The Best film of 2001
by Michael F. Nyiri
"My top five films of 2001"
As this particularly disturbing and eerie year
draws to a close, popular entertainment hasn't been on anyone's mind
much, in light of current events. It is the beginning of "Awards
season" however, and I want to make my predictions for the Academy
Awards, and/or list my five favorite films of 2001, and I want to specifically
make a case for the singular film which not only deserves the Academy
Award this year for Best Picture, a film I've "touted" since
I first saw it, but a film which I'm positively certain is possibly
the most important first work of the new Millennium.
I have always said I merely want to be entertained
when going to the movies, and I enjoy most of what I choose to see because
I am entertained. If, in the course of being entertained, I am enlightened
and enriched, or if I am allowed to glimpse hidden layers within the
human experience because of the artistic merits of one film or another;
to taste those added pleasures is rich icing on the cake of the moviegoing
experience. The best films not only entertain, but enrich. The director
and his creative team formulate a work of art which far surpasses the
brouhaha, hype and circumstance which surrounds it's opening weekend.
Far too few films fall in this category. One stands out in multicolored
all singing all talking glory in 2001.
This film is a heartfelt valentine to freedom,
truth, beauty, art, and love. It is a cultural blender full of styles,
tastes, and vibrancy. It's antic, it's brassy. It's got beautiful people,
heroes, and villians. It's technologically perfect, and utilizes state
of the art special effects. It's the best looking movie of the past
ten years, including "Titanic", which it surpasses. Although
upon first viewing it seems like a trifle, looks can be deceiving, and
this "trifle" is only on the surface. It has more beneath
the surface. It has multifaceted layers and deep insight into the human
condition. These layers show themselves more clearly upon repeated viewings.
It's a Hollywood Movie Musical, and in this year
especially, after the tragic events which permeate the collective consciousness
of humankind, I think it is fitting that a musical is the best picture
of the year.
My choice for Best Picture of 2001, and mark
my words, because I'm usually not wrong in these matters.....is:
"Moulin Rouge" (Fox) produced, directed,
and along with Craig Pearce, co-written by Baz Luhrmann, one of today's
most artistic directors. It is only his third picture, the end to his
"Red Curtain" trilogy, and quite possibly the film that future
history will pick to define the present decade.
"Reflecting upon the merits of the Best
This article will discuss the reasons why I've
already chosen this film, even though "Ali" by Michael Mann
hasn't been released, and although "Lord of the Rings" by
Peter Jackson was released last Wednesday, I haven't seen it yet. The
"list of five" Best Picture nominees this year should be:
"Moulin Rouge", "The Man Who Wasn't There", "Ali",
"The Lord of the Rings", and "Memento". I put "LOTR"
in there even though I haven't seen it yet, and even though I do think
David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" is deserving of a nod, and
did receive the New York Film Critics award for Best Film. "Memento"
came out early in the year, and I'm really not sure if it is a 2000
or 2001 effort, but I seem to remember seeing it on some year end top
ten lists this year. so I added it. Before analyzing why "Moulin
Rouge" is far and away the logical choice for the best film of
2001, I'd give a short description of the merits of each of the films
I have chosen for my "list".
First, "Ali", even though it isn't yet released. I just have
a high "need to see" quotient for this film, Michael Mann's
latest, with the always wonderful Will Smith, who I really would like
to see get Best Actor this year. Michael Mann is a stylist and yet imbues
his films with rich characterizations. Sight unseen, I really think,
judging by the trailers at least, that "Ali" will be the "big
Hollywood picture" in the oscar race this year. I haven't seen
"LOTR" yet either, but by all accounts, this is a rich tapestry
of a film, which is true to it's source material, which was the most
popular fantasy literature when I was in high school and college, and
seems to be one of those works which couldn't really be given justice
in the movie medium until now. Some people don't consider "popcorn
movies" like "Star Wars" to be oscar contenders, but
"Star Wars" was nominated in '77 (it lost to "Annie Hall")
and it received awards for sound, editing, score, and production design,
not to mention visual effects. "Lord of The Rings" has a built
in mythology, is set in a multifaceted universe, has universal characters,
and vast scope. It just could be a popular shoo in. Peter Jackson makes
visually arresting fare ("Heavenly Creatures", "The Frighteners")
and "LOTR" has always had a much higher must see quotient
for me than "Harry Potter", which I don't think is Oscar worthy
The Coen Brothers shared best directing nods with David Lynch at the
Cannes Film Festival this year. Joel Coen directed "The Man Who
Wasn't There". Lynch directed "Mulholland Drive". I wrote
a review of "Mulholland" but never got around to reviewing
"Man Who Wasn't There". Both were on my list of five, but
"Mulholland" got bumped for "Memento" which I had
on the list, and just added again after seeing it a second time on DVD.
"The Man Who Wasn't There" is perhaps the best Coen brothers
film, maybe even better than "Fargo" which netted Frances
McDormand her oscar in 1996. "Man Who Wasn't There" hasn't
been widely released, and is sort of under the cultural radar, unlike,
say, last year's Coen brothers movie, "Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou"
which was much more 'popular' however I thought it was the shallowest
movie in the Coen's ouvre. Billy Bob Thornton (best actor nod, possibly
the statuette) carries the picture, although he rarely speaks except
in voiceover, and delivers a performance thousands of miles distant
from french fried taters. He achieves an almost zen like connection
to character, in a film filled with memorable characterizations, and
also some of the most beautiful black and white cinematography (by Roger
Deakins) I've ever seen. But a black and white film hasn't won an oscar
since 1950, and I believe this Coen jewell will ultimately become a
classic in retrospect. "Memento" is an independent film, and
doesn't have a chance, but it was by far the most intriguing bit of
film craftsmanship I've seen in a while. The "twist beginning"
will probably never be accomplished with as much imagination as in "Memento",
in fact, no other film will ever use this device. For that reason, and
the fact it's a year old, "Memento" will probably not be nominated,
but it should.
