Newest Review: ... should therefore be an 'easy watch,' which do in fact scare me when thought about. The scene in which all of Jupiter's moons a... more
2001: A Film Odyssey?
Member Name: TJ-Mackey
Date: 28/01/02, updated on 28/01/02 (77 review reads)
Advantages: Pleasant surprises, interesting selection of movies
Disadvantages: Hollywood disappointments
I had to go all the way back to January to find a few of the choices for my top ten, but this may have been down to me missing a lot of the well-praised movies of the year ('Amelie' and 'Ghost World' for starters). As has been noted elsewhere, it's quite difficult to compile a list of the best films of the year when you haven't actually seen every film released!
However, as well as missing some good movies, I was also subjected to the Hollywood disappointments of the summer, of which 'Pearl Harbour' was by no means the worst. Thankfully, there were a number of movies that I did enjoy, although it should come as no surprise when I tell you that 'Lara Croft: Tomb Raider', 'The Mummy Returns' and the shockingly bad 'The Gift' won't be featuring in my list.
Still, there definitely were some bright spots to the year, and with a few great movies among them, there's plenty to write home about.
10. BEST IN SHOW
A comedy about a national dog show perhaps isn't the strongest premise for a movie, even less so for an enjoyable one. However, writer/director Christopher Guest (previously responsible for rock-spoof, 'This is Spinal Tap') employs a mockumentary style that elicits laughter in a subtle and effective manner.
Centring on the increasingly eccentric owners of five of the competing dogs, we are treated to some of the funniest improvisation and character work I've seen in a while, and Guest employs it perfectly. There are plenty of quotable lines, with perhaps the best scenes going to the ludicrously out-of-place commentator Fred Willard, who deals non-sequiturs like there's no tomorrow. Perhaps what's most surprising is how co- commentator Jim Piddock mana
ges to keep a straight face.
Of the actual contestants, the best performances come from Eugene Levy as Gerry Fleck, a Terrier owner with two left feet, and from Guest himself as Harlan Pepper, a Bloodhound owner with a talent for ventriloquism and "naming nuts". However, the real winner here is the witty and hilarious writing.
9. THIRTEEN DAYS
It's not entirely surprising that '13 Days' didn't do that well at the UK box office - after all, from the trailer it appeared to be about a load of politicians shouting at each other, and the added 'bonus' of Kevin Costner probably condemned it before it had even opened. Remarkably though, this is Costner's best film for years, and despite the slow moving on-screen action, the obvious tension surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis is more than enough to keep the pace at an energetic level. Roger Donaldson directs the tension superbly, and for those who have seen his little-known thriller 'No Way Out', this will come as no surprise.
That we know the ultimate outcome of the crisis is inconsequential; in fact, it goes to show just how well the screenplay has been developed. You'll be rooting for the situation to end peacefully, and you'll also see quite how difficult a position John and Robert Kennedy were put in for those tense thirteen days, as the threat of nuclear war grew ever more likely.
8. THE PLEDGE
What starts out as an apparently simple story - a retiring cop promises the parents of a murdered girl that he will find her killer - slowly descends into something altogether more complex and disturbing. Despite the somewhat clichéd premise, it's about the only thing that is predictable in this movie, with the ending in particular being far from your typical Hollywood resolution. And of course, that's part of what makes it so good.
As director, Sean Penn is very impressive, but the standout (possibly ca
reer-best) performance from Jack Nicholson is what sticks in the mind the longest. How he hasn't been showered with awards is beyond me, and if the Academy makes one surprise decision this year, I hope it'll be to at least nominate Nicholson for an Oscar. His portrayal of anger, determination and ultimate obsession makes for thoroughly compelling viewing, and not until the very end are the importance of the opening shots made clear.
This is a film that many won't appreciate, but for those who enjoy challenging cinema, it's one of the year's best.
7. THE OTHERS
Definitely the surprise hit of the year, this low budget traditional ghost story grossed almost $100 million at the US box-office, and more than £10 million here in the UK. Without doubt, the highlight of the movie is the outstanding Nicole Kidman - yes, she's even better than her turn in 'Moulin Rouge' (which will certainly win her more awards).
Kidman's utterly believable performance here is helped by the masterful direction from Alejandro Amenábar, who makes the tricky art of building tension and atmosphere look easy. The story itself is uncomplicated enough; it's essentially about a mother and her children, who gradually discover the huge house they live in is haunted by ghosts. Don't worry though, it's anything but formulaic.
6. THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE
Although it took me ages in getting around to watching this film, I'm glad I did in the end. A Coen Brothers' production is normally a must-see for me now - they're two of the most consistent American filmmakers working today.
What strikes you first about 'The Man Who Wasn't There' is the quite brilliant black-and-white cinematography by Roger Deakins (who also, coincidentally, shot 'Thirteen Days'). Combined with the wonderful lighting set-up (Joel Coen clearly knows what he's doing there), the film is a jo
y to watch, and that's before you even consider the central performance from Billy Bob Thornton, and the film-noir inspired plot that involves murder, blackmail and flying saucers.
It's a little strange in places, but the typical Coen Brothers' humour is excellent, mainly when delivered in a dry, deadpan voiceover by Thornton, although special mention must also go to Tony Shalhoub. In a brilliant supporting performance, he plays probably the only lawyer to ever use the Heisenburg Uncertainty Principle as a defence for murder. Not quite up to the standard of their greatest movies ('The Big Lebowski' is one of my favourites), but definitely one of the best of the year.
5. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING
Does it really need any introduction? While I wasn't as overwhelmed with this adaptation as many people clearly were, I do recognise its obvious winning credentials. The overall look and feel of the movie is outstanding, with some marvellous location shoots recreating the depth and beauty of Middle Earth perfectly. The performances are good too, with the major actors seemingly well suited to their characters. Peter Jackson's direction is also effective, working from a screenplay that was nothing if not brave - after all, bringing Tolkien's massive work to the screen was never going to be easy.
And that's really the only problem with the film. In trying to cover so much story, and filling in so much exposition, there was always going to be something missed out. Unfortunately, it's the depth of the characters that is sacrificed, with most simply becoming caricatures that further the plot with little or no explanation. Of course, with this being the first of three films, I would hope these thinly developed characters would be fleshed out more in the next instalment.
This is, however, my only major criticism of the movie, and besides, it's more of an event than a film
, anyway - you just have to see it, especially if you've read the book.
Whilst the original television mini-series was arguably better, mainly due to the longer running time, this movie adaptation is nevertheless worthy of high praise. Steven Soderbergh picked up a Best Director Oscar for his work here, but perhaps more interesting is his cinematography credit. Following three stories along different points of the drug supply chain, a distinct method is employed for filming each one. The sepia-toned vision of Mexico's front-line contrasts starkly with the blue-washed images of Washington as a government-appointed drug czar fights the narcotics trade at home and abroad.
The casting, and therefore acting, is virtually flawless. Benicio Del Toro won all the plaudits, but the performances of Don Cheadle, Miguel Ferrer and Catherine Zeta Jones are also impressive. The real star though, is Soderbergh. Like the series before it, 'Traffic' gives an honest and unflinching look at drug use, and pulls no punches when showing just how difficult it is to stop the illegal trade. Because of this, it isn't an easy film to watch, but I still recommend it for anyone who can appreciate good filmmaking.
This is Soderbergh's best movie so far.
3. ALMOST FAMOUS
Easily one of the best and most enjoyable feel-good movies of the year. Cameron Crowe writes and directs this story of young William Miller (Patrick Fugit) as he goes on tour with a rock group and on the way discovers as much about himself as the people he is following. The soundtrack is excellent, the acting universally impressive, and the writing thoroughly entertaining. One thing is certain: it would be very hard not to like 'Almost Famous'.
The characters are interesting and funny: Frances McDormand is brilliant as William's overprotecting mother; Kate Hudson shines whenever she's on the screen as a groupie who fol
lows the band everywhere; Philip Seymour Hoffman (in a very small role) is perfect as music critic Lester Bangs; and Billy Crudup gives a complex and subtle performance as Russell Hammond, the band's lead guitarist. Cameron Crowe shows, as he did in 'Jerry Maguire' and 'Vanilla Sky', that he is more than capable of bringing out the best in his actors, and he can also bring together a likeable and appropriate soundtrack.
'Almost Famous' is undeniably a feel-good movie, but that's one of its biggest strengths.
2. CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON
It's pretty unusual for a foreign, subtitled movie to be successful at the box-office. 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' took more than $120 million in the US alone, and for good reason. The film contains examples of beautiful cinematography, stunning martial arts choreography, and a rousing musical score from Oscar-winner Tan Dun. The story itself concerns the long-standing love between warrior Li Mu Bai (Yun-Fat Chow) and Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), against a backdrop of the theft and subsequent search for a mythical and powerful sword.
Most of note in the film are the remarkable sword-fight sequences, in which the warriors defy gravity while flying across rooftops, standing on slender tree branches and climbing walls in a single bound. The best of these though is the heated confrontation between Shu Lien and Jen (Zhang Ziyi) in a weapon-filled dojo, and it's here that Wo Ping Yuen's inspired fight choreography really comes to the fore.
This isn't simply a martial-arts movie, though. There's also a much deeper current running through the story, and the thought-provoking ending is one of the most poignant of recent memory.
1. MOULIN ROUGE
"Spectacular! Spectacular!" shout several of the characters in this movie, and that's exactly what Baz Lurhmann's colourful musical is, as well as being
my Film of the Year. Following aspiring writer Ewan McGregor on his exploration of the bohemian nightlife of turn-of-the-century Paris, Lurhmann directs the action with a flourish. Fast cuts, spectacular music sequences, and some wonderful costume and set-design set this movie out from the crowd. Nicole Kidman is simply the icing on the cake, and even though diamonds are her best friend, she manages to sparkle all on her own.
The story itself is actually the least special thing about 'Moulin Rouge', but somehow that doesn't really matter. You won't be worrying about plot while the pace is kept so fast, and with the music and set pieces coming thick and fast, the picture draws you in until you're truly involved. Admittedly, it does become rather slow in the final act, but that's forgivable when the director is audacious enough to provide re-workings of modern pop-songs that surprisingly fit the setting. Madonna's 'Like a Virgin' is used as a sales pitch, Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' is chanted by an enthusiastic crowd, and to top it all, 'Roxanne' by The Police is adapted into a tango that intersects a crucial turn in the story. Baz Lurhmann certainly doesn't do things by halves.
I resisted seeing 'Moulin Rouge' at the cinema because I thought it wasn't going to be my type of film. Therefore, I was very surprised by quite how much I enjoyed it when watching the DVD. If you can still catch it on the big screen (a few cinemas are still showing it), I'd highly recommend doing so, although seeing the movie at all is a must. Spectacular.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
So there we are, then - my top ten films of 2001. I'm sure plenty of you will disagree with my choices, or my failure to include certain films that you enjoyed. But hey, we can't all like the same things, huh? Do let me know in the comments section though, as I'll be interested to see which
of the films I missed are worth watching once they arrive on DVD.