Critical Analysis 

City Weekly’s resident cinemaphiles compare notes on the best of 2001.

Scott Renshaw: So, before we get into the details of our respective top 10 lists, let’s do a pithy summary of 2001 at the movies: one for the ages, so-so, or complete suck-fest?


Greg Beacham: There were a lot of pictures that I liked, but not much I’m going to add to my DVD collection. A good-but-not-great year.


SR: I saw a lot of really good stuff at Sundance in January, and a lot of really good stuff in December. In between, I began to fear for my immortal soul. It becomes clearer every year to me that mainstream Hollywood filmmaking is getting more and more inane and insulting.


GB: I’ve been looking more and more for guilty pleasures. I still haven’t given up on Hollywood, but if you see Doctor Dolittle 2, you’ve got to wonder. I look for stuff I can still enjoy despite its obvious flaws. Things like Ocean’s Eleven, where it’s just so cool—it’s more fun for me than something you’ve got to deconstruct. An example of that was The Deep End—was this tension, or just sloppy film-making?


SR: I’m guessing that your list will strike people as a bit more populist than mine. A few of my titles are films that haven’t gotten to Salt Lake City yet, or might never get here, or were here for a cup of coffee on their way to the video shelf.


GB: Basically, I see movies the same way I see sex: I’m only there for my own enjoyment. I want to be entertained—if I’m stimulated or edified or intellectually challenged, so much the better. By these standards, I had more pure fun at Ocean’s Eleven than I did at anything else all year, which makes it the best movie of the year.


SR: See, I think you’re setting up something of a false dichotomy. There’s a lot of baggage attached to that word “entertained.” I don’t know anybody—average movie-goer or critic—who doesn’t go to the movies primarily to be entertained. It’s just that we’re not all entertained by the same thing. I want to make sure you’re not equating the word “entertained” with just being interested in flashy, empty-calorie films. There’s tremendous pleasure for me in watching a filmmaker do whatever it is he’s trying to do better than most people can do it—whether it’s Steven Soderbergh doing an all-star caper in Ocean’s Eleven or David Lynch doing a surreal head-trip in Mulholland Drive.


GB: I find myself responding more to visceral things than intellectual things—entertaining, crowd-pleasing stuff. Nobody’s going to call The Devil’s Backbone a popcorn movie, but it’s visceral.


SR: OK, now we get to congratulate each other on the places where our lists agreed. Obviously both of us liked The Man Who Wasn’t There, Mulholland Dr. and Memento, though I think for different reasons. I don’t think people—including you—are giving them enough credit for how soulful and emotionally effective they were. There was this knee-jerk reaction of calling them clever, but emotionally distant. I think Billy Bob Thornton [in The Man Who Wasn’t There], Naomi Watts [in Mulholland Drive] and Guy Pearce [in Memento] gave three of the most intense performances of the year.


GB: I have to say it was a great year for revisionist film noir, with the three films you mentioned, plus Sexy Beast. Not really a great year for anything else, though.


SR: Now the dismissive snorts. Anything on my list that leaps out at you and says, “Come on, you’re kidding, right?”


GB: Hedwig I think is just a big practical joke. John Cameron Mitchell made Glitter with a guy in it, and put in some better jokes. He didn’t sell it to me. And In the Mood for Love put me in the mood for sleep. The Road Home was a much better movie about Asian people in love.


SR: For me, on your list it was The Devil’s Backbone. Since my review appeared in the latest issue, I won’t re-hash my problems with it now, except to say that I don’t think Guillermo Del Toro was able to focus on the fact that he was telling a ghost story.


GB: Del Toro definitely has attention deficit disorder, and usually I don’t like that. But Del Toro gets so much out of his actors, and his films are so information-packed. You’re right, the ghost story got forgotten, but I liked where it did go.


SR: Any confessions of movies you haven’t seen that you think had a chance to end up on your list?


GB: Go Tigers! is one. I’m shocked to find myself wanting to go see Fellowship [of the Ring], because in high school, I was the guy who beat up the guys who read the Lord of the Rings. And Ali, because I can’t wait to see Will Smith miscast in yet another movie.


SR: I’ve loved Wes Anderson’s films, so I’m anxious to see The Royal Tenenbaums. And I really want to catch up with Training Day, because the mere idea of Denzel Washington playing a bad guy intrigues me.


GB: It’s a great turn, because he’s playing a villain who thinks he’s a good guy. It’s an interesting place for Denzel to take his career.


SR: I like looking for good performances in bad films. I don’t remember as many from this year as I did from last year, but I liked Tilda Swinton in The Deep End, even though the film was ridiculous.


GB: Natasha Henstridge in Ghosts of Mars. Excellent performance in a movie that made no sense. It’s not even on speaking terms with sense. But [Henstridge is] taking her role very seriously, and she’d be taken more seriously if she wasn’t so hot.


SR: Finally, I have to close on this note: American Pie 2? Are you serious?


GB: Nah. There were things that were better, but I just put that there to provoke you. Like I said, I’m mainly in it for my own entertainment.

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