From The Archives: MOULIN ROUGE! (2001).

Posted: September 9, 2011 in Movies (M), Musicals

It’s a bad feeling when you’re a writer whose “real” life keeps denying him the time to write.  Compare it to love: Have you ever wanted to be with a girl or guy who wouldn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t be with you? Yeah? Well this is just like that.  Writing time has been a pricelessly scarce commodity for me recently, and while I’ve been dilligently scribbling away in my notebooks as ever, that don’t do much without the time to type it up and format it for y’all to enjoy. I’m too unhappy with leaving my website without any updates for this long, though, so until I can get up all the new content I’ve been working on, I’ll be posting some old stuff which I’d like to have on here anyway.

Henceforth, the next few posts will be an expanded version of a column I wrote in the last days of 2010 for, about the ten movies of the past decade (2000-2009) which meant the most to me.  As you can see from the headline, the first one was Baz Luhrmann’s gorgeously insane musical Moulin Rouge!  (As you can see by that choice, I’m not necessarily as easy to predict as I may seem to be sometimes.)

I’ll reprint the introductory passages, and then take each of the ten entries piece by piece after that.  Enjoy!


For my 100th column here, I’m going to namecheck the ten movies released within the Ground Zero Decade that I can’t do without.

That’s right: I’ve taken to calling the years between 2000 and 2009 “the Ground Zero Decade.”  No one’s come up with a better name so far, and while there’s a lot of pain in that name, I think maybe there should be.

Without getting into any major political, spiritual, or philosophical discussions, that decade will be remembered as a pretty awful one in the history of this country and, much less importantly in the grand scheme, in the history of my own life.  I’m a New Yorker and a gloomy little bastard and nothing came easy during those years.  As many other people of my generation did, I sought some refuge in movies, and thankfully, there was plenty of solace to be found there.

Anyway, here goes my list.  The list cuts off before 2007, because I guess favorite movies need more than three years for your heart to fully absorb them as such.  (I used to think it took at least five years, but for these purposes I managed to work all the way up to 2006.)  Given just a little more time, I’m sure that There Will Be Blood, In Bruges, and Drag Me To Hell – my number one favorites for 2007, 2008, and 2009, respectively – would have made it much harder to limit my list to ten.  As of this moment, my mind is at peace with my choices.  There may be several movies I’m dying to add, but there are none I feel like I should have taken away.

These are the movies that I would watch right now if someone asked me to.  None of that “I’m not up for a comedy/drama/action movie/musical” excuse-making bullshit; I’m up to seeing these ten any time of day or night.  These are the movies I will always stop to watch if they’re on a TV set.  These are the movies that I know I’ll be feeling good about ten years from now.  Of all the movies that stuck in my gut over the past ten years (and I listed most of the rest below), these ten have stuck the longest.  These are the ten.  If it’s a little weird and surprising to anybody else, that sounds about right.  When I finally whittled it down, this list sure surprised me.

My Top Ten Of The Decade. (Numbering indicates chronological & alphabetical order only.)

#1.  Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Generally speaking, I can’t stand musicals.  Yet I’m leading off my list with one.  (Four, depending on how you classify my choices for #3, #6, and #7!)  The reason I normally can’t stand musicals is because they’re so showy and broad that for me personally, they push past any semblance of sincerity.  This one is an anomaly, since it is SO cartoonishly showy and board that there are few movies that come off as more sincere.

Moulin Rouge is so far over the top that it’s in some other classification entirely, and my belief that it’s an important movie is more than validated by the fact that it landed on so many other people’s decade-ender lists.  Smarter folks than I agree:  It’s just a bold movie.

It’s cinematically bold – garish, florid, flushed with red, and that’s at a time when movies generally preferred much bluer palettes.  With respect, this is particularly inspired work by the journeyman Australian cinematographer Don McAlpine (previously of scary movies like Stepmom and Predator).

It’s musically bold – using modern pop songs in a period setting remains an unusual and dangerous choice, and it’s quite possible that the soundtrack’s hyperactive blending of those pop songs strongly influenced the mash-up craze of the years to follow.

Most of all, Moulin Rouge is emotionally bold – you never doubt the filmmakers’ belief in the story they’re telling, and the entire cast (particularly Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman) deliver risky, open-hearted performances that convey the same belief.   John Leguizamo, as the drunken dwarf Toulose-Lautrec, has never been more likable than he is here (his shrill annoyingness even becomes endearing when coupled with the most rudimentary knowledge about the historical figure he’s inhabiting), and Jim Broadbent as the master of ceremonies and Richard Roxburgh as the evil duke are so ridiculous as to be completely hilarious.  McGregor proves that he’s one of the bravest actors of this generation, and with the revelation of his singing voice proves he can literally do just about anything.  Kidman has never been more warm and lively (David Thomson must have split his pants), and she proves my theory that people with nice speaking voices can never sound too bad singing, no matter how untrained.  She’s no Mariah Carey, but who the hell would want that?

What haunts me most about Moulin Rouge is the way that, if you go with the movie, it takes you to remarkable heights of feeling, before, at the very end, pulling the rug out.  One of the least naturalistic movies of the decade throws a heavy dose of realism at you right at the denouement, and it’s all the more crushing for it.  I didn’t agree with that creative choice the first time I saw the movie, but nowadays I know better:  That’s life.



(I guess they were going after the Titanic audience with this last poster.)


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