ten. This one though, if you can watch it once and successfully figure out what happened, I've got a $100.00 check to mail you. David Lynch proved in 2001 that he is the master of the puzzle, and created something truly adventurous. When an actress is threatened at gunpoint in her own limo, a car crash saves her from bullets, but she gains amnesia. When a Hollywood hopeful comes into her life, the two girls bond, and they try to figure out the actresses past and why someone would want her dead. As the movie wears on, there may not have been a murder requested, and there may not be any mystery at all. That's for you to decide though, I am not here to give everything away. I do usually hate putting films that aren't for everyone on these lists, but in this case, I had no choice. "Mulholland Drive" is a strange contact-high of a movie, and its a game I still love to play today. This is the Mount Everest of movies though, its for those who buy the ticket and take the ride. Nothing here is cookie-cutter. Nothing here is spoon fed to you. If you allow the movie to wash over you, you just may love the experience.
5. Black Hawk Down
I've heard even the sternest of this film's dissenters that its a battle scene without a movie. I wholeheartedly disagree. There is a story here, and its not just a highlight of the horrors of warfare or the study of what happens when a military leader overplays their hand, those points just drive the bigger picture. The bigger picture here is that dedication is the driving force behind the actions of the men and women in our armed forces. There are so many conversations throughout this movie that highlight that point, scenes in the movie that parallel that point. Our military defends our freedoms over and over again because they are that dedicated to that cause. They aren't trying to be heroes, just mere protectors. They are dedicated to each other, and they will do anything for each other. Its a movie that tries to make the same points most military movies do, but this film drops the usual cheesy monologues and crappy dialogue and shows us that even in the worst of situations, hope and dedication flourish.
6. Moulin Rouge!
I'm going to be completely honest. I saw this in my high school French class in 2006, as a sophomore. I had totally written it off when it was released because it didn't look like something I'd like. Even as the film started, with it being a musical featuring billboard charting hits. It all seemed so strange. As I continued to open my mind to it, something chemical was happening inside. I was totally drawn into this weird world of modern music, set in a time that wasn't even close to when those songs were originally written, the characters created a wonderful storyline. I totally got lost in it, even in the romantic parts. Further proof that execution is the key to the success or failure of any movie.
7. The Royal Tenenbaums
Sometimes it may not seem like Wes Anderson makes comedies. He does, but as one film critic once said a long time ago, "Wes Anderson just likes to laugh when people are hurting." This is just as strange and just as fascinating as anything Wes Anderson has ever made, and I think here he cemented his own unique style that he would use the rest of his career. All of his usual casuals are here, and they all throw in great work, creating this bruised dysfunctional family to see off a father they may or may not be that close with. Anderson milks everything he can out of it, and the final product is something funny and memorable.
I've heard many people say that this is the worst animated work of 2001. That it wasn't going to age well. That it had too many pop culture references in it. That it was too cute. I've heard several insult after insult and as I rewatch "Shrek," I still am puzzled in figuring out where the problem is. This is a clever little take on the whole Fairy Tale Shared Universe gimmick that has assimilated itself into our storytelling these days. The voice work here is all top-notch and I think the film overall has aged wonderfully. Screw the haters!
9. Training Day
Yep, its true. I liked it that much. I still do. I love most police procedurals, and when they are as awesome and ass-kicking as this, its nearly impossible for me to resist. What makes "Training Day" a continual treat is the powerful work done by Denzel Washington. A man who usually evokes inspiration and admiration completely tarnishes his reputation in the best possible way. He is an electrifying villain in this, and just watching him throw down is reason enough to see this.
10. Donnie Darko
This was the film that introduced me to Jake Gyllenhaal. As I watched this film and as I continue to watch it, I always new he was going to do something big with his career. Sure enough, it came true. Sometimes, a love for a film can materialize from one performance, and in this case, that revolves around the incredible work by Gyllenhaal, who made a bold statement here. What's even better though is that this film is filled with other little treasures to consume.
There are many people who say that when Johnny Depp isn't playing a strange character, that he comes off bored. Sometimes I find myself agreeing with that sentiment. Then I look at his work here or in something like "Public Enemies" and I am left wondering what really makes Depp tick. Perhaps he is just guided towards certain things at a certain time. Perhaps he had so much fun on "Donnie Brasco" in 1998 that he wanted to return to the crime genre. Whatever the case may be, "Blow" is a better-than-average crime thriller that is led perfectly by Mr. Depp, leading a stellar cast into some equally strong work.
2. Monster's Inc.
Not the most revolutionizing or thought-provoking of the Pixar films, but definitely a sweet and sentimental film that has tugged on my heart strings the more I've watched it. The voice work by Billy Crystal and John Goodman is overtly superb. The effects are quite brilliant for their time and the idea is definitely a fun one.
3. The Others
We don't get too many slow burn horror films these days. We don't get too many engrossing haunted house fables these days either. We certainly don't get too many horror movies that force their audiences to chew on what they just saw for days and days. "The Others" was a movie I would come to appreciate over time. Something I was constantly drawn to over and over again. Its not just the haunted work done by Nicole Kidman or those creepy kids. Its a movie where the ending justifies the entire movie. But this is something that is truly disturbing, its a different kind of horror. It doesn't rely on the cheap stuff to get a good scare out of you. Sometimes the best stuff is birthed from great atmosphere, which this film is overloaded with.
