2001 - The Year That Feels Like Home
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Let’s shoot straight. I really didn’t want to spend $10 on Dumbo.
I’ve been trying to post more about new movies because it seems like that’s what people enjoy reading from me. Ya know, the train of thought seems to go something like this:
“I have some free time this weekend, let’s go see a movie… that was fun... Oh, look Isaac has a new review…”
and boom you’re here!
…but Dumbo was really the only new thing playing last week… and I wasn’t feelin’ it y’all.
So, we’re going to have to go a bit more obscure with this post. A bit loooooooonger. I hope you’re cool with that. I promise to write something more consumable about Pet Cemetery or Shazam next time.
Now, let’s talk about the year 2001.
The decade between 1995 and 2005 was in my opinion some of the most influential years in cinema history. We made the leap from film to digital, we started focusing on franchises rather than making new stuff, and the internet became a thing everyone used. The entire filmmaking process fundamentally shifted in that short time span and perhaps my favorite year for movies out of those 10 was 2001.
I mean, 1999 was a force of nature, and 05 was no slouch, but the stuff released in ‘01 feels like home for me. It’s the place where so much started. A place I go back to when I’m feeling lost or confused. A place that I will forever have in my life.
So I want to break it down month by month.
Like I said before this is gonna be a loooooong one, so if you wanna tap out, I get it. But if you have the patience to stick around, I’d be willing to bet you’ll learn something new. :)
Donnie Darko was screened at the Sundance film festival on January 19th 2001 and picked up by Flower Films to be theatrically released in October of 2001. It’s moody tone, Mad World adaptation, and Jake Gyllenhaal would spawn not only a cult following but a lifestyle for every emo kid of the era.
Darko would do poorly at the box office but was one of the most critically acclaimed indie films of the 00s…of all time really. Some say the lack of theater attendance was due to the attacks of September 11th. The marketing heavily featured a plane crash and wounds were still pretty raw. Regardless, DVD and VHS sales of the film would raise almost double what Darko made in theaters.
I super-duper love this movie. It not only appeals to the Hot Topic-y My Chemical Romance kid I bury deep deep down in my heart but also the sci-fi wizard I keep towards the surface. It’s on Netflix right now, so if you’re anything like me, I say do yourself a favor and click play.
Hannibal, a sequel to the incredibly successful Silence of the Lambs, came out on my birthday, February 9th, 2001.
Director Johnathan Demme, screenwriter Ted Tally, and Jodie Foster famously exited work on the project due to the sequel’s shift in tonality. In the words of Tally, the novel’s “excesses” were just too difficult to adapt into a truthful sequel. Excesses here being code for a man literally cutting up his own face and feeding it to his dogs…spoilers, I guess.
Not wanting to quit on the success of the first film, MGM, Universal, and husband and wife producers Dino and Martha De Laurentiis, sought new blood for the franchise. Specifically, director Ridley Scott, screenwriters Steven Zaillian from Mission: Impossible and David Mamet from Glengarry Glen Ross, and actors Ray Liotta, Gary Oldman, and Julianne Moore.
Despite being poorly received by critics the film broke box office records around the world.
At the time of release, it had the 3rd highest opening day of all time coming behind Jurassic Park: The Lost World and Star Wars: Episode I. It was also the MOST profitable rated R film ever created in 2001 beating out The Matrix (1999) and Ridley Scott’s previous work Gladiator (2000).
It’s a miracle we haven’t seen a reboot…oh wait, yeah, we did. There’s a TV series now.
I haven’t seen Hannibal (2001) but I do think it’s a pretty interesting case study. It shows us how delicate the balance between art and commerce is in the film industry. It’s emblematic of how our acceptance of violence has changed over the years. And the movie is a straight up testament to the perseverance of Hollywood. Because even if your director, writer, and lead actress quit, a studio can still find a way to pump out a sequel and make a ton of money.
Spy Kids was released March 18, 2001 and is a film that feels like the last of its kind. A beautiful Dodo bird being hunted into extinction. The last petal falling from a rare flower…too dramatic?
Anyway, what makes Spy Kids so unique is the simple fact that it wasn’t an adaptation of pre-existing material. There’s no book, there’s no toy line, and there’s no nostalgia pull for this series. I mean, there’s a clear James Bond connection, but welcome to every movie containing spies.
Carmen and Juni Cortez came straight from the mind of director/writer/producer Robert Rodriguez onto the silver screen and it shows. The gadgetry is more creative, the child starts have more personality, and the set pieces were very clearly written to be visual. The only other movie like it that has come out in the last 10 years is The Kid Who Would Be King, and that got eviscerated in the box office.
