by Max Gulden
If someone were to ask you to pick out a single notable thing about the year 2021, what would you say? I’m going to go out on a limb and choose something a bit controversial: it ends in a one. As a nod to this endearing attribute of this most endearing year, let’s look back to some memorable films set in years that also end in a one that are—or will soon be—available through your Ames Public Library.
2011. “Nomadland.” This critically-acclaimed film follows the experiences of Fern (Frances McDormand) as she turns to the road following the death of her spouse and the collapse of the company town in which they had built their lives. Utilizing evocative imagery of the American West, this film offers a collection of quirky, moving, and genuine vignettes involving life on the road in modern America, as well as a meditation on the life choices we make personally versus those that are thrust upon us.
2001. “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Okay, so sue me, this film isn’t set in our world’s 2001. Still, it is a notable film that is well worth your time. This film features multiple iconic sequences and is often remembered for offering an early example of an artificial intelligence (AI) in film. In this case, the AI is called HAL 9000 and describes itself as being “by any practical definition of the words foolproof and incapable of error.” This sort of self-definition should give anyone pause, especially when the so-called practical definitions are left unsaid.
This film is also often remembered for featuring remarkable non-CGI special effects that were created before the first moon landing and overseen by Douglas Trumbull, who later went on to contribute special effects to other visually-stunning films such as “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Bladerunner.” Of particular note is the psychedelic “Star Gate” sequence late in the film that is still visually stunning even today, and which Trumball has said required four minutes of film work per frame to create. (That’s more than an hour and a half for each second of run time).
1991. “The Big Lebowski.” You may say that this is just, like, my opinion, man, but this is among the more memorable (and certainly more quotable) films in the Coen brothers storied catalogue. Featuring Jeff Bridges in the iconic starring role of “The Dude,” a slacker with a distinctive life philosophy, this darkly comedic crime tale has a bevy of twists and turns marked by scenes and dialogue that are alternately hilarious and cringe inducing. Plus, it has an outstanding soundtrack.
1981. “A Most Violent Year.” This film centers on the difficulties one might encounter while running a heating oil business in early 1980s New York City. That may or may not sound like an interesting premise depending on your personal interests, but the result is a compelling period piece with crime drama elements that holds its own alongside other more widely-known works with similar settings. If you liked “The Godfather” or “The Sopranos,” this one should be well worth your time.
1971. “’71.” This striking drama is set during “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland and features a range of characters from soldiers, to paramilitants, to cops, to civilians driven by conflicted motivations and acting in an uncertain and hazardous environment riven with convoluted social and organizational interconnections. This film is masterfully shot and features unforgettable action and suspense sequences that immerse one viscerally alongside the characters on screen.
Well, we’ve gone back fifty years now, and I’m out of space. So, we’ll have to strive for brevity with the preceding five decades by simply listing some noteworthy options by title and setting year, including: “Hidden Figures” for 1961, “Hail, Caesar!” for 1951, “Casablanca” for 1941, “Road to Perdition” for 1931, and “The Immigrant” for 1921. And with that, we’ve gone back a hundred years and found a film for every “one” along the way. If any of these varied films piques your interest, swing by and take your pick from the wonderful film collections available through your Ames Public Library.