Monday, January 21, 2013

Time-Delayed Oscars 011: In The Year 2000

Wow, it's been a while, hasn't it?  There's a good reason. Holy crap, these take a long time to write up. Let's see if I can pull off one every couple weeks.

Remember the deal? Once upon a time I read that my best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who heard that Matt Damon had said they ought to wait 10 years before giving out the Oscars, because that's the minimum amount of time necessary for hype to fade and consensus to coalesce around quality.  Sure, sometimes the awards get it right, but on the other hand, Rocky has a Best Picture statue and Network doesn't, so I think you see the point I'm making here. Suffice it to say, I think Mr. Damon is on to something.

Back in the olden days, when we hadn't even heard of The King's Peach and online poker was plentiful, organic and free range, I ran down the Time-Delayed Oscars of the 1990s. Decisions were made. Proclamations proclaimed.

Time to do it again. Sticking to the 10 year rules, I reckon it's time to do the years 2000-2003. Then, maybe, the eighties. I've added a (+) to movies whose profile is on the rise, a (-) to movies with profiles on the wane, and an (=) for the ones who are in a sort of holding pattern.

As a reminder, this is how I think a jury of Oscar-voting peers would vote. I make my own preferences clear but separate.

Let's start with the year 2000, which I think we can all agree was a pretty grim year for movies.

[Updated because I don't know the difference between the 2002 zombie movie 28 DAYS LATER and the Sandra Bullock flick 28 DAYS. Thanks, Dugglebogey. And, crap.]

Gladiator's gonna gladiate.
The Notables & Quotables

28 Days (+): The king-daddy of the "fast zombie" movie, Danny Boyle's gritty flick still packs a wallop. Some of the freakiest moments of the entire genre come courtesy of these flickering lights and daytime horrors. Sort of ignored when it was released (I remember it as a modest hit, but nothing like a great, genre-influencing movie), it's now sprouted legs and now throws a mighty long shadow. I really like this movie.Um, Sandra Bullock movie that wasn't good and nobody watches anymore. 28 DAYS LATER is a 2002 movie. Never mind.

Almost Famous (=): Introduced the world to Kate Hudson, which seemed like a good idea at the time. Don't judge us, America. We were young. Still a re-watchable cable staple, if not a beloved classic. The last successful Cameron Crowe movie (perhaps coincidentally, also the last good Cameron Crowe movie). Podcast fans can keep their eyes peeled for "Lock the gates!"  Everybody else can watch for strong performances, "I am a Golden God!", and the Tiny Dancer sing-along. (Note: I only thought this was OK at the time, so that's probably coloring my analysis.)
American Psycho (+): May have gained more cred than any other movie on this list. Written off at the time for its excesses, its classic status is pretty well assured. Contains the performance that paroled Christian Bale from child actor movie jail in the most ferocious way possible.  In a weird way, it's sort of the reverse stepchild of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which I hated as a comedy until I realized it was a horror movie, American Psycho took chunks of my psyche as a horror film until I realized it's the blackest of comedies. It's a carnivorous hate letter to materialism, and people are still talking about it today.

Bamboozled (+): One of Spike Lee's most flawed movies, which is probably saying something, but also one of the ones that has had one of the greatest effects of all his filmography, actually bringing some visibilty to Hollywood's long history of propagating harmful sterotypes.

Best In Show (+): The best-loved of Christopher Guest's mockumentaries (if it's not Waiting for Guffman). It's certainly my favorite, particularly for Fred Willard's absolutely bananas turn as a blinkered, idiotic, yammering dog show commentator.  I think this movie has become legitimately beloved over the years. It certainly has done so for me.

Battle Royale(+): Have you heard that The Hunger Games totally ripped this movie off? You do if you ever read comments on Hunger Games reviews. Semi-famously, this is Quentin Tarantino's favorite movie of the aughts. So it's got that going for it.
Cast Away(-): Hanks. Volleyball. FedEx. Remembered now mainly for (1) containing one of Tom Hanks' better performances, and certainly one of his showiest; (2) Wilson, a product placement that achieved icon status; (3) spawning Survivor, which spawned LOST, which spawned about 607,800 words from me.

