Mike's top ten films of 2001

I think it's a rule that you can't review films and not have a top ten list each year. For a huge collection of top ten lists from real film critics, click here.

Here is my list of the top ten films of 2001 (where appropriate, the text of these reviews come from my recently seen films page):

  1. In the Bedroom (4 stars, seen 9/9/2001 and 12/31/2001, 2:10, rated R):
    Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek play Matt and Ruth Fowler, a fifty-something couple in a small fishing town in Maine. He's a doctor and she teaches music at the local high school. Their only son, Frank (Nick Stahl), is home from college and is involved with Natalie Strout (Marisa Tomei), an older woman and the mother of two boys. William Mapother plays her estranged, abusive husband, Richard. Too many reviews of this film go into the plot and give away too much in the process, so I'll leave it at that. But what I will say that first-time director Todd Field has done amazing work here. Perhaps directors who come from acting, as he has done, know better how to get the best performances out of their actors, for the acting in this film is Oscar-caliber across the board (especially from Spacek). The directing and cinematography touches are also excellent, as is the writing, at least through the first two-thirds of the film. I've now seen this film twice, the first time at the Toronto International Film Festival on 9/9/2001, when it was apparently 6 minutes longer (I can't say I noticed the cuts, and it still has a fairly deliberate pace). At the time I ranked it the top film of the 43 I saw there, and my opinion has not diminished with time or a second viewing. The second time I also figured out the meaning of the title: the "bedroom" is a chamber in a lobster trap with room for two but not three.
  2. Lantana (4 stars, seen 1/16/2002, 2:01, rated R):
    The title of this drama refers to an Australian plant with dense, thorny branches, which describes the film well as it concerns four Australian couples with densely interconnected, thorny lives. Leon and Sonja, played by Anthony LaPaglia and Kerry Armstrong, are having marital problems. He's having an affair with Jane, who in turn is separated from Pete. Sonja is seeing a therapist (played by Barbara Hershey), who is married to John (Geoffrey Rush)--their marriage is also struggling under a numbness caused by the loss of their only child. Jane lives next door to Nik and Paula, who are struggling to get by financially. As the film opens, a woman's dead body is seen in the lantana. Eventually we find out whose body it probably is, and the film takes on the outward form of a murder mystery. But that is just the surface, with the struggles of everyday life visible beneath and forming the real reason for this film to exist. I found several things amazing about this film. First, the script painted each of these major characters as a whole person rather than the mere cartoon character they would have been in lesser hands, and created this wonderful interconnectedness to help illustrate the relationships and to marvel at on its own as a thing of beauty. Second, the performances are uniformly excellent, although perhaps a notch below those of In the Bedroom. This film basically swept the Australian Film Institute awards (acting times four, directing, screenplay, and best film), and for good reason. It should not be missed.
  3. Memento (4 stars, seen 5/26/2001, 1:53, rated R):
    This film stars Guy Pearce as a man whose wife was murdered, and since that time cannot form any long-term memories. By the end of a short conversation he has forgotten the beginning, and he is forced to tell most everyone he meets about this problem even if he has told them many times before. He keeps track of important facts using notes, Polaroid photos, and even tattoos. This all works fairly well, but the real star of the film is the narrative structure, in which the scenes are played in reverse chronological order, which serves to confuse the viewer into a mental state not too dissimilar from the protagonist's. This film dares to assume that the audience can think and even concentrate, and by the time it ended I knew it was one I wanted to own on DVD.
  4. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (4 stars, seen 7/15/2001, 1:35, rated R):
    Hedwig is the victim of a botched sex change operation and an escapee from East Germany, touring the United States and playing with his rock band in second-rate Red Lobster-like restaurants. This film is directed by and stars John Cameron Mitchell, who created the story and starred in the stage version. It's hard to say exactly why I have it so high on the list, but it has an energy and a genuineness that I find very hard to resist. The animated sequence is low budget but fits perfectly and helps to move the story along. And the musical numbers are quite good and not monotonous, seeing as how each song has it's own unique style.
  5. Dish, The (4 stars, 1:41, rated PG-13):
    In 1969, the video from the Apollo 11 moon walk was received via a radio telescope (a dish) in Australia before being rebroadcast to the world. This dish was located in the middle of a sheep paddock. This film tells this story, and in a delightfully humorous Australian way. The lead character is played by Sam Neill, and Patrick Warburton plays the man sent from NASA to keep an eye on the eccentric locals. After seeing this in the theater, we played it on DVD for the people who came to our house to see the Leonid meteor shower on 11/17/2001, and it was just as sweet and charming the second time around.
  6. No Man's Land (4 stars, seen 1/15/2002, 1:38, rated R, in Bosnian/etc. with subtitles):
