Musicals, Foreign Films Beat Bloated Blockbusters

  • Printer Friendly Printer Friendly
  • Comments Comments (0)

It's customary for critics to begin their ten best lists with a brief rant dismissing the passing year as a dreary twelve months for movies. Alas, it gives me no pleasure to have to say that yes, 2001 was a cine-dud. By the end of summer, we're comforted by optimists who say that the best, as in most years, is to come in the last two or three months, when studios unleash their Oscar contenders. But the wait is over, and critics are yet to discover any masterpieces or Oscar front-runners.

Instead of crying over the year that could have been, let's review the year that was. What I consider the year's most exciting trend is the reincarnation of the musical. "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" took the genre to bluegrass territory; "Moulin Rouge" took it to dazzling new heights. On the other hand, although Adam Sandler didn't have a new movie for his annual bashing, Tom Green revolted critics with "Freddie Got Fingered," which is universally considered the year's low point.

Those who complain that there's nothing good to watch anymore probably just aren't looking beyond the studio flicks. Of my ten best, only two can be considered major Hollywood pictures, whereas one is from Hong Kong, one from Iran, and another hails from mainland China.

1. "In the Mood For Love" (Wong Kar-Wai). Not since David Lean's 1946 classic "Brief Encounter" has there been such an elegant depiction of the guilt, temptation, and best of all, the joy of forbidden love. His slow motion and quick cuts seem to stop time for his star-crossed lovers Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung. Every glance, every footstep, every moment of quiet contemplation drifts this film into a sublime exhilaration.

2. "The Man Who Wasn't There" (Joel Coen). I'm a sucker for neo-noir, and this is the best film in the genre since "LA Confidential." The Coens take their crime tale to a small California town, with classical music instead of jazz, simultaneously paying homage to the Chandler classics and reinterpreting them from a modern perspective. Billy Bob Thornton has never been better as the emotionless title character.

3. "Memento" (Christopher Nolan). Writing a script for "Memento" must be the most intimidating task imaginable. Where do you start? Not only did the screenwriters create one of the most suspenseful films ever, they crafted an incredibly detailed and surprisingly moving story about mental illness.

4. "Gosford Park" (Robert Altman). "Gosford Park" is Altman's best since his glory days of "MASH" and "Nashville," and that's saying a lot. More a glimpse of the turn of the century British class system than a murder mystery, but as bubbly and exciting as any legitimate thriller. It's non-stop fun mixed with revealing moments of despair and solitude, brought out by a cast that had me more star-struck than that of "Ocean's 11."

5. "The Royal Tenenbaums" (Wes Anderson). Critic Kent Jones has already called Anderson the most original American director of comedy since Preston Sturges, and rightly so. His latest isn't as emotionally masterful as his previous "Rushmore," but it is grander and more ambitious. Not only is it the year's funniest movie, no other film says as much about family, loneliness, expectations, memory, ambition, race, drugs, art, and the overall love of the movies.

6. "Kandahar" (Mohsen Makhmal-baf). It's unfortunate that most critics only look at this movie and note how lucky it is for a movie called "Kandahar" to be released after September 11. But trust me, we need "Kandahar" more than it needs us. This film is essential not because it's about Afghans under Taliban rule (it was made long before September by the way), but because it's about cultural exchange and empathy. It manages to teach more about Afghan culture than CNN ever has.

7. "Mulholland Drive" (David Lynch). This film has no narrative logic, yet it makes perfect sense, an impressive feat by director Lynch. It's a critique of the dream of Hollywood told with the apt impenetrability of a dream. Naomi Watts' endlessly surprising performance is the heart of the film and a commentary on the mystery of acting itself.

8. "In the Bedroom" (Todd Field). This emotionally harrowing story of grief and lust for revenge is enhanced by the watchful eye of new director Todd Field, who is in complete control of his characters' explosive desires.

9. "The Road Home" (Zhang Yimou). Director Zhang Yimou has always crafted small, rural, fable-like tales, but never has it been as apparent as in his last two, "Not One Less" and the overlooked gem "The Road Home." The photography here is as beautiful as movies get and star Zhang Ziyi of "Crouching Tiger" fame proves that she's the world's most sparkling young actress.

10. "Moulin Rouge" (Baz Luhrmann). It's a jewel of postmodern excess. Unlike the overrated "Shrek," "Moulin Rouge" not only references other movies, but comments on them, thrusting the camp of Melies and Busby Berkeley into the realm of otherwise disgustingly sappy love tunes we'd normally want to forget. It somehow manages to be an appreciation and a denouncement of "silly love songs," and the result is enchanting.


Comments (0) »

Comment Policy
The Daily Cal encourages readers to voice their opinions respectfully in regards to both the readers and writers of The Daily Californian. Comments are not pre-moderated, but may be removed if deemed to be in violation of this policy. Comments should remain on topic, concerning the article or blog post to which they are connected. Brevity is encouraged. Posting under a pseudonym is discouraged, but permitted. Click here to read the full comment policy.
White space
Left Arrow
Arts & Entertainment
Image All Quiet on the Eastern Front
Shells fly, walls crumble and bodies fall in the first 25 minutes of "City ...Read More»
Arts & Entertainment
Image Of Time and the City
Fifteen months after the destruction of the World Trade Center on September...Read More»
Arts & Entertainment
Image BAM exhibit creates visual wonder from unlikely so...
"Fear is like this: Someone like a woman that you grab ahold...Read More»
Arts & Entertainment
Image 'As You Like It' reinvents the classic
The title of Shakespeare's popular comedy "As You Like It," practically beg...Read More»
Arts & Entertainment
As the open-ended summer adventures begin - the kind involving late-night r...Read More»
Arts & Entertainment
Image CD Review: DISC-OVERY
British rapper Tinie Tempah (real name: Patrick Okogwu) definitely looks th...Read More»
Right Arrow

Job Postings

White Space