Film Faves: 2001

Welcome to yet another edition of Film Faves.  Every edition features a complete and undeniably biased countdown of my favorites in film.  Instead of a run-of-the-mill top ten list, the inevitable honorable mentions are avoided and instead a list of twelve of my favorites of any given topic is counted down. Take this as not a serious "best-of" list as much as an insight into what it is I really love when I'm not tripping over myself to be objectively critical.

This month, I'm continuing my travels back in time with the year 2001.  While 2007 is the aughts' worst year in film, 2001 comes pretty close in my estimation.  So loaded with mediocrity (more on that soon) it is that I had a tough time coming up with a complete list of twelve favorites.  But I managed.

Let's start with a quick run-down of the year's achievements.  The top grossers included Ocean's Eleven, Pearl Harbor, The Mummy Returns, Jurassic Park III, Planet of the Apes, and Hannibal.  There are roughly 241.5 million ticket-buyers that are probably kicking themselves about now.

A Beautiful Mind was the big catch during awards season while No Man's Land and Monsoon Wedding were the foreign films to see in the art houses.

As always, there were a few bad films, including American Pie 2, Black Knight, Corky Romano, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, Freddy Got Fingered, Glitter, Joe Dirt, The Musketeer, Rush Hour 2, Swordfish, Tomcats, Vanilla Sky, and What's the Worst That Could Happen?.

However, 2001 was mostly full of underwhelming mediocrity.  Many challenging and unconventional films found their release dates pushed back after 9/11.  What followed was a long series of mediocre releases, including Hardball and Max Keeble's Big Move.  It wasn't until October that more serious and challenging films like Training Day and From Hell crept into theaters, which gave way to oddball films like The Royal Tenenbaums and several crowdpleasers listed below.

Here's a dose of 2001's load of meh, released throughout the year: Artificial Intelligence: A.I., Ali, American Sweethearts, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Center of the World, Evolution, Frailty, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, A Knight's Tale, K-PAX, Life as a House, The Mexican, Riding in Cars with Boys, Rock Star, The Score, Someone Like You, and Waking Life.

That said, here are my favorites:


12. Josie & the Pussycats

This fun, self-referential, satire on the commercialism of pop music gets a lot of hate. Yes, Tara Reid does nothing here to counter her reputation as an annoying actress. Roger Ebert even included it in his book Your Movie Sucks. What most seem to criticize the movie for, however, is not its light-as-air tone, but its product placement. They all completely miss the point. Universal wanted to bring the Archie comics characters to the screen for years and there may not have been a better way to do it. This girly, BFF trifle is just plain fun, but with a satirical edge that is uncommon (are movies like Bratz this self-aware?). Just try not to laugh during the five minute DuJour opening sequence.

11. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

How did Harry turn out so well in such a horrendous home environment? You may not get an answer to that question, but all else may be in the film that kick-started the best family-friendly franchise of a decade. Sorcerer’s Stone is one of the worst-reviewed of the series (a rather respectable 78% on RT). While it is easy to notice some blemishes, I still can’t bring myself to dismiss a film that has more class, wit, and intelligence than most movies that target youth and their parents’ wallets. One last thing that really struck me upon revisiting this film recently is just how remarkable it is that the cast has stayed solid the entire way through! With the exception of the crucial Dumbledore, all the principals have remained throughout the series; that alone is impressive and rare to see in a seven-part film franchise. But all of the less-significant peripheral and supporting characters have even been played by the same actors the entire way through. That’s just one of many amazing things to appreciate about this franchise.

10. The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain (a.k.a. Amelie)

You may remember this film, because it was quite a sensation when it hit our shores. I nearly forgot about it myself. This is a hilarious and sweet film in part about random events either colliding or leading to other events; the notion that the answers to life’s questions are simpler than what our imaginations often make them out to be; and those secret pleasures in life we all have, which typically involve the littlest of things. All of these revolve around the principle plot, which follows Amelie (Audrey Toutou) as she goes on a quest to make others happy. This film, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Alien Resurrection), is full of interesting characters and close-ups that break the fourth wall. It also features some fantastic visuals, such as quick pans and zoom-ins, striking colors, and inanimate figures and pictures coming to life. Simply put, Amelie is a beautiful feel-good film.

