Saturday, February 13, 2010
Memories of the Turn of the Century in Film, Part I: 2000/2001
I am aware many of you have seen plenty of movie decade roundups over the last couple of months and the last thing you may want to read is one more. Since this blog only started about 9 months ago, I never actually discussed most of the movies this series of pieces will cover. Plenty of the films will have popped up on many, some or none of the lists you have read. However, this is as much about looking back on the last decade of film to understand how we started it and where we are now. Sure, I want to highlight what I consider my favorite films from this decade, but, as always, there are plenty of aspects about movies that are as worthy of discussion as the list-making.
First, let me state right off the bat that I do not feel lists are meant to please everyone, as much as I think it allows a certain understanding of a particular person's point of view. I guarantee you will find some of my favorites either to be completely deserving or believe that I am crazy for including them. At this point, there is not a film on my list I have not seen ripped apart by someone, somewhere on the internet, where movies go to get built up by some and torn down by others (more about that later in this series). Regardless, these are films I feel I will revisit and think back upon when I look back at the decade. In other words, these are the films most important to me.
So where do we begin?
This was a decade that was defined by fear of the unknown and unreasonable panic right from its first moments. We were a country that looked at the turn of the century as a possible armageddon with the threat of the Y2K bug with computers. Despite our technological advances, we worried the whole world may come to a crashing halt due to how dates were entered into computer code. In some ways, that panic has never quite left us, resulting in a decade of film that was wildly uneven and unsure of itself. This was a time defined by films that revealed the struggle, more than ever, of filmmakers wrestling with having a true vision, as opposed to taking the easy route of chasing trends that was the norm for mainstream movies.
The more I look back on film during the years I have been on this planet, the more I am convinced that innovation in film comes in waves, often by decade. The great run of films from the 1970's was followed by the general corruption of most art during the Reagan '80's. That was then followed by the boom of independent filmmaking in the 1990's. That decade was a creatively fertile time in filmmaking, featuring the debuts of some of the most innovative directors of our time. Filmmakers such as David Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson, Alexander Payne, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman (mostly a writer but still an auteur in his own right), Quentin Tarantino and many others released their debut films during this time. While not quite comparable to the directors of the 1970's such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Coppola, Robert Altman, Steven Spielberg or Hal Ashby, these filmmakers undeniably led a major new wave in film.
When you think back to the class of new directors from this first decade of the 21st century, who comes to mind? Yes, I am drawing a blank myself. Much like the 1980's featured most of the '70's directors showing difficulty sustaining their relevance during a period of mostly unadventurous filmmaking, this past decade has revolved mostly around the most important directors of the '90's attempting more ambitious works with varying levels of success during a time of franchises, reboots and visual gimmickry. When it came to supporting a new wave of American directors and voices, we seem to have fallen short, while countries such as Mexico, Thailand and South Korea stepped up.
One can see the rut that we found ourselves in early on during the years 2000 and 2001 that I am not sure we ever escaped. Between Y2K hysteria and millenium angst and a presidential election that dragged on over a month with a final result that damaged our country to no end, we were constantly in the position of anticipation. Regardless of who you were, there was something, anything out there to dread, which is not exactly the most fertile environment for creativity. Well, at least, not at first.
Now, I am not going to go into trying to define the events of September 11th through the eyes of filmmaking, as others have attempted. Sometimes, you have to put aside trying to make connections between films and real-life events and just deal with the reality of the day. Besides, the events that led up to September 11th and what happened to the United States (and the world) as a result of that day will probably make us understand what happened more than using imagery to invoke memories of it. Without a doubt, one cannot discuss a good number of the movies I will mention in this series without that event and its repercussions lingering in the back of our minds. In some ways, you will see that many of my favorite films from this past decade were the ones that attempted to understand it with more nuance, as opposed to reducing it to the pop culture reference it has sadly become due to cheapening discourse in our various media outlets.
