When you mention the year 2001, one event comes to most Americans’ minds. The events of September 11, 2001 changed the course of history and things have never been the same. It was also the year that I graduated from high school and left for college. When 9/11 happened, I was in my first semester of college and was over 200 miles from the only home I had ever known.
Little did we know that our little college campus would be rocked with a tragedy less than two week afterwards that felt more significant than towers falling. There was a van accident which killed three of my peers as they were returning from a ministry event. It was a very sad time, but it drew me closer to the beautiful woman that would become my wife. We grieved together and drew strength from each other’s faith.
Film was one of the last thing on my mind during that time, but it seemed that just a few months after this tragedy many Americans were finding refuge from the pain of reality through the imagination of a handful of master storytellers. Two film franchises were born during this year and they would persist for many years following. I’m speaking of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
While both of these were good films and left a lasting impression on film, they are merely footnotes or honorable mentions in this competition for the best film of the year. Before I get to my top 3 films of the year, you should know that the Academy Award for Best Picture went to my 4th best movie of the year, A Beautiful Mind. Other honorable mentions are: Amelie, The Others, Donnie Darko, Training Day, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Ocean’s Eleven. All of my Top 3 are at least a bit surreal and dive into and out of the deepest and most intimate place in all of us, our memory. That is appropriate since I have such deep memories of this year.
#1 – Spirited Away
The first time you watch Spirited Away you are blown away by the visuals. Hayao Mizayaki’s decadent hand drawn animation is always moving and is totally beautiful. You are left thinking about the meaning and the symbolism that is deep under the surface of this story of a young girl who gets lost in a spirit world and has to find her way back. Every time after that, you will be sucked deeper into the symbolism until you realize that this is a commentary on growing up in a Capitalist culture but not losing the innocent wonder of childhood.
Chihiro means “thousand questions.” It means that she is inquisitive and takes nothing for granted. We see this wide eyed girl lose her parents to greed and consumerism. She gets a job at a bath house and trades away part of her name. The name is a symbol of a person’s character and she becomes Sen which means “thousand.” Literally, the questions have been removed. She is warned not to forget her name because that is the secret for her escape. I won’t go any deeper than that in case you haven’t seen it, but I just might do a full spoiler laden breakdown at some point.
#2 – Memento
Technically, Memento was released in 2000 but it wasn’t seen on US soil until 2001, so I had to put it in this year. Long before Christoper Nolan started diving into the brains of his characters and viewers in Inception, he was beginning at the end with Memento. Simply put, it is the non-simple, non-linear story of Leonard who suffers from a Dory-like version of short-term memory loss. He retains memories from before his accident but cannot create any new memories. Instead, he litters his jacket pockets with Polaroid pictures and scraps of note paper, and covers the canvas of his body with tattoos to remind him of his overall purpose.
We learn through 22 vignettes that Leonard is hunting a man called John G. who is behind the rape and murder of his wife. I don’t want to spoil too much because it is such a fun puzzle to put together, but let me just say that you will be engaged and guessing with the story until the very end. This is one of the films that made Christopher Nolan the brand name that he is today.
#3 – Mulholland Drive
Have you ever had a dream that freaked you out and left you gasping for breath as you rushed back to consciousness? When your loved ones come in the room to check if you are okay all you can say is I had a bad dream. Invariably, they will ask what it was about, but we can’t say because the dream is quickly retreating into our sub conscience, and because no matter how well you explain what happened in the dream you sound psychotic. Mulholland Dr. is that creepy dream.
More people have become familiar with David Lynch since the new Twin Peaks was released. I would recommend this movie as a good starting place, but I would encourage you not to analyze too much. To truly enjoy it, you must surrender yourself to it. As Roger Ebert said, “If you require logic, see something else.” David Lynch loves to make films which defy logic, but Mulholland Dr. follows no conventional plot structure, it simply ebbs and flows like a dream.
Did I get something wrong? What would you change? Have you seen any of these three? Let me know in the comments or on social media.