More Than 10 Best Films of 2001
t the end of 2001, it’s difficult to come up with anything that might seem as trivial as a Best Films list. Obviously, U.S. consuming and imagining priorities changed… at least for a minute. So far, it looks like the only effect is a rather sad and predictable sad one, a rush to theaters of several elaborate flag-waving exercises, like the clever military commercial Behind Enemy Lines or the grindingly uninspired The Majestic, in an effort to make money. In other words, there appears to be no change at all. The past year’s sheer product output increased exponentially, allowing not only more schlock, but also more independent work, and what’s still, in this global economy, quaintly called “foreign” material, to open… somewhere.
Following, in alphabetical order, the year’s best.
Baran (Majid Majidi)
Iranian director Majid Majidi has finally found a way for form to keep up with his ideas. An Iranian boy (Hossein Abedini) resents a young Afghani refugee (Baran, played by Zahra Bahrami) working at his construction site, until he learns that Baran is actually a girl. Resentment turns to devotion, as he tries—very hard—to understand and ease her dire situation.
Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly)
This is the courageous, interesting probing into schizophrenia movie that A Beautiful Mind might have been, had it not lapsed into love-can-cure-mental illness sappiness. Richard Kelly’s first film is a smart, unsentimental look into the ways that high school can be hell, minus the usual teen movie clichés. Jake Gyllenhaal and Jena Malone give sensitive, smart performances, he as a boy whose profound illness has everything—metaphorically, anyway—to do with the Meltdown of the Reagan Era.
Eureka (Shinji Aoyama)
Who knew how alarmingly timely this Shooting Gallery release would be so utterly topical? When it was released this summer, Shinji Aoyama’s movie was instantly haunting. It follows the uneven process of recovery for two traumatized kids who witness multiple murders during a school bus hijacking. Another plot creeps in, concerning a serial killer, and the film moves slowly, inexorably, to a spectacular end.
Fat Girl (Catherine Breillat)
Catherine Breillat’s latest film offers a look at preteen-girl sexuality that is at once, incisive and frightening. Anais Reboux’s peformance as the titular character is astounding: along with her pretty, selfish sister (Roxane Mesquida) and unable to make a dent in their mother’s (Arsinee Khanjian) sadness at their father’s emotional abandonment, the girl can only flail against a wholly unfair universe.
Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff)
Terry Zwigoff’s paean to cool girls (here, Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson) who don’t fit in is completely fun, vaguely creepy, and pleasantly sharp. Based on Daniel Clowes’ underground comic (he actually co-wrote the script), the film is both observant and acerbic. Steve Buscemi plays the dweeby record collector and sorta love interest, and Illeana Douglas is the clueless high school art teacher.
In the Mood For Love (Wong Kar Wei)
Set in Hong Kong, 1952, Wong Kar Wei’s film is about repressed passions and social routines, as well as cross-national politics and class anxieties. As the lovers who can’t quite admit it, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung take your breath away.
The Man Who Wasn’t There (Joel Coen)
The movie that made me appreciate, if not exactly like, Billy Bob Thornton. With spectacular cinematography by Roger Deakins and pitch-perfect script (with plenty of voice-over narration by the laconic Thornton) and direction by the Coen brothers, this is a film noir slowed down so you can hear and see every detail of what goes hellishly wrong.
Memento (Chris Nolan)
Everyone else loves Chris Nolan’s backwards noir, and Guy Pearce is as terrific as everyone says he is. Best of all, the movie screws with cause and effect structure and audience identification.
Mulholland Drive (David Lynch)
I want to marry Naomi Watts. Her resplendent performance makes everything that might be disconcerting or predictably Lynchian about David Lynch’s completely endurable. Though the film is currently suffering from an overload of critical love, and so has been re-released to theaters (on 4 January 2002), in the hopes that more real people (not critics) might appreciate its many splendors.
Our Song (Jim McKay)
Jim McKay’s second remarkable exploration of urban high school girls’s experience (after Girlstown), this movie is both more accomplished and less overtly choreographed. Subtle, gentle, insightful—it is lovely in every way. Its ensemble of mesmerizing performers includes young Kerry Washington, before she stole all her scenes in Save the Last Dance, and soon to be seen in Lift.
Ali (Michael Mann)
Directed by Michael Mann and featuring a equally expansive and furious performance by Will Smith, Ali takes an ambitiously impressionistic approach to its subject: the result is sweeping and occasionally swirling, full of ideas (even if one or two become reductive), and manifest love for the events and figure comprising the legends of Muhammad Ali.
The Day I Became a Woman (Marzieh Meshkini)
Directed by Marzieh Meshkini, this three-part film follows the three stages of “womanhood,” imposed as strict religious and political rituals in Iran. Full of gorgeous, poignant imagery, the film also makes difficult political points.
The Deep End (David Siegel and David McGehee)
As a Lake Tahoe mother protecting her son from blackmailers, stunning Tilda Swinton makes everything that might not work in this collision of melodrama and noir, work. Writer-directors David Siegel and David McGehee craft a series of twists, less in plot than in mom’s psyche.
The Road Home (Zhang Yimou)
Delicate, moving, and startlingly beautiful, Zhang Yimou’s romance stars
Crouching Tiger<>'s radiant Zhang Ziyi and Sun Honglei as a young schoolteacher who comes to her village. As in all the filmmaker's work, the politics of the moment (in this case, 1958) forms a harsh, but subtly evoked backdrop for the love story.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong online. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.