Saturday, December 12, 2009

Backwards and Forwards: 2000

So, to tell the honest truth, I had no expectations of my first End of the 00s series being such a huge hit, not just in terms of spiking attendance but in terms of the incredibly kind and extensive comments that so many of you added to those posts. I am not being disingenuous when I say that, since blogging already has a rap as an inherently narcissistic venture, I that presumed a public airing of my own most subjective memories would come across as the ne plus ultra of cyber-navel-gazing. Nonetheless, I had a delightful time writing those entries, and I truly cannot tell you how touched I was at how warmly and energetically they were received.

My second trip down Memory Lane marks in some way the polar opposite of the first: rather than returning to those cinema visits that made the clearest impression and still stand out in my memory, I'm highlighting the movies about which I never fully made up my mind, and the ones that I never experienced to begin with but wish that I had. I'm calling this series "Backwards and Forwards" because even as I'm looking back at movies I am tempted to revisit and reassess, I am also reconnoting the "end of the decade" logic to underscore all the experiences I am still eager to have in relation to movies of the 00s, even as that decade formally recedes. Like many of you, I attempted to get going early on some catch-up viewing, so that I'd be ready by December to post a Best of the Decade list that I could really get behind. I should have known that I would had no prayer of realizing that project in time, so rather than dream that I'll still get to all those movies, and rather than footnote or sweep under the carpet all the films I apologize for having missed, or that I admit I might have underrated on first pass, I'm making a separate feature out of them.

Please indite your own thoughts about the movies of each year that you would most cue me to see, especially but not only out of the contenders that I mention. I'll be happy to take directives. I'm basing these lists on years in which films debuted internationally (i.e., their "IMDb years"), rather than U.S. release dates, both because they are easier for us all to share in common, and because I don't want to inherently disqualify films that never got a full-tilt shot at a U.S. audience.

Film I Most Suspect I Got Wrong: Back in late December 2000, checking out Yi yi (A One and a Two...) before jetting off to France to visit Derek, I thought it was lethargic, lachrymose, and not particularly interesting in its shooting or construction. The trope of the adorable child, who probably shouldn't be prancing so close to the edge of that pool, seemed very tired, and I have a beef sometimes that movies made in East Asia get a pretty generous pass from American critics when they are rather more coolly distant, decorous, and psychologically opaque than the material really requires. But Yi yi has never let go as a critical pet, and I confess I found it exciting that the National Society of Film Critics went anti-AMPAS enough to laurel it as their Best Picture. And I have to confess further that, as early as 2000, I'm not sure I had the kinds of skill-sets and attentive contexts that would have allowed me to "get" Yi yi. Even if I wind up not liking it as much as most others do, it's hard for me to imagine it deserved a B–.

More Films I Might Have Underestimated: Songs from the Second Floor, which I did really like but barely remember, and my love of You, the Living suggests that I should probably better appreciate Roy Andersson's debut; The Yards, which I have mentioned many times as a personal pet but only reviewed at a B and have never rewatched all the way through; and Lukas Moodysson's Together, another title I liked but everyone else loved, and why didn't I love it? I even have rare, potentially sick moments where I think Billy Elliot probably isn't as awful as I thought it was.

Films I Might Have Overestimated: Was Before Night Falls gorgeous but superficial, or as reactionary as some leftist critics have alleged, in ways I could barely understand at the time? One prominent professor in Ithaca tried to get it banned from our movie theaters, and now that I'm politically savvier than I was ten years ago, I'm at least interested in testing the movie against her position, even though I obviously cannot imagine agreeing with her censorious impulse. My other original Top Ten entry from 2000 that I find myself second-guessing these days is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, for which I shared in the general love at the time. I have felt surprisingly under-compelled to re-view it in subsequent years, although every time I think back to that electrifying first appearance of the furious Jade Fox, unquestionably the scene I remember most vividly from the movie, I worry less. Was Suzhou River an emptier, less intoxicating stylistic exercise than I thought, and is that why I haven't liked anything else Lou Ye has done since? Was Come Undone/Presque rien just another coming-out, "I was never the same after that summer" story, or did it have the potent melancholic charge that I attributed to it at the time?

