Not going to do a full post for this. I just needed to catch up since I started the Best Movie Bracket in 2016 and never got around to posting my bracket for the year. I posted my top 20 over at Letterboxd and it still holds up. I think it’s a pretty solid mix of populist and more obscure films.
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.
Sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted. I want to get back on track with my Best Movie Bracket. 2003 was a bit of a weak year for film. There were some memorable gems which floated to the surface, but overall it left avoid that would be filled by a fantasy film. These films generally get very little credit, but 2003 was the perfect year for this film to take home far more awards than it normally would.
Before I can get to that film though, I need to let you know about my runners up. Honorable mentions include Kill Bill: Volume 1, Oldboy (the good one in Korean), X2: X-Men United, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, and Dogville. With that being said, here is my top 3 of 2003. You may have others that you adore from this year that I left off the list. But that’s why it’s my list. I’d love to hear your opinions, and then I will tell you to go make your own site where your opinions can reign supreme.
#3 – Mystic River
Mystic River is a sad movie. It is about three boys who grow up to be damaged people. Jimmy (Sean Penn), who is a former convict, Sean (Kevin Bacon) who’s wife recently left him and Dave (Tim Robbins) who… Have you seen the film? I better keep my mouth shut about the plot.
The acting in this movie is phenomenal, especially from Tim Robbins who very much deserved his supporting actor Oscar. Sean Penn is fantastic as well in his very best performance. Kevin Bacon is also very good, though he does get overshadowed by the other two leads. They are flanked by a very capable supporting cast including Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney and even Eli Wallach also shine in this movie.
The story is very well told, tense, and dramatic. The writing is very good as well. Brian Helgeland, who penned L.A. Confidential and A Knight’s Tale, elevates the novel by Dennis Lehane who is no stranger to film adaptations (Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island, and others). It also has great cinematography and excellent music. I haven’t even mentioned that it is directed by the inimitable Clint Eastwood. In fact, along with Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, this may be Eastwood’s best directed movie.
If all of that is true, then why is this #3. It is my main problem with all of Dennis Lehane’s stories. I tend to figure out the ending before the big reveal. Maybe it is because I’ve seen so many movies, but I pretty much see it right away. Also, I like a little more ambiguity in my endings, so I wish the movie had ended about 10 minutes earlier. It’s not the ending is bad, it’s just if it had ended earlier, I just feel like it would have been more powerful.
#2 – Finding Nemo
Not since 1995 and Toy Story had Pixar done something so revolutionary. They tackled so much with the visual textures and light patterns that we only see underwater. This film was a visual feast, but it is also funny and emotionally rich. I also believe this film has the absolute best sound design of any Pixar film.
This film deserves acclaim for more than its audio visual achievements. Marlin (Albert Brooks) goes down in my book as one of the best fathers in cinematic history. I mean, they essentially stole the plot of this film to make the entire Taken series. Marlin traversed the oceans over thousands of miles filled with sharks, jellyfish, angler fish, and ravenous seagulls, battling all his own fears, just to rescue his son. His adventure is filled with some of the most memorable moments and quotable lines of any film I’ve seen, and I still love it to this day.
As a father myself with 2 sons, it teaches me the undying love a father will have for his son, and the distances he will go to ensure his utmost protection. It helps to understand just how much a father cares for his son, no matter how harsh he may seem to be. It just goes to show how universal Pixar films really are.
#1 – Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Extended Edition)
As far as I’m concerned, Return of the King can be as long, as indulgent and end as many times as it wants to. It deserves it. This 263 minute monster of a film manages to round out an epic trilogy by bringing all the characters and plot lines to a gripping and joyful conclusion. It takes the emotional resonance of the first film and marries it to the epic warfare of the second. When all is said and done, we get something as close to perfect as a film can possibly get.
The scope of the film is staggering. Combining fantasy politics, multitudes of different species for our imaginations to go wild with and stunningly vast geography. This is an epic in every possible sense of the word. The assault on Minas Tirith and the ensuing Battle of Pelenor Fields is visceral action-cinema at its very pinnacle. It is very hard to find fault in this film because of my inability to criticize Tolkien’s phenomenal source material and because of the sheer spectacle of it all.
