2001 sure was a good year for talking heads. Especially sweeping crane shots that went from talking heads to wide shots or vice versa. 2001 had both Fellowship of the Ring and Amelie, massive successes on both the blockbuster and art house fronts, it was truly a year when faces were in all our faces.
It was like Sergio Leone on speed. And kind of a watershed, Peter Jackson and Jean-Pierre Jeunet had made several of their face-o-ramas throughout the 90s--really good films like City of Lost Children, Dead Alive, and Heavenly Creatures. Success seemed relegated to outside the U.S., though, with The Frighteners and Alien: Resurrection being disappointments, the latter due to be retconned out of canon by Neill Blomkamp's upcoming sequel to Aliens.
It seems like their time has passed, too. Jeunet never seemed to make a movie that connected again since Amelie and Jackson was a lot more restrained on faces in his Hobbit movies. For now, the faces have stepped back, waiting to be summoned again in some other future era.
I watched Jeunet's Amelie last night for the first time in quite a few years. I was pleased to find my old Amelie DVD wasn't as bad as my old Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon DVD, the menus less spoilery and the colours more evenly transferred. I think Amelie was one of the first movies to use digital colouring to be creative. It seems so standard now. I remember being surprised to learn this blue lamp was coloured in post production, now it looks pretty obvious.
But the film hasn't aged badly. In the years since I last watched it, I've seen many of the films that influenced it--Jules and Jim, Chungking Express--certainly Amelie owes a massive debt to Chungking Express. The main difference is that while both movies offer an effective portrait of a pretty, introverted woman who secretly manipulates other people's lives, Amelie is more of a fantasy film and has more of a fairy tale ending. Not surprising given Jeunet's background with City of Lost Children and Delicatessen, movies that are more Disney than Dostoevsky. Amelie could be looked on as a rare sort of perfect fusion of some psychological frightfulness and wish fulfilment. That's just the sort of combination that becomes a massive success, like Amelie did. So there's the recipe if you wanted it. I make no guarantees.