One cannot look at these list of films from the first two years of the decade and see much of a running theme. Coming after the strength of 1999's films, you can see filmmakers focusing on their somewhat insular interests, as opposed to having much a view about the world at large. These are mostly melancholy films, consisting of characters brutalized emotionally by love walking through real and imaginary worlds with wounded hearts, dealing with their loneliness in ways that are often self-destructive. It seemed like everyone was trying to find their place in the world at the start of the new millennium.
(In Order of Release Date in US, if applicable)
Wonder Boys (dir. Curtis Hanson, scr. Steve Kloves) (released February 23, 2000)
Curtis Hanson's follow-up to the great "L.A. Confidential" is one of those films that I revisit to simply inspire myself. This movie understands writers of all types without resorting to the cliches of films about artists. Grady Tripp may have written one great novel, but that does not prevent him from getting lost in his second novel. In reality, any writer knows the probability of losing your way in the writing process has a greater probability of happening than words coming naturally to you. The behavior writers engage in when this happens are often self-destructive on a micro level, a series of small self-inflicted wounds through bad habits and easy vices that have a great deal to do with coping with one's inability to believe in their own ability.
The movie is also very funny, building through a series of somewhat contrived and absurd situations that are made believable through the understated direction and performances. This may be the best performances of Michael Douglas and Tobey Maguire. They never quite push the aspect of the student learning from the teacher and vice versa, mostly because the characters learn more from each other's faults as much as they do from their wisdom.
I cannot help but also bring up that "Wonder Boys" was filmed at Carnegie Mellon University where I spent two years. I recognized all the campus scenes locations from 10 years before and even had my very early writing criticized in the same classroom Maguire gets his takedowns from the other students. Yes, this movie struck a chord because it was about writing, but it never treats its subject in such a pretentious fashion as to shut out the non-writers out there. I believe "Wonder Boys" invoked the spirit of Hal Ashby better than some of the other directors this past decade have attempted.
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (dir. & scr. Jim Jarmusch) (released March 3, 2000)
I believe I am in the minority because I consider this to be Jim Jarmusch's greatest film. For some reason, it has not been taken that seriously and even dismissed as an attempt by Jarmusch to make a more commercial genre film. Many seem to be missing the richness of this movie's themes, a presentation of culture clashes between dying ideologies. Between Ghost Dog's belief of the code of the Samurai and the aging Italian gangsters' increasingly irrelevant code of justice, a battle is waged on the streets of a city that does not care about either of these ways of thought. The only culture presented in the film that will last is hip hop culture, mostly because it is rooted in popular entertainment rather than defined by any code of honor.
This is the least rigidly formal of Jarmusch's films and the looseness allows for more joy and experimentation in the image-making. His films have always been noted for their great images, but sometimes, they tend to call attention to their lack of camera movement, as if Jarmusch were afraid of going beyond panning and tilting as camera moves to alleviate the deadpan nature of his movies. In this film, there are some beautiful montages of Forest Whitaker driving in a stolen car, listening to a song off his CD. We even have the rare successful use of strobe motion when we see Ghost Dog training on a building roof or the use of slow motion when we watch him release his pigeons from their coop. I will also never forget the beautiful scene where Ghost Dog and his best friend watch a boat being built on top of another building. I still contemplate over how will he get it down from there, as if it were a great mystery of life.
There are also classic comedic scenes (some even inspired by cartoons), mostly involving the inept gangsters who employ Ghost Dog for hits. The scene where Ghost Dog's "retainer" Louie attempts to explain to the other mobsters who Ghost Dog is hits so many notes of how people from different worlds and schools of thought can never quite get one another. One of the gangsters exclaims, "Indians, Niggers, Same thing", which demonstrates a certain level of cluelessness about those different from us that is more incisive than the multitude of dramas telling us that racism is bad. Then again, none of those films had an aging Italian mobster singing along to a Public Enemy song while applying skin cream to his posterior.