4. Enemy At The Gates
As epic and as daunting as any war movie. It was different in a very good way to see World War II from a completely different side. The Russian side. They weren't attacked like we were, they weren't drawn into conflict based on a need to avenge. The story of the best Russian sniper is handled not as the average war film, not as some kind of pointless action film. But as a character study one someone who is drawn to an impossible task and begins to cement a reputation that will cast its signature on the rest of that person's life.
5. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion
A much different film from the typical Woody Allen. Its not existential. Its not filled with nihilistic philosophy. Sure, he keeps the usual cheating and divorce, but that's okay. "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" is a silly screwball comedy. Filled with rich scenery and costumes of the late 1930's and it gave the best performance of her entire career. Dan Aykroyd was just an added bonus. I love mystery comedies with a heated passion, and Allen did stellar work here.
Worst of 2001
Every once in awhile, there is a massive vanity project of a movie created by a singer or some other celebrity who is sick of their day job and thinks that just because they are themselves, they can make it in the movie business. I don't get what Mariah Carey's thought process was here, but I am glad she didn't become some big league in the business after this. That's something I don't think I could have truly stomached.
2. Planet of the Apes
We've all said it before, why remake something that didn't need to be remade? Why take Tim Burton completely out of his comfort zone and force him to make a piece of Hollywood fluff with none of his usual ticks and styles? Why throw in Mark Wahlberg creating a character for no other reason than a paycheck? Why throw away everything that made the first film so fascinating? I don't know whose trainwreck this was, I am just glad Tim Burton didn't start pumping out new films on a annual basis.
3. Freddy Got Fingered
Let's face it. Tom Green was never really that funny. This film is proof of how unfunny he truly was and that you can't just coast on vulgarity and disgust to make a great movie. It takes inspiration and even a little storytelling.
4. Pearl Harbor
One of the most horrific moments in our country's history, and the memory of that fateful day is sidelined for a half-assed love story and love triangle we couldn't give a shit about. Ben Affleck was still in his Dark Age when this came out, so his participation was a given. I am still shocked by what people like Alec Baldwin, Michael Shannon, Cuba Gooding Jr, Kate Beckinsale, Jennifer Garner and Josh Hartnett all saw in this. Did they honestly think they were making a movie that honored those who died on that day? This movie isn't about them. Michael Bay made a love story, and the message was an afterthought. He pumped this historical drama into action movie proportions. Wrong move, Bay. Wrong move.
5. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Take a popular video game franchise. Decide to turn it into a movie. Not just any movie, but a cool-as-hell, computer generated animated movie. Completely disregard what made the source material the source material and there is your adaptation. Nothing about this film has anything to do with the "Final Fantasy" games, the similarities are pretty much nonexistent. Its a big action movie with product placement slapped on the front of it. Too bad the movie wasn't entertaining in the first place, then maybe I would have been inclined to give a shit.
6. Cats and Dogs
This is a given. Honestly, what the fuck was this?
7. The Animal
As I reflect more and more on the 2000's, I am plagued by one mere question. Why did Rob Schneider make so much stupid shit this decade?
8. The One
The idea of a multiverse was always intriguing to me, simply because I was such a comic fan growing up. The idea of a person going universe to universe, killing the versions of himself in order to retain power seems like a cool premise for an action movie. Sadly, Jet Li and his team suck any potential and life out of this idea. The thrills weren't thrilling. The action wasn't that cool. The dialogue was stiff and stupid. Jet Li really isn't much of an actor, he's a stunt coordinator that has just a smidgen of charisma. Sadly, these kung-fu vehicles were on the rise during this time, and theater audiences were all the poorer for it.
9. American Outlaws
Wow, somebody managed to make the story of Jesse James uninteresting.
10. Tomb Raider
Wow, somebody made a good-looking Angelina Jolie unintereting.
Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Ian McKellen and Viggo Mortensen, "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring."
Joe Pantoliano, Guy Pierce and Carrie-Ann Moss, "Memento"
Naomi Watts and Laura Harring, "Mulholland Drive"
Paul Rudd, "Wet, Hot American Summer"
The Entire Cast of "Ocean's Eleven"
Ben Stiller, "Zoolander"
Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, "Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone"
Nicole Kidman, "Moulin Rouge!" & "The Others"
Ben Kingsley, "Sexy Beast"
The Broken Lizard, "Super Troopers"
Jude Law and Ed Harris, "Enemy At The Gates"
Helen Hunt, "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion"
Johnny Depp, "Blow"
Jake Gyllenhaal, "Donnie Darko"
Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz and Kurt Russell, "Vanilla Sky"
Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana and Ewan McGregor, "Black Hawk Down"
Denzel Washington, "Training Day"
Christian Clavier, "Just Visiting"
Paul Bettany, "A Knight's Tale"
Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith, "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back"
Kevin Spacey, "K-PAX"
Halle Berry, "Monster's Ball"
Sissy Spacek, "In The Bedroom"
Hope you enjoyed this installment. See you next week for 2002!