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  •  TOP10: TOP 10 FILMS OF 2001

    Top 10 films of 2001


    By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH and JOSHUA TANZER
    Offoffoff.com

    How the critics can moan that it was a terrible year at the movies — what with both "Corky Romano" and "American Pie 2" leading the way — is a mystery to us. David and Joshua had no trouble finding ten (plus) standouts in 2001, including a consensus pick for number one. Along the way, we liked a pair of movies from Richard Linklater, the followup to Wes Anderson's "Rushmore," and half the celluloid output of Korea.

    See Joshua's list | See David's list
    Our other top 10's: 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2000 | 1999




    (In alphabetical order.)

      
    Amélie (France)

    Few films that an entire country have taken to heart (typically France, and that's the case again here) turn out to have much going for them, but "AmŽlie" (or "Le Fabuleux Destin d'AmŽlie Poulain") defies the odds by being all things to all people: charming, sentimental, whimsical, funny, magical, and consistently creative. Jean-Pierre Jeunet's ("Delicatessen," "The City of Lost Children") fantasy stars the elfin Audrey Tautou as a free-spirited do-gooder whose selfless turns inspire, motivate, and generally alter the fates of those with whom she comes into contact (including, ultimately, herself). Buoyed along by Yann Tiersen's giddy accordion strains, "AmŽlie" is an outstanding film that can be appreciated on multiple levels, and on multiple viewings.

      
    Amores Perros (Mexican)

    Nominated in the Best Foreign-Language Film category, the brutal, beautiful "Amores Perros" ("Love's a Bitch") commands the attention from its very first frame. First-time director Alejandro Gonz‡lez I–‡rritu has taken an original story by Guillermo Arriaga and fashioned it into a tale that is gritty, multifaceted, and brimming with edgy performances — Gael Garc’a Bernal is especially good as is Emilio Echevarr’a as El Chivo (The Goat). However, for all of its Tarrantino-esque violence — smashes, crashes, shootings, and stabbings (and, of course, violence towards dogs; not that Tarrantino went there) — "Amores Perros" emerges as a crackerjack, fast-moving film with a surprising underlying humanity: the men here do what they do for love and for no other reason. You might question (and even balk at) their methods but, as unsettling as the film is, you cannot deny the purity of their motives.

      
    Ghost World (tie)

    "Ghost World" is the first of two 2001 films to deal honestly with the relationship between an older man and a much younger woman. In Terry Zwigoff's film, Thora Birch plays Enid, a counter-culture rebel slash social outcast who falls for a self-deprecating collector of old blues 78s slash social misfit (Steve Buscemi in an Oscar¨-worthy performance). The director of "Crumb" keeps his tale beautifully in perspective as Enid's infatuation with Seymour (Buscemi) threatens the relationship with her best friend Becky ("The Man Who Wasn't There"'s Scarlett Johansson). Smart and very real characterizations are the order of the day here.

      
    Last Resort (British)

    Pawel Pawlikowski's "Last Resort" is a small film brimming with big themes and beautifully nuanced performances. At the forefront of this poignant drama is the stunningly good Dina Korzun as a young Eastern European woman forced to seek political asylum when her fiancŽe fails to show at an English airport. As wonderful as Korzun is she's given staunch support by Artiom Strelnikov (as her outspoken son Artiom) and Paddy Considine as the shy and sympathetic arcade manager who befriends them, exposing them to the complex flavors of Indian cuisine, for one thing, and painting their flat blue. From the sadly now-defunct Shooting Gallery film series (which brought us the intriguing independents "Croupier," "Orphans," and "Titanic Town").

      
    Memento

    By presenting the conclusion of his mystery first ("Memento" takes place in reverse chronological order), director Christopher Nolan has created a unique challenge: how can an audience appreciate a gutsy and highly original noir thriller if they start out knowing the film's ending? But Nolan's brilliant direction, his brother Jonathan's complex and witty script, and Guy Pearce's accomplished performance as a man with short-term memory loss searching for his wife's killer, make "Memento" a fascinating experience from beginning to end (or, rather, end to beginning).

      
    Moulin Rouge

    Australian director Baz Lurhmann's follow-up to "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" is everything that film was and more! Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor star in a spectacular spectacular, a fabulous (if loose) adaptation of the Orpheus legend in which a penniless writer (McGregor) tragically falls in love with a high-priced courtesan (Kidman) in the seedy, bohemian world of 1900's Paris, all the while crooning contemporary songs (Madonna's "Like a Virgin," The Police's "Roxanne," Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," etc.) on the soundtrack. Outrageously inventive and entertaining, "Moulin Rouge" is an unashamed triumph of style over substance . . . but ah what style!

