Mike’s Top Ten of 2001

2001 is the turning point in my life when it comes to movies. It was the year I stopped regularly going to the movies and instead started branching out on my film education, and watching all those big early movies that every film person watches in the early days. It’s also the year I got into the Oscars in full. So for me, that stuff will always be the big takeaway from this year over any of the films.

Though I will say, there’s some great stuff that happened this year. What’s interesting to me is how the list is bisected between stuff I saw that year and loved immediately versus stuff I saw years later that became my favorites. What’s also interesting is that there are the starts of three franchises on this list, plus another that’s a kind of institution in its own right.

This is also one of the final years with what I call the ‘films of my childhood’, which is a lot of stuff that I remember very well from that age that defines my taste as a kid before I truly got into movies. So for that, I’ll always have an affinity for this year.

Mike’s Top Ten of 2001

Amélie

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Man Who Wasn’t There

Mulholland Drive

Ocean’s Eleven

The Royal Tenenbaums

Sexy Beast

Spirited Away

Training Day

11-20: A Beautiful Mind, Behind Enemy Lines, Enemy at the Gates, The Mexican, Monsters Inc, The Mummy Returns, The Pledge, The Score, Spy Game, Super Troopers

Tier two: A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Black Hawk Down, Blow, Down to Earth, Exit Wounds, The Fast and the Furious, Gosford Park, Hannibal, Heist, I Am Sam, In the Bedroom, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Joy Ride, Kate & Leopold, Knockaround Guys, The Last Castle, Moulin Rouge!, Shrek, Wet Hot American Summer

Tier three: Ali, Bandits, Corky Romano, Formula 51, From Hell, Ghost World, Iris, Jurassic Park III, A Knight’s Tale, Made, Monster’s Ball, Not Another Teen Movie, Osmosis Jones, The Princess Diaries, Rat Race, Rush Hour 2, Spy Kids, Swordfish, Vanilla Sky, Y Tu Mamá También

Tier four: American Pie 2, The Believer, The Cat’s Meow, Diamond Men, Evolution, How High, Ichi the Killer, Joe Dirt, Josie and the Pussycats, Legally Blonde, Life as a House, The Majestic, No Man’s Land, Pearl Harbor, Saving Silverman, Scary Movie 2, See Spot Run, The Shipping News, Tortilla Soup, Waking Life

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1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

“I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
“So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”

This movie is a game changer for Hollywood. It’s one of the most influential films of its time, and quite possibly all time. What’s interesting about it is that they shot it not knowing if it was even going to work. They put a massive amount of money and effort into these films, and what Peter Jackson and co. pulled off is nothing short of astounding.

Honestly, before this movie came out, I would have told you that I don’t give a shit about anything like this. Orcs and goblins and fantasy and fighting and such — it’s not my genre. I’m sure if I read any of the books, or even The Hobbit, I’d have liked it, but it wouldn’t be as big a deal to me as the movies ended up being. I was absolutely blown away by this first film, and by the subsequent two.

There’s something magical about the construction of these films. This one in particular feels less reliant on the CGI as the subsequent two do, but I think that’s just a factor of this one being the one that sets the stage for the full-scale battles to come. Either way, I can sit and watch this film any time, all the way through. I can watch all three of these films all the way through (regular, not extended. Extended’s a bit much). If I’m making a list of the 25 most influential films of my lifetime, this/this franchise is for sure on that list.

2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

“You’re a wizard, Harry!”

This is always going to be the franchise of my life. The era in which I grew up gave me several franchises to choose from, one of which is directly above this. But this is the one that has been with me throughout basically my entire teenage and adult life thus far. The stars of this movie literally grew up with me.

I’ll admit that I did not grow up with the books the way others did. My first exposure to the material was this movie. I think the first book I read before the movie came out was Order of the Phoenix. The others, I had seen the films first and then went back and read the books. Even when this came out, I thought it was something for younger kids, something for my sister, who was ten at the time. But admittedly, the tone of this did give that impression for someone who knew nothing about it. But even so, there’s a magic to this that still works even today. And watching this franchise grow and growing up with it, and the amount of possibility and wonder and imagination in the world that J.K. Rowling created is something that is forever going to stay with me and, in a not unsubstantial way, help define my life.

I’m not really sure what to say about the movie itself, because I’m pretty sure we’ve all seen it. And we did a pretty good job on this site talking about these movies already. But man, does this franchise fill me with such joy.

3. Amélie

“At least you’ll never be a vegetable – even artichokes have hearts.”

This is one of those movies that just makes you happy. There are some movies that just put a smile on everyone’s face and this is one of them. It’s very whimsical, and possibly twee to a fault, but having a problem with that is almost like being miserable on principle.

It’s almost a plotless movie, carried by its tone and atmosphere rather than what happens. It made a star of Audrey Tautou and remains the highlight of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s career (sorry, Alien: Resurrection). This is the perfect example of the visual imagination of a director working perfectly in tandem with score, art direction and performance to create the perfect example of movie magic. This is a movie that is greater than the sum of its parts, and remains a major influence, even if some people don’t want to admit it.

4. Ocean’s Eleven

“Ten oughta do it, don’t you think? … You think we need one more? … You think we need one more… All right, we’ll get one more.”

This movie is perfect. The original is a semi-forgotten movie that’s less a movie so much as a stunt. It got all the Rat Pack members together to hang out on screen and had a bunch of other famous people do cameos. That’s basically what Ocean’s Twelve became. But this one… this was getting all the famous people together and having the writing and having a director who knew how to make it more interesting visually so the whole thing held up.