I Don't Even Know Where I Stand: Agnès Varda's The Gleaners and I charmed me when I saw it at Ithaca's Environmental Film Festival in the spring of 2001, but for some reason in my memory I think of its guiding metaphors and linkages as altogether too forced, and of Varda as somewhat twee and overbearingly cute in her presentation of herself. Why do I remember it with such a strange aftertaste? Maybe I'm just too far away from the actual film. Having been bowled over by Birth, I can't help wanting to look back at Sexy Beast, for its own sake and also to see if it betrays any signs whatsoever of the cooler, frostier, pervier aestheticism that Jonathan Glazer unveiled for his second outing. And where, by the way, is his third?

Performances I'm Most Eager to Revisit: Angela Bassett struck me as shrilly overdoing it in Boesman and Lena, but I may just not have been ready for the heightened theatrical mode of the piece and the performance. Holly Hunter was so exemplary in Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her that I'd like a second serving despite the extraordinary painfulness of her final tracking shot.

Films I Already Re-Investigated: Click the links, if you weren't reading this summer, for my retrospective appraisals of American Psycho, Bamboozled (with Tim Robey), O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Timecode (also with Tim), Up at the Villa, and Wonder Boys.

Films I Recently Caught Up With: Same deal for my recent write-ups on Chantal Akerman's La Captive (from Belgium), Imunga Ivanga's Dôlé (from Gabon), Brian De Palma's Mission to Mars and Raymond De Felitta's Two Family House (both made in the USA), and the trip Tim and I took, his second and my first, to Danny Boyle's The Beach (from the UK).

Films I Checked Out But Didn't Review: When you launch into a catch-up project, you fervently hope but scarcely expect you'll be TKO'd as fully as I was by Béla Tarr's Werckmeister Harmonies, the rare film that's as gripping with extended movement-based sequence shots as it is with magisterial mounted-camera tableaus. Tarr mythically invests spaces and objects, from asylums to whale carcasses, with a sort of Gestalt power over the fablic, cryptic, portentous, historically evocative, and profoundly affecting pageantry of the film. If Werckmeister weren't so monumental, I'd be headlining the devastating spareness and utterly persuasive realism of Bahman Ghobadi's A Time for Drunken Horses, with its stunner of an ending that I should have seen coming but didn't, and Shinji Aoyama's four-hour Eureka, an amber-toned Japanese drama, simultaneously epic and quotidian, about the three shell-shocked survivors of a bloody bus hijacking, which itself furnishes a cracking opening movement. Many Cannes attendees in 2000 thought Eureka was egregiously robbed of the prizes that went to Yi Yi, In the Mood for Love, and Dancer in the Dark, and as wondrous as all of those films are, you can imagine what that implies about people's ardor for the Aoyama. On a slightly cozier scale, I will gladly stump for the resplendent gay romance Big Eden, which looks like all those other knockoffs in the LGBT section of the video store but has a sterling grasp of character, community, and location (and lovely performances from utterly un-typecast Arye Gross and Eric Schweig); and for the boisterous Senegalese comedy Faat Kiné, about a female entrepreneur and her troubles at the hands of children, mother, customers, and a motley crew of ex-lovers. I also gave Snatch a first spin in the last six months, and was completely seduced by the loopy sonic, visual, narrative, and vocal accents, as well as by the spry performances and direction. Of all things, I thought it could have moved a little faster.

Top Ten Films Still to Catch from 2000:
1. Possible Worlds (Canada), dir. Robert Lepage, with Tilda Swinton
2. Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (South Korea), dir. Hong Sang-soo
3. Les Destinées (France), dir. Olivier Assayas, with Berling and Béart
4. Ivansxtc. (USA), dir. Bernard Rose, even though it stars Danny Huston
5. Lumumba (France/Germany/Haiti), dir. Raoul Peck, with Eriq Ebouaney
6. Faithless (Sweden), dir. Liv Ullmann, with a raved turn by Lena Endre
7. Devils on the Doorstep (China), dir. Jiang Wen, a Cannes prizewinner
8. Keep the River on Your Right (USA), dirs. David and Laurie Gwen Shapiro
9. Our Song (USA), dir. Jim McKay, with Kerry Washington's big break
10. The Day I Became a Woman (Iran), dir. Marziyeh Meshkini

