Sunday, March 12, 2017

Best of the Best: 2001

My movie crush of the new millennium.

Year: 2001
Movie: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Game: Pikmin
Album: Animosity by Sevendust
Song: Duck and Run by 3 Doors Down

So the infamous Year 2000 came and went, bringing with it some good, and a lot bad, at least in my personal life. 2001 would not fare much better, in fact in some ways it was worse. I spent the vast majority of the year still being devastated by the bad relationship I had gotten out of, so much so that even though my Baltimore Ravens won (not just won, but outright fuckin' dominated) the Super Bowl that year, and I know I was there with some friends watching it, I only vaguely remember seeing it, because my thoughts were elsewhere. I was in an incredibly vulnerable state, to say the very least, and what I thought my life had been, and where it was all going, PRE-girlfriend, was basically flipped upside down and backwards. I was still intent on trying to follow through with the plans I had before her, that I was going to go abroad, to England first and then wherever in Europe, possibly never to return for all I knew. I certainly had no desire at all to ever come back to California, I wanted to leave my shitty little hometown and all the bad memories I had collected in it far behind me. So I did go, I traveled by myself, on a Greyhound bus (no fun, not recommended) cross country, and eventually wound up in New Jersey, staying with an aunt of mine. Long story short, my stay there was not what it could have been, and it was the most lonely and isolated I had ever felt, with no friends and basically only myself for company most of the time. I never did get the money saved up to go on to the UK, and life threw me a curveball and sent me headed BACK across country (by bus again, brutal), to the California side of South Lake Tahoe.

I was 19, finding myself in yet another situation that was mostly out of my control and unstable, living with a "friend" there, and trying to write a book, which I actually did get several chapters into. But then life happened...Fate happened...and "9/11" happened. I don't mind telling you, that day, that time right after then, was possibly the scariest and most lonely I had ever experienced, even when compared to the toxic fallout from the ex. I was awakened very early that morning, told to turn on the news, and saw the Twin Towers and the Pentagon burning. It was a nightmare come to life, the world that had once seemed sleepy and relatively safe from my California vantage point, the world that had been so uneventful and undeniably better in the 90s, was forever changed in one day. I honestly feared that this was it, that our crazy-as-fuck President Bush was going to go off the handle, and we were just going to start bombing people to hell. That World War III was upon us, and that kind of post-apocalyptic shit you see in movies was going to actually happen. That was my initial fear at least. And there I was, helpless, alone, and broke in Lake Tahoe, powerless to do anything. I felt very very small during that time, and a world already full of uncertainty, became all the more uncertain by the moment. Well....WWIII never did start, and though we engaged in two pointless, costly wars in the Middle East over time, war was not the biggest price we paid in that "Post 9/11" world. No...the real price we paid was, at least in my view, a kind of innocence lost. I turned 18 too late to vote against George W. Bush, and then the world was thrown into chaos before I had even turned 20. I got to spend my adult years, my 20s, the "prime of my life", in a much darker, much more bitter and paranoid, much more uncertain America.

Such a great film.

As for movies? Well, I saw less movies in 2001 than I might have, in part because at varying points I was living in New Jersey, then Lake Tahoe, and eventually wandered my way back to Chico shortly after 9/11 occurred, broke as a joke. There were several movies I saw, especially late in the year, that I did really like, such as Jet Li's The One (possibly still my fav. Li movie), the silly Ben Stiller comedy Zoolander, the dark Denzel Washington drama Training Day, the first Harry Potter film (I had never read the books, but found that I liked the movies), and even the excellent Jim Carrey drama The Majestic. That last one in and of itself, was a very close candidate for my Movie of 2001. It's a great story, that speaks to the love and magic of films, that spoke (ironically) of a loss of innocence and things changing forever, and of the paranoia of the 1950s McCarthy era. The filmmakers couldn't have had any way of knowing just how much this film would speak to a Post-9/11 world when they were making it, but it certainly came at a pertinent time. The film didn't do that well money wise in the box office, but American audiences honestly often ignore really great films, and pour money into hot garbage instead. Regardless, it was a really gteat film, one of Carrey's strongest performances, with a fantastic co-starring performance by Martin Landau as well.

But, as much as I love that movie, there was one other film that came out in late 2001 that I loved even more, and that was the first in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. I had been waiting for them to make a live action LOTR movies for years, hearing rumors and then finally confirmation that it was happening. And one thing, in all that pain and loneliness and confusion and outright insanity that my world, and the whole world, now was, that could soothe things and help you escape for a little while, was the outright greatness that was that first, glorious moment seeing Tolkien's work put up on the big screen. I had grown up with The Hobbit and Rings books, first being read to me, and then later reading myself. I grew up with the amazing Rankin/Bass Hobbit cartoon that is one of my top five favorite films of all time, as well as the "sequel" Return of the King, and Ralph Bakshi's late 70s LOTR animated movie as well. So it was safe to say I was a lifelong fan, and my anticipation for this film had been higher than perhaps any other since I started getting to see movies in theater in 1995. And it did not disappoint. From opening to close, I enjoyed it, and marveled in the sheer spectacle of Middle Earth being brought to painstaking life on the screen.

