27 April 2009

The Decade List: Some Honorable Mentions for 2001

It's tough making these lists. You want to be as thorough as possible, but who has time to go back and rewatch all of the films they saw during a given year? On one hand, I'd love for some crystal ball to tell me if I'd like The Devil's Backbone as much now as I did when I first saw it in the theatre. On the other hand, if I had such a device, it would spoil the joy of finding out that you were plain wrong in disliking something upon first viewing (that happened to me with Performance). I like to think my taste has improved from when I was 17, but with four exceptions, I haven't seen any of the films I've listed below in at least five years. Alas, I'm still holding out on a couple of films that I will actually sit down and watch again, so by no means is this a definitive list of 2001 Honorable Mentions, but more, the films from 2001 I don't have the time (or desire) to see again. Unless of course, you convince me otherwise. They are not ranked, but I've placed the annotated ones first.

Intimacy - dir. Patrice Chéreau

Before Chloë Sevigny, Kerry Fox became the first legitimate English-speaking actress to perform fellatio onscreen (I didn't come up with that distinction). And, as you may have heard or seen, it's nothing to fuss over (I recall people leaving the theatre once it happened not out of outrage but because they saw what they came to see). Opening with one of my favorite Tindersticks songs, "A Night In," Patrice Chéreau's Intimacy chronicles the no-frills sexual relationship between two adults (Fox and Mark Rylance) with a candid eye. Compared to some of Chéreau's other films, Intimacy, which was the director's first film in English, isn't wholly remarkable, but the leads are wonderful and the cinematography from Éric Neveux, who has worked on a number of films by Arnaud Desplechin and Olivier Assayas, is exquisite.

With: Mary Rylance, Kerry Fox, Marianne Faithfull, Timothy Spall, Susannah Harker, Alastair Galbraith, Philippe Calvario, Fraser Ayres
Screenplay: Annie-Louise Trividic, Patrice Chéreau, based on stories by Hanif Kureishi
Cinematography: Éric Neveux
Country of Origin: France/UK/Germany/Spain
US Distributor: Empire Pictures/Koch Lorber

Premiere: 20 January 2001 (Sundance Film Festival)

Awards: Golden Bear, Silver Bear - Kerry Fox (Berlin International Film Festival)

Vagón fumador [Smokers Only] - dir. Verónica Chen

Certainly one of the lesser examples of the recent artistic surge in Argentina, Smokers Only is admirable in its disposition, even if it's not entirely successful. I actually wrote a paper for a class defending the film's merits (nearly every critic that reviewed the film hated it), but due to a hard drive crash and a stolen "man bag," it has disappeared into the ether. Verónica Chen's later effort Agua from 2006 would officially cross her off my list of exciting new directors to keep an eye out for.

With: Leonardo Brzezicki, Cecilia Bengolea, Adrián Fondari, Carlos Issa, Fernando Moumdjian, Juan Martín Gravina, Adrián Blanco
Screenplay: Verónica Chen
Cinematography: Nicolás Theodossiou
Music: Edgardo Rudnitzky, Chango Spaciuk
Country of Origin: Argentina
US Distributor: Strand Releasing

Premiere: 11 November 2001 (Thessaloniki International Film Festival)
US Premiere: 20 December 2002 (New York City)

Bridget Jones's Diary - dir. Sharon Maguire

Just as 2001 reminded us of the long-forgotten days when we thought we didn't like Penélope Cruz, I was reminded of a time when we thought another actress with an accent aigu in her name: Renée Zellweger. Following her brilliant performance in Neil LaBute's Nurse Betty (which is currently in my rewatch queue), Zellweger defied the naysayers (Brits, mostly) and pulled off a near-flawless British accent as the titular Bridget Jones. Her charm went beyond the expected chicklit/romcom standard, and even placed Hugh Grant against type as Jones' asshole boss. I never saw the sequel, but I seem to remember a friend saying something about Bridget Jones getting thrown into a Thai prison for drug smuggling... and with that, I decided to keep my memories of Bridget pure, even if I'll never be able to do the same for the actress playing her.