This is Jackson’s true labor of love, and you can tell that he’s poured his heart and soul into every second of it all. He has an evident adoration and respect for the story and characters. That is what marks Lord of the Rings out from the other blockbuster franchises as a true and heartfelt film that effortlessly elevates itself to legendary status.
You can tell that the actors are clearly in love with the material too. The relationship between Frodo and Sam, while undeniably sentimental, is always touching and pleasant without descending into obvious schmaltz. Elijah Wood and Sean Astin are remarkable here, with Wood in particular maneuvering nicely out of the tricky spot of becoming evil while under the influence of the Ring. There’s some scene-stealing from John Noble as the emotionally-imbalanced Steward of Gondor, Denethor, while Theoden (Bernard Hill) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) make the most of their meaty inspirational speeches.
And as I said before, I don’t have any problem with the endings. Why would you not want to stretch out your goodbyes with the dense and lovable characters you’ve just spent 11 hours of your life with? There is no problem with how the trilogy closes, as every character is given their little moment to savor. It’s touching and a good way to close this series.
In 2004, we saw a number of successful sequels like Kill Bill: Volume 2, Before Sunset, Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban, Spider-Man 2, The Bourne Supremacy, Shrek 2, and Oceans 12. We have been riding a sequel wave since then. I think, read hope, that this year the wave might have finally crashed. Any of the films that I mention in this write up are somewhere in the top 25 of the year, but there are only three on the top of that list.
Before I really get into it, I will note that I have not seen Before Sunset, Downfall, Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, or Million Dollar Baby (gasp). I know that those four get a lot of respect. I have seen Before Sunrise, and I thought it was a good Richard Linklater film, just like I’m sure that Million Dollar Baby is a good Clint Eastwood film and Life Aquatic is a good Wes Anderson film. Sadly, I can’t judge films that I have not seen. Now, let’s get down to business.
Michel Gondry made his mark on Hollywood by directing this funny, quirky, touching film. He shaped a very malleable actor like Jim Carrey into a serious role that makes up for a half a dozen Ace Venturas. Kate Winslet in her multi-colored hair and perfect bi-polar personality. Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, and Kirsten Dunst having their crazy “memory erasing party” on top of Jim Carrey’s sedated body. It is a movie about love, fate and memory and it is still one of the most unique science fiction love stories you will ever see.
That’s right… I picked a Pixar animated film over the sexy choices like The Aviator, Hotel Rwanda, Layer Cake, or Collateral. I did it because Brad Bird was able to pull off a better superhero movie than Spider-Man 2, which is the best Spider-Man we have seen to date. He created a completely original and fully realized world of colorful superheroes, political realities, and family dynamics and made it accessible to anyone from five to 95. I don’t simply consider this the best Pixar movie to date, even with Marvel’s success, I would say that this is one of the best superhero films ever made. I know that they have finally announced a sequel to this beloved film. I’m happy for that, but I would also love to see him take the reins of a struggling property like the Fantastic Four and breathe some new life into them.
I was really close to giving Shaun of the Dead this spot, but I honestly like Hot Fuzz more and I cannot deny the cultural impact of Mean Girls. it is incredibly rewatchable, crazy quotable, and really well done.
Alright, I’ll stop trying to make fetch happen. I’m going to go shopping with Glen Coco, get in loser! No? Boo, you whore. It’s not my fault you’re like in love with me or something! It’s been fun looking back at 2004 with you. Don’t forget to wear your pink shirts on Wednesdays.
What do you think? Did I totally miss the mark somewhere? Is butter a carb? sound off in the comments below.
If you forgot about my Best Movie Bracket, I’m looking at each year individually and picking the best movie. Each of those winners will face off against another years winner in a bracket style tournament. But before I get to the tournament, I have to complete the seeding. I try to look objectively at the films, which means I need to study them from a couple of different angles. For 2005, let’s see which films come out on top financially, critically, and popularity.
