best film: David Lynch’s Mullholland Drive is the Hollywood nightmare– just like Blue Velvet is for the suburbs fifteen years prior. It’s abstract and mesmerizing. It’s a wholly unique world filled with small-town naiveté (Watts, in a brilliant star-making turn) and dark forces (not just the man behind the dumpster but the people pulling the strings in the industry as well). If film history is about the dichotomy of reality (realism) and escapism or expressionism, this entry serves as one of the greatest examples the art form has produced of the latter—it’s world-making at its finest.

most underrated:  I had to double-check when I found that Robert Altman’s Gosford Park wasn’t in the top 1000 of all-time according to TSPDT. I’m not sure any auteur had done ensembles as well as Altman. He takes this outstanding cast, an oscar-winning screenplay, and oscillates (in Altman fashion) between the two worlds (the elite and the help in this case) wonderfully with his trademark eavesdropping zooms and overlapping dialogue. He takes Agatha Christie and makes it an Altman film, and one of the best of them.

 most overrated: Martel’s La Cienaga is #802 on the top 1000 and #10 of the year and I’ve got it closer to my 30th best film of the year and, quite clearly, outside of my top 1000. I took one pass through Martel’s oeuvre so there’s work here to do but I haven’t exactly been itching to go back to it either like I have with the work of Jia Zhangke or Apichatpong Weerasethakul, other renowned modern auteurs who didn’t smack me across the face upon first blush.

gem I want to spotlight: The opulence of mise-en-scene (décor, set design and costume) is usually the first thing praised for admirers (I amongst them) of Baz Luhrmann but the editing here in Moulin Rouge! Is amongst the best of the year and decade. The montage work in the opening, climax, and “Roxanne” number are all standouts but every segment is inspired. He built this film in the editing room and I haven’t even mentioned the breakneck pace yet (which, no doubt, was too much for the critics when it first came out (66 on metacritic) set by that editing. It’s an entirely different film if it isn’t told in 1.5X speed.

 trends and notables:  It’s another staggeringly excellent year with 12 films that would belong in a normal year’s top 5. The silent masterpieces in the 20’s, Hollywood era in the 30’s/40’s, international cinema peak in the 60’s and American new wave in the 70’s are all fabulous periods—and I’m not arguing 99-01 is superior—but it’s not worse. I do think the herd thins as far as 2001’s depth about 20 films or so—perhaps even more so than most years—but if you can give me 5 legit masterpieces and another 7 top 5 films we’re talking about an all-timer of a year (and back to back years of that). The Lord of the Rings is clearly a massive event, box office smash, and work of big tableau cinematic art. 2001 gave us very solid films from the old guard (like Spielberg and Altman) and big masterpiece breakthroughs from young visual-heavy auteurs like Baz Luhrmann and Wes Anderson. It’s both telling of how highly I think of 2001 and, perhaps, that I’m not as big an admirer as many of my cinephile brethren, that Miyazaki’s best film is the 8th best film of 2001. It’s a big year of first archiveable films for actors as well. How about these names from 2001?- Heath Ledger (screen-grabbing in monster’s ball), Scarlett Johansson (duel films here: man who wasn’t there and ghost world), and Tom Hardy (blink and you miss him in black hawk down) all start their brilliant careers here.

best performance male:   There’s depth here so it’s hard to single out five performances but there’s not really a hands-above-the-rest tour-de-force standout either. I think my #1 would be Gene Hackman for his work as Royal in Wes’ greatest film. He’s not markedly better though than others like Jake Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko, Jim Broadbant and Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge!, or Gael Garcia Bernal in Y Tu Mama Tambien. By and large, Gosford Park and LOTR are too much of an ensemble to single out one actor—but I can’t deny how good Ian McKellan is here as Gandalf.

best performance female: It’s a stronger year here than on the male side. I think 4 of these performances are better than any one single male performance from 2001.  Chief amongst them, and my #1 here, is Naomi Watt’s turn in Mulholland Drive. It has everything, character change, a doppelganger, a scene where she auditions (and absolutely blows me away). I love Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth but this is the best performance in a Lynch film. Behind Watts we have her pal and fellow Aussie Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge! Like McGregor, I was thoroughly impressed by her actual acting and her vocal performance. She’s superb in the others as well so truly a great year and stretch for her. Isabelle Hubbert would be the best performance of the year in almost every other year in cinema history with her work in Haneke’s The Piano Teacher. It’s the best performance in a Haneke film—period.  Audrey Tautou is the 4th (not in order—I’d actually have her and Hubbert ahead of Kidman) performance that would normally win top slot and is clearly better than any male performance from the year. It’s impossible to picture Amelie without her charm. Cinema hadn’t seen anything like this since Audrey Hepburn. Rounding out the performances here are solid work from Helen Mirren and Sissy Spacek in Gosford Park and In the bedroom– two veteran great actresses in superior films.

top 10

  1. Mulholland Drive
  2. The Royal Tenenbaums
  3. Moulin Rouge
  4. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  5. Y Tu Mama Tambien
  6. Gosford Park
  7. A.I.
  8. Spirited Away
  9. The Piano Teacher
  10. Amelie

 

Archives, Directors, and Grades

A Beautiful Mind- R. Howard R
A.I.- Spielberg MS
Amelie- Jenunet MS
Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner R
Black Hawk Down- R. Scott R
Donnie Darko MS
Frailty R
Ghost World R
Gosford Park- Altman MS
I Am Sam R
I’m Going Home R
In the Bedroom- Fields MS
Iris R
Joy Ride R
La Ciénaga- Martel R
Lagaan R
Lantana R
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring- Jackson MP
Lovely and Amazing- Holofcener R
Monsoon Wedding R
Monster’s Ball R
Monster’s Inc- Docter R
Moulin Rouge- Luhrmann MP
Mulholland Drive- Lynch MP
No Man’s Land- Callow, Cartlidge R
Ocean’s Eleven- Soderbergh R
Read My Lips- Audiard R
Spirited Away- Miyazuki MS
The Devil’s Backbone- del Toro R
The Man Who Wasn’t There- Coen R/HR
The Others-  Amenábar R
The Piano Teacher- Hanake MS
The Pledge- S. Penn R
The Royal Tenenbaums- W. Anderson MP
Thirteen Conversations About One Thing R
Training Day R
Under the Skin of the City
Vanilla Sky- C. Crowe HR
Waking Life- Linklater HR
What Time Is It Over There- Tsai R
Who knows- Rivette
Y Tu Mama Tambien- Cuaron MP

 

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives