By some measures, yes. There were more worthwhile films this year than last, and more films that were at least arguably great, and worth arguing over. For moviegoing parents and children, 2001 definitely offered more than 2000 in the way of decent family entertainment, and even modest entertainments tended to be at least as good as or better than last year’s. Most notably of all, the year’s best picture easily eclipses the best picture of 2000.
That said, 2001 was still a pretty lackluster year for film. All spring and all summer, only a tiny handful of worthwhile flicks stood out in a vast wasteland of dreck. The summer’s big special-effects extravaganza, Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, was big on effects and short on absolutely everything else, including excitement, humor, charm, characterization, and narrative logic. The annual Disney animated release, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, continued the studio’s dismal slide into modest entertainment values and increasingly glaring New-Age rot. Then the end of the year came with such an onslaught of new releases that it hardly seemed possible to do them all justice. And, unfortunately, Hollywood continued to reap the rewards of its bad behavior with ever-higher box-office returns.
But there were positive signs as well. Perhaps the most hopeful trend was the substantial improvement in family entertainment. Last year, other than the delightful Chicken Run (and maybe Rugrats in Paris), so-called family fare ranged from mediocre to dubious to atrocious: How the Grinch Stole Christmas; The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas; 102 Dalmatians; Dinosaur; Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps; Disney’s The Kid; The Little Vampire.
This past year, by contrast, had a number of bright spots for families, most notably Spy Kids, Monsters, Inc., and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. Even Cats and Dogs was better than most of last year’s family-oriented fare; and older children and their parents enjoyed the whimsical if sometimes tasteless humor of Shrek. Finally, despite the controversy, Harry Potter fans found much to enjoy in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (a movie that’s at least preferrable to the previous fall-release smash hit, The Grinch, with its joyless reinterpretation of Christmas).
Some other signs of the times:
- In 2000, Russell Crowe made Gladiator and Ron Howard made The Grinch. In 2001, they teamed up for A Beautiful Mind, a definite improvement for both of them.
- In 2000, we got the turgid ghost story What Lies Beneath. In 2001, we got The Others, a far superior (though problematic) film. (All right, so 2001 also brought the catastrophic Thirteen Ghosts; but then, 2000 had the equally abyssmal The House on Haunted Hill and Blair Witch 2.)
- 2000 gave us U-571, a competent WWII submarine movie that did nothing that hadn’t been done better in Das Boot and The Hunt for Red October. I had a lot more fun watching 2001’s Behind Enemy Lines, a postmodern war movie with over-the-top Rambo-style heroics.
- George Clooney starred in 2000 in The Perfect Storm, the big special-effects extravaganza of the summer, which I didn’t find particularly special — effects-wise or otherwise. In 2001, Clooney made the arguably more fun Ocean’s Eleven, while the summer effects extravaganza, Planet of the Apes, was at least interesting to look at.
- 2000 audiences were turned off by Brian de Palma’s portentously spiritual sci-fi flop Mission to Mars. Lots of people were just as alienated in 2001 by Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence; but, love it or hate it, it’s a far more challenging and interesting film.
- For martial-arts fans, 2000 was a banner year, what with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Jackie Chan’s double-threat releases Shanghai Noon and The Legend of Drunken Master in theaters. But 2001 wasn’t without its consolations, especially Iron Monkey and Rush Hour 2.
- 2000 witnessed the return of the super-hero movie with Brian Singer’s X-Men. Unfortunately for super-hero fans, 2001 was just the year that came after X-Men but before Spider-Man (2002), The Hulk (2003), and the X-Men sequel (2003).
- 2000 — Charlie’s Angels. 2001 — Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. (Draw your own conclusions.)
On Wednesday's Arts & Entertainment Channel: The Year’s Best Films in Art, Religion, and Values from Steven Greydanus and the Decent Films Guide. Stay tuned!
Many of the films mentioned above are reviewed at the Decent Films Guide website.
Steven D. Greydanus does film criticism for a variety of media. He is the webmaster of the Decent Films Guide website.
(c) 2001 Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved. Used by permission.