The other week the Sports Guy (popular sports columinst/pop culture enthusiast on espn.com) wrote an article suggesting Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous could be the defining movie of the 00s (or aughts, or 2000s). Casting aside the debate about when the 2000s began (you're either in the 2000 is the first year of the 21st century camp or in the last year of the 20th century camp) I sat back and thought for a moment. Could a movie based on a fictitious 70s rock band really be the defining moment of the 21st century so far?
Without doing any research whatsoever, that sounds a little silly...
So silly that I think I'm gonna have to call both it and the Sports Guy out on this one. In fact, I've decided to take a look at the decade's releases and come up with the movie of this decade - the one that when people hear the title immediately remember it. A movie that doesn't leave a lot of doubt as to its greatness. Because, for a movie to be considered the defining movie of an era, it needs to be more than simply good. It needs to be more than simply great. It needs to leave its mark and breakout of the niches it may have been originally created for. For a movie to be defining, people who haven't seen it still have to talk about it. In fact, that's probably one of the more important criteria for a defining movie.
Other criteria I'll be using? Who are we kidding? This is completely subjective. Just like the Oscars, when Michael Douglas or Steven Spielberg opens the envelope, doesn't like the answer, and chooses his personal favorite. So why should we even pretend? Let's just say a defining movie is one that when people hear the title, with few exceptions (you know who you are, contrarian hipsters!) people immediately have a positive reaction to, and can quote off the top of the head.
Now, I'm going to go through this year by year starting with 2000 (only to include Almost Famous in the mix). Not only will I call out some potential contenders for the defining movie of the era, but also highlight some films that should have gotten more play - and in some cases less. At the end of the series, I'll compile the list of movies, prune it down and come up with what will obviously be the unanimous choice.
Ready? Let's get started then!
The year 2000 was not so special in film. Best Picture winner? Gladiator.
Personally, I felt Gladiator was a weak film. Very basic story structure with some great performances. But at no time did I ever think Crowe's character, Maximus was ever in danger. Joaquin Phoenix is a capable actor, but his villainy in this movie couldn't hold a candle to the heroic nature of Maximus. The knife scene at the end supports that, because if Maximus hadn't been wounded there, the fight would have been over in seconds. And your hero in a film is only as good as your villain. Think the good Bond movies vs. the bad. Think Die Hard. Think Star Wars.
Still, Gladiator had its moments (the beginning is great, the computer simulation of Rome, the awesome incestuous undertones of the Romans) and my take on the film is certainly in the minority, so I will still list it as a contender. As for the other nominated films of that year...
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
A Spanish movie about chocolate? No. I can't imagine anyone even remembers this was even made. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a nice little film that rode some positive reviews, but when all is said and done is pretty much a kung fu movie you can take a date to; Erin Brockovich got a lot of buzz for putting Julia Roberts in a push up bra and a leather skirt, but didn't do much else.
Which leaves Traffic.
Based on a British miniseries of the same name but different spelling (Traffik), Steven Soderbergh's Traffic went against the conventional Hollywood grain and created an intersecting world drugs and their effects on different parts of society. Never preachy, the three main plots of the story lightly touch on one another to create ripples that are felt throughout the film.
An important film that shows how the war on drugs might be misguided (and certainly ineffective) it definitely earns a spot as a defining movie. It definitely has the technical aspects as well as the subject matter to make it important. It was also successful, which means a lot of people saw it.
So now let's take a look at the films that weren't nominated for best picture. Because let's be honest, the Academy might think they know everything, but they don't.
Before I get into it, I have to first admit, I've never seen Almost Famous. Not because I didn't want to or hate Cameron Crowe. Quite the contrary. I think he's a great writer/director and like most of his work (no thank you Vanilla Sky). No, Almost Famous is just one of those movies everyone has on their mental list for whatever reason. Maybe it's too long; maybe it's that you never think you're in the right mood to watch it; maybe there's always something better on; whatever the reason, we all have that list of movies we should have seen but haven't.
