Ten Best Films of 2001

Ten Best Films of 2001

1. In the Mood For Love
I saw Wong Kar-wai’s masterful period love story last year at the New York Film Festival, but it wasn’t released theatrically until this year. Let’s just call it timeless. Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung make one of the all-time great screen couples, suffering through an unconsummated romance (Wong Kar-wai wisely edited out the love scene he shot). The swooniest, most indulgent movie in recent memory.

2. The Man Who Wasn’t There
With this gorgeous existential drama, the Coen brothers have made their most elegant, subdued film to date, in luminous black and white with a lovely Beethoven-Carter Burwell piano score. Billy Bob Thornton demonstrates his range by underplaying the role of a seemingly simple barber; Frances McDormand is a knockout, as ever. The Coens have always been clever. For the first time, they seem profound.

3. Fat Girl
Catherine Breillat’s film challenges her actors and her audience to get under the skin of adolescent desire and self-delusion. A stunning turn by lead actress Anaïs Reboux.

4. Memento
The year’s unexpected masterpiece, told in reverse chronological order and still not revealing all the answers. Director Chris Nolan’s remarkable follow-up to his fascinating debut, Following, features a tight script and characters who are all of questionable integrity.

5. The Day I Became a Woman
The centerpiece of this triptych film — an all-female bicycle race during which a woman evades her husband’s henchmen on horseback — ranks among the most exhilarating scenes of pure movement on film, with little dialogue, minimal plotting, and a constantly quick pace. In the third segment, an elderly woman embarks on a shopping spree, aided by a caravan of urchins, to acquire every domestic comfort she always wanted and had done without.

6. The Royal Tenenbaums
Wes Anderson goes East. He creates his own dynasty of child geniuses and fuck-up adults in one of the most mannered and quirkily detailed films of the year. It’s the minute details of the production design and the preposterous character histories that make the movie such a joy.

7. Mullholland Drive
Before Cameron Crowe released Vanilla Sky (in which he plays games on Tom Cruise by confusing Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz), David Lynch released Mullholland Drive, a more artful mindfuck in which the blonde and brunette cease to distinguish between themselves. Lynch pushes the film’s sunny side just to the point of tedium before sending the viewer down a fantastically steep and twisty rabbit hole.

8. The Iron Ladies
After years of excruciatingly dull, straight-acting homoboys in Trick, The Broken Hearts Club, and All over the Guy, this Thai import about a national champion volleyball team of drag queens reclaims the sissy. This shriekingly faggoty sports film is the gayest thing since Brian’s Song and deliriously more fun. Must be seen with a theater full of queens for the full effect.

9. Ghost World
A finely observed film about teenage dissatisfaction and growing apart from a high school best friend after graduation. What’s more, the romance between Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi has the awkwardness and grace of — dare I say it? — real life. Wes Bentley and Mena Suvari may have eclipsed Birch in American Beauty, but here she comes into her own (albeit unrecognizably) in a dead-on turn; Buscemi does his most subtle work to date. Why had no one thought of him as a romantic lead before?

10. Intimacy
Kerry Fox and Mark Rylance perform anonymous, passionless sex that, somehow, gets them through their dreary lives. A bleak look at being middle-aged and unexceptional in London, adapted from stories by Hanif Kureishi, this film features a spot-on cast (including the always-right Timothy Spall as Fox’s husband) and graphic intercourse.

And the 5 Worst Films of 2001:

1. AI: Artificial Intelligence
The nightmare that seemingly wouldn’t end, it just became more horrifying. It’s as if Spielberg were testing the limits of how vacantly sentimental and god-awful a film could be.

2. The Crimson Rivers
It turns out that Hollywood doesn’t make the only overblown action vehicles; the French make them, too. This one is a pastiche of hit thrillers and blockbusters.

3. Driven
The only person who looked more ridiculous than Sylvester Stallone in this racing flick was Burt Reynolds with a shockingly tight face-lift.

4. The Forsaken
I don’t see that many horror films, but I’m pretty sure this one ranks pretty low, even by the schlock genre standards.

5. The Wedding Planner
What happened to the J. Lo of Out of Sight, who could not only act but had just fiery chemistry with George Clooney. Here she phones in a half-hearted performance without any pulse. If I hadn’t seen it on an airplane, I would have walked out.