I loved it so much after seeing it, that I actually think, if I'm remembering correctly, that I went back to see it a total of something between seven and nine times, which is by far a record for me. My mother asked me what I wanted for my 20th birthday, and I told her all I wanted was enough money to go see Fellowship several times, so she obliged. This movie was my pick, replacing Dragonheart, as my top fav. movie of all time, for the next several years. I even loved it so much, when I bought the special edition DVD set, I sat and watched ALL of the special features, many hours worth, and enjoyed it the entire time, both because I love Tolkien, but also because I love the magic of film-making in general. But, all that being said, looking back, it was not a perfect film. The story could have been adapted better, especially after my finally going back and reading the LOTR books in 2014, I realized just how much could or should have been in the film. I know if I ever, in my wildest dreams, had the chance to do my own big budget LOTR trilogy, it would be distinctively different. Still, many things about the film WERE spot on, such as the casting, for the most part. Ian McKellan as Gandalf the Grey, and Sir Christopher Lee as Saruman the White, were brilliant. The soundtrack, also, was superb, and their take on Hobbiton was truly beautiful.

Such a weird, but wonderful game.

Moving on to video games, between the years 2001 and 2004, gaming was an odd, uncertain time for me as well. I had somewhere along the way, been an idiot (much as I had been in years past with my NES and SNES consoles that I eventually replaced), and got rid of my N64. So there was a period there where I did not actually personally own ANY video games on my person at the time, truly a first in my life since early childhood. Even so, even though I would eventually get my hands on an NES and SNES again, by 2003, I did not own a Nintendo Gamecube, nor a Sony Playstation 2. It bears mention, I suppose, that I have never been attracted to the Xbox brand, and thus have never bothered owning any of those systems either. But during this time, I had, I suppose you could say, "fallen out of gaming". Not that I didn't still love video games, I did. I was just poor, didn't have any new systems of my own at the time, and was just less interested in them than I had been in my childhood or teens. But, having said that, I still did get to check out certain new games that came along due to friends who owned the systems. My friend Harold owned a Gamecube, and so I got to see things like Super Smash Bros. Melee and Wave Race: Blue Storm, both of which I enjoyed. But the game that really won the year for me, in the "eleventh hour" even, releasing in December, was an odd little game, a brand new franchise from the mind of Shigeru Miyamoto (creator of Mario and Zelda, etc.), called Pikmin.

It was a very weird type of game, where you played the part of a tiny little spaceman called Captain Olimar, who had crash landed on a strange, alien world, and needed to recover the parts to and repair his ship, before 30 days were up, because that it when his life support runs out. Lucky for him, he runs into these tiny little vegetable creatures, which he names Pikmin, who sprout leaves and then flowers on their head-talks, and travel in packs. As Olimar, you use up to 100 Pikmin on screen at a time, to help you explore the world, and find the parts to your ship, as well as fight miniature monsters who get in your way, and discover "treasures" to take home as well. The "treasures" were one of the best parts of the whole experience, as they were in actuality little bits of human trash, and Nintendo even took the time to change many of those items from Japanese-centric, to things Americans would recognize for our release of the game, such as Duracel batteries, or 7-Up bottle caps, etc. You used the three types of Pikmin, the red immune to flame, the blue immune to water, and the yellow immune to electricity, to help you complete your mission in a weird fusion of exploration, puzzle-solving, and strategy gameplay. And quite frankly, while Harold thought it was okay, I fucking loved it, so much that I stayed up by myself at his house when he rented it, and played through the entire game. I initially got the shitty ending, because the last boss is a real bastard. But it was still the most original, coolest game experience I had had in years, and it instantly became one of my Top Favorite Video Games of all time.

A really bad ass album.

Now, as for music, as I once again find myself talking too much about a given year, 2001 was a stronger year for music indeed, at least to me. There were several albums that I really liked that came out that year, including Megadeth's "The World Needs a Hero", Sepultura's "Nation" (my favorite album of theirs), and Live's "V" (Five). But the two bands that topped my that year, were Sevendust and Creed. In a stroke perhaps of sheer irony, both bands' initial efforts came out in 1997. Then the year I got into Sevendust, both bands' second albums release in 1999. And wouldn't you know it, both bands' third albums dropped shortly after 9/11 happened, in late 2001, Sevendust's "Animosity" and Creed's "Weathered". I really loved both albums, and both had many songs that really spoke to me. But I gave the final nod to "Animosity" because it has stuck with me after all this time, and remains to this day my favorite Sevendust album.

As for song, well, I had gotten the debut 3 Doors Down album "The Better Life" back in fall 2000, but in 2001, amidst all the danger and adversity and uncertainty I was facing, the song "Duck and Run" became a real anthem for me. It's a song that speaks of life just beating you down, over and over, but you keep getting back up, you won't "Duck and Run" away, because life is not going to beat you. And I don't mind telling you, there have been many, many moments in my life when it earnestly felt like life had in fact beaten me, that I was down for the count. Yet I persist, I survive, and keep moving forward. And this song was yet another in a long line of music that has helped me in that survival, throughout all these years.

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