Category Archives: 2001 Movie reviews

A Beautiful Mind-2001

A Beautiful Mind-2001

Director-Ron Howard

Starring-Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly

Scott’s Review #1,003

Reviewed March 25, 2020

Grade: A-

A Beautiful Mind (2001) is a superior made film based on the life and times of American mathematician John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economics and Abel Prize winner. The biography explores Nash’s battles with schizophrenia and the delusions he suffered, causing tremendous stress on friends and family. The film is well-written and brilliantly acted, but deserves a demerit for factual inaccuracies, especially related to Nash’s complex sexuality and family life. This leaves a gnawing paint-by-the-numbers approach for mass appeal only.

The film was an enormous success, winning four Academy Awards, for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress. It was also nominated for Best Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup and Best Original Score. Arguably one of the best films of 2001, it cemented director Ron Howard’s reputation as a mainstream force to be reckoned with in the Hollywood world. The project was inspired by the Pulitzer Prize-nominated book of the same name.

Starting off in 1947, we meet Nash (Russell Crowe) as a virginal and socially awkward college scholar, studying at Princeton University. He is a whiz at science and mathematics, coming up with unique and dynamic ideas to problem-solve. Rising the ranks in respectability, he is given an important job with the United States Department of Defense, tasked with thwarting Soviet plots. He becomes increasingly obsessive about searching for hidden patterns and believes he is being followed, sinking further into depression and secrecy.

A Beautiful Mind is an important film because it brings to light the overwhelming issue of mental health and the struggles one suffering from it is forced to endure. Nash largely lives in a fantasy world and has imaginary friends who have followed him for decades by the time the film ends. Nash conquers his demons with little aid of medication causing a controversial viewpoint. Amazing that the man was able to rise above, but is this a realistic message for those suffering from hallucinations?

Russell Crowe carries the film, fresh off his Oscar win the year before for his stunning turn in Gladiator (2000). Certainly, he would have won for portraying Nash had he not recently received the coveted prize. Crowe, hunky at this point in his life, convincingly brings the brainy and nerdy character, rather than the stud, to life, adding layers of empathy and warmth to the role. We root for the man because he is as much sensitive as he is a genius.

Jennifer Connelly, in what is disparagingly usually described as the wife or the girlfriend role, does her best with the material given. My hunch is her Oscar nomination and surprising win has more to do with piggybacking off the slew of other nominations the film received. She is competent as the supportive yet strong Alicia, wife of Nash. In her best scene, she flees the house after a confused Nash leaves their infant daughter near a full bath tub, putting her life in danger.

The most heartfelt scene of the film occurs during the conclusion. After many years of struggle, Nash eventually triumphs over this tragedy, and finally, late in life, receives the Nobel Prize. This is a grand culmination of the man’s achievements and a sentimental send-off for the film. The aging makeup of all principle characters, specifically Nash and Alicia are brilliantly done.

Despite the heaps of accolades reaped on A Beautiful Mind, several factual points are reduced to non-existence. Questionable is why Howard chose not to explore Nash’s rumored bisexuality, instead passing him off as straight. Admittedly, the film is not about sexuality, but isn’t this a misrepresentation of truth? Nash had a second family, which is also never mentioned. These tidbits eliminated from the film leave a glossy feel, like Howard picked and chose what to tell and not to tell for the sake of the mainstream audience.

Bringing needed attention to a problem of epic proportions, A Beautiful Mind (2001) recognizes the issue of mental health in the United States. The methods may be questionable, and the film has an overall safe “Hollywood” vibe but must be credited for a job well-done in a film that is not only important but displays a good biography for viewers eager to learn about a genius who faced unrelenting issues.

Legally Blonde-2001

Legally Blonde-2001

Director-Robert Luketic

Starring-Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson

Scott’s Review #807

Reviewed August 30, 2018

Grade: B+

Legally Blonde (2001) is a film that by all accounts should have been a hot mess, but for some reason instead is a great ball of fun. High art it ain’t by any means, and the plot is implausible beyond belief and suspension of disbelief must be securely tucked away. Despite portraying more serious roles both before and after this film, Reese Witherspoon is largely responsible for the success and is closely associated with this role. Quite simply, all the elements manage to align with perfection in this film.

