Top Ten Films Of 2001
With Mulholland Drive, David Lynch has reached a new emotional level, and developed a tenderness that was lacking in many of his other films. The relative convention of the first section of the story (linear storyline, accessible characters, nobody smearing lipstick all over their face) seemed to throw some viewers off when confronted with the fragmented and nightmarish last 45 minutes. Multiple viewings help. Many of the themes Lynch attempts to break open in Lost Highway (unsuccessfully) and Blue Velvet (usually successfully) crop up again here -- dreams of a new identity, lost love, betrayal, the slow agonizing death of ideals, and the exploration of identity and transformation through split characters -- making it kind of like David Lynch's Greatest Hits, but the end result is more cohesive, evocative, and just plain beautiful than his earlier attempts. Also has some outstanding love/sex scenes -- rarely do films manage to make two characters' almost immediate passion for each other convincing. This one does.
The perfect antidote for Bring It On. Terry Zwigoff's second feature tells the teen malcontent story like it is. This film also remembers that a lot about being an 18 year old is that you are really bored a lot of the time, but makes watching the 18 year olds somehow not boring, and also deeply hilarious.
In the Mood For Love
A film about a tension that its two main characters (whose unseen spouses are having an affair) usually seem unaware of, In the Mood For Love is more about what doesn't happen than what does. Maggie Cheung's outfits and physical manners evoke a Hong Kong that I suspect no longer exists, and helped me understand just exactly why the two cuckolded spouses never have the kind of relationship that they would in a U.S. film. Oh, what might have been.
The Royal Tenenbaums
Not as good as Rushmore, I guess, but pretty much whatever Wes Anderson puts out in a given year is going to wind up on a list like this. Family dysfunction that takes its lead from the opening sentence of Anna Karenina. The way that Gene Hackman, as the son-of-a-bitch (but not asshole) patriarch, delivers lines that shift from ingratiating and sincere to mean and vengeful in seconds. This film's greatest strength might be design. New York never looked so simultaneously "modern" (as in The Modern Age) and a shamble of crumbling decay. The interiors of the Tenenbaum house are just spectacular*, particularly the Game Closet, the inside of the tent, and Ben Stiller's childhood bedroom. Also Gwyneth Paltrow (!) was hilarious with her poor little secret cigarettes and droopy eyes. The montage of her numerous sexual indiscretions with "Judy Is A Punk" on the soundtrack was a moment of gloriousness.
The Man Who Wasn't There
Is there anyone who isn't a fan of the Coen Brothers? I sure as hell am. I think this film is best thought of as a portrait of a man who is stuck, and the quiet, hardly perceptible desperation with which he tries to bring about change. Like David Lynch, the Coen Brothers are not really known for their emotional depth, but this film is a totally different story. Heartbreak and devastation. Maybe someday some clever director won't make Billy Bob Thornton wear a wig.
Almost didn't make this list, but I'm going to commit to you, Moulin Rouge, and give you the love you deserve. Was the first 20 minutes too much to take? Oh, poor little movie-goers, feeling all over stimulated and icky. This movie was a cardio-vascular workout, it was over the top and ridiculous, it was more surprising and took more chances than anything else I've seen all year. It included Nicole Kidman singing "Gorecki" by Lamb, and also music from The Sweet. Even my cold dead stone of a heart was glowing.
This did come out in 2001, remember? Maybe now Guy Pearce will get some more attention from Hollywood -- what does this guy need to do?! Sliding into the logic of this movie, and finding the humor in Leonard's bottomless lack of self-knowledge was pure pleasure. This movie seems to either make you feel really smart or really stupid. The unreliable narrator is one of my favorite devices -- Memento pulled the rug out from under us so many times, we started to kind of like it.
Lord of the Rings
Beautiful to look at, and could anybody not get caught up in the Epic Struggle of Good and Evil? This film was just so adorable, kind of like Fried Green Tomatoes for boys. Lots of bonding, hugging, supporting of each other -- so cute. Not sure if it really deserves to be on this list, as I can't think of anything else to say about it.
