As usual, a disproportionate number of my highest-rated films were released at the end of the year (40% of the Top 10; 50% of the Top 30). Of course, that's par for the course, so it's hardly worth noting. I recommend each and every one of these films highly. I have no qualms about compiling a "Ten Best" list - even during down years (such as 2000 and 2001), there are still a number of very good and excellent productions to be absorbed. Here, in my opinion, are the best of those:
(Presented in reverse order - the best last.)
Runners-Up (alphabetical): The Deep End, In the Mood for Love, Monsters, Inc., No Man's Land, Under the Sand.
10. Waking Life: Watching Waking Life is like entering a dream world and having a conversation with the most interesting individual you have ever met. It's a rich experience that's made all the richer by the herky-jerky computer animation. There is no plot or character development as such. This is a 90-minute flight of fancy that takes us across a vast landscape of philosophical and sociological issues. Some viewers with short attention spans have deemed it to be sluggish and boring; I found it to be mesmerizing.
9. A Beautiful Mind: The premise sounds ripe for being mishandled as a big-budget tear-jerker, but, by staging much of this movie as a mystery and by keeping the focus on the characters (rather than resorting to the easy way out of relentless manipulation), Ron Howard has crafted a wonderful drama. A Beautiful Mind shows the price of genius and the redemptive power of love, and is highlighted by wonderful performances by Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe. Unlike Waking Life, this film is easily accessible to mainstream audiences.
8. Bridget Jones's Diary: One could easily argue that this smart, sassy, breezy romantic comedy is better than the popular book from which it was adapted. A re-working of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice for today, Bridget Jones's Diary offers everything an audience could want from this sort of film. Plus, it helps that the leads play their parts so well, including a chunky Renee Zellweger immersing herself in a British persona and Colin Firth taking a second shot at playing Mr. Darcy.
7. Bully: Tough as this film is to watch, it's ultimately rewarding and revealing. Looking for a little insight into teen-on-teen violence? Spend a couple of hours with the characters populating Larry Clark's Bully. As usual, Clark delights in shocking the audience, but there's a point to every uncomfortable moment. And his cast of largely-unknown actors bares everything - not only their bodies, but their souls - to make the characters and their bleak circumstances real. Not for the faint of heart or those who dislike graphic sex and nudity.
6. Shrek: Not only is Shrek the top animated feature of the year, but it's the best thing to come along in the genre since Disney's early-'90s efforts (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King). A winning combination of comedy, romance, and top-flight animation, Shrek has rightfully become a favorite of movie-lovers of all ages.
5. Amelie: I feel sorry for those who avoid subtitled movies, because, by missing Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie, they are depriving themselves of a wonderful cinematic experience. A frothy, delightful romantic comedy of the first order, Amelie takes us into the life of its intensely likable heroine, played by Audrey Tautou, and follows her on her adventures and misadventures through a version of the City of Lights that can only exist in the movies. For pure, uplifting entertainment, nothing in 2001 rivals Amelie.
4. The Princess and the Warrior: Tom Tykwer's follow-up to Run Lola Run received neither as much acclaim nor as much notice as his previous outing, but, in both construction and execution, it is the superior film. A twisted fairy tale (as the name implies), the movie surprises and entertains with its ambitious exploration of fate, destiny, and how the hardened heart can be softened. Truly, one of the year's most overlooked efforts.
3. In the Bedroom: Todd Field's In the Bedroom is a masterful look at the destructive power of grief. Featuring several of the best performances of the year, In the Bedroom has been recognized by scores of critics as one of 2001's most moving motion pictures, with telling insights into the human condition. The hope at this point is that the movie-going public will respond as enthusiastically to this film as the reviewers have.
2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: For years, it was argued that a live-action interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings was impossible. New Zealand director Peter Jackson has proven everyone wrong, crafting an adaptation that remains largely faithful to the text while being fully cinematic in its execution. An epic fantasy adventure like no other to reach the screen, the grand success of first volume of The Lord of the Rings has me breathlessly awaiting the remaining two films in the trilogy.
1. Memento: When I first saw Memento early in the year at the Sundance film festival, I knew it would be one of 2001's best. As it turns out, none of the nearly-200 movies I saw between then and now was able to eclipse it. A remarkably skilled thriller that forces audiences to think, postulate, and re-watch, Memento stands as a monument to what can be accomplished by a director who is willing to take risks and who doesn't care if 90% of his audience fails to "get it". Memento is an amazing ride - even if you have to see it multiple times, backwards and forwards, to figure out what's going on.
Note: The films Black Hawk Down and Monsters' Ball, which have received a fair amount of recognition on some film critics' Top 10 lists, are not eligible for my 2001 edition. Since there were not any local screenings of these films in 2001, they will be considered for the 2002 list.
© 2001 James Berardinelli