Elle Woods (Witherspoon) is president of her sorority at a Los Angeles college. Clad in fluffy pink attire and carrying her cute dog everywhere she goes, she epitomizes the stereotypical “dumb blonde”. However, she does carry a 4.0 grade point average in fashion. Expecting a marriage proposal from her upper-class, snooty boyfriend, Warner, Elle instead finds herself dumped due to not being serious enough. Determined to prove herself worthy, she manages acceptance into Harvard Law school, along with Warner, and embarks on hi-jinks and adventures. Warner’s fiancee and a potential new love interest cause turmoil for the boisterous Elle.

Legally Blonde never takes itself too seriously and is simply a fun, silly-minded, comic adventure. Audiences will likely chuckle and smile along with Elle’s adventures as she gets into one pickle after another, always determined to prove her intelligence.

To be clear, the film itself is very formulaic and could easily have been trivial and uninspired resulting in a bomb. But Witherspoon shines in the lead role adding a likable, charming quality to the character. The actress possesses great wit and comic timing so that her character becomes more of a champion and we root for her to overcome obstacles and succeed. By miles, she is the standout in the film.

Suspension of disbelief is at an all-time high. In “real life” there is no way Elle would ever make her way into the elitist Ivy league school brandishing a pink resume or other silly tricks to be cute and appealing. Nor would she ever likely be so instrumental in winning a murder case so quickly. To nobody’s surprise Elle eventually graduates with flying colors and is honored with giving a graduation speech inspiring those around her. But as implausible as these situations are, they are also Legally Blondes appeal.

The supporting characters are pure caricatures, especially the main foils (Warner and Vivian- who takes Elle’s place as fiancee). Both are clearly the villains, Vivian going so far as to embarrass Elle by inviting her to a stuffy party under the guise of it being a costume party. In the end, one of the characters “turns good”, another common element of predictable films of this nature. But again, the film is just pure and simple fun, so these stereotypes are okay.

In more modern times (not that 2001 was so long ago), the film would have not been directed by a man, but rather by a woman. Screenwriters Kirsten Smith and Karen McCullah Lutz prepare a female driven film which was based on a novel by Amanda Brown. Why a man was chosen to direct is beyond me, but, alas, this is the way things were at the time.

Interestingly, another recent film that I reviewed, My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) would work perfectly as a now retro romantic comedy double feature  along with Legally Blonde (2001). Both are fun and light, but also celebrate strong female characters. Legally Blonde borrows much from the 1995 brilliant similar genre leaning Clueless, but is not as great as that film. Still the film is an inspired effort due largely to the charms of its lead star.

Gosford Park-2001

Gosford Park-2001

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Ryan Phillippe

Top 100 Films-#68

Scott’s Review #350

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Reviewed January 9,2016

Grade: A

Somewhere between the brilliant PBS series of the 1970’s and the ultra modern cool of Downton Abbey (also PBS) lies the masterpiece that is Robert Altman’s 2001 gem, Gosford Park. Ironic, is that the creator, writer, and executive producer of Downtown Abbey, Julian Fellowes, wrote the screenplay of Gosford Park. No wonder, combined with Altman’s direction, they created genius.

The time period is 1932 and the wealthy, along with their servants, flock to the magnificent estate of Gosford Park, a grand English country home. The guests include both Americans and Brits and everyone is gathered for a shooting weekend- foreshadowing if ever there was. Following a dinner party, a murder occurs and the remainder of the film follows the subsequent police investigation, and the perspectives of the guests and the servants as a whodunit ensues. Many of the characters lives unravel as secrets are exposed.

Sir William, the murder victim, is a powerful industrialist. After he announces he will withdraw an investment, the ramifications effect many of the guests so that the set-up is spelled out for the audience. At the risk of seemingly nothing more than a plot device- it is so much more than that. During a pheasant shoot, Sir William receives a minor wound thanks to a stray birdshot- is this intentional or merely an accident? When Sir William meets his fate that evening, the potential suspects pile up.