Jim McKay was one to watch after Girls Town, which pretty much blew everybody away, though made the mistake of casting people like Lili Taylor in the role of a pregnant teenage foul-mouthed city girl. I mean, there are real teenagers out there, many of them excellent actors. He came through all the way in Our Song, which again focuses on three high school girls, this time living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, who face the end of a summer, after which they will attend different high schools. The girls are starting to drift apart. The futures that they all see (or don't see) for themselves are echoed in many of the other women living in their housing project. Kerry Washington has some scenes with each of her parents that are as good as anything you will ever see. She's in a few movies coming out in 2002 -- hopefully somebody has made good use of her after McKay recognized what she could do.
In The Bedroom
Way too many critics gave away several of this movie's plot points, but the hallmark of a good movie is that it doesn't matter. In The Bedroom should maybe be the film that screenwriting students watch when they study a unit in character development. First you think it's about one thing, then you think it's about another thing, and then you realize it's about another thing. I was blown away by how creepy a movie could be about more typically cuddly themes like the things that define a relationship and what holds a marriage together. Plus it totally made me want to move to Maine. The brief montage that sets the scene in the Old Orchard Beach section was so dead on, Todd Field obviously loves the half of each year he lives up in Maine with his family.
The Australians are taking over the world. The interconnectedness of the characters' lives in Lantana makes it seem like it's going to be a P.T. Anderson rip-off (which wouldn't be so bad, really) but instead, this movie goes really, really deep, instead of broad. If nobody else but Anthony LaPaglia was even in this one, it would probably still be on this list. His creation of a character who is miserable in every single aspect of his life, yet seems somehow unaware of it, is so layered and nuanced, let's hope he never has to do another cop movie in Hollywood. Wait, but he plays a cop in this movie too. Anyway, this film seems to be about what can happen when we aren't careful with each other, when we don't take some care with the people that we ostensibly love.
OK, so there are 11. What are you going to do?
* My good old friend ADM first pointed out to me that his favorite part of TRT was the set design. Thanks for your insights, ADM.
**Amy wanted me to tell you that she saw Gosford Park, and it bumps Lantana off the list. -ADM
Get ready for airport security screeners' new military-like uniforms.
Paul Lukas: pretty much a genius. His book Inconspicuous Consumption, though I have not actually read it, is a must-read for anyone who is simultaneously repelled by and perversely seduced by the marketing and packaging of consumer products. And.... he has a website! Most recent entry discusses the word "blastin'" in product names.
Watched: Well, frickin Disney pulled The Job so they could show a new show instead, which left me high and dry. But, Greg the Bunny was premiering on Fox, so I figured I'd check that out. Roger Rabbit, except with puppets, is the premise, according to Seth Green. My verdict on the first 8 minutes of Greg the Bunny: not funny. Amy watched all 23 minutes and thought it was funny, though, so maybe she'll comment on it later. The jokes I saw were sophomoric. Jokes about puppets drinking too much and doing drugs are only funny once, and that once was like 10 years ago. The idea for the show is good, though, so maybe it'll get better.
Oh yeah, we had a bomb threat at work today.
Tuesday's TV; Wednesday's ecstatic blogging. Since 24 has already jumped the shark, why not include bloody stabbing scenes? Why not introduce random characters like the poor man's Courtney Love? [actually, Courtney Love herself has kind of become the poor man's Courtney Love lately.] It may not be good art, but it's all good television.
And The Osbournes. They are so magnificent. In combatting their new horrific neighbors, who actually sit in their garden late at night and loudly sing "My Girl" and "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands" with acoustic guitars, Sharon and Ozzy throw a bagel, a rotten ham, cat droppings, and a log at their house.
Finally, some explanation of those weird vaguely sexy oral cancer PSA ads that are all over the subway. Turns out that featuring hot young women in your ads automatically makes them more successful, even if the message you are trying to send has nothing to do with hot young women. Huh. How 'bout that.
The results of the WWF draft are in. They split up the Dudleys.