Almost Famous: "Untitled" Version (dir. & scr. Cameron Crowe) (released September 13, 2000)
This is a great example of a first-rate nostalgia film where you can tell the director has incredible affection for all the characters, most likely based on real-life people during his early years as a journalist for Rolling Stone. Yet, Crowe stops just short of romanticizing these characters. You can understand why the band members and their groupies enjoy each other company so much, but you can also get why their relationships are done in by their own need to be everything to everyone. Even the main character's mother, who comes across as overbearing enough to drive her own daughter away, demonstrates that she still has more wisdom than the cooler, younger people her son admires.
You will notice that I specify the "Untitled" version that was only released on DVD, as opposed to the theatrical version. In the infinite wisdom of the studio, they cut nearly 40+ minutes from Crowe's director's cut to make a film more palatable to the masses, which was never going to embrace this movie anyway due to its specific subject matter. The longer version is looser and allows every character moment to breathe a little more. You actually really get more of a sense of being with a band on the road.
The cast features many actors like Billy Crudup and Jason Lee doing their best work (and, in the case of Kate Hudson, her only decent work). Perhaps, many see this film as a whitewash of that time and that Crowe was too much in love with the people he was portraying. I have to say I was thankful that I did not get the usual self-destructive musician story told plenty of times before and since. Ultimately, the film is about the place of the uncool in a time of nothing but cool, as the phone scenes between Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Patrick Fugit illustrate. One cannot truly exist without the other, no matter how uneasy the relationship.
Requiem for a Dream (dir. Darren Aronofsky, scr. Aronofsky & Hubert Selby, Jr.) (released October 6, 2000)
The Darren Aronofsky who directs sci-fi films doesn't engage me as much as the Aronofsky who makes movies about the down and out in our society. This is a true horror film about not just being a drug addict, but the holes these characters are trying to fill in their lives that leads to addiction. In the case of Sara Goldfarb (in a career-best performance by Ellen Burstyn), she is replacing everyday addictions such as food and television with more traditional drug addictions.
For me, this film actually supports the style is the substance argument that is often overused to justify shallow movies. Employing rapid cutting, split screens and changing motion speeds, "Requiem" uses many tricks in the book, but very rarely did I ever get taken out of this film. I always felt there was a choice made to serve the narrative and, more importantly, to get into these characters' state of mind. Much credit has to go to Aronofsky for getting something out of each of these cast members (Leto, Wayans and even Connelly) that would never show up again in subsequent films. The ending is sad and heartbreaking.
Unbreakable (dir. & scr. M. Night Shyamalan) (released November 22, 2000)
It is easy to take down Shyamalan, probably due to his last 3 films representing various degrees of awfulness (although I sometimes consider "The Happening" pretty hilarious), but this was the film that demonstrated that there was once a true filmmaker underneath all of the storytelling sleight of hand that he has overplayed since. I have mentioned before that I have little interests in comic books. However, if comic books had told origin stories more like this film did, I would be more interested.
Less a superhero movie than a story about two men discovering in middle age their true purpose in life, "Unbreakable" is a patient movie, telling its story in very well-choreographed long takes and memorably blue-tinged noirish imagery. Every scene in the film has a purpose that serves the whole. Whatever happened to the discipline that Shyamalan demonstrated in this film?
Shyamalan represents what has happened to many directors in this decade, not understanding how the more human aspects of their earlier films are what made them work. Perhaps, some will never take this film seriously because it itself treats comic book mythology with an almost religious fervor. And while I still will never be that interested in comic books, this film still succeeded in convincing me that I should not dismiss them.
You Can Count on Me (dir. & scr. Kenneth Lonergan) (released December 1, 2000)
This film seems to have been forgotten a bit, although it contains the breakout performances of Laura Linney and especially Mark Ruffalo. Understated and honest about brother and sister relationships, as well as the people who live in small towns, this movie works on you until it builds to a moving climax. Like many relationships built on love and blood, these characters never stop have anything less than love and affection for one another, even if they can never necessarily be around each other all of the time.