Runners-up, since my movie diet wasn't nearly comprehensive enough in those early years of the decade: Ken Loach's Bread and Roses, with pre-Oscar Adrien Brody; Esther Kahn, by Kings and Queen and Christmas Tale director Arnaud Desplechin; trippy sci-fi romantic whatzit Happy Accidents, with Marisa Tomei and Vincent D'Onofrio; genderqueer Thai comedy The Iron Ladies, a Titanic-sized domestic hit; Johnny Greyeyes, one of those lesbian Inuit dramas you're always seeing; Kippur, by Israeli mainstay Amos Gitaï; Last Resort, the debut from My Summer of Love auteur Pawel Pawlikowski; Sanaa Lathan's coming-out party Love & Basketball; Jia Zhangke's festival hit Platform; well-reviewed doc Scottsboro: An American Tragedy; Suspicious River, Lynne Stopkewich's underperforming follow-up to the intriguing Kissed; The Vertical Ray of the Sun, by Oscar-nommed Vietnamese auteur Tran Anh Hung; Indie Spirit nominee The Visit, with Hill Harper and Billy Dee Williams; Juliette Binoche mooning in period garb in The Widow of St. Pierre; and France's box-office juggernaut and crossover U.S. hit With a Friend Like Harry....

So what did you miss, love, or second-guess from 2000? Where do you think I need to start, and where can you intervene to save me from disaster? Have at it, friends.



Blogger Sam Brooks said...

From 2000, I have to second-guess myself on Requiem for a Dream, especially in the wake of The Fountain. When I first saw it, I thought it was a brilliant piece of filmmaking, but after rewatching it a few times, I've found it to be a technical achievement, but lacking in real emotional connection. I also think that while Burstyn is lauded, Connelly contributes the most realized portrait in the film.

And I love your mention of Jade Fox. I also felt that while the two acclaimed performances in the film were deservedly so; Zhang Ziyi's never going to be this kind of good again no matter how good she was in 2046 and Michelle Yeoh navigates entire emotional shifts without stealing scenes or placing herself at the centre of the film even though she's practically the main character; Cheng Peipei's performance fell by the wayside. It's sad, because her portrait of semi-righteous anger/hurt gives the film a lot of it's heft; we want to hate Jade Fox, but we see her pain, and even worse, we see her point.

Great writeup and I can't wait for the more controversial years to come flying by.

3:43 AM, December 12, 2009  
Blogger Tim said...

If you do nothing but bask in Edward Yang's amazing use of color, I beg you to reconsider Yi yi.

I might also point you towards La Commune (Paris, 1871), which is tremendously problematic and longer than it can possibly justify (over 5.5 hours), but it's one of the most fascinating things I've seen from the decade - one of those movies that I try to not always think about, but it just creeps up on me.

2000 remains my favorite year of the decade; if I try to go any deeper than this I will blow up my brain.

(Billy Elliot isn't as awful as you thought - that was some harsh stuff - but it's pretty damn bad.)

5:11 AM, December 12, 2009  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

i have NO idea that you'd never seen Our Song and I'm suddenly wondering how we've always shared such a Kerry Washington enthusiasm (or maybe I'm projecting?) if you hadn't indeed seen her soulful completely natural debut.

so excited for you to see that.

somehow -- because i don't revisit or look back that often under the constant avalanche of new release -- I have also never seen Esther Kahn though both Kings and Queen and A Christmas Tale are such wonderful films, I'm confused why it never occurred to me to go to there.

8:02 AM, December 12, 2009  
Blogger Bill C said...

Having recently revisited CROUCHING TIGER m'self (it was my #1 of 2000), I have to say that it was probably better left in the past; Zhang Yimou's dabblings in wuxia and Ang Lee's subsequent work have both hastened its obsolescence. But Chow's line about reaching the point of enlightenment, only to find "endless sorrow," seems a fitting harbinger of the decade to come in retrospect.

Amazes me how fertile the also-ran territory looks. Just nine years later, the cinematic landscape feels more like Tara after the blaze.

10:26 AM, December 12, 2009  
Blogger JKlorfein said...

Oooh, definitely check out "Les Destinees". I don't remember being stirred by it in the same way I was by "demonlover" or "Boarding Gate" (which is really a surprisingly poignant love story), but I'd love to find out if you be could convinced that the 2000 film is, in a way, a companion piece to "demonlover". Both films are essentially about two societies transitioning into different modes of capitalist production.