With: Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Gemma Jones, Jim Broadbent, Celia Imrie, James Faulkner, Shirley Henderson, James Callis, Sally Phillips, Embeth Davidtz
Screenplay: Helen Fielding, Andrew Davies, Richard Curtis, based on the novel by Fielding
Cinematography: Stuart Dryburgh
Music: Patrick Doyle
Country of Origin: UK/France
US Distributor: Miramax Films

Premiere: 4 April 2001 (UK)
US Premiere: 13 April 2001

Awards: Best Actor (Audience Award) - Colin Firth (European Film Awards)

Hotel - dir. Mike Figgis

Taken from my earlier review: Cinema so rarely gives us that beautiful escapist feeling any more (The Transporter 2, which I may write about soon, is a fine example of the contrary), so when a film does, whether it's of high merit or not, one must appreciate it. Mike Figgis' Hotel is one such example. It's like going on a fucking vacation... and not one of those vacations you had to go on with your parents and siblings where you placed license plate games and stayed in the hotel watching TV the whole time. It's more like a vacation to a gorgeous European locale where you don't speak the language and don't really care. Such artistic pretension hasn't shown its face since Peter Greenaway (a fellow Brit). Well, such satisfying pretention, that is. Figgis' Time Code was a digital experiment in which four camera captured real-time action loosely surrounding a Hollywood satire. The feat itself was marvelous, even if the film was deservedly forgotten shortly afterward. He returns to digital experimentation with Hotel, sometimes employing the quad-screen in Time Code, but often using simple split-screens, night vision camera, and the blending of images. American audiences threw their hands up, and the film went hidden for nearly four years until getting a direct-to-video release. There's a lot of fucking stuff going on here, including a British film crew making a tasteless Dogme adaptation of The Duchess of Malfi, an American tabloid whore Charlee Boux (Salma Hayek) making a documentary about the production, a murder subplot, and the hotel staff that appears to be kidnapping people and feeding their bodies to the clientele. All of this sounds like a mess, and it is -- but a rather glorious mess. I purchased Hotel from my work for around 5 dollars (we had plenty of backstock) and found that multiple viewings really don't enchance the film in any way. One would think a film as convoluted as this would do so, but you soon realize that the magic of Hotel is in your initial blindness to its strange and alarming provocations. I have a particular fondness for films that challenge our senses, even if the final result is as messy as my room looks right now, and especially when its teamed with lofty ambition. To make sense of Hotel would be futile, but I can't say it's not worth a shot to allow yourself to just go with it.

With: Rhys Ifans, Saffron Burrows, David Schwimmer, Valentina Cervi, Lucy Liu, Max Beesley, Julian Sands, Salma Hayek, Valeria Golino, John Malkovich, Burt Reynolds, Chiara Mastroianni, Mía Maestro, Ornella Muti, Mark Strong, Jason Isaacs, Danny Huston, Laura Morante, Heathcote Williams, Andrea Di Stefano, Stefania Rocca, Mark Long, Fabrizio Bentivoglio
Screenplay: Mike Figgis, Heathcote Williams, loosely based on the play The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster
Cinematography: Patrick Alexander Stewart
Music: Mike Figgis, Anthony Marinelli
Country of Origin: UK/Italy
US Distributor: MGM

Premiere: 12 September 2001 (Toronto International Film Festival)
US Premiere: 5 June 2002 (Atlanta Film and Video Festival)

The Fluffer - dir. Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland

As I haven't the time to re-watch all of the films I'm spotlighting in the Honorable Mentions section, many of these films have been included as a result of being pleasant surprises as opposed to exceptional films. I'm not sure which category The Fluffer falls in, as I simply remember blindly purchasing a ticket for it and being startled at the fact that it was much better than I would have anticipated any film called The Fluffer could be. The premise is a bit silly: a young film student (Michael Cunio) tries to rent a copy of Citizen Kane, only to find that the video cassette he's rented isn't the Orson Welles classic but a gay porn called Citizen Cum. This "happy accident" leads the ambitious Sean to the LA-based porn studio, where his dream to make it in the film industry is overshadowed by his lust for Citizen Cum's gay-for-pay leading man Johnny Rebel (Scott Gurney). Much to his delight, Sean becomes the porn star's fluffer. The rest of the film concerns Sean's (failed) attempts to rationalize his feelings for Johnny, whose stripper girlfriend (Roxanne Day) has just found out she's pregnant, and the film ends on a strange, elusive note that has stuck with me to this day. It's highly possible that The Fluffer merely worked by exceeding my expectations of American gay cinema (I actually didn't even know the film fell into this category when I bought the ticket), but it's also nice to remember a recent gay flick with something other than just a bad taste in your mouth. Note: The pun wasn't intentional, but I'm leaving it anyway.