I hope people revisit this film and remember how terrific the two central performances are. This is a movie about family that is not built merely on dysfunction, as much as it is about two people trying to get by on a day to day basis with their sibling being the person they most rely on, even when they are far away.
Battle Royale (dir. Kenji Fukasaku, scr. Kenta Fukasaku) (never released in U.S.)
Coming out in Japan a year after the Columbine shootings, "Battle Royale" was never released in this country except for DVD. I guess no one wanted to see a film about kids being put on an island to kill each other until one is left standing. This is a case where a movie can be considered morally reprehensible if you take it all on face value. This is an operatic film that finds a variety of creative ways to kill characters off and even implicates the audience member in getting involved by rooting for some characters over others and exploiting the suspense factor of whittling down the contestants.
If you were to accuse this movie of being an exploitation picture, you would be right to a point. But it is also a satire that will make you squirm, depicting a country in such economic and social chaos that its government decides to sacrifice the young to restore its sense of order. In this competition, you see a microcosm of any country. When the going gets tough, people will destroy one another out of a sense of self-survival. Most of the time, the times do not need to be so rough for many out there to resort to their worst impulses.
What does it say that a movie with such hysterically, over the top violence was quite sickening to me right from its early moments? This is certainly not the repetitive and desensitizing violence of Mel Gibson movies, but what they would should show to Alex DeLarge in "A Clockwork Orange" to make him feel sick. This is not a movie for everyone, but it should be seen and discussed. Considering when it was released, it was quite prescient in showing how governments sacrifice their own citizens by often pitting them against one another.
In the Mood for Love (dir. & scr. Wong Kar-Wai) (released February 2, 2001)
Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung are one of the great screen couples in the history of motion pictures. Not just because of this film, but another from this decade that I will discuss in a later part of this series. Having rewatched this film again recently, one cannot praise enough the sensual visuals and the use of color and the two great central performances that combine to truly get at our hearts. "Yumeji's Theme" is one of those pieces of movie music that will always pop up in my head during those too few moments where I truly embrace the romantic.
Wong Kar-Wai was never a stranger to this subject matter, but I felt this was his most refined take on it, especially because he sometimes tends to lean on a more academic approach. But something happened with this film. His style seems less self-conscious. Every cut flows. Every scene feels complete although often with little dialogue. Every image sticks in your head like remembrances of a lost love. It is almost embarrassing to even attempt to communicate how devastating this film is. I often space out the viewings of this movie because it does become hard to deal with in that aspect. It's a movie that almost actually begs to be watched alone, the very opposite of what most romantic pictures (aka "date movies") are designed for. And that's a good thing.
The Heart of the World (dir. & scr. Guy Maddin) (released February 23, 2001)
I never cared much for Guy Maddin's dedication to making modern silent films with a certain hand-cranked camera quality to them. This 6 minute film though convinces me that Maddin's style is best served in small doses. Encapsulating the style of silent film and mixing it with the modern smashing-you-over-the-head style of the modern movie trailer, this is the funniest, most insightful and perfect film that Maddin has put together. As an editor, this was one film I wished I could have cut. You can watch the whole movie here.
Memento (dir. & scr. Christopher Nolan) (released March 16, 2001)
I find it odd that so many who took such strong objections to Nolan's directing style in his Batman movies were largely silent when his style was employed in the service of a lower-budgeted film. It is not as if there was such a drastic change in cinematography and editing choices, as well as screenwriting structure and thematic interests, between this and his more financially-successful movies. In some ways, "Memento" has been downgraded a bit since its release as the arguments over Nolan have become more heated (and, to be honest, a bit ridiculous).
More than just a puzzle film, the movie explores the unreliability of memory. Not only does its central character, Leonard, have a medical condition that restricts him to short-term memory, one can also argue that perhaps his memory is being manipulated by others as well as himself to only remember what he wants to remember. This is a man who lives to get revenge on whoever killed his wife, which may have given more purpose than his previous life as an insurance investigator.
We spend most of the film sympathetic to Leonard until we realize that his short term memory is a detriment to his ability to make rational and moral choices that a long term memory would be quite helpful for. For me, this film represents a lot about this country's psyche, making choices that only make sense in the short term while doing long term irreversible damage.
Amores Perros (dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu, scr. Guillermo Arriaga) (released March 30, 2001)
Much like Park Chan-Wook's Vengeance Trilogy made Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" movies look like child's play, watching "Amores Perros" made "Pulp Fiction" seem dated with its preoccupation with its own cleverness. "Perros", to me, was the rare anthology movie where not only was every section strong on its own, but the three narratives actually came together thematically. Watching this movie again recently, I was amazed how well the entire film flowed. It seemed less like an anthology movie, than a cinematic treatise on how people make bad and often self-destructive decisions when they fall in love hard and fast.
Yet, despite the movie's cynical title, translated as "Love's a Bitch", this is a movie with a surprisingly big heart that goes along with its skepticism about love. It feels like every relationship in this movie contains one person in it for the romance while the other is in it for convenience. When misfortunes occur, these characters truly get tested in their ability to stick by one another, which happens regardless of class and money status, which always seem to be present in the background of this movie. Much like the quote at the end of Stanley Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon" says, "good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor they are all equal now."
This is another film which I feel has been devalued a bit overtime, as critics seem to be getting disproportionately angry at Iñárritu or Arriaga for their non-linear story structures in subsequent films while not at all attempting to tackle what those films were trying to accomplish.
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (dir. & scr. Steven Spielberg) (released June 29, 2001)
Now talk about a film that got some audience members angry to the point it made me feel exasperated that so many seemed to misunderstand "A.I." on its most basic level. Others seem to be coming around this, as opposed to accusing Spielberg of sullying the good name of Stanley Kubrick. Let me say this, though. The argument that the film should have ended with David at the bottom of the ocean waiting for the Blue Fairy is one of the most ridiculous I have ever heard. It is what comes after that which truly makes "A.I." a great film.
If anything, what happens in the last section is so depressing and disturbing in how a human being is recreated to fulfill the final wishes of a delusional robot child who cannot tell that its own emotions are programmed. The attempt by a society to lend our emotions to artificial beings and hope they will not become as irrational with those feelings as us reaches its ultimate conclusion in this film. It may seem like a good idea to make such a technological advancement, but it makes little sense when no one wants to take responsibility for how this mecha-child will turn out. Many seemed to be confusing David's sentimental ending with Spielberg as director indulging in one of his usual wrapped-in-a-bowtie endings, which he actually does half of the time he is accused of doing so.
As much as I think Spielberg is a great director, I would never consider him infallible. Unfortunately, those seem to be the only two stances one can take on Spielberg nowadays: genius or hack. Oddly enough, this movie was the beginning of what I felt was a wildly uneven decade for Spielberg, which contained some of his best films and some of his worst. As I had been saying ever since the film came out, I can understand why many may not like the film, but what I cannot understand is why it made everyone so angry, considering the ambition involved. Sadly, Kubrick's last film "Eyes Wide Shut" received similar misguided reactions.
Mullholland Drive (dir. & scr. David Lynch) (released October 19, 2001)
This was the film for me where David Lynch found the exact sweet spot where his previous films never quite reached. I always considered this the Lynch film that draws from the absurd surreality of his most Lynchian films such as "Blue Velvet" or "Lost Highway", while actually containing the more humanistic approach of his more underrated films "The Elephant Man" and "The Straight Story". That Lynch was able to make a great film about Hollywood, one of my least favorite subject matters for movies, was remarkable.
Naomi Watts gives one of the greatest performances of this decade in what turns out to be a tragic love story between two women that is filtered through the dreams of her spurned character, Diane/Betty, at least by my preferred interpretation. I would say most of the film represents the wishful thinking mindset of one woman who cannot cope with the fact that the love of her life has left her. For all the discussion about what the film means, I cannot stress enough how emotionally resonant "Mulholland Drive" was for me, as audacious an approach to a love story as "In the Mood for Love".