This movie still holds up. The other two are lesser, but they’re still fun. This one is legitimately a good movie. It’s a testament to what they achieved with this because they’re still making these movies, and they’re still good.

5. Spirited Away

“You don’t remember your name?”
“No, but for some reason I remember yours.”

A lot of people consider this Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece. And I’m not sure I’m gonna disagree with that. We can all have our personal favorites of his films, but this is the one that feels like it’s “the” one. Totoro is the crowdpleaser, but this feels like the magnum opus.

The film follows a girl whose family is moving to a new home. And along the way, they take a detour, and the girl ends up in this mystical bathhouse, run by a witch, that’s home to all sorts of spirits. And really, that’s all you need. It’s just a wonderful, wonderful piece of filmmaking that is filled with striking image after another. If you’ve seen any Miyazaki film, you know what kind of a treat you’re in for. But this one just feels like a cut above the rest.

If you’re gonna watch Miyazaki, my opinion is always to start with Totoro and this. And you’ll understand everything you need to know and see why he’s such a masterful filmmaker. (And then hopefully just go on and watch all the rest, because every single one of them is astounding pieces of filmmaking.)

6. Training Day

“So, where’s the office? Back at division?”
“You’re in the office, baby.”

I love this movie. I watched this so many times growing up.

This is the kind of movie that’s really simple in premise, but there’s so much going on that makes it feel full. It’s not an overly complicated movie, but it keeps you, the viewer, in the dark much of the time, as you slowly start to understand the full picture as the day goes on. I absolutely love how they pulled this off.

The premise is that Ethan Hawke is a new cop who is sent to be evaluated by Denzel Washington, a top narcotics officer. Denzel is in the middle of some shit, and is also pretty known to be corrupt, whereas Hawke is a boy scout. So Hawke spends the day with Denzel, and starts to see the way he does business over the course of the day. And man, is it good. Both Denzel and Hawke are fantastic (both were nominated for Oscars for their performances, and Denzel even won), and there are famous faces that pop up throughout the movie. This movie gave us both David Ayer and Antoine Fuqua, who both owe a lot of their careers to this movie.

Truly what I love about this movie is that it takes place over the course of one day, in a relatively limited area, and there’s just so much going on, and so many different characters popping in and out, and really, when you get to the end of it, what’s actually happening is very straightforward. Only with the magic of how they tell the story and how it’s presented to the audience, it feels so much fuller and satisfying. That’s moviemaking, kids.

7. Sexy Beast

“Not this time, Gal. Not this time. Not this fucking time. No. No no no no no no no no no! No! No no no no no no no no no no no no no! No! Not this fucking time! No fucking way! No fucking way, no fucking way, no fucking way! You’ve made me look a right cunt!”

This is one of those movies I somehow just grew up with, randomly, always enjoyed the shit out of it, and then somehow got to college and realized other people knew what the hell this movie was. I always loved Ben Kingsley’s performance in this and then realized, “What? He was nominated for an Oscar for this?” Which is both great — there are few things that rival that feeling of finding out something you’ve loved on its own merit was also nominated and/or won awards.

I feel like this is still in the realm of “cult classic.” I think a nice amount of people do know what this is, but I don’t know just how many people have actually seen it. The plot is pretty simple — Ray Winstone is a retired criminal who just wants to live in his luxurious Spanish villa and enjoy his life. And Ben Kingsley is a former associate who shows up to convince him to do one more job. That’s pretty much all you need to know. And that, from the moment Ben Kingsley shows up on screen, he completely owns this movie. It’s one of those performances where you sit up and go, “Holy shit.”

This movie is really great, by the way. Jonathan Glazer has only made three movies to this point (this, Birth and Under the Skin), but they’re all pretty fantastic, and perfectly weird in their own ways. This one, though, this one will always have a special place at the bottom of my swimming pool.

8. Mulholland Drive

“Silencio.”

This might be David Lynch’s masterpiece. I know people will argue for Blue Velvet, and personally I love The Elephant Man, but that one at least doesn’t feel like it comes purely from Lynch the way this and Blue Velvet do.

This is a movie that is difficult to explain. And to further the point, I’m not really sure there is an explanation for it. I feel like this is the result of David Lynch putting his dreams on the screen, and letting us figure out what it means. And honestly, despite the fact that it is a series of half-plots and threads that don’t always go anywhere, I’m spellbound every time I watch it.

The movie starts with a woman surviving a car crash in the Hollywood Hills and getting amnesia. She stumbles down and enters an apartment, whereupon she meets an aspiring actress. And honestly, the movie just kind of takes it from there.

I don’t even know how to explain this one other than to say — it’ll work for some, it won’t work for others. I can’t explain why I love this movie, but I am rapt with attention every time I watch it. There’s just something about it that Lynch is able to pull off that is indescribable.

9. The Man Who Wasn’t There

“Me, I don’t talk much… I just cut the hair.”

The Coen brothers have this interesting method of alternating between comedy and drama. Blood Simple… Raising Arizona. Fargo… Big Lebowski. O Brother Where Art Thou… this.

This is about as dark a movie as you’ll see out of them. They tend to like dark humor, and they like putting their protagonists through the ringer, but this one is… this one is straight noir.