      
    My First Mister (tie)

    Christine Lahti's feature debut is (in a tie with "Ghost World") the year's second film to feature a Goth-styled teenager obsessed with an older man. Here the older, 49-year-old male is the manager of an uppity men's clothing store and is played with calm forebearance by Albert Brooks ("Broadcast News," "Defending Your Life"). Lahti's trump card, though, is to sit back and allow her actors (which include the ubiquitous Leelee Sobieski as the perennially pierced and perturbed Jennifer) to do the work and their work is exemplary. "My First Mister" manages to be both funny and sad and, unlike any film in which Woody Allen beds a seventeen-year-old, genuinely touching.

      
    The Royal Tenenbaums

    The other film starring "Behind Enemy Lines"' Gene Hackman and Owen Wilson is Wes Anderson's wild, wooly, and wonderful follow-up to his surprise 1998 hit "Rushmore." In "The Royal Tenenbaums," Anderson and co-writer Wilson (they wrote "Rushmore" together) continue their theme of an overachiever in search of redemption by extending it to an entire dysfunctional family. Eliciting pitch-perfect performances from a wonderfully diverse cast has been Anderson's forte before now, and "The Royal Tenenbaums" maintains the writer/director's equilibrium in this area. Full of keen observational humor and incredible detail, "The Royal Tenenbaums" is beautifully realized, brilliantly constructed, and finely acted (by Hackman especially as the paterfamilias Royal). And while it's often extremely funny, a real sadness pervades the film, making it more, much more, than just a wacky comedy.

      
    Sexy Beast

    You know you're in for a treat from the very beginning of "Sexy Beast." Gal ("Nil By Mouth"'s Ray Winstone), a slightly portly ex-villain with a thick British working class accent, lounges around on his bright white Costa del Sol sundeck in his skimpy yellow Euro Speedos talking to himself about how "bloody 'ot" it is while The Stranglers' punk classic "Peaches" plays loudly on the soundtrack. Suddenly a huge boulder careens down the Spanish hillside above Gal's opulent stucco villa and crashes into the ornately tiled pool, missing Gal by inches and soaking him to the skin. This is the first of two major interruptions in Gal's otherwise stress-free life. Superior writing, acting, and direction almost always define a great movie and they're all here in "Sexy Beast." Screenwriters Louis Mellis and David Scinto create a battle of wills and words that gives the likes of David Mamet and Steven Berkoff a run for their money, and the film veers from comedy to drama and back again without skipping a beat. And then there are those performances, by Winstone, Amanda Redman as his wife "dirty Deedee," and an amazing Ben Kingsley as the volatile, bile-spewing thug Don Logan.

      
    Spring Forward

    "Spring Forward" stars Ned Beatty and Liev Schreiber as two park maintenance workers who go about their daily routine while pontificating about life and love, instant karma, cheap sex, death, profanity, prescription drugs, homosexuality, and '77 Datsuns (to name but a few topics). That's pretty much it, but Tom Gilroy's deliberately-paced film is totally absorbing from the first frame to the last, a marvel of simplicity and depth, comfort and compassion. Gilroy consistently hits all the right notes, and the performances of his two leads are nothing less than remarkable. As the seasons change from spring onwards (hence the title; the film was shot over a one year period in a sleepy New England hamlet), so too does the relationship between Murph (Beatty) and Paul (Schreiber), developing into a genuine fondness and a believable friendship by retiree's end. "Spring Forward" is a little gem in the truest sense of the word: bright and valuable and worthy of our attention.

      
    Tape

    Richard Linklater ("Slacker," "Waking Life") takes Stephen Belber's talky, three-character drama and "opens it up" for the big screen in a way that is by turns complex and claustrophobic. Three high school friends meet in a Lansing, Michigan motel room ten years after and reminisce about a disturbing incident from their past that calls to the fore the notions of friendship and coercion. What might have been a static, grainy affair is given a whole new dimension by Linklater's taut direction, roving camerawork, and the masterful performances of Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, and Uma Thurman.





    I regret that I didn't spot any top-caliber unseen films from American newcomers (like last year's "Too Much Sleep" and "Play for Me"), but the city's film festivals did yield three unreleased treasures from, of all places, South Korea. In particular, "Peppermint Candy" compares well with the brilliant "Memento," in every respect — I hope we'll get a chance to see it in U.S. theaters soon.

    — Joshua Tanzer



      
    1 (tie). Memento

    Sets the noir genre back, and back, and back again. What makes "Memento" great is the mind-tantalizing, clue-dropping plot, the challenge of a mystery told backwards — every scene shows the results of something earlier and leaves the reasons as a puzzle — and the sheer visual inventiveness that includes clues tattooed right across the hero's body. It's an information-age thriller without any cyber-gimmickry — it's all about the interplay and consequences of information, real and false. It's a brilliant thrill ride in which everything has a purpose, nothing is forced, and people were left debating what happened for months after seeing it.

