One question that must go through one's head when looking back at the films of 2001 is: how much did the September 11 tradgedy affect the film industry? Truth be told, not much. At first, it seemed to affect what movies people went to: feel-good movie "Hardball" sold the most tickets in September, and millions of copies of (shudder) "Pearl Harbor" were bought when it was released on DVD. Soon after, though, people were flocking to violent films like "Training Day". Some released dates were played around with here and there, but all in all, September 11 had little effect on the films that were being made.
2001 signaled a comeback for the noir. Just look at all we had: the sharp-looking (but not terriffic) classic style noir "The Man Who Wasn't There", strange noir "Mulholland Drive", mindf*ck noir "Memento", protective mom noir "The Deep End", and more. Heck, even "A Beautiful Mind" and "In the Bedroom" had noirish qualities at times. 2001 signaled a turning point for the noir; with the films above and more the genre has been taken in new directions. But that's not all. In 2001, we got many visual delights, a vivid war film, moving anti-death penalty statements, the anti-"teen movie" movie about teens, breakthroughs in animation, and we even got the bold, risky, jubilant musical (and no, it wasn't "Moulin Rouge". Keep reading...) 2001 was a great year for film. So much so, that in time, this top ten list will soon be extended to a top 15. Now, without further adieu, I give you my cream of the crop for 2001.
"Amelie", a delicacy of the highest order, is a delight to behold. The film paints a picture of a France some would consider long gone, but still held dearly in many people's hearts. Audrey Tautou leads the way with a grin and one of the breakthrough performances of 2001. It is hard to watch her go about and help those around her and not smile. And would you know, someone's finally made a romantic comedy that's both romantic and funny! We want Amelie to finally get who she wants, but the screenplay is so witty and charming that it has enough laughs to sustain any audience. Like the box of treasures that Amelie finds in her bathroom, "Amelie" is full of so many wonders. One could even say it will make you feel like a kid again.
"One ring to rule them all; one ring to find them. One ring to keep them all, and in the darkness bind them!"
Admit it, if someone told you this movie was going to be made ten years ago you would've thought they were off of their rocker. But lo and behold, it's been done, and it suceeds in epic proportions. However, one does not have to be a huge fan of the books or even have read them to enjoy "Fellowship of the Ring". It is a big and empowering film; it engages you from the beginning and leaves you begging for more at the end. There are moments of bold magnificence and sublime beauty, bringing J.R.R Tolkein's book to fully cinematic life. This is a dream come true for Tolkein fans. The New Zealand setting is transformed by some magic into the perfect Middle Earth; If I visited the set, I would have little idea that I was not actually in Tolkien's fantasy setting. "Fellowship of the Ring" is the real deal: a fantasy epic with elements of magic. I was hoping to enjoy "Fellowship of the Ring", and I went out in awe. What is one of the most influential fantasy novels ever written has now become an epic for the ages.
"We committed a murderous brute and we're going to top a benefactor."
The great costume drama has become a rarity in any sector of filmmaking. Honestly, how many films can we take that slap together some good costumes and stiff dialouge and deem themselves classics? Well, "The Widow of Saint-Pierre" has something that these other films lack: motivation. It does not plod along senselessly, it has purpose: it takes a stand against the death penalty and does not back down. Madame La, played by Juliette Binoche, is caught in the middle of all of the controversy surrounding a man's death sentence, but I believe she is in a way enjoying the adventure. Hell, the mention of the guillotine turns her on. This is one of the traits that make Madame La such an interesting protagonist to follow. She is expertly acted by Juliette Binoche, who leaps head and shoulders above her cute turn in "Chocolat". Daniel Auteuil and Emir Kusturica give memorable turns as well. Moving, beautiful and wonderfully visualized, "The Widow of Saint-Pierre" deserves to be named the best foreign film of the year.
"Once that first bullet goes by your head the politics go right out the window."
Some people can preach about war and sound smart. Ridley Scott isn't fit for such a daunting project, so he sticks to what he does best: creating audiovisual experiences. The purpose of "Black Hawk Down" is to recreate the battle of Mogadishu as accuratley as possible. Not to be able to comprehend the logic behind the politics, but to depict the eighteen hours that was hell on earth for anyone involved. We are able to see what damn thing lead to the next and how a simple, half-hour mission turned into a nightmare. Let me tell you, Ridley Scott paints such a vivid picture that it feels like you are there. At 143 minutes, "Black Hawk Down" is an exhausting experience. I felt drained leaving the theater, but isn't that the intent? If "Black Hawk Down" preached it's way through, or if the action scenes became trite or boring for commercial intent, it would not be fufilling it's obligation as a war film. But it doesn't, instead it becomes one of the most vivid recreations of a battle in recent memory.
"Did you hear that? She called me a 'noble steed.' She thinks I'm a steed."
