Requiem For A Dream, USA, 2000, 102 min. Starring Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, Ellen Burstyn. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. There have been plenty of films that have attempted to depict the pain and struggle of the hardcore drug addict, but this may be the first that takes the viewer directly into the addict’s mind. Aronofsky’s second feature utilizes the hyper-kinetic visuals of his debut feature PI and marries them to Hubert Selby’s fierce novel (adapted by Selby with the director), further enhanced by some gutsy performances, particularly Burstyn’s justifiably acclaimed turn as a lonely matron hooked on diet pills.
Before Night Falls, USA, 2000, 133 min. Starring Javier Bardem, Olivier Martinez, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn. Directed by Julian Schnabel. Painter Schnabel takes for his second feature the life of gay Cuban novelist/poet Reynaldo Arenas and his struggles both to create and to live the life he chose despite considerable opposition from both social and political standpoints. The idea of someone who works primarily in visuals making a film about someone whose chief mode of expression was verbal might seem like a tricky proposition, but Schnabel pulls it off, conveying the complexities of Arenas’s life and his art, and how the two intertwined.
Shadow of the Vampire, UK-USA-Luxembourg, 2000, 92 min. Starring John Malkovich, Willem Dafoe, Udo Kier, Cary Elwes, Catherine McCormack. Directed by E. Elias Merhige. Absolutely wonderful mix of drama, comedy and horror re-imagines the making of one of our other Quintessential Cinema picks, F. W. Murnau’s 1922 vampire masterpiece Nosferatu, by positing that Max Schreck wasn’t an actor, but a real vampire, and that Murnau got him into the film by promising him the lead actress as a post-production snack. The movie has tons of fun with the aesthetic trappings of the silent film genre – its moodiness, its hamminess – not to mention staging incredible recreations of the original and cementing it all with a solid story all its own.
Dancer in the Dark, Denmark-Germany-Netherlands -USA-UK-France- Sweden-Finland-Iceland-Norway, 2000, 140 min. Starring Björk, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse. Directed by Lars von Trier. Icelandic singer Björk plays an Eastern European woman living in America who is slowly losing her eyesight due to a degenerative disorder. She works desperately at a factory job in order to save enough money so that her son might get an operation and be spared a similar fate, and finds escape from the drudgery of her life by imagining herself in the middle of Berkeley-esque musical numbers. Von Trier sets aside the Dogma ’95 rules to make this truly unique film that pays homage to the musical genre, and yet is quite definitively the work of the man who brought us such staggering, challenging work as The Element of Crime, Zentropa and Breaking the Waves.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hong Kong-Taiwan-USA, 2000, 119 min. Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi. Directed by Ang Lee. Sweeping story ostensibly about the search for a legendary sword that has been stolen, though that’s really something of a MacGuffin, as the heart of the film belongs to the unspoken, never consummated love affair between Yun-Fat and Yeoh’s warrior characters, which spans the years and faces considerable obstacles. Director Lee had already proven himself adept at western-style filmmaking with such offerings as 1997’s The Ice Storm when he dazzled the film community with this return to his eastern roots, a stunning combination of adventure, fantasy, romance, and martial arts buoyed by the now-oft-imitated wirework.
Pollock, USA, 2000, 122 min. Starring Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden, Amy Madigan, John Heard, Val Kilmer, Jennifer Connelly. Directed by Ed Harris. Harris makes his directorial debut with this bio-pic about the troubled painter at the vanguard of the Abstract Expressionist movement, his struggle with depression and alcoholism, and his tumultuous marriage to fellow artist Lee Krasner, played by Harden, in an Academy Award-winning performance. Harris, in both his acting and his directing, brings the screen to life by capturing the artist’s famous energy to a tee, demonstrating how a man could possibly work so forcefully to create his art and destroy his life at the same time.
A Beautiful Mind, USA, 2001, 135 min. Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Christopher Plummer. Directed by Ron Howard. Many books have been written and films have been made postulating the connection between genius and madness. This happens to be the story of someone who is unquestionably a genius, and who also was, for a time anyway, unquestionably mad. Director Howard’s controversial adaptation of the life of mathematician John Nash, who suffered from severe schizophrenia but still managed to go on to win the Nobel Prize, is certainly more than your average bio-pic, often playing out just as much as a mystery thriller as it does a drama. The cast is uniformly good with Crowe acting up a storm, Harris as reliable as ever, and Connelly truly impressive in her breakout performance.
Memento, USA, 2001, 113 min. Starring Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantaliano, Mark Boone, Jr. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Extremely unique thriller presents a story from its end to its beginning as we follow a man who suffers from a malady that periodically erases his short term memory as he tries to track down the man who murdered his wife. But who, if anyone, can he trust? It may seem hard to believe that any film could pull off the oddball structure, turning time upside down as it were, but this one does it with a vengeance, providing the careful watcher with an ending (or is that a beginning?) that will have your jaw on the floor. A film made for repeated viewings.
Mulholland Drive, USA, 2001, 145 min. Starring Naomi Watts, Laura Elena Harring, Justin Theroux. Directed by David Lynch. A young aspiring actress just arrived in Los Angeles finds herself in the middle of a mystery when she meets a beautiful woman who has lost her memory, while in another part of town a young filmmaker tries to gain back control of a project taken from him by mysterious forces. This being a Lynch film though, things are rarely what they seem. The director pokes merciless fun at the film industry, and pays homage to, among other things, two of his favorite films, Vertigo and Sunset Boulevard, with this ultra-stylish, sexy puzzle-box slice of neo-noir, mixed generously with his trademark dark humor and mind-bending version of narrative.
