In the first year of the 21st century, quantity trumped quality, and more often than not, bad movies drove out good. The studios hit a new low. For many years, the Voice‘s former photo editor, Fred McDarrah, has taken the film section to task for the “elitism” of our year-end round-ups. This year, even the new trio at the Times was hard-pressed to find studio films of note.
As for the so-called indies, most of them might as well have been made for TV (the much lauded You Can Count on Me, basically an Off-Broadway play, was no exception). The effect on this critic of so many pointless retreads was to bolster my enthusiasm for any movie that seemed the least bit intelligent and original either in form or content. Directors who are willing to take even minimal risks are an endangered species; the least one can do is give them some token recognition. Hence my lengthy runner-up and honorable mention lists.
On a less depressive note: Holiday cheer and best wishes for the New Year to Winstar, the reinvigorated New Yorker Films, and the Shooting Gallery/Loews Cineplex Entertainment collaboration for their commitment to world-class art films and their creative strategies for getting them into theaters without going bankrupt.
1. ‘Beau Travail’
Claire Denis fearlessly breaks the taboo on looking long and hard at men’s bodies, and in so doing, reveals their souls.
2. ‘The House of Mirth’
Terence Davies’s unsparing adaptation of Edith Wharton’s greatest novel is a cerebral horror film in which New York’s insular, turn-of-the-19th-century, blue-blood society turns on and devours one of its own.
A blend of neo-realism and nightmare, Lynne Ramsay’s debut feature about a poverty-stricken Glasgow childhood bears comparison with Buñuel’s harrowing Los Olvidados.
4. ‘Yi Yi’
This restrained, novelistic mapping of a midlife crisis and the relationships among a dozen characters ranging in age from eight to 80 is Edward Yang’s most affecting and fully realized film.
5. ‘Wonder Boys’
In his follow-up to L.A. Confidential, Curtis Hanson turns to screwball comedy and the result is just as seductive. It’s the best Hollywood film of the year.
6. ‘Love and Basketball’
The most passionate, clear-sighted women-in-sports movie ever, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s exhilarating debut feature is also a love story spanning 15 years in the lives of two highly competitive people playing in the same arena.
7. ‘Human Resources’
Brilliantly combining class and oedipal struggles, Laurent Cantet’s debut feature places a father who works on an assembly line and his son, a management trainee, on opposite but unpredictable sides during a strike.
Belatedly released, Akira Kurosawa’s last film is a rueful meditation on identification, attachment, loss, and that most suspect of aesthetic effects—sentimentality.
9. ‘Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai’
The first half is a deadpan satire and an achingly romantic tribute to the hit-man genre from Melville to Kitano. Once the blood starts flowing, however, I worry about what kind of example Jim Jarmusch might be setting for the kiddies.
Given the Orwellian doublespeak running rampant on the tube since Election Day, Spike Lee’s vision of The New Millennium Minstrel Show no longer seems far-fetched.
The Wind Will Carry Us, Two Family House (Raymond De Felitta), Crane World (Pablo Trapero), Croupier (Mike Hodges), New Waterford Girl (Allan Moyle), Taboo, The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun (Djibril Diop Mambéty), Orphans (Peter Mullan), Hamlet (Michael Almereyda), La Bûche (Daniele Thompson), Pola X, Traffic, Chuck & Buck, American Psycho (Mary Harron), Beautiful People (Jasmin Dizdar), Chalk (Rob Nilsson), Getting to Know You (Lisanne Skyler), Migrating Forms (James Fotopoulos), Suzhou River (Lou Ye), George Washington, The Love Machine (Gordon Eriksen)
A Good Baby (Katherine Dieckmann), Luminous Motion (Bette Gordon), All I Wanna Do (Sarah Kenochan), Too Much Sleep (David Maquiling), Trans (Julian L. Goldberger), The Dream Catcher (Ed Radtke), Girlfight (Karyn Kusama), The Opportunists (Myles Connell)
Long Night’s Journey Into Day, One Day in September (Kevin Macdonald), Calle 54 (Fernando Trueba), Dark Days, Sound and Fury (Josh Aronson)
The Heart of the World (Guy Maddin), Arbor Vitae (Nathaniel Dorsky), Prelude (Michael Snow), Origin of the 21st Century (Jean-Luc Godard), Secrets of the Shadow World (George Kuchar), The Living Room (Michael Snow)
FESTIVAL FILMS I HOPE WILL FIND THEIR WAY INTO THEATERS
Eureka, Werckmeister Harmonies, La Captive (Chantal Akerman), The Lady (Dariush Mehrjui), Abendland (Fred Kelemen), Platform, Lumumba (Raoul Peck), Heater (Terrance Odette), Une Vraie Jeune Fille (Catherine Breillat). The last, made in the ’70s but never released because of its X rating, is a hilarious, fleshy, tough-minded depiction of a teenage girl’s first sexual encounters styled like a send-up of D.H. Lawrence.
FILMS TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN 2001
In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai), Brother (Takeshi Kitano), The Gleaners and I (Agnès Varda)