Financial (Box Office Mojo)
|1||Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith||Fox||$380,270,577|
|2||The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe||BV||$291,710,957|
|3||Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire||WB||$290,013,036|
|4||War of the Worlds||Par.||$234,280,354|
|7||Charlie and the Chocolate Factory||WB||$206,459,076|
|10||Mr. & Mrs. Smith||Fox||$186,336,279|
Critical (Oscar Nominations)
|6||Crash (Best Picture)|
|Good Night, and Good Luck.|
|Memoirs of a Geisha|
|Walk the Line|
|Pride & Prejudice|
|The Constant Gardener|
|1. My Father and My Son (2005)||8.7|
|2. Batman Begins (2005)||8.3|
|3. V for Vendetta (2005)||8.2|
|4. Sin City (2005)||8|
|5. Serenity (2005)||8|
|6. Walk the Line (2005)||7.9|
|7. Pride & Prejudice (2005)||7.8|
|8. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)||7.7|
|9. Brokeback Mountain (2005)||7.7|
|10. Match Point (2005)||7.7|
Ultimately, however, this is my list and the final vote comes down to me. Here are my top 3 from 2005.
3. Walk the Line
I have a soft spot in my heart for Johnny Cash. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon did a fantastic job of becoming Johnny and June Carter Cash. The music is infectious and the man in black’s story is worth telling well. I almost put Crash in this 3rd spot, but I think it has had enough press with its unearned Best Picture win over…
2. Brokeback Mountain
Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger pour out a lot of emotion in this very moving drama from director Ang Lee. Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway put in remarkable supporting roles as the pained wives of the men who are inflamed for each other. I just watched this for the first time a few months ago and it took me a while to process.
1. V for Vendetta
I can’t say enough about this film. It is infinitely rewatchable and quotable. Natalie Portman is my favorite actress and she is stunning as she peeks behind the fascist curtain. Just a few weeks ago I celebrated the 5th of November as one should. I didn’t blow anything up, but I’ll put that on my calendar for next year. It is stylized and poetic. Despite it not topping the stats anywhere, it is my favorite of the year.
What was the best movie of 2006? I’m going to change the way I do this a little bit. Normally I would share some information about the year and other movies that are honorable mentions in the first few paragraphs. However, I’m afraid that most of you are clicking away before you even get to the #1 pick. So, I’m going to start with my top picks and I’ll try to pepper in more information about the year and other possible choices throughout my reviews.
3rd – Pan’s Labyrinth
From the innovative mind of Guillermo del Toro comes Pan’s Labyrinth. It is a coming of age tale of innocence and imagination. It is a story about a young girl who is other worldly. Like a crystal vase in a sea of tupperware, she doesn’t match her surroundings. Del Toro creates a fantasy world that is draws us in and leaves us feeling like a child who just heard a fairy tale for the first time.
A warning to my more language challenged readers, this film is in Spanish. It is subtitled. I don’t see that as a problem. I would like to hear why you do if you do. The story is set in Spain in 1944 following the Spanish Civil War. So really any language besides Spanish would feel forced and inauthentic. If you claim that you don’t go to the movies to read, then that is just laziness and you need to get over it. The story centers around Ofelia who is traveling with her pregnant mother. They are moving to a fascist command centre in rural Spain led by the fiendish Captain Vidal who happens to be the father of the mother’s unborn child. Ofelia is the type of child whose imagination feeds her energy. Unfortunately, it is also her imagination that causes Ofelia’s disconnect with the real world.
Ofelia’s exploring leads her to meet a faun. This is the Pan of the English title of the film (del Toro has told us that that is not actually the faun’s name). The first interaction between Ofelia and the faun is revealing because Ofelia doesn’t draw back in horror at the sight of this creature, in fact she seems more comfortable in his presence that with her own mother. This fantasy is her reality and it becomes ours. Ofelia learns the fact that every little girl steeped in fairy tales has yearned to hear, that she is a long lost princess separated from her kingdom.
Half of the story plays out in this ominous and sometimes frightening dreamland. However, del Toro is using the other half of the story to give us a picture of good and evil. The real monster of the film is Captain Vidal despite his normal outward appearance. Let me be quick to say that this is not a kids movie. With the young protagonist and presence of fairy tale creatures it might be tempting to present this to a child, but violence play an important part in this film showing the harsh, unwanted situation that Ofelia’s real life presents her with and blood, guts, and broken bones are all present in this reality.