But just because I haven't seen it doesn't mean it shouldn't be considered. Obviously a personal and somewhat autobiographical film for it's creator, Cameron Crowe, the movie follows a teenaged journalist as he gets the scoop of a lifetime; detail the exploits of the rock band Stillwater (a enormously successful band that has been compared to Led Zeppelin).
This is the immediate problem I have with this film. The premise is hard to buy. I'm sure it goes into detail about how this kid ends up getting such a plum gig, and I know the 70s were a different time, but still. It's hard for me to take a movie too seriously when the plot begins with such an unbelievable twist.
I'm sure the writing is superb and the acting is great in Almost Famous, but I still have my reservations. But let's keep it on the short list, in deference to the Sports Guy.
Other movies I think are possible candidates...
Cast Away showed off Hanks' range not only in commanding the screen for most of the movie solo, but also for his weight loss to portray a "cast away" stranded on an island for roughly 4 years. The film also gave us the character of Wilson, a volleyball Hanks played off the entire time on the island, giving him a foil (obviously uncommunicative) to act against. Hanks did an excellent job gradually make Wilson transform from volleyball object into character you care about.
I also suspect Cast Away's success paved the road for ABC's Lost. If not directly, at least sub consciously. Both plane crashes have a lot of eerie parallels.
After those 4 titles, the list drops off a cliff. Here's a few movies I thought about including before I took my medication and rejoined the land of the sane...
Bring it On
Though not the movie that kicked off dance craze cinema, definitely a movie enjoyed by both genders and holds up to repeat viewing.
People certainly love to quote it (I doubt they're referring to the book when they do) and I can't get a business card without thinking about it. Might be a little too niche (and also gory, can't leave that out) to be considered a defining movie. Perhaps we can call it the defining movie of the 80s as made in the 2000s.
Dude Where's My Car?
Don't laugh, this turned Ashton Kucher into a star which led him to marrying Demi Moore, which led us to the term "cougar" which probably led us to Bravo's Real Housewives series which will undoubtedly lead us all to Hell. At this point, I think we all deserve to be in Hell though, so...
Spoof films certainly weren't created in this year, but the speed in which they spoof and go for the plastic joke may have been.
Ok, this one can't be justified. I included it to remind myself of it's existence. Please just rent the original. I beg you. This remake completely neutered the character and eliminated the racial subtext. That Shaft would ever consider being a cop is just silliness.
Gone in 60 Seconds
Again, a movie you'd think has no business making the list until you think about it. I like to consider this movie the third and final installment in the Cage Trilogy (The Rock, Con Air being the first 2): 3 movies that have no business working save for one constant...Nicholas Cage.
Tell me, how can you not like Gone in 60 Seconds after watching this scene?
It is by far my favorite part of the movie. Why? Because everything, and I mean everything is so completely over the top, you can't rationally watch it even if you want; you have to go along for the ride. And at the end there, when Timothy Olyphant utters the best line in the history of movies, "Man that guy can drive!" completely unironically, after watching him simply drive fast in a straight line...I mean, there are no words. In the previous chase up to that point, we've seen Cage drive backwards, avoid every known vehicle on busy streets and elude eleventy thousand cops; yet Olyphant's character chooses to say the line after he sees him drive away fast.
But ok, enough about Gone in 60 Seconds. I could probably write 10,000 words about this masterpiece, but I won't torture you any longer. (I could probably write 10,000 words on this chase alone - I haven't even brought up the awesome bridge jump and propane tank incident). And I can't in good faith put it up there as the defining movie of the 2000s (I'm sure TBS will be crushed - it would have been a new title card they could have used to introduce the movie 18 times this weekend). So let's recap what we have from 2000:
So, what did I miss? What did I include that was stupid? I'm certainly open to any suggestions. Leave any feedback in the comments below.
Up next: 2001 (obviously).