Published at: Dec. 31, 2001, 1:53 a.m. CST by staff
I just love how lazy filmgoers constantly bitch and moan about the travesty of years… year after year after year.
This summer at CONVERGENCE, a sci-fi/fantasy/film/fiction/fun convention in Minneapolis, I sat on a panel that was about why film going sucks these days. The idea for the panel was to piss and belch and bitch and moan about us poor pitiful filmgoers and how it is time to charge the film world with pitchforks and torches and KILL THE MONSTER!
If you have a very narrow field of vision by which you judge film. If you just like war flicks or westerns or science fiction or comedy or musicals or whatever… Ok, I’ll give ya that it might have been a sucky year for the genre of choice. However, if you love film. FILM. Everything that is stuck on it, and you seek not only your local theaters, but you beat the bushes excavating for films from far off coasts… from strange lands and people… If you stop being a sheep just eating what Hollywood dumps in your lap… Well, you might be able to assemble a list like the one below.
Last year, I was only able to put together a list of 25 films. This year I am at 35. 35 movies that I would gladly buy on DVD. Thirty-Five films to add to the ever-expanding library. This list doesn’t include the masterful re-edit jobs done to APOCALYPSE NOW and STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE… One that made a great film greater and a bad film damn good.
You might find a few films not on this list. Movies like GOSFORD PARK and IN THE BEDROOM. Well, that is just because they haven’t played here in Austin, and I haven’t received a screener in the interim. If I did see them, would they even make the list? I don’t know. I’ll tell ya when I see it.
You might also see movies that you haven’t seen yet, films that haven’t played in the United States yet. In fact there are a couple of films that have YET to receive distribution in the United States due to cowardice, stupidity and/or ignorance on the part of American Distributors. Hopefully they will see the error of their ways, get off their asses allowing their heads to pop out and release these films on a screen near you, me and we.
These are the best films as I see them this year, arranged in order of my personal taste. What does that mean? Well, if they are on this list, that means I’m saying it is a very good movie to great. The order does not necessarily mean I think it is better than the film directly below it, it just means that I like it more, that it floats my boat more. Having said that, I believe the top ten films to be the absolute best of the best that I’ve seen this year. Now prepare to love/hate me and my list…
One last minute addition. I have no idea of where I would place BULLY in the below, but I absolutely loved the film and forgot it til just this moment. Sometimes you forget a film when it is a screener and not a theatrical experience, but BULLY was a powerful film about a true life incident that happened regarding a group of teens involving sex, violence and murder. Larry Clark does not shy away from the ugliness that shockingly is in youth. It should never really be shocking as this has existed as long as kids have, but it is never not disturbing. Ultimately I feel the movie should be somewhere in the 8 - 14 range in my list, but I can't imagine bumping anything... but definitely take it in mind!
1. LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING
I’ve been waiting my whole conscious life to see this movie. I remember when my parents hung the 1976 Hildebrandt Brothers "Lord of the Rings" Calendar. I was 5, I still have it. I remember the Rankin Bass HOBBIT made me read THE HOBBIT, then that Christmas my parents bought me LORD OF THE RINGS in 3 paperback covers with watercolor covers. Peter Jackson’s film has captured a lifetime of dreams and musings. When I stared out the window of my calculus class as Mr Hicks’ monotone "wah wah wah wah waaaah" continued, I day-dreamed of this film, and now it is here.
I have watched the film over 10 times now. I haven’t been this love in a film for a long time. Beautifully shot, acted and realized. It is simply everything that I love about film. The film takes me where I’ve only gone in my dreams, introduces me to characters I’ve only read about and shows me a story that doesn’t insult me.
Films like this never come out, I’m just glad to be here when one did!
2. BATTLE ROYALE
You are likely never going to be able to see this film in a theater. Not because it is a bad film, but because the movie is about a subject that could cause a controversy the likes of which would draw an insane amount of censorship by the MPAA, and if released unrated would cause problems with other censorship groups.
What do they not want you to see?
