Hindsight for Sore Eyes: The Best of '01

First, to all those who've been waiting patiently for my traditional title-by-title retrospective: Sorry. Meant to write it, never quite found the time/energy/wherewithal. I did do an abbreviated version for Time Out New York, however (which was abbreviated still further when the editor-in-chief decided he wanted the whole thing shortier and punchier, so forgive the occasional rhythmic infelicity -- most of my capsules were trimmed by 50% or more [not by me], and the original version got deleted from the mag's archive while I was in California over the holidays).

Still, even after I began to suspect that the title-specific reverse countdown would have to go by the wayside, I still planned to scribble a few would-be trenchant remarks about 2001 as a whole. Not a bad year at all, I intended to say, what with two flat-out masterpieces -- both of them possible contenders for a spot on my list of all-time faves -- and an uncommonly strong field in the A- range, at least compared to the rather feeble lineups of 1998-2000. Still, I expected to complain, in the end I was able to find only seven films (now eight, with the upgrading of Pulse) that were truly worthy of inclusion, whereas in years past some 15-20 pictures have generally been in the running. No doubt I would have pointed, as I have so many times before, to the watershed year of 1994, when great movies were so plentiful that they were practically wandering around the streets of lower Manhattan begging for spare change. Pulp Fiction. Red. Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould. Ed Wood. Heavenly Creatures. Now that was a freakin' year, I would surely have declared. Why don't we have years like that nowadays? Where did our love go? You don't bring me flowers anymore. Etc.

As it happens, 1994 was the year that I first began posting to Usenet. (This website was created, if memory serves, in August 1995, originally as part of my pal Eric C. Johnson's site.) It was also the first time that I wrote one of these year-end wrapups, though I'd started putting lists together for my own amusement as early as '88. Since the original DejaNews archive went back only as far as mid-1995, I'd long assumed that that particular post, along with most of my other early communiques, was lost forever. Recently, however, a considerably larger archive was unexpectedly made available, and while the post in question apparently never made it to the server whence this archive sprang (routing was a lot less reliable in those days), Adam Villani's reply to it, which includes numerous quoted excerpts, still exists. Curious to know my contemporaneous assessment of the wonder that was '94? So was I. Take a look, and try not to laugh too hard. The colored text (which looks to my colorblind eyes like possibly violet; am I close?) is me; point #3, three paragraphs in, is the relevant passage.

Now, granted, the revelation that I've always considered the year just ended to be the worst in recent memory isn't half so embarrassing as how incredibly fucking pompous I sound in this post. ("There is, for me, a distinct difference.") Still, I can no longer plausibly deny that my standards have tightened since I made the switch from star ratings to letter grades in '98, and that the "honorable mention" films that were allotted 3.5 stars back then are receiving my distinguished B+ (= 3 stars) today. With that in mind, I hereby declare 2001 to have been a thoroughly terrific year, a keeper, one for the ages -- in short, boss. But no matter what evidence of my short-sightedness may come to light in future, I will go to my grave maintaining that 1998 really and truly and even in clear-eyed retrospect was a ghastly abomination the likes of which I hope never never ever to endure again. Thank you.

Anyway, here's the list, for the folks who haven't seen it yet on account of the nurse only just wiped the amniotic fluid from their eyes:

01. Memento (Christopher Nolan, USA)
02. The Man Who Wasn't There (Joel Coen, USA)
03. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong/China)
04. Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, USA)
05. Audition (Takashi Miike, Japan)
06. Training Day (Antoine Fuqua, USA)
07. Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan)
08. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, USA)
09. The Day I Became a Woman (Marziyeh Meshkini, Iran)
10. Don's Plum (RD Robb, USA)

Also, I did put together a list of superlatives, and here it is without any ado whatsoever really, this sentence included:

Best leading performances: Eric Bana, Chopper; Naomi Watts, Mulholland Dr.
Best supporting performances: Scarlett Johansson, Ghost World; Denzel Washington, Training Day (I say it's supporting, dammit!)
Best performance by an actor I usually hate: Chris Kattan, Monkeybone
Worst performance by an actor I usually love: Cate Blanchett, The Shipping News
Strangest career move: Owen Wilson goes Behind Enemy Lines, both literally (Bosnia) and figuratively (Hollywood action vehicle)
Most underrated: The Mexican (runner-up: The King Is Alive)
Best promotional gimmick: The Deep End ballpoint pen with anchor-bound corpse that sinks to the bottom of the lake when inverted
Most pleasant surprise: A Beautiful Mind
Most crushing disappointment: Planet of the Apes
Best film semi-marred by a tiresome protagonist: Amélie
Worst film semi-salvaged by a fascinating protagonist: The Business of Strangers
Most intriguing-sounding film I couldn't quite bring myself to actually see: A Chronicle of Corpses
I swear to god: I did not make up the Deep End pen.
Best song released in 2001 that to the best of my knowledge doesn't have even a tenuous association to anything film-related but which is being acknowledged here anyway because I'm kind of obsessed with it at the moment: "The Face of the Earth," The Dismemberment Plan
Most potent lust objects: Thora Birch in Ghost World; Chulpan Khamatova in Tuvalu; Mary H. in pajamas
Best autocriticism: "Very good! A bit forced, maybe, but still...humanistic."
Worst autocriticism: "It's certainly clever, I'll grant it that, but it's not much of anything else."