"Platform" is wonderful (and boy do I have another projection horror story from running that screening),but the washed-out New Yorker DVD doesn't do it justice. It does need to be seen on the big screen.

10:53 AM, December 12, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Brook: That was always my reaction to Requiem for a Dream, even after testing myself against it a second or third time, so I'm thrilled to have an ally. So glad you're on board with Jade Fox, too. What a great year for supporting actresses that was.

@Tim: Agreed that that's a reason in itself to re-investigate Yi yi. And I have long wanted to see La Commune but forgot that it hailed from 2000, so that's a perfect prompting. Thanks for that!

@Nathaniel: Our Song didn't play theatrically in Ithaca, so I hopped on the Kerry bandwagon after Save the Last Dance, as did a lot of people. I've kept tracking her through subsequent stuff, including her dab hand at interviews, but I've never been back to the source. I know you're disappointed in me. ;)

@Bill C.: You're in your dark place! There are a few carrots and parsnips still scattered around the 00s - keep digging, Scarlett! You're right, though, that there's a whole boat load of enticements still waiting for me in '00, but I think this has a great deal to do with where I was, geographically and mentally. I'm certainly persuadable, though, to the conviction that 2000 doesn't quite get its due, possibly because the American side of things was kind of tepid.

@Jason: Another perfect intervention. I'll enjoy having this to think about while/after I watch Les Destin&#233es, and though I'm sorry to have to give Platform a cold shoulder, I'll do my best to hold fast to your cinema-only suggestion on that one. The DVD has come home with me from the public library a couple times, but has never made it all the way to the player, suggesting I have some kind of block already.

11:59 AM, December 12, 2009  
Blogger Babs Johnson said...

I love this series already!!

So, in 2000, I was ten years old. Still tried to see everything, but, of course, certain titles were restricted (like the box office people were going to sell a 5th grader tickets to Quills or Before Night Falls--at least the ones I approached...)

I was a big follower of the Oscars, so on nominations morning when Juliette Binoche's name was called for "Chocolat", I let out a brief (but potent) yelp of disbelief...but five seconds later I assured myself that I was in the wrong for doubting the faultless tastes of "the Academy" (such was my pint-sized perspective at the time).

Anyway, I had to have revisited her performance at least five times to see what I was "missing". I think I was finally able to convince myself of the lie that she was, in fact, as deserving as Bjork, or Renee in Nurse Betty, or (gasp) Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality (I think that was my misguided attempt to latch onto someone who "wasn't being discussed in the awards conversation" in order to feel special) of a nomination.

Overestimation, much?

On a sidenote-- Erin Brockovich (the movie, at least) has aged extremely well...(the same ten-year old thought it was "tedious" at the time)

11:00 PM, December 12, 2009  
Blogger The Jaded Armchair Reviewer said...

Jade Fox was always my favorite character from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Like Brook said, you could understand where she was coming from, especially by that pained glance of hers when she sees her disciple surpassing her right before her eyes during the night fight. Also, all those cool concealed weapons! The name Jade Fox truly suited her. My supporting actress for that year.

Do what I do when it comes to rewatching Crouching Tiger: SKIP THE DESERT SCENES. The movie flows much better and you still understand that those two kids were together.

4:24 PM, December 14, 2009  
Blogger Glenn Dunks said...

Of the films you haven't seen, Lumumba and The Iron Ladies are both hoooorrible.

9:16 PM, December 14, 2009  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Babs: I certainly agree that Erin Brockovich only gets better and better. Probably one of my Desert Island movies at this point.

@JAR: I have always disliked those desert scenes. What use could the movie possibly have for such a profound impediment to its own momentum?

@Glenn: Sorry to hear that on both counts. I'm still hoping I'll disagree.

11:21 PM, December 17, 2009  
Blogger Guy Lodge said...

"Lumumba" is far from horrible (Eriq Ebouaney is terrific in it, for starters), but it's fairly meat-and-potatoes stuff -- so adjust your antipation in proportion to your interest in corner of African history.

You are not alone on "Yi Yi"! As part of my homework for my end-of-decade list, I tried it again tonight, hoping it would reveal something new to me ... but I still find it a very pretty slog. So you have NO idea how relieved I was to read this!

6:08 PM, December 19, 2009  

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