Billy Bob Thornton plays a barber who wants to start his own business, so he blackmail’s his wife’s lover to get the money. And things, as they do in movies like this, don’t go exactly as planned. And man, is it great. I mean, it’s brutal, but it’s great. Because it’s a Coen brothers’ movie. Roger Deakins shoots the hell out of it, and it’s one of those movies that I think people tend to overlook among their other films just because it’s so dark. But this ranks up there with anything they’ve ever done, which honestly you can say about 90% of anything they’ve ever done.

10. The Royal Tenenbaums

“Well, everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is… maybe he didn’t.”

I feel like Wes Anderson fans have their preferred Anderson period. Some people are very much into the Rushmore/Tenenbaums period, while others are in the Moonrise/Grand Budapest period. I’m kind of all over the map, but the one thing I think we can all agree on — the man makes great movies.

This is the first one that feels like it put his style front and center. You see traces of it emerging in Rushmore, but this one feels like the one where everything emerged. It’s also one of those movies where there’s really no plot. It’s a dysfunctional family all getting together in the same house again. There are various subplots and things happening, but no real driving force other than Wes Anderson’s writing and direction. And of course, the performances. Because the cast is stacked with great people.

I feel like this is a movie that everyone’s seen, because everyone comes across Wes Anderson very early on, and very early on goes and watches everything the man’s ever made. He’s already on his own level, to where we only rate his movies against his other movies, and not against everything else. Which is really the sign of a great filmmaker.

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11-20:

A Beautiful Mind — Your Best Picture winner for this year. Just a really solid movie. Amazing lead performance by Russell Crowe and also featuring great performances by Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany and Ed Harris. A fantastic look at genius and mental illness, and one of those movies that just oozes class. It feels like one of those movies always destined to be in my 11-20.

Behind Enemy Lines — I love this movie. A classic action movie. Owen Wilson plays a pilot who is shot down in enemy territory and has to get back on his own side before the other side finds him and kills him. Gene Hackman plays his commanding officer whose rescue efforts are hamstrung by bureaucratic red tape and has to find… other ways to help out his man. It’s awesome. It’s really awesome.

Enemy at the Gates — There are a lot of things I love about this movie. The main one is that it’s basically Sniper vs. Sniper. Jude Law is a Russian sniper and he’s going up against the top German sniper during the Battle of Stalingrad. It’s awesome. It’s really, really great. The cast is also wonderful, with Ed Harris, Rachel Weisz, Joseph Fiennes, Bob Hoskins as Khrushchev! I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. This is another movie that’s a fringe top ten contender for me, just because I’ve always loved it.

The Mexican — This is a movie I’ve always really liked, one I watched a ton of in the years after it came out, and yet, even now, I’m not sure I could properly tell you exactly what this movie is about. Which might be the point. I truly don’t know how this movie got made, how they got all the stars in it, or if people know this movie as well as I do. I really don’t. The writer hadn’t really written anything before this and hasn’t done much else after this, film-wise. Gore Verbinski directs, but it’s pre-Pirates (all he had on his resume was Mousehunt before this). Brad Pitt stars as a low level mob guy in the middle of a breakup with his girlfriend, Julia Roberts. He’s hired to go down to Mexico and get a priceless gun and bring it back to his boss. And all sorts of antics ensue as he tries to bring the gun back to the U.S. Meanwhile, Roberts ends up being held hostage by hitman James Gandolfini, meant to entice Pitt not to do anything stupid. It’s a weird movie, but I’ve always loved it. Also, you’ve got J.K. Simmons in this, and Bob Balaban, and Gene Hackman… I truly can’t explain this movie except to say, I’ve always really liked it and I have no sense of whether or not anyone else does or will either.

Monsters, Inc. — Lovely Pixar movie that still manages to hold up. A great concept: Monsters work at a factory in which they enter children’s rooms at night in order to scare them, because that’s how they power their own city. It’s a great buddy comedy with Billy Crystal and John Goodman, and every scene with the little girl is just golden. It’s hard not to love this movie. This is Pixar at their best.

The Mummy Returns — A sequel that I arguably enjoy as much, if not more, than the original. The first one is clearly a better movie, but this one maintains that fun. Though it does do that Scorpion King spinoff at the beginning just to introduce The Rock so he could get his own movie, but we’ll forgive that. Rick O’Connell is the character Brendan Fraser was born to play, and then you get Rachel Weisz back, and that great tone… it’s just a fun adventure movie, great for all ages. This is the kind of movie that just makes me happy because it’s exactly the kind of thing I’d want to go to a theater to see.

The Pledge — I remember seeing this film in theaters, and I have no idea why. I can only assume it’s because it was during the age where I went to the movies basically every week and it was the thing that was out that week. I do remember it having a very big impact on me, and remembering specific things from this movie even years later, despite not having watched it for like ten years in between viewings. It’s directed by Sean Penn, and the cast has Nicholson, Robin Wright, Aaron Eckhart, Benicio Del Toro in an incredible cameo, Mickey Rourke, Patricia Clarkson, Vanessa Redgrave, Sam Shepard, Harry Dean Stanton, Helen Mirren… that’s right, all the people we all like and the kind of cast that makes you go, “How do I not know anything about this movie?” Because I do imagine that most people don’t have any idea what this is. Nicholson plays a retiring cop who, on the night of his retirement party, is called to the scene of a murdered child. He promises to the child’s mother he’ll find the person who did this. And even though they presumably find the killer and the case is closed, Nicholson is convinced the killer is still on the loose. And the film is about his obsession with finding out who it is. Nicholson is terrific here. It’s the kind of performance that I felt was overlooked for awards attention. But even so, it’s a fantastic movie with great performances all around. It’s a dark film with dark subject matter that evokes the golden age of noir. I think it’s one of the most overlooked movies of the decade.