El Laberinto del Fauno (or Pan’s Labyrinth) is a gorgeously detailed and styled story with characters and creatures to love and despise. Del Toro gives me hope that imagination is not dead. However, it wasn’t the only imaginative film of the year. I would also check out: The Prestige, Little Miss Sunshine, Borat, The Fountain, Paprika, Stranger Than Fiction, The Fall, A Scanner Darkly, Idiocracy, Perfume and Science of Sleep. Perhaps there is still hope yet.
2nd – Children of Men
Children of Men is a near future science fiction film based on a 1992 P.D. James novel and directed by the ever versatile Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Gravity). It is set in 2027, but there is nothing special about that date. It could just as easily be 2050, or 2019. It feels like it is just a breath away. Forget giant asteroids or alien invasions, Children of Men conveys a doomsday scenario that is realistically frightening and contemporary.
Mankind has become infertile, there has not been a new birth recorded for over 18 years. Devolving into chaos from the ticking clock facing everyone, the world has resorted to violence. Britain, the only country that still “soldiers on,” has closed its borders to the swarms of refugees (sound familiar?) Those that make it through the cracks, called “fugees,” are captured and deported. The country is now a completely totalitarian state with state police and surveillance cameras everywhere.
The war-torn atmosphere and the mayhem that seems to erupt out of nowhere convey the urgency and danger of the situation. All of it is captured brilliantly by Alfonso Cuarón and the incomparable Emmanuel Lubetzki. Without hope, people are resorting to their base instincts ad lust for survival. Theo’s quest to protect Kee becomes the only thing that matters. The revelation that she is pregnant means that she is fighting for the future of all mankind.
Clive Owen plays Theo as a very ordinary man. With the action in this film, he could have easily become a 007 knockoff, but instead we are left in the frightening mess with him and allowed to feel his fear. In the same way, it would have been easy to write the appearance of this pregnant woman as a miracle, but Cuarón never makes that mistake. It’s hard to categorize this film as either a rich thematic drama when it elevates into a high-octane action film. That is one of the best things about it. It is a great dystopian thriller that is one of the best things that we have seen from a talented young director.
There were a couple of other Science fiction or dramas that almost made this list, but came up just short. Other films to add to your watchlist for the year are, The Lives of Others, Babel, Blood Diamond, Apocalypto, Last King of Scotland, and Little Children.
1st – The Departed
This is why remakes shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. The legendary Martin Scorsese with his screenwriter William Monahan have taken an okay Chinese film, Infernal Affairs, and breathed new life into it, framing it as an American epic crime drama. This is Scorcese’s best since Goodfellas and it deserves mention alongside Scorsese’s other most celebrated films Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.
I don’t want to go into the plot too far. The trailer goes a bit too deep in my opinion. I will just say that it is a high stakes game of lies, secrets, and hidden identities. This is among the greatest of ensemble casts of all time. We have headliners like Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg (Oscar nominated), and Alec Baldwin turning in superb supporting roles while Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon shine under the leadership of a premier director. This was the role that skyrocketed DiCaprio into the stratosphere. He and Scorsese work so brilliantly together, this was the best work he had done at the time. This is an amazing return to form for Jack Nicholson. He relishes every moment before the camera with this diabolical confidence and intensity. I think it was criminal that he wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar.
Speaking of Oscars, The Departed did go home with four awards on that night. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Editing. As far as crime dramas go, this is one of the best. Take note, this is a gangster film by Scorsese so there is a fair amount of violence and profanity. However, The Departed is somewhat tame in comparison to some of the director’s other films. It is entangling and highly entertaining, truly the best of 2006.
These posts are getting pretty long as I can’t help but write a full review for the film instead of just a quick snippet, so to help with this, starting with 2005, I will be posting my reviews separately and the Best Movie Bracket post will fairly short. It will link to my full reviews and will help explain why I chose one film over another.