Best of 2001
Date: January 2002
BMZ Reviewers Herb Lash and Ross Anthony, and editor Mark Kresser weigh in with their picks for the Best Big Movies and Best Big Movie Moments from 2001. Add your votes too!
Introduction (by Ryan Kresser, Publisher)
When it comes to reflections on 2001, for the most part September 11 and the surrounding real-life drama have stolen the show. We’re happy, then, to take this opportunity to put that all aside for a moment, and consider something more positive, and a heck of a lot more fun: the best Big Movies and Big Movie moments of the past year.
Of course, not all Big Movies are great works of art, or even great entertainment, or worthwhile educational endeavors. But when everything comes together, the best of these giant films overwhelm us, move us deeply, and burrow under our skin, drawing us in and transporting us to incredible places.
Due to the fact most of these films don’t play everywhere, it’s hard for most people to see all the Big Movies that come out over a year. But our two BMZ Reviewers and Editor have managed to do just that. So I gave them a list of categories, and a list of 2001’s titles, and asked them to grace us with their picks.
Editor Mark Kresser and Reviewer Ross Anthony agreed in some places, and diverged in others. (By the way, I gave the 'most progressive' category as either 'most progressive scene' or 'most progressive film', their choice. Though Ski to the Max technically came out in 2000, most of its run was over 2001, and Ross insisted on including it here.) As usual, BMZ Reviewer Herb Lash came up with his own spin (eschewing the categories altogether)… and as usual I think you’ll find his take thoughtful and interesting. I especially liked Herb's intro... and I’ve gone on more than long enough with mine.
Below are everyone's picks. I hope after looking them over, you'll click the link at the bottom of the page and share your own. But first, the list of films for 2001:
- All Access: FrontRow, Backstage, LIVE!
- China: The Panda Adventure
- Haunted Castle
- The Human Body
- Journey into Amazing Caves
- Lost Worlds: Life in the Balance
- Majestic White Horses
- NSync: Bigger Than Live
- Ocean Men: Extreme Dive
- Origins of Life
- Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure
Films Not Released in 2001, but mentioned by one or more of the authors below:
Ross Anthony, BMZ Reviewer
Best Non-Linear Story: JOURNEY INTO AMAZING CAVES
The filmmakers take full advantage of this sensational medium to carry us with them to places God knows we'd never go ourselves: winding through the canyons in the Arizona desert, submerged underground, underwater, or dropping through huge ice crevices - climbing, paddling and swimming into mysterious, elusive holes in the Earth.
Best Commercial (Non-educational) Film: SKI TO THE MAX
From silly, to dangerous, to breathtaking, to simple beautiful; "Ski to the Max" is very good (albeit mindless) big screen entertainment.
Best Linear Story: SHACKLETON'S ANTARCTIC ADVENTURE
Extremely compelling story. At my particular screening, an audience of large format filmmakers, cinematographers, producers, and exhibitors gave it a long applause.
Best IMAX Moments: OCEAN MEN: EXTREME DIVE
Absolutely religiously beautiful, underwater cams capture these angelic swimmers, shirtless, fearlessly swim-dancing with sharks and dolphins. Shots from under these divers, capture them as they float toward the sky like superheroes. I could have watched them swim for hours. Truly inspirational, the most pure elements of the human spirit reflect light from the waves above.
I refuse to pick a best -- there are so many that contained excellent segments.
SKI TO THE MAX
OCEAN MEN: EXTREME DIVE
THE HUMAN BODY
JOURNEY INTO AMAZING CAVES
Most Progressive Scene: THE HUMAN BODY
Yet another remarkable sequence captures the woman (with child) walking across a black background, her belly expanding with the growing fetus. Via the miracle of motion-controlled photography (and life) in just 20 steps or so, we watch her body go through months of paternity. Now that's progressive!
Highest Educational Value: THE HUMAN BODY
An interesting blend of the artistic and the scientific, "The Human Body" exposes our magnificent physical beings with a spirit of wonder.
Mark Kresser, Editor
Best Film - No Linear Story: JOURNEY INTO AMAZING CAVES
Engaging "stars," well-written script, good soundtrack and most of all -- the journey to places most of us would never otherwise venture -- make this a real winner.
Best Film - Linear Story: OCEAN MEN: EXTREME DIVE
OCEAN MEN skillfully struck a balance between informing and entertaining, and grippingly captured my attention from start to finish.
SHACKLETON’S ANTARCTIC ADVENTURE
Compelling, heroic real-life story benefits from an expert blending of real-life historical photography and dramatic re-enactments.
Best "Commercial" (Non-educational) Film: ALL ACCESS: Frontrow, Backstage, LIVE!
Although somewhat biased by my affinity for and familiarity with many of the acts in the film, this choice also reflects my appreciation of the amazing sound quality enabled by the Big Movie sound system – it really sounded like I was THERE at the concerts!
Best Cinematography: JOURNEY INTO AMAZING CAVES/THE HUMAN BODY (tie)
The cinematographers in "Caves" managed to get the cumbersome IMAX camera into some amazingly tight and dangerous spots, while "Human Body" utilized nearly every available film format to effectively translate daily bodily processes to the giant screen.