"Watching the DVD of "Moulin Rouge"
causes an epiphany."
Which brings us to "Moulin Rouge".
I bought the DVD on Friday afternoon, at Best Buy in Torrance. There
were two copies left. It came out on Tuesday. The film made money, but
wasn't a gigantic hit. It has respectable critical response, but too
many people, I believe, were turned off by the "love it or hate
it" attitude in the press. Not enough people saw it, and those
who did, and failed to be captivated, didn't recognize the genius bubbling
up under the loud, colorful exterior. With the release of the DVD, which
seems to be popular, ranking No.1 for the week, the rerelease of the
film in theaters, at the time of year when it probably should have been
released in the first place, and the news that it has been nominated
for six Golden Globes (tying "A Beautiful Mind" Ron Howard's
newest, also with oscar buzz, but not on my list.) I spent all day Friday
and Saturday with the DVD, and hence I was prompted to write this piece.
After immersing myself in Baz's miracle again, including by far the
most comprehensive making of extras ever compiled by a director for
a film, I am convinced this is the best film of the year, possibly the
decade, and I just needed to sing it's praises. This is a film for the
ages, and will, in time, stand right beside "An American In Paris"
and "Singin' In the Rain" as one of the alltime greatest movie
musicals. I'm a big fan of musicals, by the way, and even that aspect
of this film is better appreciated after viewing a second time.
The DVD didn't convince me of the film's merits. Seeing it upon release
did that. I haven't read my original review for a while, but I did think
it was oscar worthy then, but figured some other heavy hitters would
get in there by end of year. I must admit, perhaps I would have championed
the Coen film (my second choice) had it not been for one of my frequent
epiphanies encountered while viewing "Moulin Rouge" on DVD.
This is the PERFECT antidote to the grief suffered by humanity since
Sept. 11. This is the JOYOUS JUBILATION of a SPECTACULAR SPECTACULAR
awash in kinetic energy, but above all mindful of that same grief. If
ever one could claim to "have his cake and eat it too", Baz
Lurhmann certainly can. I believe "Moulin Rouge" is the perfect
choice for inclusion in the list of greatest movies of all time.
"The American Musical Film"
Some thoughts about the musical in American Film.
I knew "Sound of Music" won the Best Picture oscar in 1965.
But it has been a long time since the oscar went home with a musical
producer, and the phrase "all talking all singing all dancing"
is one of the catchphrases of popular movie culture. Musicals are basically
a dead issue in Hollywood. They used to be the biggest moneymakers.
They caressed and comforted the nation during the Depression, and they
roused the patriotism of the American people during the Second World
War. They gained their flowering in the fifties, and MGM was king of
the studios when it came to producing them. In the sixties, which we
usually remember for socially conscious films like "In The Heat
of the Night", "Midnight Cowboy" and "Bonnie and
Clyde", oscar was awarded four times to musicals. They were still
popular, but the popularity was waning as the budgets to make them became
bigger. The musical died a bloated overwrought death in the seventies,
and was replaced in the cultural consciousness by music videos and music
video movies in the eighties. Sporadic attempts have been made to revive
the form, but have largely failed. In the case of Scorsese's "New
York, New York" sometimes that failure has been spectacular. In
1968, Carol Reed's "Oliver" beat "Funny Girl" for
the oscar. That was 32 years ago, forever in the up to the minute cultural
timespan. I would like to think that the first year of the new Millennium
has produced the savior for the musical in the form of Luhrmann's "Moulin
Rouge". As soon as it receives Best Picture in March, it's popularity,
and the popularity for the form will be revived. We need to sing and
dance, and "Moulin Rouge" allows us, as no other film in recent
memory, to indulge that passion. I haven't overlooked the fine work
the Disney studios have done. Perhaps the only true musicals in the
old fashioned sense of the word produced during the eighties and nineties
were from the Disney Studio. Jeff Katzenburg's "Beauty and the
Beast" and "The Lion King" besides being cartoons, were
also true Hollywood musicals, and wonderful motion pictures. But they
are cartoons. The live action musical disappeared. Luhrmann has brought
the form back to live action, but by using computer graphics, models,
and a kinetic frenzied storytelling technique, has fashioned a film
that is so up to date in it's execution, using every special effects
trick in the bag, that it at once recalls the old musicals with sincerity
and love, and creates an entirely new way of looking at the form.
He and his team, have, in fact, revived the form for a new decade, and
this deserves merit. When I first saw the film , at the beginning of
summer, I didn't "need" a musical. After Sept. 11, I did,
and part of the epiphany I had while viewing the DVD told me America
needs a musical. They need this one, "Moulin Rouge" right
now, and it has arrived on DVD, is being rereleased, and with any luck,
will soon be discussed around water coolers everywhere as the must see
flick of 2001.
Essay Continues Here on Page Two