Practical effects blended with awful CGI bring me right back to childhood, the thumb people are some of the most memorable henchmen I’ve seen in my 23 years of living, and it has one heck of an endearing cast. If you find it in a 5-dollar bin, I say go for it.
The quirkiest piece of media ever created before Zooey Deschanel rose to power was released in France on April 25, 2001. Amélie is a gosh dang treasure of a movie and should be treated as such. Bake a nice pasta, grab your favorite drink, and be transported to fantasy Paris where mischief and romance is around every corner.
Despite not showing at the Cannes film festival (one of the most important film festivals in the world that just so happens to take place in France) Amélie was nominated for 5 Oscars and won 2 BAFTA’s. It also showed the heck up at the box office becoming one of the highest grossing French films of all time.
Amélie is this celebration of eccentricity, hope, and imagination, that keeps all the whimsy of those themes, while talking directly to an audience of adults. It’s ambitiously written, wryly acted, and expertly filmed. Don’t be afraid of the subtitles. Watch this one.
THE YEARS START COMING AND THEY DON’T STOP COMING.
Shrek was amazing and hit the ground running (on May 16, 2001).
Producer Jeffrey Katzenburg didn’t play for fun.
He made a movie mocking his old studio and changed the face of animation forever by showing Dreamworks could compete with Disney. (I’m sorry. I’ll stop.)
The Fast and the Furious was released on June 22, 2001. Nobody ever thought this flick would be a media franchise spawning 8 sequels and a spin off series.
It made good money but not obscene profit, the critical reception was lukewarm at best, and director Rob Cohen had already told the edgy street racing story he wanted to tell. Heck, Vin Diesel made RIDDICK instead of 2 Fast 2 Furious. (side note: best sequel title ever?)
But somehow, here we stand, with an accumulative total of $3.9 billion in the global box office.
The Fast and the Furious has some innovative cinematography, awful music, and a tone that’s serious to a fault. There’s a quality to this series that is so of its time. It’s certainly not a reflection of the real 2001 street racing scene but it definitely shows you what was on trend. The same way the campy CGI wonderlands of Fast 5 and beyond show what’s on trend in the 2010s.
I watched this for the first time in college with my only reference point in the franchise being Fast 5 and 6. Not gonna lie, it was pretty surreal. These movies have changed A LOT while also staying exactly the same. I can’t say I fully recommend it, but I certainly respect it, and I won’t turn ya down if you’re really jonesing to race for pinks.
(side side note: underrated gem Atlantis the Lost Empire also came out this month but we can talk about that some other time.)
Released on July 20, 2001, Spirited Away helped to legitimize Japanese animation as a form of entertainment both overseas and in its native country. It’s widely known as one of the best movies ever created by critics and weeaboos alike.
Despite having a pretty anti-consumerism message, the film made over 300 million dollars worldwide, and could have easily made more.
Disney distributed the film in America and did almost nothing to promote the masterpiece. Studio Ghibli, the Japanese film house who created Spirited Away, refused to give Mickey merchandising rights to the film’s story and characters (thank God) and Disney felt this “limited [their] ability to properly market the film.”
I super don’t buy that explanation because the late 90s early 00s was basically the renaissance of dubbed anime on TV. I mean just think about how many popular shows were airing during this time: Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Cowboy Bebop, Neon Genisis Evangelion, the list goes on and on. If Disney had wanted to make Spirited Away a success they would have, but it would have meant sharing a bit of the wealth, and you all know how that goes with Disney…
The Princess Diaries gave us Anne Hathaway and forced Mary Poppins out of retirement.
Released on August 3, 2001, I think the story of this movie has been rehashed more than any other story throughout history. It can be found in Pygmalion, My Fair Lady, Cinderella, Pretty Woman, The Ugly Duckling, She’s All That, and about a billion sitcom episodes. Frankly, I’ve never seen the appeal. Most of these adaptations are boring and the rest make me want to gag.
That being said, The Princess Diaries is a jam.
The characters are intensely likable, the comedy is solid, and the trolley scene makes me bust a gut every time. It manages to claw its way up out of its overplayed premise and reach that perfect popcorn feel good moment. It’s not special, it’s not important cinema, and if you’re looking for something serious, skip it.
But once again, if you’re anything like me, you can appreciate this film as the better than average pop track that it is, and hum along to the chorus.
(side note^3: The Others came out this month but all I remember about that movie is the twist ending.)
Tropic Thunder is a masterwork, The Meyerowitz Stories tossed my salad, and most of the other stuff Ben Stiller acts in is pretty okay, but Zoolander holds a special place in my heart.