The Score — This is one of my favorite hidden gems of this decade. The selling point for me when it came out was that it had Robert De Niro, Ed Norton and Marlon Brando all in the same film. It’s a heist movie, where De Niro plays a retired thief trying to live off the money he’s earned over the years and Ed Norton plays an upstart determined to bring him back for “one last job.” Brando plays De Niro’s fence/friend, who shows up for a few scenes and has some fun with it. But mostly it’s De Niro and Norton. And it’s one of the few times where a pairing like that actually pays off into something respectable. (They recreated it with Stone which… kind of respectable, but not as solid a movie as this is.) I definitely recommend this one, if only for the pairing of the three actors.

Spy Game — The beauty of this movie is that it’s both Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. And when you look at Pitt, he’s clearly young Redford. Even now as he ages he looks like Redford. It’s scary. So you have them in a sort of father-son role in a movie, and it’s just perfect. Here, Redford plays a CIA agent and Pitt plays his protege, and the film is about their relationship and Redford’s efforts to help get Pitt out alive when he gets captured on a mission in China. Trust me when I say this — this movie is great. In another year (and possibly even when I see this again), this could be a top ten movie. Tony Scott directs, and it’s just so good. This is the kind of movie that even people who don’t like movies of this genre will enjoy.

Super Troopers — Who doesn’t love this movie? How much fun is this? The comedy about Vermont State Troopers that you didn’t know you needed in your life. This movie is just a laugh riot. Honestly at this point, if you’re reading this, you’ve seen it, so I don’t need to say anything. If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and go watch it right meow, because it’s one of the funniest movies of this decade.

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Tier two:

  • A.I. Artificial Intelligence
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  • Black Hawk Down
  • Blow
  • Down to Earth
  • Exit Wounds
  • The Fast and the Furious
  • Gosford Park
  • Hannibal
  • Heist
  • I Am Sam
  • In the Bedroom
  • Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
  • Joy Ride
  • Kate & Leopold
  • Knockaround Guys
  • The Last Castle
  • Moulin Rouge!
  • Shrek
  • Wet Hot American Summer

The Last Castle is one of several really underrated Rod Lurie films. The first was The Contender the year before this. We’ll get to the third in 2007. This is a sort of POW film. More like a prison film. A military prison. Robert Redford is a general under court-martial for a decision he made in battle. James Gandolfini plays the warden of the prison who looks up to Redford, but also runs his prison with an iron fist. And it’s kind of a Cuckoo’s Nest situation, where Redford stands up to Gandolfini on behalf of all the other prisoners. It’s really well done. It’s so watchable. I highly recommend this one. In the Bedroom is Todd Field’s first film. It’s a drama about two parents whose college-aged son starts dating a much older divorced mother and the strain it puts on their lives. Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek play the parents and are both very good, as is Marisa Tomei as the woman he’s dating. It’s a drama about people and ultimately the performances are what carry the film. This is definitely a movie for adults. Exit Wounds was my first Steven Seagal movie. I saw it in theaters, even. And I feel like it may have been more DMX than him. But still. Seagal plays a cop in Detroit who uncovers a bunch of corruption going on in his precinct. It’s a lot of fun.

Black Hawk Down — how great is that movie? It’s about U.S. soldiers in Somalia trying to capture a warlord when the mission goes wrong and pretty soon the men are in heavy fire with Somali troops. It’s a really visceral experience. Ridley Scott directs the hell out of it, and the cast is just insane. There are so many people in this movie. It’s like how in Saving Private Ryan famous people just drift in and out of the narrative. Only here, it’s just one giant battle for like two hours, so the famous people are all over the place getting killed left and right. It’s terrific, though. One of those war movies that really pulls you into the action. Gosford Park is the movie that gave us Downton Abbey. Julian Fellowes originally was going to write a spinoff of this, but instead turned it into its own thing. Though I feel like people who really like that show would see this as… actually, there’s a good parallel here. It’s like people who love the show M*A*S*H going back to watch the film MASH. They’re different animals. And both film versions were coincidentally directed by Robert Altman. Which may tell you why. This is like upper British period piece Clue. A group of rich people get together at a country estate for the weekend. And we follow both them and the servants over the course of the weekend, during which the head of the estate winds up dead. So then we’re figuring out how he died and who killed him. But it’s not a Hercule Poirot sort of thing. It’s more Downton Abbey. Though the way Altman shoots it is more free-flowing. He’ll start conversations off-screen, pre-lapping the dialogue so you hear multiple conversations going on at once, sort of making you a fly on the wall to this gathering, effortlessly moving from one pocket of people to another, from guest to servant and back again. It’s a really well-made movie, even if I can’t really stand these period British films about people in a mannered society.

