best film: In the Mood for Love from WKW
- The film’s form is as good or better than any film in cinema history—it may be my go to example now when discussing film form—along with Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, Ozu and Toyko Story, and the combined oeuvre of Jim Jarmusch. In the Mood for Love is like a combination of Greenaway’s stylistic maximums and Jarmusch’s repetition (or theme and variation).
- A meditation on nostalgia- a love story of unrequited love (the best kind of cinematic love stories) like that of Casablanca.
- The violins in the score by as Mike Galasso and Shigeru Umebayashi – repetition
- Formal genius- slow-motion sequences, triggered by the same violin musical score as they have chance encounters in the hallway, alley—smoke and rain—always at night. Nat King Cole repetition when they meet officially
- Their spouses faces are never shown- another formal choice—they are heard, phone calls, back of the hands, outside the doors- there’s no resolution—like Antonioni and L’Avventura– and we get a specific POV like Spielberg in E.T. showing adults (or not showing them) in a certain way
- Fate and chance—looking for a house on the same day, moving the same day—the word coincidence in the text no less than five times
- Use of floral arrangements in the production design and costume design patters
- elliptical—a feat of editing—we’re getting glimpses between the two like Pawlikowski’s Cold War. David Lean’s film is not elliptical- but we have to mention Brief Encounter.
- The Siemens clocks repetition (form), shallow focus on actors not one of the two main subjects
- Neon lights in abundance- actual lights as part of the mise-en-scene in foreground
- Like Chungking Express it is all night work—it’s a little abrasive when the day light surfaces
- A tone poem—clearly like a short story paced out to 98 minutes
- Wallpaper in the décor, loaded with mirrors, drapes, floral arrangement
- The scene of their tragic goodbye- posted on the brick wall with shadows—gorgeous mise-en-scene- shots of them leaning against the wall
- great scene of them shown blocked by doorway as camera glides between walls
- A masterpiece- one of cinema’s great works of art
most underrated: Both Traffic and American Psycho are woefully underrated, should be in the top 500, and yet cannot be found in the top 1000 on the TSPDT consensus list. Traffic is the stronger of the two that would be the most singularly underrated film from the ear 2000. I do not really understand why– but again Soderbergh does not currently have a film on the entire TSPDT list. I think, perhaps, it is unfairly categorized as an “issue” film (drugs here of course) like Crash (the 2004 film, not Cronenberg’s superior work) or Hotel Rwanda. These are films that every 8th grade social studies class should watch- but do not necessarily make for great art. This does not describe Traffic at all. Yes, Traffic is a complicated exposé, but it is also highly experimental both formally and visually.
- Mary Harron’s American Psycho took fifteen years to debut on the TSPDT top 1000 of the 21st century list. It now (as of the date writing this) sits at the lofty position of #283 (still underrated). It has been a fun ride for a worthy film and a promising sign that given a long enough timeline, the great films eventually rise to the top.
- American Psycho’s masterful script is mostly from Bret Easton Ellis savage (and highly controversial) novel. Harron gets credit for curating. She is smart to capture Patrick Bateman’s meticulously sick morning beauty routine via voice over (and this is one of the best voiceovers in in recent contemporary cinema). As Bateman nervously wonders if he’ll have a decent table at a restaurant “relief washes over” him “in an awesome wave.”- haha. To include all of the superior writing from American Psycho here would make my notes here on the film forty pages long.
- The narrative rolls along so smoothly. This shocking critique of the 1980s yuppie/Reagan-era materialism and Gordon Gekko greed (this is set in 1987- the year of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street) bounces from the legendarily epic business card scene to getting laughed at on the phone by the maître d’ at Dorsia (a fabulous doorway frame within a frame composition of Bateman’s rigidly cool apartment) to wild exchanges with his buddies (played by Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas, Bill Sage) or private detective (Willem Dafoe). Late 1990s/early 2000s indie goddess Chloë Sevigny plays Bateman’s secretary Jean, and no less than three future Oscar winners are here in their 20s (Reese Witherspoon plays Bateman’s girlfriend and Jared Leto, in the same year as Requiem for a Dream, plays one of Bateman’s principal victims).
- Part of the social critique is the interchangeably of these Wall Street cyphers while Bateman’s insanity muddles the potential surrealism of these events (which keeps the wallop of an ending – the confession with the 1987 Reagan speech playing the background audio—open).
most overrated: The answer here in 2000 is Pedro Costa’s In Vanda’s Room. It lands at #561 on the TSPDT consensus list. There are a few other options for 2000 as well. Many great minds I admire (Bordwell chief amongst them) adore the work of Edward Yang so there may be a time here Yi Yi rises to the top of my list here for 2000 but for now, I cannot get behind the lofty ranking on TSPDT. Still, Yi Yi is a top five of the year quality film that just happens to be left out below on the top 10 through no fault of its own—but because 2000 is just such a ridiculously good year. This makes Costa’s work the pretty easy choice.