If there are two compelling aspects to a great film, they are a good old fashioned whodunit and an enormous cast, all potential suspects. What makes Gosford Park exceptional is that every character is interesting in some way and all are written well. Secrets abound for miles in this film and are revealed in a delicious way. Torrid affairs, sexuality secrets, and blackmail abound as revelations make their way to the surface and Altman knows exactly how to cast doubt or suspicion on many of his characters.

The compelling relationship between American film producer Morris Weissman and his valet, Henry Denton (Ryan Phillipe), along with the domineering head housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren) are my favorite characters and dynamics. How clever that Maggie Smith would play similar roles as stuffy aristocrats in both Gosford Park and Downton Abbey. Rich in texture are the balancing between the haves and the have nots and how those characters mix with each other (sometimes in secret rendezvous!)

Typical of Altman films, the character dialogue commonly overlaps and the actors largely improvise the script. In addition to being an actors dream, this quality gives a realism to his films and Gosford Park is no exception. Since there are so many characters and so many plots and sub-plots going on at once, my recommendation is to watch the film at least twice to fully comprehend the layers of goings-ons. The film will become more and more appreciated.

Mulholland Dr.- 2001

Mulholland Dr.- 2001

Director-David Lynch

Starring-Naomi Watts, Justin Theroux

Top 100 Films-#14

Scott’s Review #297

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Reviewed December 12, 2015

Grade: A

Mulholland Dr. is my favorite David Lynch film and as far as I am concerned, a pure masterpiece in experimental film making. Championed by many; hated by others for it’s non linear and very confusing storyline, to try and make sense of the mishmash of dreamlike plots is wasteful and undoubtedly headache inducing, as the film simply must be felt and appreciated for its creativity. My best analogy is Mulholland Dr. is to film what Pink Floyd is to music- it must be savored and experienced. It is a film to be interpreted and studied.

The main story, if one is attempting to summarize in a paragraph, goes something like this:

Part 1- aspiring actress Betty Elms (played by then unknown Naomi Watts) arrives in sunny Los Angeles, a perky, clean cut girl, and stays in her aunt’s gorgeous suburban apartment while, she herself an actress, is away on location shooting a film. Betty meets an amnesiac woman, the gorgeous Rita, who is hiding in the apartment. Prior to meeting Betty, we learn that Rita was involved in a car accident on Mulholland Dr. and is carrying a large sum of cash, but she does not know who she is or even her name, making up the name “Rita” from a poster of Rita Hayworth she sees on the wall while showering.

Part 2: Betty (now named Diane) and Rita (now Camilla) are lovers and Betty, no longer aspiring, now has become a neurotic, struggling actress with no work, and involved in a love triangle with Camilla and another man, who are both great successes and pity Diane. Diane and Camilla go to a club named Club Silencio, where a gorgeous singer brings them to tears with her singing only to collapse and be revealed a phony. The host warns that everything is an illusion.

Intersecting vignettes seemingly unrelated to the central part of the story- a young director forced to cast a woman after threats from the mafia, a terrified man who sees a demented man behind the dumpster of a burger joint, and a detective searching for the clues to the car accident involving Rita, all come together to relate to the main story.

Mixed in with all of these stories are recurring odd characters- the seemingly sweet elderly couple that Betty meets on the airplane, a strange cowboy who appears every so often, Coco, the landlord, played by legendary film actress Ann Miller, in her last film, Coco then doubles as a shrewish character in the alternate story, and finally, a mysterious blue key. How do all these facets of story and character add up? That is open to interpretation.

Some details support the theory that “Betty” is a figment of Diane’s imagination- she dreams of being fresh faced and ready to take on L.A., and that the woman that Betty and Rita find dead is really Diane. When the plot changes direction, the cowboy utters the line “Hey, pretty girl. Time to wake up.”, which seems to support this theory, though, as mentioned before, Mulholland Dr. is meant to be enjoyed not stressed over if the puzzle does not always come together.

