A couple more Muriel Awards to report this morning including Best Film of 2001 (which I’m including here in full because the essay portion is by yours truly) and Best Web-Based Criticism.

Edging out MUBI at #3 and Slant at #2, Mike D’Angelo’s takes this year’s Best Web-Based Criticism prize for his long-running The Man Who Viewed Too Much.

Meanwhile the 10th Anniversary Muriel Award for Best Film of 2001 goes to David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. over #3 Ghost World and #2 The Royal Tenenbaums (the two other films in my own top 3 in this category) by a pretty significant margin.

Here’s my own reflection on the film written for the Muriels:

I saw David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. for the first time at the now-closed Showcase on La Brea just south of Melrose, coincidentally just a block or so from Pink’s, the inexplicably famous Hollywood hot dog stand visited in the film by the world’s most incompetent hitman, Joe Messing (Mark Pellegrino). It was a surreal feeling walking out of Lynch’s dream world and back into it at the same time – surreal, but somehow fitting considering the way dream and reality in Lynch’s universe tend to fold in on each other like a Möbius strip until you can no longer tell where one begins and the other one ends.

To complete my personal dream picture, it turns out I’d moved down to Los Angeles myself not too many years before along with a Betty/Diane actress/girlfriend who had been lured by Hollywood’s dangerous siren call of fame and fortune. She was gone by the time the movie came out, but I don’t know if she wound up crashing on the rocks like Lynch’s blonde heroine. If she did, it didn’t make the papers. After she left though, I found myself on many a night afterward navigating the sharp corners of Mulholland Dr., thrilling at the old road’s sloping curves while soaking in the history and the dreams and trying to forget.

Like Sunset Blvd., the namesake of Billy Wilder’s Hollywood horror story from 50 years before, Mulholland Dr. feels like a living piece of the city’s history. Unlike Wilder’s route to disaster however, there’s not much reason to take Lynch’s winding artery through the Hollywood Hills unless you’re one of the lucky few who have a home there or, like me, you wish you did. Literally and figuratively rising above the city glittering beneath, it’s the pinnacle of Hollywood and Lynch’s film immediately taps into the dream/nightmare that it represents.

For all the film’s strangeness – the mysterious blue box, the creepy old couple, the monstrous homeless person, the masturbating and crying, the Hollywood cowboy at the incongruous corral in the middle of the city (a corral that actually exists in the hills below the Hollywood sign) – the most striking memory I have of the first time I saw Mulholland Dr. is simply of Naomi Watts. I was not familiar with her work up to that time, so for the whole first half of the film I wondered if she was even a serious actress. Betty from Deep River Ontario is such a cornball you’re not sure at first if you’re supposed to take her seriously, but then a little over an hour in she goes to the audition opposite Chad Everett and suddenly she’s an entirely different person. That for me was the moment in history when Naomi Watts arrived and I thought, “Wow. This girl can act.” In a perfect world, that performance would’ve been recognized with an Oscar nomination, but we know the world just doesn’t operate that way and neither do the Oscars. That’s why we have The Muriels.

Much as I love Mulholland Dr., I try not to watch it too often. I can see and enjoy most of my other favorite films over and over again without risking diminishing returns, but somehow I fear having the pleasures of Lynch’s classic become routine or familiar. That would be a shame. I want it to always be like the nightmare you’ve just awoken from, where you feel the logic of it slipping away even as you try to piece it together in your head. Before long, all that’s left is an unsettling residue – that deeply disquieting feeling that something horrible is waiting for you back behind the perfectly innocent looking family restaurant…


12 Responses to “10th Anniversary Muriel Award – Best Film of 2001: Mulholland Dr.”

  1. Lovely essay on this film, Craig. I have to admit that when I heard David Lynch’s third foray into network television had collapsed and that he was releasing the completed material as a film, I was not enthused about it. But after seeing it, I couldn’t actually imagine it as a series. I can certainly see the strands that would have been played out over the long haul, but Mulholland Dr. with commercial breaks and all the trappings of television simply would not have been the contorted dream logic that is this film. It also gave Lynch the leeway to take this material farther than network TV ever would, and that works in its favor.

    Watts is amazing in this, and I never quite got over the lack of recognition her performance generally received in 2001. Justin Theroux and Patrick Fischler also stand out for me in Mulholland Dr. I don’t think I ever really noticed either before this film, and both do some solid work here.

  2. Beautiful ode to the film, Craig.

  3. “but then a little over an hour in she goes to the audition opposite Chad Everett and suddenly she’s an entirely different person. That for me was the moment in history when Naomi Watts arrived and I thought, “Wow. This girl can act.”

    I can vividly recall having the exact same response. Great piece of writing in this celebration of the film and its seamless threading into the fabric of your life at the time.

  4. A minor point – the casting of Chad Everett in that scene was a stroke of genius.

  5. I wholeheartedly agree Pierre. But I still can’t help but wonder what you would have done in the role.

  6. sartre, you rogue!

  7. Joel, much as I love Mulholland as a film, part of me regrets that we missed another crack at a Lynch series. The world that he creats with Mulholland is fantastic and I could easily see spending time in it over the course of a few seasons.

    Having said that, it probably would’ve bombed and wound up disappointing so I’m glad we have what we have. Still, with the renaissance in series television going on with cable, I’d love to see Lynch tackle something where he has more creative control.

  8. “Still, with the renaissance in series television going on with cable, I’d love to see Lynch tackle something where he has more creative control.”

    That’s a good point Craig. I hope you pre-visioned it.

  9. Can you imagine how great that could be? Honestly I think he should still revisit Mulholland Dr. There’s enough material between that and Lost Highway for a whole Twin Peaksy world set in Hollywood.

  10. Yeah, and unlike Twin Peaks, his career is likely at a point where he could dedicate himself to the show without taking time-out to pursue other interests (as happened for a good stretch of season 2).

  11. I wonder though what’s going on with him right now though. He’s got an album of music out and a bunch of other things going on, but since Inland Empire he doesn’t seem terribly interested in telling stories.

  12. Your notion of storytelling is so passé, Craig. Lynch is now telling his stories beyond the 4th wall!

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