- There’s an interesting case to be made that In Vanda’s Room is a documentary. Much of Kiarostami’s work, including Close-Up, is similar. There’s actually a forward-moving narrative in Close-Up (though that is not the reason a film is or is not a documentary). Here the actors (including Vanda) are playing themselves, there is no story, it is shot on location and we’re capturing hours of authentic conversations. The lighting, the coloring, and setting is “controlled” (or chosen) by Costa and that is far and away his greatest triumph
- No musical score, observational
- Sort of Dogme 95 (this is Costa’s first work on video– the photography is almost defiantly unpretty) meets Harmony Korine’s Gummo. There’s trash everywhere, drug use is a constant, talk of babies in dumpsters, we probably spend 20 minutes watching/listening to Vanda cough (and in one case at least, vomit).
- A dark film, shot in these damp alleys, feels like it almost set in a shelter underground. The few scenes where we get daylight – your eyes almost have to adjust- one of the many ways Costa uses duration as a tool here- this is 170 minutes.
- The second film in his Fontainhas trilogy (Ossos in 1997, Colossal Youth in 2006). Set in a sort of hell on earth slum in Lisbon
- bleakness in visual approach and material—certainly matching
- the lighting makes Gordon Willis and Fincher look bright
- squalor and rubble— spiritually connected to Rossellini’s war trilogy —certainly Costa is most interested in setting—but there is no attempt really to make this beautiful here.
- By far the greatest aspect of the film is the almost hypnotic glow of the spotlight lighting surrounded by blackness. It has a green tint—consistent with Ossos (as much of it is—this is auteur cinema) along with actual green (beyond just the green tinting) peppered throughout the mise-en-scene. It is a purposeful color design.
- Recommend but not terribly close to the top 10 of 2000
trends and notables:
- There is no exact science behind this (and I haven’t categorized or awarded points by year to give me a fighting chance at doing it anways) but I would approximate that the year 2000 is the third best year in cinema history behind 1960 and 1939. It is that good. I said this in 2017 or so and that was before my discovery of Roy Andersson. There are other years, like 1982, that give me pause but I feel pretty good here. The year 2000 has everything. It has two films (maybe three) that look like they will stand the test of time living in the top 100 of all-time, fine depth beyond the top 10 (films from newcomers James Gray and Jonathan Glazer like The Yards and Sexy Beast) but it is really the fourteen (14) films that are either a Masterpiece, Must See or Hr/MS border that define the year’s greatness.
- Among those elite (testing the meaning of the word with that many listed I guess) fourteen films from 2000 is Darren Aronofsky’s second film (and second in the top 10 of its respective year) Requiem For a Dream and Christopher Nolan’s stunning first archiveable film (second film overall) Memento. Requiem makes Aronofsky a top auteur in 2000.
- Nearly as impressive is Alejandro González Iñárritu’s true debut Amores Perros. The film, and auteur, mark the third and final of the trio from the all important Nuevo Cine Mexicano movement.
- If one looks at 2000 as one of the best single years in cinema- one has to look at the greatest of the auteurs driving it. Like 1960 with Fellini, Godard, Bergman, Visconti, Kurosawa, Antonioni– 2000 features WKW, Roy Andersson, Bela Tarr, and Lars von Trier (Tarr and von Trier would be paired again in 2011 oddly enough). These are major artists making masterpieces (and for In the Mood for Love “masterpiece” almost sounds like an insult).
- In Werckmeister Harmonies Bela Tarr became one of the all-time great movers of the camera. The cinematography in the film rivals the best work of the greatest since the beginning of the artform: Murnau, Renoir, Ophuls, Tarkovsky, Scorsese and then Tarr. There are others of course (Cuaron is a modern master) but Tarr is up there. There are multiple shots in Werckmeister that are amongst the best of the decade including the long take opening shot. The grand cogitations in the narrative are bleaker than Kieslowski and less personal than Tarkvosky but I think both are fine comparisons. It’s hypnotic, haunting and elegiac and balanced by a transcendent jig score from Mihaly Vig.
- Soderbergh may not be in the class of WKW, Tarr, von Trier– and may have since been clearly passed by Nolan (age 30 in 2000) Aronofky (age 31), Roy Andersson (an outlier here- big breakthrough coming at age 57- closer to Haneke’s journey) and others but he is a substantial auteur and 2000 is his big year. He has been doing solid work since his debut in 1989 but he is still only 37 in the year 2000. Traffic is his greatest work, and Erin Brockovich is a top 10 of the year hit.