Down to Earth is Chris Rock remaking Here Comes Mr. Jordan/Heaven Can Wait. (Fun fact: Down to Earth was the title of the sequel to Here Comes Mr. Jordan in 1947, which stars Rita Hayworth as a muse, sent down to give a broadway director inspiration for his new show.) He plays a standup about to get his big break who dies suddenly. He says there’s no way he was meant to die, and sure enough, he’s right. So they put him back in a temp body until they can find him a proper one. Only here, it’s a white millionaire. So you get the usual gags, but with the ‘black guy in a white body’ humor as well. It’s a lot of fun. So far they’ve remade this story three times, and all times it turns out well. A.I. Artificial Intelligence is Steven Spielberg taking over a film that was formerly going to be helmed by Stanley Kubrick. But Kubrick felt Spielberg was better suited to the material and gave it to him before he died. Haley Joel Osment plays the world’s first robotic boy capable of feeling feelings. He was adopted by a family whose son developed a rare disease and was put in cryostasis. Only, once a cure is found, the boy is cured and there’s no need for Osment anymore, sending him on a journey to figure out who he is and what his place in the world is. It’s… it’s Spielberg, so it’s obviously very well made and does a good job of handling emotion. I don’t think it’s one of my favorite Spielberg films, but with him there are like 20 of those, so it’s really just a matter of personal preference at a certain point.

Heist is a David Mamet heist thriller, and it’s awesome. Gene Hackman stars with Sam Rockwell, Danny DeVito, Delroy Lindo Rebecca Pidgeon and Ricky Jay, and it’s literally just a bunch of people pulling off a heist together. Don’t overlook this one. It’s terrific. This is one of those movies I feel most comes up from people who randomly see it and go, “That movie was really awesome.” Atlantis: The Lost Empire is Disney. Similar to Treasure Planet which would come out the year after this, as both are basically a group of people on a search for something. Here, it’s a lost civilization. There, it’s treasure. It’s fun. Very much part of that mixed-bag of the post-Disney Renaissance, but a respectable movie nevertheless. The Fast and the Furious is the movie that spawned the never-ending franchise. Based on an article, the movie is basically “Point Break but with cars.” That’s the movie. David Ayer wrote it, Rob Cohen directed it, and Paul Walker is a cop infiltrating Vin Diesel and his ring of car thieves. The movie worked, and it morphed into the franchise it is now. Kinda crazy how that works. This one is still fun, though, even though it doesn’t remotely resemble where the franchise is at now. It did help make Vin Diesel a star though. Moulin Rouge! is Baz Luhrmann’s jukebox musical that is just pure energy personified. This movie is an assault on the eyes an ears, and that can go either very well or very badly for viewers. Most people seem to like it. Ewan McGregor is a poet who falls in love with Nicole Kidman, the main attraction at the titular cabaret. It’s basically — dude falls in love with a prostitute, and they sing songs. There’s a lot to like about this movie, but Baz Luhrmann’s cinema is one of excess, so it might be a lot for some people to handle. The soundtrack is great, though.

Shrek. Yes.

Joy Ride is one of the more underrated thrillers of the 2000s. Written by J.J. Abrams, by the way, for those of you for whom that means something. It’s basically Duel, in a way. Kids on a road trip start talking to a trucker, who turns out to be a psycho who stalks them and tries to kill them. It’s a lot of fun, and I definitely recommend it as a nice gem of the year and decade. Hannibal is the sequel to Silence of the Lambs. Totally unnecessary, yet it exists and is probably more watchable than it deserves to be. Ridley Scott directs, Anthony Hopkins returns as Hannibal and Julianne Moore takes over for Jodie Foster as Clarice. I forget ultimately why, I think Foster just didn’t like the direction they were taking the material. But the movie… it’s really a showcase for Anthony Hopkins anyway. The Clarice stuff isn’t really as interesting. Though we do get an awesomely uncredited Gary Oldman as a former victim of Lecter’s whose face is absolutely mangled. Oldman is totally unrecognizable here and gives a wonderful performance. Also this movie gave us the famous “brains” scene. So there’s that too. And it introduced me to Giancarlo Giannini, which is also pretty sweet. Overall, probably the weakest of the three Hannibal films (and yes, I’m including Red Dragon in that. Go figure).

Kate & Leopold is a wonderful romantic comedy that I discovered years later. Hugh Jackman plays a 19th century nobleman who is transported to modern day New York, where he meets and falls in love with Meg Ryan. It’s absolutely lovely. James Mangold directs, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned about him over the years is that he always makes worthwhile and watchable movies. And when a director is like that, just learn to trust whatever it is they make. This is one of the movies that helped me adopt that mindset. Because before I watched it, I’d have thought, “This sounds stupid.” And then afterward, I’m totally in love with this movie. Highly recommended for people who love a good rom com. Wet Hot American Summer is one of those cult comedies that still feels resonant. Especially since they filmed both a prequel and sequel fairly recently for Netflix. It’s about the last day of a summer camp and all the various things that go on. Basically Caddyshack at a summer camp, but if it were made by the guys who made The State. It’s completely goofy and insane, and kind of wonderful. The amount of people who became really well known in comedy after this movie came out is really impressive.

