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Fave Movies of 2001

by Dave heaton

What does it mean to be the best film of the year? I could guess at what "the best" means, but it isn't that interesting of a question to me. If I tried to figure out the best movies of 2001, using some sort of generally accepted set of criteria about what a great movie means, this list would be different. Which is perhaps why my picks are almost always different from the movies given awards by the Academy. If I was one of the people choosing who gets the Oscars, I might have chosen A Beautiful Mind as best picture (as the Oscars no doubt will); by the historical standards of what the Oscars recognize as "good" in film, it has everything: superb acting, a straightforward, emotionally moving story, top-notch filming and writing. If I went by those standards alone (and ignored some of the movie's most Hollywood-ized moments), I might have picked it. I also might have picked Moulin Rouge, if I was looking just at technical achievement--on the immense work it takes to put together a seamless production. But that would have been disingenuous, since watching even the first 15 minutes of that obnoxious circus film nearly drove me insane. Which is my point…there's something inherently phony about trying to pick "the best" of anything, since the criteria used are always subjective in some sense. So instead, I submit to you something more simple: a list of the movies that made me the happiest. These are the movies from 2001 that made me laugh most, that touched me most, that awed me most…these are the movies I immediately wanted to watch again, and again, and again.

1. Mulholland Drive
Director: David Lynch.

An exploration and explosion of Los Angeles as a metaphorical and literal City of Dreams, Mulholland Drive is a stunning, mysterious, awesome creation. It tells a bittersweet tale of human ambitions and feelings colliding, through a mesmerizing entwining of dreams and reality. It's ambiguous enough to keep your brain wheels spinning, but also has all of the humor, intrigue, heart and sensual flair that the history of movie-making has been built on.

2. In the Mood for Love
Director: Wong Kar-Wai.

The most visually dazzling movie I've seen in a long time, In the Mood for Love melds vivid colors and magical camerawork to a heartfelt story of love. As much about the constraints, social and personal, on love relationships as on love itself, this film is subtle, sad and thoroughly gorgeous.

3. The Man Who Wasn't There
Director: Joel Coen.

Film noir atmosphere meets a tale both comic and existential, about a man looking for his way in life, dreaming the American dream of success. Set in an era of American individualism and fear, the film tells the story of some unique, fully realized characters while hinting toward larger stories. Entreprenuership, UFOs, communism…all form the backdrop to a story about the fascination people have with what is out there.

4. The Royal Tenenbaums
Director: Wes Anderson.

The Wes Anderson/Owen Wilson screenwriting/moviemaking team (and the success of both Owen and his brother Luke Wilson as actors) is a great story of artistic ambitions finding a place in the Hollywood structure. The fact that their movies are not only well-seen but now include some of the best-known (and most talented) actors of today gives me some hope for the state of American film today. The Royal Tenenbaums is a heartwarming story about creativity, love, reconciliation, forgiveness, eccentricity, and more. It's also hilarious! It's so much more fulfilling to laugh in this context than in that of your usual Hollywood comedy--this film is rewarding on so many levels.

5. In the Bedroom
Director: Todd Field.

A remarkable first film and a heartwrenching portrait of the darker emotions human beings feel. The script is dead-on--this is how people talk--and the directing and cast help take this rather simple story and infuse it with authentic universal feelings. The key to this film's power, though, is in actor Tom Wilkinson's face. His every expression is so right, he captures human grief, sadness, confusion, fear, loneliness and hundreds of other hard-to-define emotions in such a remarkably forceful way. I truly can't remember another acting performance that knocked me over so much…the second time I saw the film I watched him even closer, and noticed numerous more reasons to marvel.

Directors: Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim.

This documentary again proves that the plot twists of reality can be more surprising and interesting than those of fiction. This intimate portrait gives the human story behind the news headlines about the craze and its bust. Fascinating and entertaining, the film also looks closely at the search for success and the ways that quest intersects with human relationships, for good and bad.

7. Ghost World
Director: Terry Zwigoff.

A remarkable, bittersweet portrait of people who don't fit in with society. It's both a smart, spunky comedy and a touching portrait of modern America, an examination of the ways we're confined by expectations, definitions and societal ideas about what life should be like.

8. The Others
Director: Alejandro Amenàbar.

What awes me about cinema is its ability to pull you right into a created world. The Others pulls us into a fully realized, eerie place of mystery without telling us where we are or what's going on, then slowly reveals the truth in a clever way. Darkness and silence are important characters, Nicole Kidman gives a powerful, subtle performance that's the opposite of the one that she's getting all the attention for (her over-the-top part in Moulin Rouge), and the whole story unravels in a natural yet surprising way, taking an approach that's distant (and in my humble opinion, far superior to) the hollow gimmickry of the film it was compared to and (unfairly) judged against, The Sixth Sense.

9. The Gleaners and I
Director: Agnes Varda.

This is filmmaking as play--a poetic riff that takes an idea and follows all the places it can go. A study of contemporary "gleaning," the film uses multiple meanings of that word to give an overview of various interesting facets of life. Fun and thought-provoking, The Gleaners and I includes all sorts of memorable people, stories, ideas and images.

10. Brother
Director: Takeshi Kitano.

Takeshi Kitano's films consistently capture both the beauty and ugliness of life in poetic, riveting and entertaining ways. Where his last film, Kikujiro focused more on the beauty, Brother deals more with the harsh, tough side of life. It's a bloody tale of gangsters fighting a turf war…yet at its core is so much more. Like his other films, it transcends its surface-level resemble to a particular genre, becoming a moving tale about friendship and loyalty, one that's a touching and funny as it is jarring.

10 More Films That I Loved Almost As Much:

The Pledge
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion
Taboo (Gohatto)
Spy Kids
The Endurance
Vertical Ray of the Sun
Waking Life
Sidewalks of New York

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