Posted: 01/10/2002


The Parama Chaudhury Movie Awards for 2001

by Parama Chaudhury

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First, a confession: I only see movies that I think have some chance of being decent. I chicken out of reviewing most teen movies or anything with Reese Witherspoon in it, both because I dread sitting there for one and a half banging my head on the seat in front of me, and I have no idea how to suppress the urge to write a very brief review along the lines of “Shoot the director!.” The problem with this attitude is that I sometimes overlook a sleeper. For example, I gave The Others a miss this year, given my memory of What Lies Beneath, possibly the worst horror movie ever made. I went to a couple of “luck of the draw” movies this year, but not nearly enough to have a decent best/worst list. I also spend most of my movie-watching hours trying to read subtitles, in dingy little indie theaters, or admiring Jimmy Dean (as in the film icon, not the sausage guy). So instead of the requisite ten, I categorized the more significant movies I’ve seen this year into six award categories:

1. The Best Movie (I’ve seen this year) Award: The Closet
Yeah, it’s a French comedy that didn’t make it to much of small-town America. But if you were lucky enough to catch this one, you know that after seeing technique and artistry like this, even a moderately good film of the recent past like Small-Town Crooks seems shabby. I believe that movies should enthrall and delight you, irrespective of whether the high priests of film criticism call them “entertainment” or “serious.” In the tradition of Capra and Hitchcock, this one is a shining star. A keen sense of humor, a healthy respect for the art of editing, and a razor-sharp script makes The Closet a clinic for anyone who wants to make a truly entertaining movie.

2. The Almost-Perfect Award: The Man Who Wasn’t There and In the Bedroom
The Coen brothers created the almost perfect movie this year. The Man Who Wasn’t There was visually arresting, and boasted impressive acting performances. Unfortunately, the Coens’ effort to blur the edges of genre backfired on them this time. After a point, the movie collapses: from stylish noir, we descend into the “Oh, shut up!” vapidity of the standard movie about suburban life in America. Too bad. Really.

In the Bedroom should probably belong in a Best First Film category. Its shortcomings are the unsure first steps of a fledgling director, while its disquieting beauty is the mark of someone who has vision. This movie is in the tradition of Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter, but falls a little short in making the impact of tragedy seem as real. An excellent turn by Tom Wilkinson of The Full Monty fame, and exquisite use of a naturally beautiful backdrop to heighten the sense of loss, makes you think that if the director, Todd Field, builds a little more confidence and a little more commitment to his vision, we can look forward to future masterpieces from him.

3. The I-Love-The-Movies Award: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Amelie
I love the dark inside of a commercial movie theater, the cozy reclining chairs, the big buckets of buttery popcorn, the previews for movies I wouldn’t ever pay to see, and the lovely feeling that everyone around me is also having a good time. So I appreciate a movie that preserves this warm fuzzy feeling; a movie that I don’t regret going to see, that I had fun with. These are probably not memorable films, but I feel like my ten dollars was totally worth it.

I did write a lukewarm review for Harry Potter, but only because I was reviewing from a die-hard fan’s point of view. If this had been my first exposure to Hagrid flying in on his motorcycle, or wizard’s chess, I would have had a ball. And I did actually have a pretty good time, in spite of all the chaos around me in the theater.

Amelie too had a light and airy touch to it, which made the whole trip to the movies fun. Stylish cut-and-paste cinematography, a cute story that is for the most part not too cute, and a acute sense of humor which I couldn’t get enough of: all of these resulted in a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Oh, and the reason that I preferred The Closet to Amelie is that scene where Amelie melts away because she is disappointed. Really, did we need to cross the line into “too cute”?

4. The Messing-With-Your-Mind Award: Mulholland Drive and Memento
Halfway through Mulholland Drive, I had forgotten that David Lynch was behind this, and had allowed myself to get completely into the story. That was before the little old people started creeping under doors, and before the Cabaret Silencio, and of course, before the little blue box. And then the whole story world blew up. Lynch is such a good storyteller that he forces you to care about the narrative and get wrapped up in the “what happens next” mindset. This makes his fundamental point, the exposition of film as a purely visual experience with an orthogonal storyline, even more striking. This is the ultimate cure for all those predictable teen movies.

Memento, though not quite as successful, does a pretty good job in breaking the beginning-middle-end mold, too. The premise of short-term memory loss distorting the truth is promising raw material, and for the most part, the director makes good on that promise. Unlike so many films that never quite make the leap from script to visual entity, this one uses photographs as well as video footage from various perspectives to underline the difference between this visual medium and any other way of telling a story. The director places the objectivity of truth under the microscope, but his unimpressed style—perhaps meant to give the film an ultra-cool ambience—leaves you feeling like the movie somehow outsmarted itself.

On second thought, maybe these movies should get The Emperor’s New Clothes award. Hmmm… Jury’s still out on that one.

5. The Unexpected Gem Award: Sexy Beast
Everyone’s talking about Ben Kingsley in this one, but hey, how good was that ensemble acting? Each person was invaluable to the slick final product. The construction of each scene, starting with the opening shot of a well-oiled, rotund British ex-pat lounging in the Spanish sun, is tight: sharp color contrasts, dramatic close-ups, clever angles, and no superfluous fringes. The silly name really threw me off, and I went to see it very unwillingly. But it was exactly the kind of movie that keeps me closing my eyes and picking a random movie to go to. Rock on!

6. The Worst Movie Award: A.I.
Whaaaaaaat was that? I can’t believe I bought into the whole Kubrick-and-Spielberg hype and actually sat through three hours of this drivel! My guess is Kubrick had something of a good idea, but getting Spielberg to make it operative was like asking Sinatra to sing German chamber music. Spielberg is a storyteller par excellence. But the concepts he handles best, are simple and pretty black-and-white. Kubrick, on the other hand, made A Clockwork Orange and Dr. Strangelove. Need we say more? Except for a highly entertaining performance by Jude Law and a couple of fun sequences like the Flesh Fair, it was too long, too confused (I bet Spielberg has nothing coherent to say about this movie) and way over-hyped.

Parama Chaudhury is a graduate student, an ex-writing instructor and a budding freelance writer, based in New York City.

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