With: Michael Cunio, Scott Gurney, Roxanne Day, Deborah Harry, Taylor Negron, Josh Holland, Richard Riehle, Ron Jeremy
Screenplay: Wash Westmoreland
Cinematography: Mark Putnam
Music: John Vaughn, The Bowling Green
Country of Origin: USA
US Distributor: TLA Releasing/First Run Features

Premiere: 11 February 2001 (Berlin International Film Festival)
US Premiere: 25 September 2001 (Portland LGBT Film Festival)

Sugar & Spice - dir. Francine McDougall

It's a shame so many people hate Sugar & Spice, because it's actually rather sharp, even in its diluted version which was so altered by the studio from Lola Williams' original screenplay that she asked to have her name taken off of it. A set of high school cheerleaders plot to rob a bank and, sorry for the "spoiler," get away with it. As the pregnant squad captain Diane, Marley Shelton shows great comic timing, whether using Madonna lyrics as words of wisdom or greeting her reflection every morning with a pep talk, and this would be utilized best in Grindhouse a few years later. It may not be one of the best teen comedies Hollywood has given us, but it's certainly a lot better than you've heard.

With: Marley Shelton, James Marsden, Marla Sokoloff, Mena Suvari, Rachel Blanchard, Melissa George, Alexandra Holden, Sara Marsh, Sean Young, W. Earl Brown
Screenplay: Lona Williams, under the pseudonym Mandy Nelson
Cinematography: Robert Brinkmann
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
Country of Origin: USA
US Distributor: New Line Cinema

Premiere: 24 January 2001

Wet Hot American Summer - dir. David Wain

Wet Hot American Summer sure was a hoot when it first came out. Subsequent viewings haven't proven as fruitful, and Showalter's bit during the talent show is really tedious. It remains the most successful cinematic foray from the State guys, though The Baxter isn't without its moments.

With: Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Michael Showalter, Marguerite Moreau, Paul Rudd, Michael Ian Black, Christopher Meloni, Molly Shannon, Amy Poehler, Zak Orth, A.D. Miles, Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio, Elizabeth Banks, Marisa Ryan, Gideon Jacobs, Liam Norton, Kevin Sussman
Screenplay: Michael Showalter, David Wain
Cinematography: Ben Weinstein
Music: Theodore Shapiro, Craid Wedren
Country of Origin: USA
US Distributor: USA Films

Premiere: 23 January 2001 (Sundance Film Festival)

Lost & Delirious - dir. Léa Pool

Despite a handful of clichés, Lost & Delirious is probably one of the better girls-at-boarding-school films outside of the exploitation genre.

With: Piper Perabo, Jessica Paré, Mischa Barton, Jackie Burroughs, Graham Greene, Mimi Kuzyk, Luke Kirby, Emily Vancamp
Screenplay: Judith Thompson, based on the novel The Wives of Bath by Susan Swan
Cinematography: Pierre Gil
Music: Yves Chamberland
Country of Origin: Canada
US Distributor: Lions Gate Films

Premiere: 21 January 2001 (Sundance Film Festival)

Awards: Best Cinematography (Genie Awards, Canada); Best Cinematography in Theatrical Feature (Canadian Society of Cinematographers)

Jeepers Creepers - dir. Victor Salva

Like Candyman, Victor Salva's Jeepers Creepers is remarkably scary for its first third, and also like Candyman, it looses its scares when the Boogeyman shows his face.

With: Gina Philips, Justin Long, Jonathan Breck, Patricia Belcher, Eileen Brennan, Brandon Smith, Peggy Sheffield
Screenplay: Victor Salva
Cinematography: Don E. FauntLeRoy
Music: Bennett Salvay
Country of Origin: USA/Germany
US Distributor: United Artists

Premiere: 20 July 2001 (München Fantasy Filmfest)
US Premiere: 31 August 2001

The Royal Tenenbaums - dir. Wes Anderson

With: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Danny Glover, Seymour Cassel, Kumar Pallana, Grant Rosenmeyer, Jonath Meyerson, Alec Baldwin
Screenplay: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
Cinematography: Robert Yeoman
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
Country of Origin: USA
US Distributor: Touchstone Pictures/Criterion

Premiere: 5 October 2001 (New York Film Festival)