    This film takes place in Bosnia in 1993. It opens with a group of Croatian soldiers lost in the fog at night while trying to find their front line position. In the morning they find that they are in "no man's land," between the front lines of the two sides of the conflict. Being deliberately vague, since I find that most reviews give away too much, the Croatian(s) from this group who survive end up in a trench with one or more Serbians from the other side. Other characters include soldiers from the United Nations, who have a difficult time finding a common language in which to communicate, and members of the news media, who seem to affect the news as much as they cover it. The film has many comic moments, but is at its heart a drama. It is often difficult to watch, both because of tense situations and because the inhumanity of war is difficult to watch when it is brought down to the level of individual humans. The film is lovely to watch, however, as the Slovenian countryside in which the filming took place is very pretty and the film's cinematography is excellent, which in turn makes the war seem even more insane. The acting by the principal characters is very natural, although some of the other characters are less well developed. If you are willing to be involved rather than merely entertained, this film is highly recommended.
  7. Black Hawk Down (4 stars, seen 2/17/2002, 2:23, rated R):
    This film tells the story of an American mission in Somalia in 1993. It starts with a too-brief history of the situation, proceeds rapidly though introducing the characters, and then dives into the action for the bulk of the running time. At the moment I'm still shell-shocked. To my eyes, Black Hawk Down is as good an anti-war film as I've ever seen, yet I'm sure that for the right people it would be seen as a pro-military film. Similarly in this country we root for the Americans in the film, while I have read that bootlegged copies of this film shown in Somalia drew cheers whenever an American was killed. Perhaps this is a sign of a balanced approach. My opinion of Saving Private Ryan has grown over the years since I first saw it because the images have stuck with me, and I find myself wondering if this film will be similar. For the moment I will rate it assuming that is the case.
  8. Sous le sable (4 stars, English title: Under the Sand, seen 4/30/2001, 1:36, not rated, in French with subtitles):
    As this film opens, Marie, played by Charlotte Rampling, and her husband are getting away to a vacation house at the beach. He disappears in the surf, and the assumption is that he has died. Marie, however, keeps referring to him in the present tense, which is awkward for all of her friends. The film is about this process of letting go of a lost loved one, and what makes it so special is Ms. Rampling's astonishing performance. I saw it as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, where she appeared briefly to introduce the film.
  9. Focus (4 stars, seen 9/9/2001, 1:46, rated PG-13):
    This film got almost no time in the theaters, which is too bad because more people should have seen it. It takes place during World War II. William H. Macy plays a man who gets glasses and is suddenly discriminated against because he looks Jewish. In an effort to do what his bosses tell him to do, he in turn discriminates against Laura Dern, but he feels guilty about it. The film, based on a novel by Arthur Miller, is an excellent, if somewhat simplistic look at the mob mentality behind discrimination and fear. I saw this in Toronto on 9/9/2001, and some of the discrimination that has occurred since the events of September 11 makes this film seem extremely timely. Besides the acting (especially from Mr. Macy), the cinematography is also very good.
  10. Monsters, Inc. (4 stars, seen 11/2/2001, 1:32, rated G):
    This is just a wonderful movie. You probably know all about it already so I won't bore you with a plot rehash. The story is great, and Pixar's computer animation just keeps getting better. They are four for four (Toy Story (1995), A Bug's Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), and now this one). Before the film there was a short, For the Birds (2000), which was also very good—hopefully it will be on the DVD.
And here are a few honorable mentions. Most of these are here by virtue of having been on my top ten list and then getting knocked off as I saw more films:
  1. Tape (3.5 stars, seen 11/25/2001, 1:26, rated R)
  2. Innocence (3.5 stars, seen 10/21/2001, 1:34, not rated)
  3. Beautiful Mind, A (3.5 stars, seen 2/19/2002, 2:14, rated PG-13)
  4. Ghost World (3.5 stars, 1:51, rated R)
As a side note, one of the problems in coming up with a top ten list is knowing which films belong to which year. I've decided to keep it simple and use the list from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Oscar® people), which can be found here for 2001. Of those, the ones I've seen are:
  1. A.I. Artificial Intelligence
  2. Ali
  3. Amélie
  4. American Astronaut, The
  5. Anniversary Party, The
  6. Baby Boy
  7. Bandits
  8. Baran
  9. Beautiful Mind, A
  10. Black Hawk Down
  11. Blow
  12. Bridget Jones's Diary
  13. Bully
  14. Circle, The
  15. Day I Became a Woman, The
  16. Dish, The
  17. Focus
  18. From Hell
  19. Ghost World
  20. Gosford Park
  21. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
  22. Heartbreakers
  23. Hearts in Atlantis
  24. Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  25. Heist
  26. I Am Sam
  27. In the Bedroom
  28. Innocence
  29. Iris
  30. Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius
  31. Jurassic Park III
  32. Knight's Tale, A
  33. K-PAX
  34. Lantana
  35. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
  36. Last Orders
  37. Lord of the Rings, The: The Fellowship of the Ring
  38. Man Who Wasn't There, The
  39. Memento
  40. Mexican, The
  41. Monster's Ball
  42. Monsters, Inc.
  43. Moulin Rouge
  44. Mulholland Drive
  45. No Man's Land
  46. Ocean's Eleven
  47. Our Lady of the Assassins
  48. Planet of the Apes
  49. Pledge, The
  50. Royal Tenenbaums, The
  51. Sexy Beast
  52. Shrek
  53. Spy Kids
  54. Tape
  55. Training Day
  56. Under the Sand
  57. Vanilla Sky
  58. Waking Life
  59. With a Friend Like Harry

Filmography links courtesy of IMDb.

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Copyright © 2001-2003 by Michael S. Weston. All rights reserved.