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Best Movies of 2001

By Michael Scrutchin

Last month Los Angeles Times television columnist Brian Lowry had some nasty things to say about the film critics praising David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. After noting that the New York Film Critics Circle and the Boston Society of Film Critics each named it the best film of the year, he wrote: "Their endorsement reflects the ultimate example of intellectual hubris -- the assumption if you don't understand it, it must be brilliant." I pity Brian Lowry for being so frustrated by the film that he felt the need to lash out at people who admire it. His comments reflect the ultimate example of egotistical hubris -- the assumption that if you don't understand it, no one else does either. With all due respect to Mr. Lowry, I hereby present my picks for the best films of 2001.

1. Mulholland Drive. Alternately funny, scary, thrilling, and powerfully moving, Mulholland Drive runs the emotional gamut and you can almost touch the ever-present sense of dread oozing from the screen. David Lynch's masterpiece starts out like a fairly conventional mystery-thriller, with a plucky aspiring actress named Betty (Naomi Watts) moving to L.A. and playing Nancy Drew by trying to help a woman with amnesia (Laura Elena Harring) unravel the mystery of her identity. Then the final act pulls the rug out from under us and dismisses everything that has gone before. Or does it? I think it makes sense, but even if you don't understand it (or think there's nothing to understand), you can still savor the mesmerizing experience: a startling collision of daydreams and nightmares.

2. Ghost World. Based on the comic book by Daniel Clowes, Ghost World's protagonist, Enid (Thora Birch), isn't sure what to do with her life after high school. She views the world with sardonic disaffection, disgusted by all the mindless pop-cultural sheep and searching for something genuine in a world where artifice reigns supreme. When Enid and her best friend Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) pull a prank on lonely record collector Seymour (Steve Buscemi), Enid discovers that he's the exact opposite of everything she hates. Funny, insightful, and immensely touching, Ghost World is right on in every possible way. Roger Ebert isn't the only one who wanted to hug this movie.

3. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Aside from Mulholland Drive, no other film swept me up and immersed me in its world as deeply as Peter Jackson's breathtaking adaptation of the first third of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. The impeccable ensemble cast is led by Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, and Sean Astin. The best fantasy-adventure film ever? It just might be, but remember we haven't seen the whole story yet.

4. Memento. This expertly crafted neo-noir thriller was the unexpected indie hit of the year. And for good reason. Guy Pearce is superb as Leonard Shelby, a guy suffering from short-term memory loss due to a hit on the head during the rape and murder of his wife. He can't remember anything for more than 15 minutes, but he's out to find his wife's killer. Two words: just brilliant.

5. In the Bedroom. The most emotionally wrenching film I saw in 2001 was this beautifully understated drama from first-time writer-director Todd Field. While a number of reviews have revealed the first-act shocker (shame on them), I'm going to keep quiet about it. Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson deliver two of the finest, most emotionally realized performances of the year. Shattering.

6. Ginger Snaps. Not only the best horror film in many a moon, this quirky Canadian flick is also a smart, moody, wickedly humorous coming-of-age tale centering on two disaffected teenage girls. The Fitzgerald sisters, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins), are so close that they've made a pact to commit suicide together at 16, but things start to change when Ginger hits puberty -- and starts becoming a werewolf. Poignant, thoughtful, and scary, it certainly doesn't shy away from the red stuff, either.

7. The Deep End. Tilda Swinton carries this movie as a mother who thinks her teenage son murdered the older guy he was having an affair with. She dumps the body into the lake and tries to cover it up to protect her son. Then everything hits the fan. The Deep End is the rare thriller with strong, believable characters and real emotional resonance.

8. Amélie. From director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (The City of Lost Children), this intoxicatingly feel-good French comedy is a feast of vibrant, surreal imagery. Buoyed by an endearing lead performance from cute-as-a-button Audrey Tautou, Amélie is cinematically adept and charming as hell.

9. Bully. Love him or hate him, director Larry Clark (Kids) inspires strong reactions. While flawed, Bully has the kind of raw power that one can't shake after the end credits roll. The first half plays like a comic and shocking exploitation flick, but it leads up to a murder sequence that ranks among the most harrowing scenes I've ever witnessed. The film has a strong ensemble cast, including Nick Stahl as the doomed bully of the title. Unforgettable.

10. Hall of Mirrors. This debut from writer-director Brad Osborne is a skillfully crafted thriller about a hopelessly in debt gambling addict (Eric Johnson) who gets an anonymous call from someone claiming to have the solution to all his money problems. Before you can say film noir, a beautiful femme fatale (Julie Arebalo) enters the picture and things get complicated. Beautifully shot on digital video and produced for less than five grand, this indie gem deserves to be sitting on the shelves at Blockbuster Video. It's currently not, but you can order the DVD from if you're willing to take a gamble (lame pun wholeheartedly intended, in case you were wondering).

Honorable Mentions: A.I. Artificial Intelligence; Audition; Bridget Jones's Diary; Fat Girl; Hardcore Poisoned Eyes; In the Mood for Love; The Royal Tenenbaums; Series 7: The Contenders; Waking Life; With a Friend Like Harry.

Notable Films I Missed: Donnie Darko; Gosford Park; The Man Who Wasn't There; Monster's Ball; Session 9.

Article published 01.14.2002.

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