While this film has topped many decades charts, there have been more than a few who continue to dismiss it as a failed television pilot reconfigured for a movie. Oddly enough, I do believe this film is more coherently structured and has far more of a dramatic purpose to it than Lynch's later "Inland Empire" (which I still believe to be his worst film). Lynch will always be a frustrating director for me, as I only believe about half of his films actually work. Of those, I consider "Mulholland" to be the masterpiece of his filmography.
The Man Who Wasn't There (dir. & scr. Joel & Ethan Coen) (released October 31, 2001)
This was a Coen brothers film that was divisive to a certain extent. Certainly, many appreciated and respected it, but there was some who would put it near the top of their filmography while others considered it too slow and drawn out. I loved their full-on immersion into old-style film noir with Billy Bob Thornton giving one of the most under-appreciated quiet performances of recent times. This film also contains some of the Coens' strongest imagery and even odder digressions, such as listing the different styles of '50's haircuts and considering paranoid conspiracy theories about UFOs.
Like many Coen films, the plot is timed like a Swiss watch of doom, as several threads come together to make sure our hero suffers the worst possible fate. As even stated by the lawyer Freddy Riedenschneider (in a hilarious performance by Tony Shalhoub), this is the Coens' portrait of the modern man, always looking to make life better for himself and destroying everything else in the process. This movie gives voice to those people you ignore, the non-talkers, whose wishes for a more fulfilling life remain often unsaid.
Or as Ed Crane says in his final voiceover while sitting in the electric chair: "I don't know where I'm being taken. I don't know what I'll find, beyond the earth and sky. But I'm not afraid to go. Maybe the things I don't understand will be clearer there, like when a fog blows away. Maybe Doris will be there. And maybe there I can tell her all those things they don't have words for here."
The Devil's Backbone (dir. Guillermo del Toro, scrs. del Toro, Antonio Trashorras & David Munoz) (released November 21, 2001)
This is probably the least known and seen of del Toro's films, but I consider it one of his best: a ghost story that takes place in an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War. In this precursor to his later "Pan's Labyrinth", del Toro tells a story that meshes the political with the supernatural, while also being one of the best directors of stories about children. I also think this movie contains del Toro's most striking image, which is a undetonated bomb that sits in the middle of the courtyard, representative of the powder keg about to explode not only within the orphanage, but in all of Spain, as well.
Guillermo del Toro's strength is that he is a great teller of fables that are not shielded from the harsh realities of the world. In his best films, acts of violence are often harsh and ugly delivered by men who cowardly pick upon those who are defenseless when they exploit their moments of power. The orphanage mirrors the war being fought in a country torn apart. I hope more people out there seek out this movie, which I did not see myself until after I watched "Pan's Labyrinth".
The Royal Tenenbaums (dir. Wes Anderson, scrs. Anderson & Owen Wilson) (released December 14, 2001)
Much like David Lynch, I consider Wes Anderson a hit and miss director, no matter how much some consider his output after this film to be masterworks. As unimpressed as I was with both "Life Aquatic" and "Darjeeling Limited", my appreciation of this film has grown considerably over the years. What could have easily descended into a "white people problems" film actually has emotional weight because the characters are brought back to earth almost right from the beginning.
The story of a family of failed geniuses that borrows from J.D. Salinger as well as Orson Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons" feels like Anderson's most complete film, where he finds the balance between the emotions of the characters and his sometimes too fussy, but often visually striking filmmaking and compositions. This film did become the tipping point, as Anderson's later films became too enamored with his over-blocked shots and forced the melancholic whimsical tone down our throats. In this movie, the characters actually engage in something closer to human interaction rather than the blurting out of emotions in his later films.
