With Dick Clark's Rockin' Eve come and gone, and the media's year-end-list mania coming to an end, I decided this was an appropriate time to foist my picks on you the readers. I suppose in some ways this is a pointless exercise; as my wife loves to remind me, "New Year's was three weeks ago! What're you doing?" Plus, since I'm sure you clip and save this column every week, you already have a pretty good idea of what the best and worst films are. However, I waited for a very specific reason, one that has nothing to do with the fact that I flat forgot that this was coming up. No, I waited because, as you probably already know, it takes a long time for the best movies to get to us here on the Peninsula. At least three on the best-of list have yet to play here, although only one of the worst-of didn't show; what does that say? I had to go (gasp!) out of town to see some of the best movies of the year. But, the blame doesn't lie entirely with our "rural" designation
Every year, Hollywood tries to pack more and more Oscar candidates into the Christmas season of movies. They figure it's impossible for anyone to see all those good movies in one or two months, but to be up for award consideration the movie has to have been released in the 2001 calendar year. So what they do is release movies like Black Hawk Down, and The Royal Tenenbaums in New York and L.A. in early December, and then to the rest of the world in January. As a result, three of what are potentially the best movies of the year, Tenenbaums, Monster's Ball, and The Shipping News, have been seen by almost no one. With that in mind, here are, in no particular order, my picks for the best and worst movies of the year. (Just to show that this was a pretty good year for movies, I've got eleven bests and only nine worsts.)
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
It's not surprising that this is the most exciting, thrilling movie of the year. The surprising part is the critical response it has received. Great acting, real depth of emotion, and a running time that separates the men from the boys make this film an event worth attending. Definite contender for art direction awards.
A Beautiful Mind
The gentlest, most thought-provoking look at schizophrenia I've ever seen. Russell Crowe is incredible as Dr. John Nash, pulitzer prize winning economist who lives a shadowy other life as a government code breaker. With a great supporting cast and a "It's amazing because it's true" storyline, Ron Howard has finally broken away from making simply fun crowd pleasers, to making true art - that just happens to be crowd pleasing.
Easily the most creative film of the year. Everyone involved, from stars to the behind the scenes players, gives an inspired, over the top performance. The music is incredible and the soundtrack has sold like hotcakes. Nicole Kidman is great, as are Ewan Macgregor, Jim Broadbent, John Leguizamo, and whole host of others. This movie is worth watching again if only for the scene where Zidler sings Like a Virgin to the Duke.
Nicole Kidman has a great shot at Oscar gold this year for her two, inspired performances. 180 from her wild courtesan in Moulin Rouge, here she plays it quiet in this thoroughly engrossing ghost story about a woman, her two light sensitive children, and their big creepy house in 1940's England. Beautiful cinematography, a subtle, yet inventive storyline, and a shocker ending made this small film one of the most successful of the year.
Aside from Lord of the Rings, this is definitely the most commercial film on the list. Brad Pitt and Robert Redford running around playing spies is bound to be fun, but not much more than that. Surprise. Pitt gives one of his best performances so far, and the story, told in flashback, keeps you riveted. It's fun to see old man Redford run mental circles around the younger, so-called elite CIA top brass.
Black Hawk Down
This movie almost didn't make the list because it was released well into 2002, but it is definitely worth the wait. Gripping and terrifying at turns, this story of a failed mission in Somalia shows both the horror of war and the best of what it can bring out in the men forced to fight it. Think Saving Private Ryan in the desert.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Thank goodness. Finally there is a movie that is both hugely commercial and well made. Having already topped the $300 million mark, Harry Potter is well on it's way to being one of the most successful movies of all time. And with great acting and writing, as well as a faithfully and beautifully envisioned world, it deserves to be. Detractors beware: There are a planned six more Potters to come.
Love it or hate it, most people would agree that A.I. was a singularly unique vision. Dreamed up and partially planned by auteur Stanley Kubrick, and finished and filmed by fantasy king Steven Spielberg left the audience chilled and fascinated at the same time. With an underlying sadness powerful enough to break your heart, A.I. makes us all reevaluate what we think of as "love" and "family."
