*A Beautiful Mind (2001)*

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Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Paul Bettany, Josh Lucas, Adam Goldberg, Christopher Plummer, Anthony Rapp, Judd Hirsch

Director: Ron Howard

Summary: After a brilliant but asocial mathematician accepts secret work in cryptography, his life takes a turn for the nightmarish

Other Nominations: Director*, Actor (Crowe), Supporting Actress (Connelly)*, Adapted Screenplay*, Original Score, Makeup, Film Editing

Big glossy Oscar bait bio-pics aren’t my kind of thing, but it’s pretty good nonetheless. Crowe (and to a lesser extent Connelly) carries the movie with his performance (mainly his post-grad school version of John Nash) and both he and the movie as a whole do a great job of depicting his deteriorating mental state. Along the same lines, the presentation is general is handled well, like with the famous “illuminated words and letters” device to show the viewer how Nash sees patterns and the world differently and the makeup is on point. The movie certainly takes some liberties with the facts (and omits some important ones), but mostly for good reasons and the person at his core and his very real plight feel true to life at least.

The main issues for me is the script which is a mixed bag. Even if the structure is good, the dialogue is extremely blunt and unnatural at times and it felt weak (you mean hiring a guy who’s last two solo screenplays before A Beautiful Mind were Batman & Robin and the Lost in Space remake might not deliver a great script? You don’t say!) The other problem is really with Ron Howard in general. He’s a very competent filmmaker, but he lacks any real creative vision or soul in my opinion. Here, the movie takes very few risks and outside of a creative structural decision (which was thought up by the screenwriter) and doesn’t deviate from big, broad emotions. It’s a perfectly good movie, but it didn’t strike a chord with me.

Additional note: this was the third straight Dreamworks movie to win Best Picture; if Saving Private Ryan had won, it would have been four in a row. (they never won again by the way). The only other time this happened was with United Artists (1975-77).

Rating: B-

Gosford Park (2001)

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Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emily Watson, Helen Mirren, Ryan Phillippe, Clive Owen, Alan Bates, Eileen Atkins, Charles Dance, Stephen Fry, Derek Jacobi, Jeremy Northam, Bob Balaban, Tom Hollander, Geraldine Somerville, Sophie Thompson, Natasha Wightman, James Wilby, Camilla Rutherford

Director: Robert Altman

Summary: The lives of upstairs guests and servants at a country house party in 1932 England as they investigate a murder involving one of them

Other Nominations: Director, Supporting Actress (Smith), Supporting Actress (Mirren), Original Screenplay*, Art Direction, Costume Design

This is one of those movies where it really feels like everything comes together at the end in such a satisfying way that it raised my opinion of the whole movie. This is a film about the most British of subjects: class struggle, this one between servants and their wealthy employers, many of whom are from the aristocracy (this all also gets wrapped up in a lot of gender role issues as well) and does so exceedingly well. The decision to set it in 1932 makes total sense-it’s in between World Wars, right before the sunset of the British Empire and before the significance of the peerage system started to crumble-and we see foreshadowing of a future where the old regime dies out.

Robert Altman sure loves his casts of thousands, and this is one of the most notable instances: it’s the only movie that has seven knighted cast members (Mirren, Smith, Scott Thomas, Gambon, Jacobi, Atkins and Bates). Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren do give two of the best performances (although Mirren gets a remarkably small amount of screentime for a nominee), but I would also highlight Macdonald who plays what is sort of the audience viewpoint character and manages to make what is usually a sort of thankless role pretty memorable.

From a story standpoint, it’s unusual for a murder mystery to wait over halfway through the movie to actually have the murder and the mystery behind the murder itself honestly doesn’t feel that important, or at least not all that important compared to the themes the movies is building. From start to finish, the movie requires your full attention, both to the dialogue and so that you can keep track of a million characters. This is probably my biggest issue with the movie-I generally don’t like massive casts in movies; in a TV series you can get away with it because you have enough time, but for a movie you don’t get enough time to adequately develop them all that much beyond surface level with only two or three exceptions. While the movie is much more focused on themes than characters, I think it’s possible that with a tighter cast it could have done both well. Nevertheless, it does a great job of doing what it set out to do-the first hour might not be the greatest, but one we get to the stretch-run, things pick and and start coming together in a strong way.

Rating: B

In the Bedroom (2001)

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Starring: Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Nick Stahl, Marisa Tomei, William Mapother, William Wise

Director: Todd Field (his first feature film)

Summary: A New England couple’s college-aged son dates an older woman who has two small children and an unwelcome separated husband

Other Nominations: Actor (Wilkinson), Actress (Spacek), Supporting Actress (Tomei), Adapted Screenplay

Coming in blind is definitely the best way to watch In the Bedroom, so I’ll try my best not to spoil anything as I absolutely recommend watching it. One thing I admire about it is how they are able to have not one but two different big narrative shifts during the movie, and that the movie still works really well as a whole. The movie is constantly asking the audience to contemplate the actions of its characters and is full of moral ambiguity in the best way possible-the kind where it leaves it up to the individual viewer to make their own judgments with no right or wrong answers. Not only is the screenplay excellent, we also have outstanding performances from Wilkinson (probably his career best, it’s a shame he almost never gets leading roles in movies) and Spacek as the older couple and from Tomei, the older woman (well, relative to Stahl in his late teens). The one other aspect that jumped out to me is the score, or more accurately, the lack of it with most sound being diegetic. Here, for a contemplative drama like this, having a over-dramatic soundtrack really just detracts from it (an issue I had with Manchester by the Sea, a film with a lot of similarities to this one), so I thought it was absolutely the right decision. If you like serious dramas, give this one a look.