Released on September 28, 2001, this was the movie that all the older kids referenced while I was growing up. Well, this and anything else that had Will Ferrell in it. By the time I turned 13 and was finally allowed to watch the movie I could practically quote half of it…and I still laughed! The absurdist scenes bouncing off each other at light speed, the fashion industry actively participating in parodying itself, and Owen Wilson doin’ his Owen Wilson thing is just *chef’s kiss*.
Zoolander is comedy genius.
I really don’t think people appreciate how insanely hard it is to craft a flick like this. It’s a balancing act. Get too witty and you lose accessibility. Focus too much on silliness and the jokes will fall flat. Are the characters sympathetic? Are the plot holes distracting? What is the messaging? It’s a lot of work. Stuff like Tenacious D, Superbad, and Napoleon Dynamite may feel effortless but these films didn’t just happen.
“Dumb” comedies aren’t actually that dumb…at least the good ones aren’t.
October of 2001 was the calm before the storm. A lot of pretty good/meh movies came out during this month, Royal Tenenbaums (which I haven’t seen), Training Day, and Max Keeble’s Big Movie to name a few. But we’re getting up over 2000 words here… and it’s time to bring it home.
Monsters Inc and Harry Potter were released on November 2nd and November 14th respectively. I don’t even have to mention what they’re about because you know.
Monsters Inc, aside from being one of the most delightful features Pixar has ever created, is one of the greatest technological jumps in 3D modeling history. I mean, look at Toy Story 2…and now look at Monsters Inc. The lighting effects look like real light! The characters have so much more detail! The camera movement! AHH!
Pixar propelled the industry into a new era only 6 years after popularizing the medium of 3D animation in the first place. Ridiculous.
Meanwhile you have Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a feature that has been the blueprint for every successful franchise to come out in recent memory. The way actors are cast in Star Wars, the way directors are chosen for Marvel movies, the way any blockbuster flick is marketed and released, all of it can be traced back to the boy who lived.
It’s a legacy that’s almost unfathomable, I mean, it has its own theme park you guys. Those are usually created around an entire studio’s worth of films spanning decades…not one series.
Even though the books have always been immensely popular, Dumbledore’s Army wouldn’t be jack if it wasn’t for Chris Columbus’ work on The Sorcerer’s Stone. Like it or hate it this was where everything started. The theme song, the visual interpretation of Hogwarts, keeping everything super British, it was all him. There were a million ways for this thing to go south and the team on this first feature made a foundation that would hold up what is sure to go down as one of the greatest movie legacies of all time.
Speaking of some of the greatest movie legacies of all time Ocean’s 11 and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring were released on December 7th and December 19th respectively.
Ocean’s 11 is my favorite remake of all time. I loved the original film when I watched it as a kid (if you haven’t seen the one with Sinatra you really should) but the 2001 version improves upon the concept in literally every way. It’s slick, it’s fun, every actor shows up to WORK, the dialogue is excellent, the twist is natural, the score is a cosmic blend of funk and Vegas bleep bloops, the characters grow, the action scenes are exciting, the villain rules, and the montages never distract from the story.
I probably bust out this movie once every 4 months for a re-watch. It informs so much of what I want to do as a filmmaker and I could probably write another 3000 words just on Ocean’s 11. But we’ll move on because I know right now half my college friends are about to have a Lord of the Rings based conniption.
Ending this fantastical season in movie history was the only film I’ve ever seen that earns its extended edition runtime. The Fellowship of the Ring put New Zealand on the global filmmaking map, it reminded us that fantasy stories could be just as entertaining as sci-fi, and it forged an ensemble cast to end all ensemble casts.
Director Peter Jackson had never done anything like this before. He was largely known for making edgy, small, horror comedies. Low budget films that usually gained cult status but never saw a lot of success financially. For example, Frighteners, the movie Jackson completed prior, cost 30 million and didn’t even make back its budget. He was also handling one of the most beloved books of all time. LotR basically created a genre of writing. A lot of people credit the book with getting them into fiction in the first place. Needless to say, that’s a lot of pressure.
But Peter Jackson never gave up and managed to pull off something truly spectacular; a film beloved by many that pushed the boundaries of what people previously thought could be accomplished in a single feature.
Sometimes when you risk big you win big…and I guess that’s all I really have to say about it.
Whew! Thanks again for reading. Now you have a little glimpse into how I see the world.
If you made it this far, I want to give you a little something for your troubles. The following link will take you to a clip of a bunch of bears dancing to Sweet Dreams by the Eurythmics.
Shazam and Pet Cemetery coming soon.