Knockaround Guys is a movie I always really liked. It’s a crime drama, not really action-y at all. Written and directed by Koppelman and Levin, who did Rounders (and Billions, for you TV-minded folk). Barry Pepper is the son of a mob boss whose friends are all the sons of mob guys. They’re all low level, but some of them want to do more. So they all go on a job together — a simple job — which goes wrong and now they’re scrambling to make things right before things go very wrong. It’s a solid movie. Aside from Pepper, you get Vin Diesel, John Malkovich, Seth Green, Dennis Hopper, Tom Noonan, and a bunch of other famous famous you’ll recognize from other films. It’s really solid. I Am Sam is Sean Penn, as Tropic Thunder would say, going “full retard.” Sadly this movie will always be infamous for that more than anything. Penn plays a mentally-challenged man who is fighting for custody of his young daughter. That’s pretty much the film. Penn, I think, is great here, and delivers a performance that was more deserving of an award than the won he ultimately won his first one for (Mystic River), and Dakota Fanning is terrific as the daughter. It’s a film that’s not gonna appeal to everyone, but I’ve always liked it a lot. Plus it’s got a soundtrack full of Beatles covers, which is pretty sweet.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is Kevin Smith doing the first shared universe, years before Marvel. This is also kind of a genius concept. Jay and Silent Bob find out that the comic (from Chasing Amy) that uses them as a basis for the characters is being turned into a movie. So they decide to go out to Hollywood to stop it. And the film is basically a road trip movie with all sorts of shenanigans along the way. It’s so linked to Smith’s other films that a few actors literally play multiple characters. Some scenes are really goofy and don’t hold up, whereas some still make me laugh today. The stuff on the studio lot I think is great. Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season. The “10-82.” And the code phrase “oh what a lovely tea party.” This is definitely one of those movies that reminds me of what it was like to be 13. Blow is one of those really liked cult-like drug movies that’s not on the level of a Scarface but still in that nice groove of like a Carlito’s Way, where everyone thinks it’s good and some people really like it. Actually kinda like Donnie Brasco, which is also a Johnny Depp movie. He plays the guy who helped establish the cocaine trade in the 70s. And it’s a fun movie. It’s trying to be the Goodfellas of cocaine, and it largely succeeds. It’s a very fun movie that, like I said, is something pretty much everyone likes, because it’s just that kind of a movie.

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Tier three:

  • Ali
  • Bandits
  • Corky Romano
  • Formula 51
  • From Hell
  • Ghost World
  • Iris
  • Jurassic Park III
  • A Knight’s Tale
  • Made
  • Monster’s Ball
  • Not Another Teen Movie
  • Osmosis Jones
  • The Princess Diaries
  • Rat Race
  • Rush Hour 2
  • Spy Kids
  • Swordfish
  • Vanilla Sky
  • Y Tu Mamá También

Formula 51 is such an awesome movie. Samuel L. Jackson stars as a kilt-wearing chemist named Elmo McElroy who is being hunted by Meat Loaf as a crime boss called The Lizard. I mean, how can that not interest you? The plot has something to do with Jackson creating a formula for some drug, and him taking it all for himself to sell or something, and then Meat Loaf sends a hitwoman to go kill him, and it’s part buddy comedy with Jackson and Robert Carlisle. I don’t know. All I know is that this was a really fun movie to watch. I’m not overthinking this. From Hell is the adaptation of the Alan Moore graphic novel about Jack the Ripper. It takes (by necessity) liberties with the source material, but even so, it’s a really solid piece of work. And in an era where comic book movies weren’t being made, this is a pretty respectful adaptation that largely works. Rat Race is one of those comedies I could only have liked at the age I was when it came out. It’s basically It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World for the modern era. A bunch of different people are told that there’s $2 million in a locker in a casino in Las Vegas, and whoever gets there first gets to keep it. So all sorts of madcap things happen along the way. It’s not as good as the movie it’s influenced by, but it’s fun when you’re 13.

Made is Jon Favreau bringing the Swingers band back together. He directs this one on top of writing, his debut. He plays a middling boxer and construction worker who works for a mob boss (but not for anything criminal). Only, desperate for money, he decides to do a ‘mob’ job, which, as you can imagine, goes sideways. It’s a lot of fun. Favreau was always underrated as a writer and people forget that his smaller movies are largely better than his blockbusters. Spy Kids is Robert Rodriguez making a kids movie. And honestly? Lot of fun. Kid secret agents, loaded cast, great fun. This one holds up, and even the sequels are fun. Ali is Michael Mann’s biopic of Muhammad Ali starring Will Smith. That’s pretty much all you need to know. It’s really solid. Osmosis Jones is such a bizarre movie. But I love it. Directed by the Farrelly brothers, it’s a hybrid live-action/animated film that is basically about a white blood cell cop trying to stop a virus from taking over and killing the human he lives inside. The live-action portion has Bill Murray as the human. That part I don’t remember as much, but the animated parts have some good stuff. It’s also a different kind of take for an animated film, so I’ve always appreciated that.

Not Another Teen Movie is a much better movie than you’d think. I still find a lot of it funny, all these years later. It’s a parody of those high school movies of the late 90s, like Can’t Hardly Wait, 10 Things I Hate About You, Cruel Intentions and Never Been Kissed. The basic plot is Can’t Hardly Wait, where a popular guy bets he can turn the nerdy girl into prom queen, and so on and so forth. It’s really funny. I still think this contains one of the funniest jokes I’ve ever seen in a movie, where they’re at prom and all of a sudden every student starts doing this elaborate dance routine out of nowhere (like always happens in these movies) and they just cut to another student (Josh Radnor, of all people) who goes, “Funny, you’d never suspect that everyone at this school was a professional dancer.” That’s still funny to me. The Princess Diaries is just a glorious movie. Anne Hathaway is a regular girl/social outcast who finds out she’s actually heir to the throne of a fictional European country. And so it becomes Pygmalion as they have to groom her to be able to take the throne. It’s a lot of fun, and has the great Julie Andrews and great Hector Elizondo in it. This is the kind of movie that those Netflix Christmas movies were built on.