The best and most powerful satire to come along in ages. This is no mere exploitation film, it is powerful filmmaking. Horrifying, terrifying and it all takes you to a place you never ever hope comes about in reality. Children die and kill one another in a way that makes LORD OF THE FLIES look and feel like a light-weight story.
It is an absolute marvel of building quickly and concisely multiple characters, developing how they feel, what they are like, what they dreamt about, hoped to be… The film is draining and horrifying. You might could have believed this movie would exist in the sixties or seventies, but the concept that it exists in these sappy sick days of pandering to the whims of groups like ‘capalert’ and the ‘mpaa’ it is no wonder that this type of cinema can only come from far away in Japan.
Fukasaku, the director, has been propelled into the realm of important filmmakers with this movie. Film Societies around the world have begun to screen retrospectives of his work with this movie as the impetus.
We should be ashamed of every cowardly American Distributor in this country for not having the guts or the balls to release easily one of the best and most important works of cinema in years. Great film!
Jeunet created a fantastic alive fairy tale set today or tomorrow or yesterday, I’m not real sure, but I do know that this story of the most fabulous woman ever, the discovery of Audrey Tautou and the greatest comeback film since Travolta made PULP FICTION.
I was terrified that Jeunet had left the great filmmaking building with the excretable ALIEN RESSURECTION. AMELIE is a work of genius. As far different from BATTLE ROYALE as two great films could get.
AMELIE is filled with wondrous sights, characters and situations. Cinematically gorgeous, fantastic music and with a new star. A perfect movie!
4. DARK BLUE WORLD
Michael Bay set out this year to make a great romantic love triangle set during the terrifying and oh so real dangerous times of World War II. The film was unfocused, unromantic, but visually stunning.
Jan SverÃ¡k has made a film that accomplished everything that Michael Bay dreamt of with PEARL HARBOR and he did it at a fifth (or even less) the cost.
Still unreleased in most of the United States, this film not only has better dogfight aerial battles than Bay’s film, but the romance, the friendship and the story are all far greater. We don’t see much native filmmaking from the Czech Republic, but Jan’s film shows us that there is more going on in and around Prague than American productions taking advantage of cheap labor. There is a very real and vital potential that is beginning to spread its wings. A great film!
5. THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE
Leave it to the Coen Brothers to make the best American film this year. The movie is exceptionally wonderful. Billy Bob Thornton is simply brilliant. Frances McDormand and Tony Shalhoub both deserve Oscar nominations (and wins) for Supporting Actress and Actor.
This, not MEMENTO, is the best original screenplay of 2001. Deakins’ cinematography reminds why Black & White is everybit as vital and wonderful and appropriate today as when it was the only choice in film.
The Coen Brothers are the best U.S. filmmakers working today, and they have been that for years now.
6. MULHOLLAND DRIVE
David Lynch has made a fantastic surrealistic erotic suspense film that is absolutely electric. Naomi Watts should not only be nominated for Best Actress, but personally I feel she should win. Not only does she play two different characters brilliantly, but each of those characters have a radical shift in how they are played throughout the film. She handles it beautifully. Ultimately Naomi and Audrey Tautou of AMELIE are the two real discoveries of the year.
Many look at this film and see pieces of Lynch’s other work, well much like VERTIGO incorporated many of Hitchcock’s themes from previous films, this is the one where they all came together perfectly. Often the strangeness of Lynch’s work seems to be there with little or no purpose. Here it all has significance and plays out with a great sense of internal logic.
You must not miss this movie!
7. DEVIL’S BACKBONE
Guillermo Del Toro has made his best film to date with DEVIL’S BACKBONE. I love his CRONOS and his MIMIC had its moments, but DEVIL’S BACKBONE is a great Gothic Children’s Story… Unfortunately many would find it too intense for children, but like NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, that is exactly what Del Toro made.
We seem to forget that Jim Hawkins killed in TREASURE ISLAND, that from the beginning of literature children have been asked to do terrible things for self-preservation. We also like to believe that kids don’t think or talk about ‘forbidden subjects’, Del Toro remembers and definitely believes.
Alongside BATTLE ROYALE, this is the best edgy film of the year. Children fighting to stay alive, killing not because they want to, but because they have to… it isn’t pretty, but sometimes in this world, they must. Great film.
