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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 10:55 GMT
Blockbusting 2001 fails to shine
New York entertainment correspondent Tom Brook looks back at 2001's movies and chooses his tips for Oscar success in 2002.
The bean counters at the major studios are salivating over the year's record breaking box office but the majority of critics and a large swathe of the film-making community have been far from satisfied with Hollywood in 2001.
Many of the big budget films resembled dull unoriginal market-tested products that short-changed the audience and failed to live up to the hype.
Peter Jackson gave us unforgettable awesome cinema in Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring and Baz Luhrmann created an inspiring visual and musical feast with Moulin Rouge that few will forget.
Among the big studio movies, Shrek was one of the few bright moments in a lacklustre year.
It was a well-written animation that reached a mass audience by offering intelligent, witty and mildly subversive entertainment that appealed to adults and children alike.
In the US, it was the summer months that really brought out the worst of Hollywood. The Mummy Returns, the first of the big sequels, was followed by other dull remakes that included Jurassic Park 3 and American Pie 2. They all made big money but each seemed jaded.
This year also saw an increasing blitzkrieg at the box office of "front-loading" new releases.
This has meant opening each new big budget picture as widely as possible to capitalise on its first weekend of business.
Picture after picture would open with impressive revenues only to find that the box office had taken a nosedive in the second week.
For the audience it meant one heavily promoted juggernaut after another demanding instant consumption, before it was rapidly discarded in favour of the next incoming potential blockbuster.
It was a brutal marketplace exceedingly hostile to films that required nurturing and time to build a following.
The whole world began to participate in this frenzy with an international release schedule in 2001 operating much more in lock-step with US domestic openings.
This was partly the result of the spread of the internet, which created a more homogenised world market for Hollywood films.
But the studios also moved more towards uniform international release dates to reduce the window of opportunity for film piracy.
With a big summer movie like Planet of The Apes opening almost simultaneously around the world, the market for distributing illicit recordings is sharply reduced if the picture is already playing in local cinemas.
One of the worst of the summer movies was Pearl Harbor, a silly World War II romance set against the backdrop of the surprise attack by Japan in 1941 on the US Pacific Fleet in Hawaii.
The humans who perished, as well as those who survived the US's day of infamy, were given short shrift by this crass big budget entertainment that played out like an adolescent melodrama.
The year 2001, of course, had its own day of infamy on 11 September when the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon traumatised the nation and left every US institution, including Hollywood, in a state of shock.
Despite a lot of hand-wringing the attacks seemed to bring few major changes to the film world. Some movies with subject matter deemed inappropriate were re-scheduled for a later release.
The image of the World Trade Center was edited out of two romantic dramas. Movies with combat themes, Behind Enemy Lines and Black Hawk Down, were brought forward partly to capitalise on the country's patriotic fervour.
Film industry executives huddled with the Bush administration to discuss ways it could contribute to the war effort, raising concern in some quarters that Washington was trying to control content.
But the full impact of the attacks may well be felt at some later point as new screenplays work their way through the pipeline.
Whether or not it was a coincidence, family films did remarkably well in the wake of 11 September. Disney's animation Monsters, Inc has been a huge hit, and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone surpassed all box office expectations.
In many ways Harry Potter defined movie-making in 2001. It was a film made to create a franchise, which it has done. But it was a safe, cautious strategic effort designed to bloat corporate coffers rather than create movie magic.
In this respect, it is seen by many as emblematic of Hollywood in 2001. The film industry is now more than ever driven by a corporate culture that worships market research, young audiences, safe ideas, hype, promotion, and the bottom line.
In a year when mediocre storytelling was all-pervasive 2001 yielded too many films that were only saved by strong performances, but at least we had those to cherish.
Russell Crowe was outstanding portraying a brilliant mathematician battling schizophrenia in Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind. Will Smith seemed to become Muhammad Ali in the film Ali, giving a really exquisite and graceful performance.
It was also a very good year for George Clooney who brought Ocean's 11 its charisma and cool quotient.
But the actor who deserves most praise in 2001 is Jim Broadbent. He had a busy slate playing Bridget's father in Bridget Jones's Diary, the flamboyant proprietor in Moulin Rouge and Iris Murdoch's husband, John Bayley, opposite Judi Dench in Iris.
Broadbent is one of the most adept and underrated actors working in the movies today and deserves to win an Oscar nomination, as do Russell Crowe and Will Smith.
When it came to actresses, Sissy Spacek expertly played a grieving mother in the drama In The Bedroom, communicating masses of emotion with great subtlety.
The veteran actress is also a favourite to earn an Oscar nomination. Another memorable portrayal came from Charlotte Rampling in the little-seen French film Under The Sand.
It's the story of a woman grieving for her dead husband, and Rampling was exquisite - she gets better as she gets older. But Nicole Kidman really emerges as the leading lady of 2001 after star turns which electrified Moulin Rouge and provided the backbone of the spine chilling The Others.
With the Golden Globe nominations now out and the various critics groups making their end of the year picks, the broad contours of the Oscars race are beginning to emerge.
The films most likely to be in contention include A Beautiful Mind, Ali, Lord of The Rings, and Moulin Rouge.
Todd Field's first-time feature In The Bedroom, Robert Altman's ensemble murder mystery Gosford Park and Ridley Scott's powerful Black Hawk Down could also net nominations.
This year, Hollywood would really like an American feelgood epic that it could rally Oscar voters around.
But no such picture exists, and with no trophy-snagging juggernaut like Titanic or modern classic along the lines of American Beauty in sight, predicting the Oscars at this stage of the game remains a rather risky business.
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