I truly do miss Owen Wilson collaborating with Anderson on the screenplays, as their work together is much stronger than when they are apart. They also wrote the best part that Luke Wilson ever had a chance to play. I also consider this Gene Hackman's proper swan song (I'll try to forget the movies he made between this and his retirement.) I agree with Martin Scorsese's take on the film, when he was surprised by how touched he was by the death of Hackman's patriarch at the end, despite what a bastard he was throughout most of the movie.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (dir. Peter Jackson, scrs. Jackson, Fran Walsh & Phillipa Boyens) (released December 19, 2001)
This series (this won't be the only part on the list) has surprisingly not inspired the same level of fandom as the Star Wars series. You know what? Perhaps that it is for the better, as Jackson's films are far superior to Lucas' trilogy (and, I mean, the original trilogy). Now, based on the movies I have mentioned so far, I can tell you now that you probably will not be seeing a whole lot of special effects extravaganzas on this list.
The difference between the Rings films and the many, many others are that Jackson's eye was so strong. Many may forget the number of great sweeping shots in these films, whether they were assisted by CGI or not, as well as his patience to allow every character their quieter moments. "The Fellowship of the Ring" probably has the most measured pace of the three films, spending a great deal of time showing the life of the Hobbits in the Shire. There are many lyrical, beautiful moments during this passage that when the fellowship forms to get rid of the ring, you are reminded of the type of life these Hobbits left behind.
You can also appreciate Jackson's ability to stage action sequences that always serve story and never forsake the emotional pull of the story to the point where his films risk being just on the edge of cornball. I still consider one of the high points of the series to be Boromir's death in the final battle. The sincerity present in this chapter sets the tone for the series properly.
Black Hawk Down (dir. Ridley Scott, scr. Ken Nolan) (released December 28, 2001)
I never thought I would put a Ridley Scott film on this list, as he is even more wildly uneven a filmmaker than some of the other uneven filmmakers I have talked about so far. The year before this, Scott's "Gladiator" was a movie I reacted to with a giant shrug, as with most of his output in the last decade. "Black Hawk", however, is a film I consider to be the best about modern warfare with Scott's direction unrelenting in making us feel as if we were part of this battle.
Now, I am aware of the many shots taken against the film, seemingly because anything produced by usual hackmeister producer Jerry Bruckheimer is incapable of being taken seriously as art. There were even bizarre accusations of racism leveled at the film for either not portraying any black soldiers (although about 95% of the actual soldiers in real life were white and there are a couple of black soldiers in the film) as well as depicting the Somalis as gun-toting savages, which would probably require nothing less than a politically correct whitewash of events to "correct". Sometimes, real-life events are not politically correct and it is pretty safe to say that battles do not really bring out the best in people, regardless of skin color.
I was quite appreciative that the film surprisingly lacked the usual flag-waving nonsense and canned patriotism that infects most war movies. I think it is wrong to simply view the movie as a political treatise, although arguments for being present in Somalia and staying out of the country altogether are both quite present in the film. "Black Hawk Down" is representative of one of my favorite narratives: When Plans Go Wrong. You can see the Americans came up with a not quite good enough plan to extract their target and, yet, they were still a bit too arrogant to realize that perhaps the other side may fight back. What results is nearly 2 hours spent in the film watching a disaster snowball into a catastrophe to the point when you have to consider those who actually made it out lucky to have done so. I have known a couple of people who have seen the film who, at one time, considered joining the military not long before the events in "Black Hawk Down" occurred, but were relieved they did not after watching the movie.
In our next segment, I will talk about my favorite films from 2002 and 2003, while also discussing how the moviegoing experience changed for me considerably during this time. This was also a time of transition in our country when the aftermath of September 11th resulted in us making spectacularly self-destructive choices that doomed us for the entire decade. Guess what? Some of those choices were dealt with in some of the movies during those two years, which began to question our established beliefs about what was right and what was wrong. This is when filmmakers began to engage with the world around them considerably more.