In Canada, cyborgs are suing airlines for infringing on their civil rights.
If you want to puke, read this.
Watched: Ok, so the Oscars. Salon has a piece about how it was all about how Hollywood pretended for a night that it wasn't racist. That pretty much sums it up for me. It's nice to see Halle and Denzel get recognized, even if for the wrong movies. (Halle probably hasn't yet made the movie she'll deserve the award for.)
More lightly, highlights for me were:
The highlight of the Oscars was probably the award given for best short documentary to a film about Thoth, a violinist performance artist freak who speaks in his own mythical language and cavorts around city parks in a loincloth.
Article in Salon about fat kids, and the ongoing "fat is beautiful" vs. "fat is unhealthy and gross" debate in this country. Meanwhile, the American youth of today seem to have a life of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, and all the other health problems associated with fat to look forward to.
One more reason to watch the Oscars at Amy's instead of my house: Robert Altman is directing promos for the E! channel, which will debut Oscar night.
Read: On the heels of Ted Koppel's almost-ouster from ABC, Maryland Public Television fired Louis Rukeyser, who has hosted "Wall Street Week" for 32 years.
Read: Disgraced former DC mayor Marion Barry's Oscar picks. Actually, way more sensible than you'd think.
Read: Wow, since 9/11, airlines have to provide extra security when Salman Rushdie is on board.
Read: NYT describes how bars and convenience shops are using scanners to read the magnetic strip on your driver's license, store that info in a database, and use it to track and market to you. Scary.
Yeah so 24 REALLY WAS the worst ever. It contained every cliche cliffhanger device there is, including an actual cliffhanger. GIVE ME A BREAK! It is getting harder and harder to justify watching it. It's all about sunk cost now. At least Andy Richter Controls the Universe was ok (spoilers!). And I played a lot of Syphon Filter. I'm in the catacombs now, for real.
It looks like every Wednesday might contain a post claiming the night before's episode of 24 REALLY WAS the worst ever. The car becoming unstable, sliding down the mountain side, then exploding was the perfect meta-statement about the state of this show. And what a lot of people are getting amnesia while on Mulholland Drive these days.
Sebastian Bach: giving it to the man in New Jersey. Youth Gone Wild!
Read: NYT has a piece about aluminum vs. wooden bats. And here's this list of the most frequently stolen cars. Also on cars, NYC was going to release all the WTC cars today...until it turned out they are all still covered with asbestos.
I've gone back and forth on this one, and just cannot figure out if vegetarians would be able to eat strawberries with fish genes in them. Either way, it's weird.
Read: Finally some news about the next Tarantino movie, Kill Bill.
On April 18, Frontline is going to do an episode about the Meat Industry. I just cannot wait for this one.
Um, hi, ADM? Yeah hi. It's Amy, your blogging partner. I believe that if you do your research you will find that Baz Luhrmann first rose to prominence with the quirky dancing film Strictly Ballroom, and also with the quirky modernized, stylized remake of Romeo + Juliet. Before the "Sunscreen" tune. And don't steal my posts.
Read: Amy hasn't posted it yet, so here's an NYT article re Baz Luhrmann's ("Moulin Rouge", "Romeo + Juliet") effort to turn La Boheme into an English-language Broadway musical. I hate musicals, but I like Amy. Don't forget Luhrmann first rose to prominence producing that "Everybody Wear Sunscreen" song.
Read: Could it be the same comet seen by the samurai lords?
Wipe your ass with bin Laden toilet paper. It's the American thing to do! Order some. What strikes me about this article is how people seriously seem to find this an effective way of dealing with their anger and getting revenge.
The latest in a long history of US TV stations appropriating UK game shows and making their own versions of them, (Whose Line Is It Anyway?, etc.) is Never Mind The Buzzcocks, which VH1 has started producing over here. The UK version features 50's throwback Mark Lamarr as host, (who in the mid-90's was a regular on what was probably the best UK game show ever, Shooting Stars [Ulrika-ka-ka-ka!]) and has guests like Captain Sensible, whereas the new US version has host Marc Maron and such American luminaries as David Cross as guests. So far, it seems like the US version of NMTB is actually pretty successful. This is probably the most thought and work I have ever devoted to game shows in my life. Curse you, blog!
