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.
Labels: BwdFwd 00s