Mulholland Dr. is a masterpiece pure and simple. An odd masterpiece with plots that can be discussed and dissected for ages…..and not understanding the film is not a bad thing.

Sexy Beast-2001

Sexy Beast-2001

Director-Jonathan Glazer

Starring-Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley

Scott’s Review #286

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Reviewed November 13, 2015

Grade: B+

Sexy Beast is an interesting little indie gem that has garnered quite  a cult following, deservedly so,  since the year of its release- 2001 and that I have recently viewed for the first time. In large part, the film belongs to Ben Kingsley as he gives a bravura, and frightening,  performance as a crime lord attempting to convince a retired hit man, now sworn to the straight and narrow, to resurrect his career for one last heist. The other principle characters are wonderful in their own right, as the film successfully mixes elements of Quentin Tarantino with Ocean’s Eleven- bank heist meets quirkiness, with smart and witty dialogue sprinkled in.

Gary Dove is happily retired and living a life of contentment with his ex-porn star wife, Deedee, and best friends Aitch and Jackie.  Having all been involved in “the biz”, they are long since removed from their respective careers. They now enjoy evening parties of wine and martinis, and days relaxing by the pool in their Spanish villas.  One day, a former criminal associate, Don Logan (Kingsley), who is also a sociopath, arrives to disrupt their peaceful lives and coordinate a bank heist in London, in hopes of luring Gary into the game once again.

As Gary and company nervously decide to decline Don Logan’s offer to participate in his sinister plan, a wonderful and important scene occurs early in the film. The quartet sits around the dinner table at a swanky Spanish restaurant anticipating a scrumptious meal. Jackie reveals the news that Don has contacted her and the tone of the scene immediately changes to one of dread. It is evident that all of them both fear and despise Logan. They agonize over this sudden disruption to their lives and we, the audience, fear Don Logan before he ever appears on-screen. What fantastic story-telling.

Kingsley portrays a menacing character and brilliantly so. The character contains a frightening brutality bubbling beneath his normally calm demeanor, that it makes the viewer shudder when he appears on-screen. Lest we forget, Ian McShane also gives a nuanced performance as Teddy Bass, Logan’s right-hand man, and wise business man. The cat and mouse scene towards the end as Teddy and Gary have an important discussion in a car is both chilling and important to the plot of the film. As Teddy slowly figures out certain events I was left intensely anticipating his reactions.

The film introduces  an intriguing  sub-plot involving Don’s long ago fling with Jackie and subsequent love for her which adds layers to the plot and the dynamic and tension between Don and Gary.

Upon finishing the film, I loved the effect of foreshadowing that the film contains. I found myself rewinding the events in my mind, pleasurably so.  From the pool, to the young Hispanic kid, to the thunderous boulder- all of these elements were crucial to the conclusion and fit like a puzzle.

A dark comedy of sorts, I chuckled at the conclusion of the film as the final reveal involving a double-heart insignia and a pool that gives comeuppance to the villain and pleases the viewer.

Having alluded viewing Sexy Beast over the years, I am glad that I finally found the time to witness a darkly comical gem that, admittedly, may take repeated viewings to absorb and therefore fully “get”, and I look forward to doing just that.

Amelie-2001

Amelie-2001

Director-Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Starring-Audrey Tatou

Scott’s Review #74

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Reviewed June 27, 2014

Grade: C+

Amelie was a major disappointment for me. Critically acclaimed and admired, I clearly did not get this movie at all. First the positives: this film is French, which gives it an edge for the beautiful language and the setting of France.

The cinematography, art direction, and set design are inventive and unique. The movie had a magical, whimsical feel to it which was appealing. The story, however, was an enormous drawback. The central character, a waif-like, sweet, waitress is lonely and feels unloved, yet avoids meeting the man of her dreams by playing a cat and mouse game of leaving silly notes and sending him on wild goose chases because she is afraid of happiness, yet she does everything she can to ensure others find happiness.

The story did not work for me at all, but I admired the creativeness of the film itself. Perhaps I should allow myself a second viewing as this film received much fanfare.