Chocolat (-): This was nominated for Best Picture for some reason. I have nothing else to say about it.
Code Unknown (=):  Likely the most obscure movie on this list (I admit I've not seen it yet, though I'm looking forward to rectifying that), but I'm including it because Michael Haenke is (rather unpredictably, given the confrontational nature of his work) becoming more and more prominent and admired, and this was one of his first movies to get serious critical attention.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon(-): My favorite movie of 2000, at the time at least (I haven't revisited in quite a while, but I remember it being gorgeous and compelling, and I loved the fights). I wouldn't have predicted this, but it seems to have faded considerably. I thought it would be considered a gold-plated classic by now, but perhaps critical opinion is docking it points for standing on the shoulders of an already-established genre. Or maybe it's not as good as I remember. It's been a while.
Dancer In The Dark (=): Lars von Trier is an odd one, but not as odd as Bjork. Together they made one of the most histrionic examples of miserablism into something that transcends into heart-rending tragedy; I succumb despite myself. Bjork's odd stream-of-consiousness songs work perfectly for her blind character's warped worldview. Until Melancholia this was certainly the director's most beautiful movie.
Erin Brokovich (-): Nominated for Best Picture. Won Julia Roberts a golden boy. Does anybody watch it anymore? Does anybody want to?
Gladiator (-): The official Best Picture of the year 2000. Probably one of the more Academy-embarrassing winners of the last few decades (alongside Braveheart, with which it shares a lot of similar qualities). Could be the proof-of-concept for Time Delayed Oscars, really. The thing is, it's OK. It's not terrible. But it's basically a big handsome dumb action movie with a pseudo-historical setting, top-shelf actors to lend a patina of respectability, a little bit of good CGI, and a little bit of bad CGI. It's an enjoyable enough spectacle, but about as worthy of a Best Picture as Pirates of the Caribbean.
In The Mood For Love (+): I'm guessing this is pretty obscure, but Wong Kar Wei's quiet love story quietly started showing up near the top of multiple critic's "Best of Decade" lists as 2010 drew to a close. I'm guessing ITMFL's profile is going to keep growing.
Memento (+): Christopher Nolan's debut, and probably still his best to date, an existential pretzel. The premise is one of the cleverest in years, but it's the execution that rockets this one to all-time status, turning a modern noir into a far deeper philosophical mind-bender.  Now that Nolan is a Hollywood God, Memento's a small movie whose strengths are unlikely to be forgotten.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (+): The Coens are in the Kubrick zone at this point, by which I mean that all of their movies are going to at least merit consideration. O Brother isn't my favorite, but the music is top-notch, and Clooney in goof mode is fantastic. It's one of the better comic performances of the year.

Pitch Black (=): Jump-started the whole Vin Diesel thing, but it shouldn't be blamed for that. A memorable B-grade monster flick.
Pollock (-): A decent biopic with strong performances, but I remember this primarily for one of the most laugh-out-loud bad pieces of dialogue ever, which I still quote to friends when the moment calls for it: "You've done it, Pollock. You've broken right through." It actually won a supporting Oscar for co-lead Marcia Gay Harden, the utterer of that line, and I think she deserved it just for surviving the saying of it. Ed Harris is a beast in this, as well.
Requiem For A Dream (-):As anti-drug screed, this is about the most heavy-handed propaganda imaginable, but it's also a master class in stylized montage and empathetic evokation of nightmare imagery. Clint Mansell's industrial score plays no small part in the sickness, but its Ellen Burstyn's aging pill-popper who sells the quease in the strongest of the four druggie threads.
Sexy Beast (+):Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

No! No! No! NonononononononononononononoNO!
Shadow Of The Vampire (=): Willem Dafoe is some kind of arch-fiend. I don't know how he got where he got to play Max Schreck. I don't want to know.
Snatch (+): On the rise since it was released to mixed, mainly confused reviews. It's an exercise in pure style, true. It's pretty much the exact same movie as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, also true. It's still worth it. It's fun. As Brad Pitt's Pikey would say, "Marlmle flan bahley funt mable rang ding fuddle flan, brotha, nambletree?"
Traffic (-):This won Best Director and Best Supporting Actor, and probably came close to winning Best Picture. It was a well-directed, handsome sort of movie with plenty of good performances by veteran character actors. I think it's pretty decent, but it's pretty good like maybe putting 12 episodes of The Wire into a 2-hour sack would be. I could be wrong, but I think it's barely remembered these days. Let's ask the common Time-Delayed Oscars question: Is anybody still watching this? In twenty years, will it still be watched?
Unbreakable (+): M. Night Shyamalan has really taken a nose-dive, in no small part because of his insistance on writing his own scripts (as far as screenwriting goes, he' excellent visual stylist) and especially his bizarre fixation on putting an increasingly-ludicrous twist into every single movie. The twist is definitely the weakest part of this superhero origin story, but unless I'm mistaken, this has surpassed The Sixth Sense as the best-remembered effort from the director whose name I have to look up every time I need to spell it. Moody, dark, slow-paced, but very effective, as long as you shut it off with a minute to go.
X-Men (+): A credible start to a healthy franchise. Arguably the first strike in the modern golden age of super-heroing movies. Halle Berry providing us with the worst delivery of a Joss Whedon joke ever caught on film. And introducing Huge Ackmen.
Yi Yi: A One And A Two (+): This is also pretty obscure to the larger market, but looms large in best-of-decade critics polls. I'm guessing that, much like In The Mood For Love, it earns an ongoing reputation as years go by.
You Can Count On Me (+): A critical darling in 2000 that got shut out and is still highly-regarded, primarily on the basis of strong lead performances (both Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo came to prominance) and the contributions of writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, who has been wandering in the wilderness ever since his follow-up, Margaret, was all but stripped from him. This one is a sleeper.

