Welcome to the Weekly Movie Thread, your place on the Avocado to discuss film. What have you seen recently? Have you felt safe enough to venture to the multiplex? Have you discovered an old classic you’d put off?
This week, you’re an all-star… because here’s today’s prompt: What is your favorite film of 2001?
Let’s step back in the wayback machine 20 years to the distant past of 2001. Sentient comical computers and voyages to Jupiter were yet a long way off.
One of the surprising things, looking back now, is how little of 2001 was disrupted. The pandemic of 2020 pretty much shelved everything. Meanwhile, a major terrorist attack caused people to shelve some movies that might remind people of the Twin Towers. But beyond that, it was business as usual. And business was booming.
2001 was The Year of the Franchise.
Not existing ones, mind you. Those would turn up some of the worst sequels ever. I’m talking about The Mummy Returns, Hannibal, Jurassic Park III, as well as the successful but quite forgettable Planet of the Apes directed by Tim Burton. (Though The Mummy Returns would be the big screen debut of one of the biggest action stars in the last few years: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.)
No, we’re talking about movies that were pre-planned to run for a long time. Films like Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone and the first installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. These two films changed how we thought about sequels. It used to be that we would wait to see if a film was a big success before it warranted a sequel. Now it was known that a sequel was inevitable. Both series were done relatively quickly as well. Harry Potter had to finish all seven books before the kids aged out of their roles. Lord of the Rings filmed three movies back to back as if all three films were really just one singular long film.
2001 also saw the debut of a film that no one foresaw would turn into one of the highest grossing film franchises of all time: The Fast and The Furious. The simple tale of street racing would balloon into a spy franchise where cars were being parachuted out of planes and driven through the Emirates Towers. Personally, I remember very well how the film impacted young guys like me. I saw the film several times in theaters, and I distinctly remember people peeling out of the parking lot, inspired as they were of the film’s stunts. It seems so quaint now. Still, I still love the simplicity of that first film.
Another big franchise getting kicked off was the remake of a Frank Sinatra film: Ocean’s Eleven. The breezy heist film was mainly an excuse to watch a bunch of cool Hollywood stars hang out and look good… and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Some of the most auteurist directors would release films that could arguably be their most career-defining. Wes Anderson released his comedy-drama The Royal Tenenbaums, which codified his quirky visual sensibilities. David Lynch repurposed a concept he’d originally developed for television with Mulholland Drive. Richard Linklater would dabble in experimental animation with The Waking Life. Terry Zwigoff would adapt a Daniel Clowes comic with Ghost World. Bay Luhrmann would set our feet tapping with his jukebox musical, Moulin Rouge!
All great films… which makes it all the more shocking that the winner for Best Picture this year was A Beautiful Mind. You know… we really don’t give Ron Howard a hard enough time for A Beautiful Mind.
Comedies remained strong, with Legally Blonde and Bridget Jones’ Diary being big hits with audiences (as well as strong performances from Reese Witherspoon and Renee Zellweger, respectively). Neither Wet Hot American Summer, Josie and The Pussycats, nor Zoolander would do well on release, but would go on to develop a sizable cult following.
Finally, Dreamworks would fire the first real salvo at Disney & Pixar’s animation dominance when Shrek became the first ever winner to the Academy’s newly created Best Animated Feature category. Hey, Shrek… you’re an all-star. Disney was in a bit of a slump, as Atlantis: The Lost Empire was a bit of miss. Studio Ghibli would release was some consider Hayao Miyazaki’s best film: Spirited Away.
Next week: drugs in film