Awards: Best Actor, Musical or Comedy - Gene Hackman (Golden Globes)

L'emploi du temps [Time Out] - dir. Laurent Cantet

With: Aurélien Recoing, Karin Viard, Jean-Pierre Mangeot, Serge Livrozet, Monique Mangeot
Screenplay: Robin Campillo, Laurent Cantet
Cinematography: Pierre Milon
Music: Jocelyn Pook
Country of Origin: France
US Distributor: Miramax Films

Premiere: 4 September 2001 (Venice Film Festival)
US Premiere: 3 October 2001 (New York Film Festival)

Warm Water Under a Red Bridge - dir. Shohei Imamura

With: Kôji Yakusho, Misa Shimizu, Mitsuko Baisho, Manasaku Fuwa, Isao Natsuyagi, Yukiya Kitamura, Hijiri Kojima
Screenplay: Motofumi Tomikawa, Shohei Imamura, Daisuke Tengan, based on the novel by Yo Henmi
Cinematography: Shigeru Komatsubara
Music: Shinichirô Ikebe
Country of Origin: Japan/France
US Distributor: Cowboy Booking/Home Vision

Premiere: 19 May 2001 (Cannes)
US Premiere: 29 September 2001 (New York Film Festival)

Tape - dir. Richard Linklater

With: Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Uma Thurman
Screenplay: Stephen Belber, based on his play
Cinematography: Maryse Alberti
Country of Origin: USA
US Distributor: Lions Gate Films

Premiere: 26 January 2001 (Sundance Film Festival)

Le peuple migrateur [Winged Migration] - dir. Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzard, Michel Debats

Screenplay: Jean Dorst, Stéphane Durand, Guy Jarry, Jacques Perrin, Francis Roux, from an idea by Valentine Perrin
Cinematography: Olli Barbé, Michel Benjamin, Sylvie Carcedo-Drejou, Laurent Charbonnier, Luc Drion, Laurent Fleutot, Philippe Garguil, Dominique Gentil, Bernard Lutic, Thierry Machado, Stéphane Martin, Fabrice Moindrot, Ernst Sasse, Michel Terrasse, Thierry Thomas
Music: Bruno Coulais
Country of Origin: France/Italy/Germany/Spain/Switzerland
US Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Premiere: 12 December 2001 (France, Belgium)
US Premiere: 5 April 2001 (Philadelphia International Film Festival)

Awards: Best Editing - Marie-Josèphe Yoyotte (Césars)

El espinazo del diablo [The Devil's Backbone] - dir. Guillermo del Toro

With: Fernando Tielve, Eduardo Noriega, Marisa Paredes, Federico Luppi, Íñigo Garcés, Irene Visedo
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro, Antonio Trashorras, David Muñoz
Cinematography: Guillermo Navarro
Music: Javier Navarrete
Country of Origin: Spain/Mexico
US Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Premiere: 20 April 2001 (Spain)
US Premiere: 2 September 2001 (Telluride Film Festival)

Hundstage [Dog Days] - dir. Ulrich Seidl

With: Maria Hofstätter, Alfred Mrva, Erich Finsches, Gerti Lehner, Franziska Weisz, Rene Wanko, Claudia Martini, Victor Rathbone, Christian Bakonyi, Christine Jirku, Viktor Hennemann, Georg Friedrich
Screenplay: Veronika Franz, Ulrich Seidl
Cinematography: Wolfgang Thaler
Country of Origin: Austria
US Distributor: Kino

Premiere: 3 September 2001 (Venice Film Festival)
US Premiere: January 2002 (Sundance Film Festival)

Awards: Grand Special Jury Prize (Venice)

Rain - dir. Christine Jeffs

With: Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki, Sarah Peirse, Marton Csokas, Alistair Browning, Aaron Murphy, David Taylor, Chris Sherwood, Claire Dougan, Alison Routledge
Screenplay: Christine Jeffs, based on the novel by Kristy Gunn
Cinematography: John Toon
Music: Neil Finn, Edmund McWilliams
Country of Origin: New Zealand
US Distributor: First Look

Premiere: 14 May 2001 (Cannes)
US Premiere: 12 January 2002 (Sundance Film Festival)

Awards: Best Actress - Sarah Peirse, Best Juvenile Performer - Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki, Best Supporting Actor - Alistair Browning (New Zealand Film and TV Awards)

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