And The Time-Delayed Oscars Go To. . .

"Hmmmmmm . . .looks like a mountain."
Best Picture

Real List
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Erin Brockovitch


Today's List
American Psycho
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
In The Mood For Love
You Can Count On Me

My pick: MementoProbable Winner: Memento

OK, let's  break these down.  First the movies that were actually nominated in 2000. Chocolat is such a trifle it's as though it never happened. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is probably the only movie good enough to be re-nominated, and even that might just be my own pro-CTHD finger on the scales. Erin Brockovich? I never saw this, but you know what I never hear? "Oh man, you never saw Erin Brockovich?? You have GOT to see it!" That's what I never hear. Gladiator is actually good enough to still be remembered. It's big dumb fun. It's not one of the five best movies of the year, though, and I think we've all come to grips with that now. Traffic is something that I think you'd probably like if you watched it again. But you're not going to, are you? Didn't think so.

So let's take a look at the real movies of 2000. American Psycho is now seen as one of the blackest of black satires, a horror comedy (horomedy? comorror? Sometimes words don't portmanteu like they oughta) bloodbath that's transcended its controversial source material. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon remains gorgeous, iconic, and thrilling, and not-at-all-silly-I-hope-if-I-watch-it-again. Most years there's a rather obscure art-house entry championed by critics that makes it into the winner's circle. In The Mood For Love fits the bill, and though I can't speak with much authority (having not seen it), based on the glowing decade-end retrospectives I read, you've probably not heard the last of this one. Memento is slowly building consensus as a masterpiece, and more on it shortly. Finally, You Can Count On Me has become a beloved acting/screenwriting showcase, though if I'm wrong about one movie on this list, it's probably YCCOM (I'd guess Best In Show or 28 Days Later would fill in if so – I can't quite believe that Almost Famous has gained steam since it failed to score 12 years ago).

"This picture proves that my haircut was an inside job. Subscribe to my
YouTube channel for full video evidence."
Now, I loved Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.In 2000, it was my favorite movie of 2000. But Memento . . . Memento looms. Um, SPOILERS, YOU DUMMIES WHO WOULD COMPLAIN ABOUT SPOILERS ON A 12-YEAR OLD MOVIE. For most of its running time, it's "merely" an expertly crafted puzzle, in which you first attempt to simultaneously orient yourself within serially-amnesiac Leonard's frame of reference, as well as the forward/backward structure of the film itself; in which you next attempt to piece together the mystery that Leonard is trying to solve, namely the answer to the question "who killed his wife and left him in this condition?"; and in which finally you come, whether slowly or quickly, to the realization that there can't possibly be any answer to the questions Leonard seeks. It's something like a miracle that we come to the realization at essentially the exact same time as Leonard, that he himself is the originator and curator of the delusions which shape his worldview, and as we reach that realization, we see Leonard make the conscious decision to eschew truth in favor of fiction. It's a devastating and sympathetic portrait of the human situation. Aware, curious, entirely limited in perspective, and occasionally aware of just how limited. It's also a perfectly-toned noir, so if you don't care about the philosophical implications, you'll still have a good time at the movies.

Memento is the Best Picture of 2000. Moreover, I think this is now recognized. I bet it would win today.

Best Actor

Christian Bale is my pick. In retrospect, he's probably made to play the far-too-intense fellow with a charisma that makes you worry a little bit about your own safety when you're around him. But this is a movie that could not have worked without the button-down insanity he delivers, a quality even scarier when he's playing Dr. Jeckyl than when he lets Dr. Hyde get out the axe. Or the chainsaw. People say they had this reaction to Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector, but I still haven't entirely recovered from Christian Bale in this thing. 

Honorable mention to real-world winner Russell Crowe (who really was key to making this silly movie a monster hit and a critical darling), Guy Pierce, Ed Harris, and especially George Clooney, who was bona fide (and the gol-durned pater-familias).

Best Actress

Laura Linney. This is a guess. I don't actually have a strong opinion on this one. Julia Roberts won pretty much everything in her path for Erin Brockovich this year, and for all I know it was well-deserved. Perhaps  she'd still win. However, my sense is that Linney's performance has displayed staying power, while Roberts, no longer Queen of Hollywood®, wouldn't be honored now.

Honorable mention to Bjork (that's right, Bjork) and Zhang Zyi.