Best "IMAX moment": from LOST WORLDS: LIFE IN THE BALANCE
A helicopter looks like a miniature toy as it flies by the towering cliff-edges of the majestic Table Mountains in Venezuela.
Most Progressive Film: HAUNTED CASTLE
The story in this film is obviously lacking, but the gee-whiz factor made it entertaining. The computer-created animation, quite striking on its own, is made more impressive by the groundbreaking 3D and the inclusion of live-action characters.
Highest Educational Value: THE HUMAN BODY
Not only was this packed with facts, but the information was presented in a highly entertaining fashion.
Herb Lash, Reviewer
Every Big Movie shares the same beginning. The viewer enters from the wings of the theater and at once takes in the steep stadium seating, the vaulting ceiling and the white glow of the massive screen - the IMAX experience begins even before the projector bulb is fired up. The Giant Screen Theater blends qualities of the planetarium and the cathedral. Next time out, watch an audience fill the seats. It seems quieter than a conventional theater. Look for first timers as they crane their necks and take in the newness of the theater space - there is a palpable sense of anticipation - something Big is about to happen. This quiet-before-the-storm energy kicked off every Large Format film I watched through the course of the last year - here are some of the films of 2001 that kept the promise of a thrilling experience.
OCEAN MEN: EXTREME DIVE
One can imagine the headaches that would seem to face a marketing team in promoting a movie about two men who share a singular obsession with holding their breath. But this film about free diving deserves to be seen by everybody who likes documentaries, everybody who likes seeing the entire Giant Screen put to use, everybody who likes a good story, everybody who likes beautiful images, everybody who likes to be inspired - really, anybody who likes movies. Find a way to see this film.
LOST WORLDS: LIFE IN THE BALANCE
To quote from a Herb Lash review, "Towering mountains, vast deserts, thick rainforests, wide rivers and sprawling ocean floors always look good on the Giant Screen and have become part of the standard Large Format vocabulary for nature documentaries. But it has become difficult to frame one of these spectacular vistas in a way that truly startles. Lost Worlds manages its first jaw dropper about halfway through the film. We catch up with our frog researcher for the "getting there" part of her journey. The gargantuan Table Mountains of Venezuela rise from the mist - but a surreal sense of scale intrudes as a miniscule helicopter floats in the foreground. Like most great images, it is difficult to describe the shock delivered by this seemingly simple scene. . ." This is still the image I think of when I think of LOST WORLDS - it is something to thank the filmmakers for.
THE HUMAN BODY
During a New Year's Eve Party, I met with a friend three months into her first pregnancy. I saw HUMAN BODY twice last year and in discussing her pregnancy, I kept flashing back to the extraordinary images from this film - an electron microscope photograph of the moment of conception, time lapse images of fetal fingers taking shape, the ear drum translating sounds of the world to the brain - not to mention footage of the sloppy digestive swamp that is a working human stomach. Some of the images in the film are slightly deceptive special effects - but there are more than enough stunning, actual human images here to make the head spin. Pregnant people and people with bodies should see this film.
SHACKLETON'S ANTARCTIC ADVENTURE
Dramatic recreations too often seem like a compromised method of storytelling - historical interpretation loses some of its rigor and the characters seem at too far a dramatic remove. But on the strength of fascinating source material and the otherworldly landscapes of Antarctica, SHACKLETON'S ANTARCTIC ADVENTURE is an enthralling adventure movie. Ubiquitous Large Format cinematographer Reed Smoot and Ron Goodman lend their virtuosity in photographing the bottom of the world.
MAJESTIC WHITE HORSES
This odd film is proof you can make an IMAX movie about anything - I liked it, also it is good. "Majestic White Horses will certainly appeal to horse lovers - but director/producer Kurt Mrkwicka's unabashed devotion to the Lipizzan stallion proves surprisingly contagious. Eight white horses dancing and prancing beneath buttoned up riders doesn't possess the obvious Big Movie allure of a Mount Everest vista or a gaze toward Outer Space. Instead, Majestic White Horses is the rare sort of Large Format film that makes a virtue of subtlety. Grand size, scope and sound are here utilized to immerse rather than blow away the senses."
This is a film for true enthusiasts of the Giant Screen experience. I did not like the story, but was astounded by the technology on display here. The movie offers a glimpse of the stunning possibilities that come with the arrival of a 3-Dimensional cinema that bears little resemblance to its gimmicky predecessors.
The film came out in 2000 - but most of its on-screen life has been in 2001. This is the rare documentary that humbles, stuns and entertains. A Solarmax is the violent reversal of the sun's polarity - a phenomenon that occurs once every eleven years. This SOLARMAX looks to defy the laws of nature - hopefully it will be occurring on screens all over the world, every year.
The film was made in 1985 and has no claim whatsoever to 2001. But I saw it for the first time in 2001 and have yet to see a better IMAX film. It is thought provoking, beautiful, sophisticated, accessible to all audiences, daring - and it has no voice over. See this film.
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