Bandits is based on Elmore Leonard, but not really. They veer wildly off course from his novel and turn it into a different thing. So it’s basically Elmore Leonard in name. But still, I’ve always enjoyed this movie. It’s Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton as bank robbers who both fall in love with Cate Blanchett, a bored housewife. It’s a fun movie. Ghost World is Terry Zwigoff adapting Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel about two bored teen girls who decide to have fun by pretending to respond to a lonely man’s ad for a date and watching as no one actually shows up to meet him. But one of the girls finds herself feeling sorry for this man and getting to know him. It’s good. I remember growing up and people loved this movie. Somehow I completely missed it and only saw it very recently for the first time. I liked it. I’m not sure how much I’d have liked it if I saw it in 2007, but I didn’t, so here we are. Jurassic Park III is the unnecessary, but fun third entry in the series. This one has Sam Neill returning to help lead an expedition to find some missing people who were near the island at the time they disappeared. So now we’re basically venturing back into dinosaurs to find people and you get more dino action and a bigger dinosaur and all that stuff.

A Knight’s Tale is a very strange movie, but one I find has enduring appeal to a lot of people. It’s a movie that takes place in medieval times, but has modern day references throughout. The soundtrack is something you’d hear on a classic rock station. It’s about a squire who takes his dead knight’s place in a tournament (which he isn’t really allowed to do). Heath Ledger stars, and I think a lot of girls around my age remember him in this movie very well. And speaking of movies people my age remember well, all the guys my age remember Swordfish really well. I remember seeing a poster for it early that year and thinking, “This is the movie for me.” Because I always liked Travolta, and I just started getting into Jackman after X-Men, plus there’s Halle Berry (who is the reason a lot of guys my age remember this movie very well), and it just looked fun. I don’t even remember the plot to this at all. Jackman is a computer hacker and Travolta is this weird shadow terrorist who may or may not be a good guy… I honestly don’t even care the plot. I just enjoyed the movie.  Monster’s Ball is the film that won Halle Berry her Oscar. It’s also a really affective drama. Not amazing, but really solid with good performances. She plays the wife of a death row inmate who starts a relationship with one of the prison guards, played by Billy Bob Thornton. He’s also really good here, and there are great supporting turns in this by both Peter Boyle and Heath Ledger.

Y Tu Mama Tambien is Alfonso Cuaron. It’s a movie about two teen boys who go on a road trip with a carefree older woman. It’s wonderful. I don’t personally love it as much as his later films, but it’s just as good as them. It’s a beautiful film. Vanilla Sky is Cameron Crowe remaking the film Open Your Eyes, made just a few years earlier, which also starred Penelope Cruz. This one has Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz and Kurt Russell. Cruise stars as a publisher whose life gets upended after he has congruent relationship with two women. It’s solid. Very weird choice for Cameron Crowe coming off Almost Famous, but it’s definitely solid. Iris is a biopic of Iris Murdoch, spanning two different periods of her life. The first is her as a younger woman, played by Kate Winslet, falling in love with her husband, and the second is her older, played by Judi Dench, starting to lose her memory from Alzheimer’s, while her husband (Jim Broadbent) completely dotes on her. It’s not a great movie. But Dench, Broadbent and Winslet are all great. Also the dude they got to play young Jim Broadbent feels exactly like him, which is a great bit of casting. Dench in particular is quite great, and Broadbent even won an Oscar for his performance. It’s really that stuff that makes this movie worthwhile. I don’t think most people would necessarily know who Iris Murdoch is or even care about watching a movie about her life.

Rush Hour 2 is the sequel. Not as fresh as the first one felt, but more Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan, which is exactly what you want. It’s honestly just about as good as the first one is. There are a lot of fun moments. I think you can watch 1 and 2 together and consider them almost equals, even if this is just capitalizing on the success of the first one. Corky Romano is just a batshit crazy movie. I guess they thought it was the proper highlight for Chris Kattan’s… whatever? He plays the black sheep son of a mob boss, whose older two sons are carrying along the family business. However, in order to save the family, he has to infiltrate the FBI. It’s… somehow I remember jokes from this movie better than I do most others. I remember the trailer, and him in the little convertible singing badly to “Take on Me,” hearing that about a thousand times when it came out. I can never forget him showing up in the Girl Scout uniform at the door, going, “You guys want some cookies?!” And then what is probably my favorite joke in the movie — his brothers are played by Chris Penn and Peter Berg. And Berg’s character’s thing is that he can’t read. So there’s just a scene of him standing at an ice cream truck, trying to order something, but unable to read the flavors. So he’s like, “Let me get pistachio,” and the guy’s like, “We don’t have that.” And since he can’t read what’s there, he’s just awkwardly naming flavors. I don’t know why that was always so funny to me. Still is.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tier four:

  • American Pie 2
  • The Believer
  • The Cat’s Meow
  • Diamond Men
  • Evolution
  • How High
  • Ichi the Killer
  • Joe Dirt
  • Josie and the Pussycats
  • Legally Blonde
  • Life as a House
  • The Majestic
  • No Man’s Land
  • Pearl Harbot
  • Saving Silverman
  • Scary Movie 2
  • See Spot Run
  • The Shipping News
  • Tortilla Soup
  • Waking Life