8. WAKING LIFE
Richard Linklater’s WAKING LIFE was a godsend. This isn’t traditional narrative, it isn’t a conventional animated film. This is an art film, a movie that has a stunning vision to attempt to capture what it is that dreaming is.
People often talk about how dreams are black & white, why then did this feel more like my dreams?
For me, this film completely captures what it is to be a dreamer in Austin, Texas. One of the greatest local film experiences, if not the best, that I’ve ever had. I’ve lived in Austin pretty much the vast majority of my life, and when I didn’t, I dreamt of it. This is that dream. This is the reward for attending that other theater in town… ya know?
9. MOULIN ROUGE
The most eager, giddy, innocent, vivacious love story I’ve ever seen on film. Here ‘love’ feels like the most valuable of basic human needs. Oxygen is second. Food is third. Love is what gives meaning to breath and the necessity to consume.
Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman have an on-screen dynamic that is like chugalugging Absinthe til dawn. Blinding and leads to insanity. Glee. Isn’t it grand?
Jim Broadbent’s Harold Zidler is a revelation in this movie. His LIKE A VIRGIN number is genius. I would love to see him nominated for this rather than IRIS. IRIS’ performance felt traditional and safe. There was nothing safe about what he did here.
10. FULL TIME KILLER
Director Johnny To has made the first Hong Kong action thriller in ages that feels truly different from the others. I’ve watched this film about 12 times this year. It is exciting and vital and fun… above all things fun.
It takes everything in the genre of Hitman films and throws it all together. Andy Lau’s Tok… so over the top, so insidiously delicious. Takashi Sorimachi’s O… introspective, mysterious and deadly. The film shoots with a variety of styles.
Over all the film comes off as a Tall Tale of the greatest hitmen ever. It feels a bit like Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan or John Henry. Both of these characters are LEGEND.
If you have been waiting for a great Hong Kong film again, this is the one.
10 & 1/2. DONNIE DARKO
Ok, so I fogot one. And I can't believe that it was this one. I dearly love this film. Richard Kelly nailed this one for me. Surrealistic, horrifying and it truly is one that grows on you each time you see it. After all, what can you say about a film that has a great performance from Patrick Swayze and that has a character called Grandma Death? I say you say it is great and just leave it at that. Richard Kelly is one to watch, and if god exists, you will all one day be treated to the genius that is BESSIE!
11. HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH
In many ways this is the vastly superior film to MOULIN ROUGE. John Cameron Mitchell should definitely be up for Best Actor for his portrayal of Hedwig. Why then is Hedwig here and not where MOULIN ROUGE is? Because I am utterly in love with Baz’s film. The design, the excitement, the manic world, the sound and the fury.
As a debut film, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH is a stunning achievement. Fantastic movie.
Mamoru Oshii’s debut live action movie is a dream. Far more powerful and serious than Spielberg’s science fiction film this year.
Far more intelligent than I believe anyone is thinking going into it. The action and the thrills are far more beautiful and captivating than anyone would expect. The choice of shooting this film in Polish really works. It feels more fantastic and ethereal in Polish. The choice of landscapes and language bury it in Eastern European flair. Beautiful and completely intoxicating.
Hopefully MIRAMAX will get around to releasing this in 2002. Absolutely wonderful. Not for all tastes, but definitely for mine.
MEMENTO is a wonderful film. The movie came in a desert of quality cinema. It is a spectacularly structured film, but I find it less involving upon multiple viewings. Ultimately the film chooses structure over character, structure over everything else.
Given the structure and the story are absolutely inseparable. They are totally entwined. And the film is breathlessly audacious in what it attempts and ultimately delivers, but I found that magic to wane over time.
The first two times I saw it, it was like being smitten out of the blue, but it ebbed in its power over me since I’ve watched it on DVD.
14. BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF
I was driving around Austin one day when suddenly I my cel phone rings and the caller I.D. says that it is Roger Avary. I answered the call to hear Avary giddy, excited and thrilled about a film he had just moments before walked out of. That film was Christophe Gans’ BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF. A period horror-action-adventure-martial arts-romance film. A strange beautiful unique snowflake.