Shrek, USA, 2001, 88 min. Starring the voices of Mike Meyers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, John Lithgow. Directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson. William Steig’s children’s book is adapted into this gorgeously computer-animated film about a socially-challenged ogre and his wiseacre donkey sidekick out to rescue a princess. There’s plenty of fun for both children and adults, as all the best family movies should have, including references to a lot of classic fairy tale characters that may or may not be Dreamworks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg’s good natured little digs at his former Disney compadres.
No Man’s Land, Bosnia-Herzegovina-Slovenia-Italy-France-UK-Belgium, 2001, 98 min. Starring Branko Djuric, Rene Bitorajac, Filip Sovagovic, Georges Sovagovic. Directed by Danis Tanovic. During the Bosnian war, three men, two Croats, one Serb, find themselves trapped in a trench between the two enemy lines, with no escape and the potential to die at any minute, as one of the Bosnians is lying on a mine that will explode if he moves. The absurdity of war is certainly an aspect of the film, but while various people outside of the situation try to find a way to deal with it – a UN commander, officials on both sides, an English reporter – the heart of the film lies with the simpler story of men lying in dirt and festering in a hatred they may be incapable of transcending.
Amelie, France-Germany, 2001, 129 min. Starring Audrey Tatou, Mathieu Kassovitz, Rufus, Yolande Moreau. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. One half of the team that brought us the nightmarish alternate worlds of Delicatessen and City of Lost Children comes back with this thoroughly sweet, very different kind of fantasy. Tatou plays the title character, a waitress who strives to help all around her find happiness, and finds true love herself in the process. The warmth and magic that course through the film are almost overwhelming as Jeunet paints the city of Paris in exquisite colors, giving the proceedings the feeling of a fairy tale, with Tatou glorious as its own “Tinkerbell.” A completely quirky, unabashedly romantic delight.
About Schmidt, USA, 2002, 125 min. Starring Jack Nicholson, Kathy Bates, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney. Directed by Alexander Payne. Nicholson goes against type – way, way against type – playing a recently widowed, retired insurance salesman who travels across the country to see his daughter before she marries a man he believes to be no good for her. Payne and writing partner Jim Taylor, who previously did the terrific dark comedies Citizen Ruth and Election, give us a portrait of a man who never really became the sum of his parts, and had no inkling of what that might mean until some of those parts disappeared. Nicholson’s restraint in this deliberately-paced character study is phenomenal, finely supported by the rest of the cast, particularly Davis as his daughter and Bates as the feisty mother of the groom.
Chicago, USA-Canada, 2002, 113 min. Starring Renée Zellweger, Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Taye Diggs. Directed by Rob Marshall. Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart are two murderesses vying for the spotlight in Capone-era Chi-town. Bob Fosse’s 1975 Broadway musical languished in production hell for years while attempt after attempt was made to find a way to bring it successfully to the screen. Turns out it was worth the wait. First-time director Marshall seems a logical choice, seeing as how he’s well known for his work on the stage, and yet what makes the film successful is the avoidance of a stage bound feeling by making the musical numbers the byproduct of Roxie’s feverish imagination. Dazzling production values and some amazingly fast footwork make this one of the most entertaining, sexiest films in years.
The Hours, USA, 2002, 114 min. Starring Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, Ed Harris, John C. Reilly, Miranda Richardson. Directed by Stephen Daldry. Three different stories of three different women in three different times, all linked by one thing: a novel. Virginia Woolf writes her classic Mrs. Dalloway, a 1950s housewife is distracted from planning a party by reading that same book, and a modern day woman plans a party of her own for a writer friend dying of AIDS, her experiences mirroring those of the book’s main character. While the three separate stories are linked, they aren’t in such a way as, say, the stories in Pulp Fiction. Each is its own separate entity, despite thematic similarities, or in certain cases, thematic counterpoints. That Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was adapted at all is impressive; that it was adapted so successfully is a sheer wonder.
The Pianist, UK-France-Germany-Netherlands-Poland, 2002, 148 min. Starring Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Frank Finlay, Maureen Lipman, Emilia Fox, Ed Stoppard. Directed by Roman Polanski. Brody won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as a musician enjoying some fame when the Nazis invade Poland and force him and his family into the ghetto. As time goes by his meager celebrity affords him some degree of advantage, while he continues to be a spectator to the horrors occurring around him. While this wrenching film is based on the true experiences of Wladyslaw Szpilman, it’s clear that the material was deeply personal for Polanski, both in its relation to his own experiences and to the fact that this was the first film he made in his native land in four decades.
Talk To Her, Spain, 2002, 112 min. Starring Javier Cámara, Darío Grandinetti, Leonor Watling, Rosario Flores, Geraldine Chaplin. Directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Two men develop an unusual bond as each cares for one of two comatose women who are stationed next to each other in the same ward, one a ballet dancer injured in a car accident, the other a bullfighter, gored in the ring. While more subdued than much of the director’s other work, Almodóvar once again proves daring in his narrative, as well as continuing his ongoing exploration of the worship of the mystery of womanhood.