Let’s start by running down all the dumb movies I only think of fondly because I was 13 at the time and appreciated dumb shit. The first is Evolution, which is just so stupid that I even forget Ivan Reitman directed it. A meteor strikes earth, and an evil alien creatures start coming out of the impact crater. And it’s up to a bunch of misfits to stop it. It’s really stupid, but because I saw it at that age where I was okay with stupid, I’ll always have some sort of minor affinity for it. American Pie 2 is the sequel, and is the gang at college. Weirdly I don’t remember this as well as I do the first one and the third one, mostly because I think it’s more of the same as the first. Which, when you’re 13, is amusing. Saving Silverman is Jack Black and Steve Zahn as two friends who can’t stand their other friend (Jason Biggs)’s fiancée, so they kidnap her to prove that he’s making the wrong decision. Scary Movie 2 is another sequel that plays more on the haunted house version of scary movies. I always remembered the opening, with James Woods doing an exorcism, because it was originally supposed to be Marlon Brando, who got paid a shit ton of money to do it and then refused to show up and somehow got paid anyway. See Spot Run is so goddamn weird. It’s about an FBI-trained dog in witness protection who escapes and is chased down by a mobster who wants it dead. And the dog ends up being helped by David Arquette, the mailman. Not sure how I ended up seeing this in theaters (well… yes I do… I saw basically anything and everything in theaters at that age), but I do remember it pretty well from that age. Oh, and then there’s Joe Dirt, which is, whatever the opposite of a tour de force is for David Spade. Surprisingly this movie holds up fairly decently for me after all this time, which is surprising, since it’s not good.

Moving on, we’ll go to Josie and the Pussycats, which is starting to be looked at as a very smart and very underrated movie of this era. It’s based on the comic/cartoon, and most people would dismiss it as nothing more than that, but it actually is a pretty good satire on consumerism and pop culture. It’s about the band being signed to a record deal, only to slowly find out that the label is using the music to brainwash people. It’s fun, and the music in this is really good. How High is Method Man and Redman. You’d be surprised at how much I quote from this movie as compared to other, more famous ones. It’s also a forerunner for Harold and Kumar — potheads on a road trip. The Believer is Ryan Gosling following in Edward Norton’s footsteps and playing a neo-Nazi. It’s a solid movie, and shows Gosling’s commitment to emotionally fulfilling, difficult roles that don’t always portray him as a movie star. Legally Blonde is the movie that made Reese Witherspoon’s career. It’s Clueless but if she went to law school. It’s fun.

Diamond Men is a really cool little indie film that I can’t remember how I found, but I’m guessing it has to do with the fact that it stars Robert Forster. Forster stars as a man who’s been selling diamonds for years but now has to mentor the younger guy who’s gonna take his job. So there’s definitely an Up in the Air vibe going on here, but it’s just a really sweet little movie with a great lead performance by Forster. Pearl Harbor is Michael Bay’s movie about how the biggest surprise attack in American military history and most important days that everyone can remember the date of interrupted a love triangle between Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale and Josh Hartnett. That’s… kind of the movie. The actual battle sequence is incredible, but everything around it is just kinda bland. But hey, at least we have that battle sequence. The Cat’s Meow is Peter Bogdanovich directing a movie based on a famous urban legend, which is the mysterious death of Thomas Ince on board William Randolph Hearst’s yacht over a weekend get together in the 20s. It’s a lot of fun, but probably won’t appeal to people who aren’t big fans of Hollywood history and lore. Life as a House is Kevin Kline as a dying man who decides he wants to enjoy his remaining time by living life to the fullest, building a proper house and getting closer to his estranged son. It’s a really solid movie. It can be seen as schmaltzy, but it gives Kevin Kline a really great lead performance, which he doesn’t often get.

Tortilla Soup is a movie I remember seeing a bunch around this time on Starz. It gives the great Hector Elizondo a lead role as a widowed chef and father to three daughters. And the film is about him and his family and the meals he cooks that bring them all together, and him learning to enjoy life again, and his daughters each coming into their own in various ways. I’ve always really liked it. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but I must have seen it about two dozen times between 2001 and 2005. Ichi the Killer is Takeshi Miike, and it’s fucking… yeah. Put it this way, the title card is formed out of a puddle of the main character’s semen after he jerks off outside a window while watching people have sex. And then, there’s some real fucked up shit that happens during it. But it’s also good… which I know is difficult to hear after the semen thing, but it is. Though if you’re not a fan of really brutal body horror, probably best not to watch this one. The Shipping News is the Canadian Quiet Man. Kevin Spacey is a man who decides to leave his life to go live in his ancestral home in Canada. It’s much more Oscar bait-y (read: Miramax), but it’s a solid movie with great performances all around. Spacey’s good, Judi Dench is there, Cate Blanchett pops up, you’ve got Julianne Moore. It’s a good movie, though more of a nice little gem than anything.

Waking Life is Richard Linklater’s first go-round with rotoscoping, which he’d use to much more significant effect with A Scanner Darkly a few years after this. This one is more plotless, trying to evoke a bit of a philosophical dreamlike state. And I think it mostly works. Linklater is one of those filmmakers whose movies are always watchable and seldom below average, and this is a very good attempt at a different type of film. The Majestic is Frank Darabont directing Jim Carrey. Which, in 2000, automatically makes it something you assume couldn’t miss. It’s a high concept fantasy, about a blacklisted writer in the 50s who crashes his car and wakes up in this idyllic town in which he’s mistaken for a local man who went missing during the war. It’s a Brigadoon kind of story. Not really magical, but you get the idea. I like it, even though I get why it didn’t fully work for most people. No Man’s Land won Best Foreign Language Film this year. It’s set during the Bosnian War, about two men on opposite sides who end up in a trench with a third man who is stuck on a landmine. So they’re forced to sit there together and work together to not die. It’s really well done.

– – – – – – – – – –

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One response

  1. Solid list and great write-up.

    November 12, 2019 at 12:02 am

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