With 2015 upon us, we figured it was a good time to look back on the movies the millennium has brought us. And so we’ve dug into the archives and are re-running our Best of the 2000s pieces, from way back in 2009 when the Playlist was a little Blogspot site held together with tape and string. Each list runs down the top 10 films of each year (it’s also very possible that, half-a-decade on, we’d put them in a different order and even change some of the list, but we wanted to preserve the original pieces untouched as far as possible).Check out 2000 right here, and today we continue with 2001. The original piece follows below, and thanks to staffers past and present who contributed.
What was the state of cinema in 2001? Oscar-wise, the Academy Awards made some bold nominations, but of course awarded the safer “Gladiator” in favor of Steven Soderbergh‘s far superior “Traffic.” Still, Soderbergh did pull off the feat of being nominated twice in the same directorial category for his drug trade drama and “Erin Brockovich” (he would win for “Traffic” and Julia Roberts would take Best Actress for ‘Brockovich’). At Cannes, Michael Haneke‘s devastating “The Piano Teacher” would dominate (Best Actress, Actor and the runner-up prize), but the Palme d’Or would elude him (Nanni Moretti’s “The Son’s Room” took the top award that year). Globally, George W. Bush took office at the start of the year, followed not long after by 9/11 and the beginning of the war on terror, but those affects on cinema would obviously not be felt immediately. Perhaps the coolest cultural moment all year? In January, a black monolith measuring approximately 9 feet tall appeared in Seattle, Washington’s Magnuson Park, placed by an anonymous artist in reference to Stanley Kubrick‘s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
10. “The Devil’s Backbone”
While Guillermo del Toro won over the hearts and minds of audiences and critics with his similarly themed and styled “Pan’s Labyrinth” (both fantastical films with political overtones), it was this Pedro Almodovar-produced Spanish-language ghost story that cemented him as a filmmaker of unbridled imagination and thoughtfulness. Set at a boys’ halfway house during the Spanish Civil War and with an unexploded bomb in the courtyard serving as a reminder of the peril they all face, del Toro crafts a tender melodrama about the ghosts (literal, historical, and emotional) that torment us all. Though some of the visual effects lack sophistication in retrospect, the sentiment is just as clear and rich as ever.
9. “No Man’s Land”
This 2001 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film is a pitch-black ironic tragicomedy set during the 1993 Bosnian war regarding opposing wounded soldiers (Serbian and Bosnian) stuck in a trench between enemy lines, immobilized on a spring loaded bouncing mine. Serious stuff, but director Danis Tanovic uses the dilemma to scathingly illustrate the utter absurdities of war (bureaucratic or otherwise) and the squabbling among different players descending on the scene, among them journalists who attempt to exploit the situation for their own gain, which in turn draws the U.N., which begets its own kind of red tape. While the soldiers find common ground, the film concludes with stark bleakness (though there’s nothing ambiguous about the outcome), leaving the viewer despairing, despite the demonstration of brotherhood among enemies.
Credit goes to Christopher Nolan‘s second film (which premiered at Venice and was released in the UK and elsewhere in 2000 but didn’t reach U.S. shores until 2001) for keeping us interested even once its mystery has been unraveled. Guy Pearce’s everyman panic grounds his haunted and afflicted vigilantism in a reality that Wally Pfister’s sun-soaked cinematography helps illuminate, one of shoddy, paint-worn backroom dealings, dank hotel rooms and hopeless dead-end diners. Using the plot device of anterograde amnesia, Shelby (Pearce) is forced to constantly re-imagine the events around him every fifteen minutes when his memory vanishes. The film uses an ingenious backwards narrative that carefully places clues at the right spots to allow for the viewer to participate in solving what we know is essentially an unsolvable mystery: a man out for revenge against the person who killed his wife, leaving him dazed, confused, and… well, he’s got this condition, see?