I have watched this 4 times now and each viewing is stronger than the one before. Years from now when I look at this list, I may very well be moving this film up the list. Hell, after the release of BROTHERHOOD in 2002, I could really move it up further, because I guarantee that I will be seeing it quite a few more times.
Mani is as cool a character as you’ll see on film this year.
15. LEGEND OF THE SACRED STONES
Here is a remarkable film. A movie that ultimately I had to seek out an all region DVD at a fairly extravagant cost to myself, to see. It is a Taiwanese Glove Puppetry show that follows years of tradition from a television program that has been entertaining folks in Taiwan for years.
The film is remarkable beyond words. Combining computer animation, puppetry and traditional animation techniques to create a visual marvel. One of the most breath-taking films I’ve seen in years.
I don’t understand a word of it, there is no English subtitles or audio on this DVD. It has not kept me from repeatedly watching it. The story and character work is so strong, that I feel I understand and get it completely. The story is heartbreaking as I’ve interpreted it.
It is completely unsafe, characters that you care for die badly, and the music, photography and overall design is as good as anything on this list. If I knew all the dialogue this film could be either higher or lower, but this was the film that I was most passionate about personally for quite sometime. The film I would have people come over and that I would show them repeatedly because I felt it really was that strong. A must see!
16. VANILLA SKY
The first film that Cameron Crowe has made based on another’s work and he does a great job with it from my point of view. Cameron Diaz is wonderful in the film as is Kurt Russell. Cruise is perfectly cast, but isn’t greatly stretching here.
Beautiful and haunting. It hit me like a revelation, as I hadn’t seen the original film first. As a result, this struck me like a bolt of lightning. And I do prefer this to the original, though that is a feeling not shared by all, so be it.
17. GHOST WORLD
Terry Zwigoff’s film version of Daniel Clowes’ underground comic is perhaps the greatest comic book adaptation yet.
Thora Birch’s Enid is vitally real here. She reminds me of many young ladies I know locally. And Steve Buscemi’s Seymour is a remarkable character and performance by Steve. Perhaps his best character work since his turn in TREE’S LOUNGE.
The film is a clarion call for the odd, of which I proudly count myself a member of. I can not wait to see what Zwigoff does next!
18. MONSTERS, INC
Pixar has nailed another great animated classic. This movie hit my sister dead on. The character of Boo is the most perfect recreation of a babbling terrible two-age kid ever.
The film achieves far more than that, especially once Mike and Sully are banished from the world of monsters. The scene between the two in the Snowman’s cave… perfection. Subtle and powerful. The character animation work in this movie was flawless. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next.
19. THE DISH
For everyone that ever looked up and dreamt of what man could accomplish when working together, this movie captures. To be a piece, a part of something bigger than that of any one person… Brilliance.
I must admit that this film has a very very special place in my heart. It rang true with so much in my heart. There is a part of me that hopes and prays that it would be nominated for as many Oscars as possible. Somehow, I doubt it, but it would be lovely.
20. WITH A FRIEND LIKE HARRY
This is a movie that I can’t wait to see a second time. At the time I saw it, it hit me like the great INSOMNIA did a few years back. This is a powerful suspense film about the sanctity of family and friends. Hehehe… Do not miss a chance to see this if you can.
21. THE OTHERS
One of the most elegantly told gothic ghost stories ever told. It will grow in prominence over time and will be watched right in line with my fave films of type like THE HAUNTING and THE CHANGELING.
Wow Nicole Kidman had a helluva year, and how creepy are the kids in this flick? I love this one.
I love this movie. I feel Johnny Depp just nailed it. And while my "Better than GOODFELLAS" quote was misinterpreted greatly… I’ll explain now that I don’t particularly love GOODFELLAS. It is a great film, I just don’t care to rewatch it over and over. I prefer CASINO to it (and this), but I love how Ted Demme captured the various time periods and styles. Penelope Cruz was sooooo frightening in this film… Very scary. The depiction of great wrong coming from naivete was fascinating and intoxicating for me.