- Speaking of hits, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is the biggest domestic smash of the year- but it is the film in third place, Gladiator, that really crosses over to those serious about film as it also wins the Best Picture Oscar at the academy and sort of revives the sword and sandal genre.
- With Edward Yang and Zhangke Jia’s Platform 2000 marks a big year for superior cinema in China as well.
- Cinema from around the globe is clearly very healthy in 2000. If you look at the top 10 below, there are nine (9) countries represented (going by birth of director). China, Hungary, Sweden, Denmark, The United States, Canada, Britain, Mexico and Germany.
- The directors with first time archiveable films are mentioned above- Inarritu, Gray, and Glazer– but for actors it is actually a slightly more quiet year. However, 2000 does mark the first archiveable film for Mark Ruffalo in You Can Count on Me where he is quite splendid in it.
best performance male: Tony Leung has to open here even if Christian Bale gets a mention in the same sentence. One, (Leung) is a major cog in one of the great films (and romances) of all-time. The other, (Bale) is revelatory (we already knew of Leung’s power before this) and challenges the sacred “director as artist” as his achievement in American Psycho may even greater than the director at the helm. Benicio del Toro does the best work of his career (as do Leung and Bale- which says much about 2000’s acting) in Soderbergh’s ensemble effort. Jared Leto and Guy Pearce are next for Requiem For a Dream and Memento respectively and neither has been as good since as they are here either. Ben Kinglsey is the one here outside of that top tier of films that finally deserves some love. He may have been the first man off the list in 1982 and 1993 with Gandhi and Schindler’s List so it only feels right to reward him for bat$hit tour de force turn as Don Logan in Glazer’s Sexy Beast. Lastly, though the works of Bela Tarr do not rely heavily on the performance of his actors, Lars Rudolph, playing János in Werckmeister Harmonies, feels like a worthy addition to the category.
best performance female: With all due respect to the gentlemen mentioned above, the best acting of the year probably lands in this category for 2000. There is a three way tie for the top slot. Maggie Cheung, Bjork and Ellen Burstyn all levitate. All three would be easy hands down winners in this category in just about any other year in cinema history. Cheung displays the melancholic pain of an unrequited romance in In the Mood for Love. Bjork’s performance in von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark mirrors Marie Falconetti’s epic performance in many ways. She is tortured- and it would be the final performance by both actresses (again thus far for Bjork). Burstyn is nearly thirty years removed from her greatest stretch of work (1971-1974 with The Last Picture Show, The Exorcist, and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) and outdoes herself in the loud, manic performance required by Aronofky’s vision for Requiem For a Dream. She would not hold a candle to Burstyn, her costar in Requiem, but that is no insult to Jennifer Connelly who deservedly lands a slot here for her work. The last two mentions go to Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang for their work in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
- In the Mood for Love
- Werckmeister Harmonies
- Songs From the Second Floor
- Dancer in the Dark
- Requiem for a Dream
- American Psycho
- Amores Perros
- Code Unknown
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|Almost Famous – Crowe||HR|
|American Psycho – Harron||MS|
|Amores Perros- Iñárritu||MS|
|Before Night Falls- Schnabel||R|
|Cast Away- Zemeckis||R|
|Chicken Run – Park, Lord||R|
|Chocolat – Hallström||R|
|Chopper – Dominik||R|
|Chuck & Buck- Arteta||R|
|Code Unknown – Haneke||MS|
|Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon- A. Lee||HR/MS|
|Dancer In the Dark- von Trier||MP|
|Erin Brockovich – Soderbergh||R|
|George Washington- Gordon Green||R|
|Gladiator- R. Scott||HR|
|High Fidelity- Frears||R|
|In the Mood for Love – WKW||MP|
|In Vanda’s Room – Costa||R|
|Memento – Nolan||MS|
|O Brother, Where Art Thou- Coen||HR/MS|
|Platform – Zhangke Jia||HR/MS|
|Quills- P. Kaufman||R|
|Requiem For A Dream – Aronofsky||MP|
|Sexy Beast- Glazer||HR|
|Shadow of a Vampire- Merhige||R|
|Songs From the Second Floor – Andersson||MP|
|The Circle- Panahi|
|The Contender- Lurie||R|
|The Gift – Raimi||R|
|The House of Mirth- Davies||HR|
|The Princess and the Warrior- Tykwer||R|
|The Road Home- Yimou Zhang|
|The Widow of Saint-Pierre- Leconte||R|
|The Yards – Gray||R/HR|
|Under the Sand- Ozon||R|
|Werckmeister Harmonies – Tarr||MP|
|Wonder Boys- Hanson||R|
|Yi Yi- Yang||MS|
|You Can Count On Me – Lonergan||R|
*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