Gag all you like. In my humble opinion, "Shrek" deserves to be in such a high place on my list. I went in expecting a cute little kiddie flick, but was very pleasantly surprised with what I got. "Shrek" delivers a real family feature; it's got something for the adults and the kids. Computer animation has been good in the past, but the animation in "Shrek" really blew me away. The character's arent stiff snapshots like those in "Final Fantasy", but are much more real. I felt like I was watching actual, living beings up on the screen. It also helps that I laughed my head off. Loud, slapstick humor is combined with subtle, sly in-jokes to create the funniest movie of the year. But what seperates funny movies and great comedies is this: even with all the laughs, "Shrek"'s got a heart. It's tounge-in-cheek to be sure, but it's feuled by the protagonists's journey, not by the jokes. This one is a keeper.
"I don't want to meet someone who shares my interests. I hate my interests."
Taking place in a not-so-distant world where you feel everyone is wrong but you are right, Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes's "Ghost World" is a treasure. The protagonists know exactly what they hate in a person, but not what they like. They know exactly what is wrong with the world, but don't know what they want to do about it. "Ghost World" just feels so right-- I felt like I could identify with every character in one way or another. Steve Buschemi has had an interesting career, but it is as Seymour that he really shows us how good an actor he is. Dorky, clueless, whatever you want to call him, but Seymour is just the man! Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson are wonderful in the film as well, making us completely forget that these people up on screen are characters. So the next time you're looking for a good movie about teens, not a "teen movie", go with "Ghost World". (P.S.- For anyone who's keeping score, yes I did give the previous three films a higher rating than this and the next film on my list. But you know what? Who cares!)
"This is the girl."
A prime rule in filmmaking is never lie to your audience. Well, in "Mulholland Drive", David Lynch lies to us. He doesn't just pull the rug out from under us, he is sniveling behind our backs. But surprisingly, we don't feel cheated. In fact, being lied to has never been so perversely rewarding. "Mulholland Drive" is a hypnotic journey into a world of dwarfs, psychics, amnesiacs and coffee-spewing mobsters. Well, almost. "Mulholland Drive" certainly doesn't make much sense, but Lynch weaves such a mesmerizing web that will have you stuck from the opening shot to the final word. Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring give deceptively honest performances that develop complexities that are surprisingly disturbing. "Mulholland Drive" is outlandish yet enthralling, containing strangely profound moments. Only David Lynch would be able to make a Spanish cover of a Roy Orbison song so affecting. Only David Lynch, folks.
"You can have so much damn fun in your dreams! And of course, everyone knows, fun RULES."
Anyone who denies that film is an art form need only turn to "Waking Life" to be proven wrong. It's hardly easy to put into words the film's brillance; there aren't many more ways to describe the film but as a dream. Richard Linklater's film is a wonder, you cannot just passively watch it. No, no matter how far back you are, it engulfs you; wraps its dream world around your head and lets it leak into your subconsious. To say it's thought provoking isn't enough. I left the theater with my head pulsating, looking at everything a second time. The images of "Waking Life" compliment the discussions brilliantly, and are just bursting with artistic expression. Many different artists lend a hand to the film, which makes it all the more exciting and beautiful to watch. With all of the hoopla over the technical brilliance of the film, one seems to forget how warm the film is, each of the characters don't preach of doom but talk of humanity and beholding the wonders all around us. "Waking Life" is the next great leap in animation; it is without a doubt the most unique product I've seen in many a year.
"How did some slip of a girly-boy from East Berlin become the internationally ignored song stylist barely standing before you today?"
It has been a lackluster year for musicals. There was one everybody loved (you know, the one with the thesbian in his 50s singing "Like a Virgin"), but I found it pretentious and annoying. It was a breath of fresh air to finally get something that offered some substance for all that style, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch". "Hedwig" is risky, features some great acting and fantastic music; it accomlishes everything that "Moulin Rouge" wants to and fails. This brainchild of John Cameron Mitchell (who gives a brilliant performance as Hedwig) is a suprisingly poignant film about finding one's place in the world. And the music is terriffic! "Origin of Love" and "Wig in a Box" are already classics in my book; after one viewing I was singing for days after. "Hedwig" is really something else; it's exhilirating at times, laced with razor-sharp humor and is always emotionally resonant. In short, "Hedwig" ROCKS.
"Okay, so what am I doing? Oh, I'm chasing this guy. No, he's chasing me..."
Was there any doubt that this film would make the top of my list this year? Christopher Nolan's "Memento" is nothing short of mind-blowing. The backwards movement of the film is without a doubt a gimmick, but it works. In the hands of a sloppy director, the film would've become the gimmick with nothing to justify why it's there in the first place. But helmed by visionary director Christopher Nolan, this is one of the things that make "Memento" totter on the edge of brilliance. One could call it a murder mystery, intruiging character study and revenge story all rolled up in one, but if that is so, the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. Unlike other films which lose their freshness after you've seen it a few times, "Memento" gets more and more powerful upon each viewing. Don't forget the performances (pun not intended): Guy Pearce, who's textured performance makes Leonard Shelby one of the most intruiging film characters I have seen in the past few years. Joe Pantoliano, who plays the "shady cop" role to perfection, and Carrie-Anne Moss, who dishes the title of "Matrix" babe and gives the best performance of her career. Many were speechless after seeing "Memento" for the first time, but now it is one of the most heatedly discussed films of the year. All I can say is remember "Memento", a new classic.