23. A BEAUTIFUL MIND
The power of Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly’s performances keep this film from devolving into a TV MOVIE OF THE WEEK. I haven’t finished my review yet, but ultimately I feel that this movie just feels slightly off right now, and I’m trying to nail down why I feel that way. It might require a second viewing. BUT Russell and Jennifer were absolutely incredible. Connelly is really becoming a great actress. After REQUIEM last year, to do work this solid makes that not a fluke. I can’t wait to see her in Ang Lee’s HULK next!
24. DOWN FROM THE MOUNTAIN
The documentary about the concert from the artists behind the music for OH BROTHER WHERE ART THOU? Awesome music and incredible performances. Ralph Stanley’s "O DEATH" was perhaps one of the creepiest and tearful moments caught on film this year. Harry McClintock’s "Big Rock Candy Mountain" is one of the purest reasons why evil will never conquer the good of this world. I felt like I was 5 years old as he performed it. Finally, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch’s performance of "Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby," was like the best homemade ice cream ever. Tasty and oh so good!
Some hated this film, and well let em. Me, I adored this gothic romance. It was a pure joy this year. Anthony Hopkins must be teamed up with Ridley Scott in something else again. Absolutely wonderful work here.
26. THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS
Wes Anderson’s latest has so much going on in it that it is… all at once, two entirely different movies. Again a movie that I must see a couple of more times to fully digest. However, on first viewing, I do like it quite a bit.
Here is a movie that it seems maybe 4 people saw. William H Macy did his best work since FARGO here and seemingly no one saw it. Truly sad. Great little film.
28. SHAOLIN SOCCER
You’ll understand next March if Miramax doesn’t mess with it too much. Pure joy. Not particularly deep at all, but if you ever go to movies to just have fun… go have fun.
29. GINGER SNAPS
This is a great cheap horror film. The sisters in this film make it so great that I can scarcely believe it. Don’t buy the American DVD, get the Canadian DVD… MUCH BETTER. One of the great moments of stupidity in the world of U.S. distribution was not putting this in theaters this October. The bastards. As a result many of you, will never see this film on the big screen. Sadly.
30. SPY KIDS
I can’t in good conscience put this film higher on my list, not because this wasn’t a perfect kid’s movie… it was, but because I was way too close to the film. I adore this movie, but refrained from reviewing the movie because Robert and I were way too close on this project. I can’t wait for a special edition dvd on this one.
31. THE MAJESTIC
I’m very curious to see how this movie affects me upon multiple viewings. Upon first viewing I liked it quite a bit. I’m curious to see if it escalates or falls off. Frankly, the love of film both in the making and presenting of it are so wonderful, I think I will love it even more. We’ll see though.
32. SEXY BEAST
This was a wonderful film. However, I think it was built up a bit too much for me, by the time I saw it my first was reaction was… that’s it? However, upon second viewing it really fell into place for me. Ben Kingsley is so not going about things as usual here and delivers one of the best overall performances of the year. Very creepy, however, I did prefer Terence Stamp’s character in Soderbergh’s THE LIMEY.
33. BLACK HAWK DOWN
The first 30-40 minutes were so ridiculously pedestrian that it really hurt the overall film for me. However, once our characters are in the situation that the title refers to… The movie was simply brilliant from that point on. Could have been a truly great film if the start of the movie had invested me in the characters more. As is it plays as a very very very strong action film that could have been something more.
34. THE DEEP END
Very good crime film, but nothing truly spectacular. The performance by Tilda Swinton was wonderful though. And the movie was quite involving. I’m glad I have this on DVD.
There is quite a bit here to love, however… the film highlights so much of how Spielberg has changed as a filmmaker that it ultimately makes me yearn for the Steven that made EMPIRE OF THE SUN and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. Visually stunning at moments and visually retarded at others. The film is great when Jude Law and Teddy are on screen, but falls short the rest of the time. Could have been a truly great film… if about a dozen different things had been different. But cough, that’s just like my opinion.
RUNNER-UP: DESTINATION MARS
While technically made in the fifties, this lost film was just found and presented extremely limited in the past year. Hopefully we’ll see it on at least DVD someday.