Rating: B+

The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings (2001)

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Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Sean Astin, Orlando Bloom, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis

Director: Peter Jackson

Summary: A meek hobbit and eight companions set out on a journey to destroy the one ring and the Dark Lord Sauron

Other Nominations: Director, Supporting Actor (McKellen), Adapted Screenplay, Original Score*, Original Song (“May It Be”), Sound, Art Direction, Cinematography*, Makeup*, Costume Design, Film Editing, Visual Effects*

*I watched the theatrical cut (178 minutes), not the extended cut (228 minutes) because that’s the version the Academy voters would have seen at the time of the ceremony*

Before I begin my review, I wanted to say that, as incredible as it might sound, I somehow have avoided watching any of these movies (or read the books) before this project. Having now seen the first of the trilogy, I have to say it mostly lives up to the hype. While the movie does a lot of things exceedingly well, the thing that jumped out to me more than anything else was just how amazing the score is-seriously, it’s one of the best ever, and one of the most recent (as of 2017) that I would call truly memorable and iconic. The whole cast is excellent (with loads of people who became much bigger deals because of the success of these films), but Ian McKellen is always the best and undoubtedly earned his Oscar nomination; considering how beloved he is by everyone, I’m surprised he lost to Jim Broadbent in Iris (although I have not seen that movie to be fair). Frodo is somewhat of a thankless role-much like Luke Skywalker in A New Hope, he’s the semi-bland main character audience avatar surrounded by other more interesting characters, but Wood does a nice job, and his puppy dog eyes are his greatest asset. The effects were a giant leap forward at the time, although some of the CG and chroma key effects look dodgy by modern standards. Even with that, the effects (especially the orcs who look awesome), combined with the overall art direction and the cinematography make for a gorgeous looking film.

The story does a great job of building a unique and complete world (if not one that feels very standard fantasy in the time since it was written), and whatever cuts were made from the novel for the interests of time seem to have been the right ones as you can still follow everything going on with no issues whatsoever. I will say that maybe something was lost in characterization though: with a cast of characters so large, it’s difficult to give them all the attention they deserve in the first installment of a trilogy. Lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Arwen (Liv Tyler) feel like they showed up just to set them up to do big things later on, but I would have liked to have gotten more from them here even with all that said. Ultimately, while I’m much more of a sci-fi fan than a fantasy fan, this is still about as good of an adaptation as you could possibly hope for, and I look forward to the next two.

Rating: A-

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

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Starring: Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh, John Leguizamo, Jacek Koman

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Summary: A poet falls for a beautiful courtesan whom a jealous duke covets

Other Nominations: Actress (Kidman), Sound, Art Direction*, Cinematography, Makeup, Costume Design*, Film Editing

Moulin Rouge! Is undoubtedly one of the most aggressively stylized Best Picture nominees ever-the art direction and color, a musical with remixes of modern music in an 1899 setting, cinematography, editing and goofy sound effects are all out there and in your face. Yet, the movie knows what it is, and even in its serious moments feels consistent; any minor tweaks and it would probably fall apart, yet it all somehow works and I enjoy a movie that takes bold risks that pay off.

I’ve never really cared for Nicole Kidman, but here she’s excellent-she can sing, she shows off a lot of range (including being genuinely funny which I didn’t expect) and has a great presence; she would ugly herself up to win an Oscar next year for a performance that I don’t think was anywhere as good. The rest of the cast is really strong too, something I didn’t remember from when I watched it back around when it came out-Broadbent probably would have been nominated if he wasn’t already nominated (and won for) Iris that same year, and Roxburgh basically plays a Disney villain, but in a movie like this, it works and he’s great at it.

If there’s a weak spot, it’s that the story and characters are certainly derivative and unoriginal, but it’s a tragic romance musical and I don’t know what you would expect otherwise here. The only thing that annoyed me was a clumsy moment when we got a couple of scenes where a background character that had no lines before is suddenly a villain because the plot demands something to move it forward. For me, the whole last 45 minute stretch is really strong and if you have a tolerance for musicals, romance and in-your-face style, you’ll probably enjoy it.

Rating: B

 

2001 in Review

Other Notable Films from 2001

Mulholland Dr.

Shrek

Monsters Inc.

The Royal Tenenbaums

Amelie

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone

Donnie Darko

Ghost World

Spirited Away

Monster’s Ball

Freddie Got Fingered

Y Tu Mama Tambien

Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

2001 Nominees in Review

The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring: A-

In the Bedroom: B+

Moulin Rouge!: B

Gosford Park: B

A Beautiful Mind: B- (Won Best Picture)

One of the best fields ever in my opinion, even if the least interesting movie won Best Picture. A Beautiful Mind is competently made and Crowe gives a strong performance, but everything else about it was unremarkable, especially in comparison to the groundbreaking effects and scope of Fellowship of the Ring, the bold risks in style for Moulin Rouge!, the intelligence of Gosford Park or the real feeling of human drama of In the Bedroom.

For 2002: John C Reilly joins Claudette Colbert, Charles Laughton and Adolphe Menjou as actors to appear in three Best Picture nominees in the same year (and the only one in the five nominee era). Also: a movie based on the longest-running American musical in Broadway history; the first of many team-ups between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio; Nicole Kidman won Best Actress despite being in the film for only 28 minutes, the fewest of the three main female actresses in it: the first direct sequel to be nominated for Best Picture when the original did not win (as was the case with The Godfather Parts II and III, and The Bells of St. Mary’s); and Adrien Brody became the youngest person to win Best Actor at age 29.