Well, it took him 10 years, but someone finally invented a rubber-band machine gun. You can get your own for $400.
Dog Incontinence: It's a challenge many of us have faced, and last night, MTV allowed the viewing public to approach it through the experiences of The Osbournes. "Lola's shitting aliens," quipped Sharon Osbourne, and Lola the boxer just shlumped down on the Mexican tile floor and started eating the sofa cushion. The family was also joined this week by Elijah Wood, former star of appallingly bad movies, and pal of the O children.
Watched: 24, the most manipulative show on television. Wow, they just don't quit. Loved the Mr. Clark-like special guest star, hated the pregnancy stuff, loved 1/2 of the "meet your husband's mistress" scene. Plus, teenage daughter issues her continual psychic refrain: "BUT HE'S MY TEENAGE BOYFRIEND!!". Maybe the worse episode ever, except for Mr Clark and some of the Kiefer stuff.
Here's a piece from Salon about Amy's friend Bill Hicks.
And, it turns out you can store deadly chemicals in Chicago's subway system, at least for a while. Much cheaper than storage in RI, where I keep my stuff.
3/11/02: It was sad and beautiful.
Came across this FAQ about doing time in a federal penitentiary while looking up some information for a friend. Clears up some things I had been wondering about.
Read: Lengthy article in the NYT re lingering post-traumatic stress among NY'ers since 9/11 (free login req'd). Less consequentially, here's an article about how Letterman would get a better "lead-in" on ABC than CBS, based on the theory that "saucer-eyed zombies" will watch whatever comes on next. Apart from the Letterman angle, the story is interesting b/c it talks about previous lessons learned in programming.
With the International Jet-Setter and Club Promoter Mr. Lava on my arm, I attended the Saturday Night Rampage at Mehanata B.C. in Chinatown. Sweaty, frenzied Russians, Eurotrash, Eastern European folk music, and lots of group male dancing. Later, a short walk through Soho brought us to the legendary moddish Tiswas night at Don Hill's. After extensive shopping at H&M earlier in the day, we were sleek and gorgeous. No TV or books or websites or newspapers viewed this weekend, just unlimited champagne brunches and honey massages administered by Nepalese maidens.
Watched: As part of my "Naked People on Community TV" project (which is in pre-production), I saw Spic N Spanish on Friday, and Dominican USA on Saturday. Both of these shows are pretty raw...they usually feature camcordered-footage of wild birthday/bachelor/divorce parties. I've seen full-frontal on both of them. This week, Spic N Spanish ("Jesse's Birthday Party") was way wilder.
The hands-down funniest thing on TV now is The Osbournes, MTV's new day-to-day documentary of the Ozzy Osbourne family. Ozzy pretends to eat cats and everything.
Actually did not watch any television at all last night, but did listen to "Candy" by Mandy Moore, you can listen to a karaoke version of it here, and sing just like Mandy.
Jersey sheets are the best things in the world. I need to get one of those egg-carton mattress pads to make my bed even cozier. I guess people can't really offer suggestions on where to buy one through a blog. Hmmph.
Watched: X-Files from Season 3. It's the one where they disinter the remains of an Ecuadoran Amaru medicine woman and consequently a jaguar starts eating everyone in Boston. Not very good. Then, Conan, then The Distinguished Gentleman on TNT, starring Eddie Murphy. Mixed in: Fletch 2 on TBS (as always).
Played: Syphon Filter. Got out of the Expo level, am now in the Dinosaur Hall.
Amy's Robot is a blog that is mainly about entertainment, media, politics, and culture, all with something of a New York slant.
Amy and ADM co-founded this site in March 2002. Two years later, Emily joined us, and ADM shifted his focus to behind-the-scenes matters. In August 2007, Cushie came on board.
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and here is MINE!!
My first post.