      
    1 (tie). Peppermint Candy (Korean, unreleased)

    Like "Memento," a story masterfully told backwards in time, in which the mystery is what started events in motion rather than how it ends — in this case with the hero in the opening minutes of the film hurling himself into the path of an oncoming train. Unlike "Memento," it's a cunning political drama with a burning anger over a history that those of us outside Korea should know more about. (New Directors, New Films festival)

      
    3. The King Is Alive

    Another Dogme 95 entry (like its cousins "The Celebration," "The Idiots" and "Dancer in the Dark") that strips away much of the special-effects veneer of modern moviemaking, leaving a taut, entirely original drama with the emphasis on writing and acting. A busload of Western tourists are stranded in the desert with scant food and water, leaving their basest human and inhuman instincts — from murderous and lecherous to hopeful and defiant — gradually to emerge. It's a clash of "Lord of the Flies" with "King Lear." (Uncharacteristically, my fellow Dogma 95 fanatic David is more lukewarm than I am on this one.)

      
    4. The Gleaners and I (French)

    French New Wave filmmaker Agnes Varda picks up a digital camera and sets off to film everything she can find on the subject of gleaning — that is, a look at what people throw away and who picks it up. This unstructured documentary, starring anyone from potato scavengers to found-object artists, tells a stunning amount about who we are as human beings and does so with personality and unexpected charm.

      
    5. The Isle (Korean, unreleased)

    Sickening but profound, "The Isle" has left a trail of stomach distress (see the review for more details) and heated disagreement in film festivals worldwide. The aptly named "When Korean Cinema Attacks" festival gave New Yorkers a chance to see what all the fuss was about — in fact, the fuss was about a film of rare beauty, deep meaning and (you've been warned!) several scenes of shameless gore. (When Korean Film Attacks festival)

      
    6. Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m. (French)

    "Shoah" director Claude Lanzmann saved one interview out of that epic Holocaust history to make into "Sobibor" 16 years later. Told patiently and in minute-by-minute detail, it's an edge-of-the-seat — and uncommonly inspiring — Holocaust story about those who fought back in one of the worst hellholes of the Nazi extermination machine.

      
    7. Life and Debt

    Next time you hear that "a rising tide lifts all boats" or hear world-trade protesters described as ignorant malcontents (which is all the explanation you're likely to get in the media from Fox News Channel to NPR), think of this excellent film. It passionately and unforgettably makes the case that the Third World is being economically eviscerated by globalization, from farms and factories to schools and governments. If there were a legitimate debate about economic issues in this country, "Life and Debt" would be the starting point. (Recent visitors to Jamaican resorts should wait one hour after eating before attempting to view this film.)

      
    8. Joint Security Area (Korean, unreleased)

    A tense mystery ensues after gunshots leave the North-South Korean border stained with blood and all sides prefer some official version of events rather than the truth. It's a powerful drama along the lines of "A Midnight Clear," exploring humanity in wartime. (Asian American International and When Korean Film Attacks festivals)

      
    9. The Personals (Taiwanese)

    A wonderfully jaunty, though ultimately serious, comedy about a blind-dating Taiwanese woman's search for love in all the wrong places. What I like best is how it captures everything about how we meet people, in blind dates or elsewhere — how idealistic and hopeful and utterly wrong our assumptions may be at first, and what happens as people reveal themselves to one another.

      
    10. Waking Life

    Full of philosophizing, coincidence and inspired mumbo-jumbo, Richard Linklater's creation combines the stream-of-subconsciousness free association of "Slackers" with the earnest undergrad bull-session brilliance of "Before Sunrise." And then there's the animation — hyperreal and unreal at the same time, the cartoon people look intensely genuine while the places shimmer and twist playfully and thoughts materialize like wisps of evanescent smoke. If it doesn't make you seasick (as it did one friend of Offoffoff), it's a visual revelation.

      
    Late addition: Amélie (France)

    Would surely have been one of my favorite few films of the year if I'd seen it last year. "Amélie's" sense of wonder at the endless invention of life speaks right to the soul, for anyone whose soul is ready to hear it. Parts of it remind me of other films that are close to my heart — "Delicatessen" (from the same director), Kieslowki's "La Double Vie de Véronique," plus a pinch of "Run Lola Run." It's a wonderful, giddy ride to just sit back and enjoy, but it also includes moments of discovery about what life is all about.

      
    Late addition: Monster's Ball

    "Monster's Ball" never advertises its big themes — just lets their effects filter through its character's lives. A prison execution takes an unacknowledged toll on the minds of everyone involved. Anger, guilt and misfortune plague the survivors' lives until they arrive at a destiny a little more human and just than where they started. It's as powerful as it is subtle.

    More honorable mentions: Too Much Sleep (already on my list in 1999), L.I.E., Feedback, The Hair Under the Rose, Off the Hook, Samia, Calle 54, Jump Tomorrow, Startup.com.

    Movies I watched so you wouldn't have to: "The Blackout," Fast Food Fast Women," "God, Sex and Apple Pie" (though I must say I got an exceptionally good-natured e-mail from the filmmaker), "Yom Yom."



    DECEMBER 31, 2001
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on Top 10 films of 2001:

  • top 10 movie list   from sara kephart, Dec 28, 2004
  • My First Mister   from sue, Dec 30, 2005

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