Wow. This mind trip will take a second or even a third look to really figure out. The story of a man with no short-term memory who is searching for his wife's killer takes more twists and turns than a Disneyworld rollercoaster and will have you discussing the plot with friends weeks later. Extra points go for the coolest use of tattoos ever.
You never thought Denzel Washington could scare you? You never thought you'd hate him? Think again. Training Day could have been a throwaway good cop/bad cop thrill-a-minute had it not been for the incredible acting job done by Ethan Hawke and especially Denzel. Menace fills his every move, covers his every gesture and is made even more disturbing by the fact that our every instinct screams at us to trust this man. Look for Oscar to recognize this as well.
The Royal Tenenbaums
Thought provoking, bittersweet, funny, and beautifully filmed, this is one of those movies that gets better upon reflection. I went in expecting an uproarious comedy on the scale of Meet The Parents, and came out with something bigger than just laughs; a sense of the ridiculous and eccentric in a family that, despite it's money and disfunction, could belong to any one of us.
Scary Movie 2
Complete trash. This movie is little more than a rehash of the grossest parts of the original with none of the clever humor. It has so little substance, that there's really nothing to write about it. Skip it.
Not Another Teen Movie
Yet another nail in the coffin for parody. Since the Farrelly made gross chic, everyone has been trying to outdo one another. The inevitable result of this great no-taste race is this disgusting waste of a great concept. Teen films deserve the comedic treatment given to summer camp movies in Wet Hot American Summer, not this.
Planet of the Apes
This movie makes the list more because of the potential it had than because of specific badness. I had such high hopes that Tim Burton would come up with a cool, thoughtful remake of the 60's classic. Instead, he surprised us all with a fairly tired and typical action flick that strips away most of the underlying themes of the original. Add to that an incomprehensible shocker ending and the whole thing becomes little more than an insult to the very audience it was trying to cater to.
Worst movie ever?
Possibly the worst movie of the year. Possibly the worst movie I've ever seen. Idiotic plot involves a group of idiots trying to out-bachelor one another to the complete detriment of the audience. The cancerous testicle scene will be forever burned in my memory.
3000 Miles to Graceland
Kevin Costner, Kurt Russell and Christian Slater as Elvis impersonating casino robbers? Can't miss, right? Wrong. This could have been good had they tried to play up the natural humor inherent in the image of stern Costner in sideburns and sequins. Instead they played it deadly serious and left the audience feeling confused and assaulted. Not a good way to leave a theater.
Corky Romano is, perhaps, the biggest waste of time I have spent in years. That this slapped-together, inane, unfunny piece of clap trap even got to the big screen is an insult to all those films languishing in development hell right now. It's really too bad, because Chris Kattan is a funny guy in small doses, but what should have been a five-minute Saturday Night Live skit turns into a whole Saturday evening that you'll never get back.
Summer Catch is a lame teen movie in the guise of a cool baseball movie. But, as stars Freddie Prinze, Jr., in full Keanu-mode, and Matthew Lillard painfully prove, there is nothing at all cool about this film. Lame jokes, lame plot, bad acting, and a bad script all add up to one thing: Foul Ball.
Say It Isn't So
This years worst list is full of gross-fests masquerading as movies. This faux-Farrelly comedy lacks even the basic likeableness that a raunchy comedy needs to catch the audience. Full of foul and morally disturbing situations, Say It Isn't So proves to be the most apropos title of the year.
Town and Country
One of the most anticipated comedies of 2000 got pushed back and reworked until it was one of the biggest failures of 2001. Warren Beatty, Garry Shandling, Annette Bening, and Goldie Hawn came together with a team of crack comedy writers and all they could come up with was a joyless non-comedy about the idle rich and their inability to remain faithful. Who cares?
Well, there it is once again. Nearly all of these are now available on video, so whether you want a night of quality entertainment, or an evening of trash, anything off this list should fit the bill. And, if you have to go out of town to see some of the good ones on the big screen, it would probably worth it. Just don't wait for a rerelease of Tomcats.
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