9. In the Bedroom

On the opposite side of the spectrum is a film that may not make you feel so good, but is nonetheless powerful and may touch you. In the Bedroom is Todd Field’s incredible directorial debut. Nick Stahl stars as a young man with a promising future in architecture who falls in love with an older woman played by Marisa Tomei. Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek play the young man’s proud, yet wary parents who must cope with a sudden tragedy. This film brought attention back to Tomei, who was little-seen in the late nineties, and reminded audiences of her considerable acting talent. Performances by Wilkinson and Spacek were also very strong, bringing many well-deserved award nominations and accolades to both. It may slide into a somewhat disappointing third act, but In the Bedroom is a fantastic performance piece and one of the best films of 2001.

8. Winged Migration

I get the impression this film hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Anybody who enjoyed Planet Earth or Disney’s Earth will love this film (and anybody who resisted those films can go find another planet to under-appreciate). Winged Migration takes what is literally a bird’s-eye view of the winged species throughout the planet. At times, the photography is stunning enough that you’ll think it must be CGI. But not a single so-close-you-can-touch-them frame is faked. The flying sequences are spectacular.

7. Monsters Inc.

DreamWorks may have had the best-remembered animated film of the year, but Pixar had the highest-grossing and best. Its story is one of friendship, xenophobia, and alternative energy resources. Only Pixar could pull such a story off without being political, heavy-handed, or preachy. Featuring a wonderful cast - including Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, and James Coburn – that served the characters more than marquees, Monster’s Inc. is another notch of greatness on Pixar’s belt.

6. Ghost World

This film tickles me to no end. Upon thinking about the opening with the kitschy dance footage, the fake ‘50s diner with Weird Al, and the white-trash convenience store customer I begin pining for another opportunity to see the film. Based on an indie comic by Daniel Clowes, starring Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson as the main characters, with Steve Buscemi, Ghost World is a fantastic and engaging comedy about how what makes us individuals can both alienate and draw us closer to those around us.

5. Shrek

Was there anything like it before? While the series and its concept may have been run into the ground through a handful of sequels and copycats, the 2001 original still packs quite a comedic punch. Most importantly, it has a heart and story and the jokes and references serve to either build the land of Far Far Away or further the story. John Lithgow originally passed and then took the part reluctantly, uncertain of the writers’ comedic talents, only to be humbled when he watched the film. Myers and Murphy may rely on the series for a paycheck now, but the first Shrek was anything but a cash-grab; it was a much-needed creative jab at Disney’s fairy tale tradition, which had gone stale in previous years.

4. The Others

Here’s a little gem in Nicole Kidman’s career, one of two hits she’d have the same year. She stars as an over-protective mother to her photosensitive children who hires three mysterious caretakers in 1940s Jersey. Directed by Alejandro Amenábar (Abre los ojos), The Others kick-started the PG-13 horror craze and is still the best of them all, playing with perception and mood rather than cheap jump-scares and kills. It may also be the best haunted house movie ever made.

3. Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring

If you’ve been following Film Faves, you probably thought this was going to be my number one. Fooled you! While it may not be my favorite in a year chock-full of mediocrity and tragedy, this opening chapter of the Lord of the Rings saga is nothing to turn away from. The one that started it all about the one ring to rule them all is abundant in magnificent imagery such as the statues of the Great River and the scene featuring the bridge of Khazad-Dûm (you know, the “You shall not pass!” scene). When we witnessed Samwise Gamgee risk drowning in order to stick by Frodo, we all knew we’d found a friend we could rely on. Fellowship of the Ring is a classic.

2. Moulin Rouge!

The film that revived the musical is also hands-down the best of the decade. There were many musicals that followed, but few accomplished anything as unique as Moulin Rouge’s style, energy, or creativity. Many Kidman detractors point to this film for evidence, but I find Kidman to be at her most diverse and stunning as Satine, the aspiring actress in a gilded cage. There is no film in 2001 that put me at the edge of my seat more than Moulin Rouge!. It only took the medley near the beginning of the film - with all its manic energy, intoxicating camera work, and infectious music – for me to realize I was witnessing something special. Among my favorite numbers: ‘Roxanne’, ‘The Show Must Go On’, and ‘Come What May’.

1. Donnie Darko

This is yet another film over which I’ve already sung praises (it was among my top five films of the decade). Donnie Darko was a film that remarkably rebounded by word-of-mouth after a dismal one-theater release, just days after 9/11. Most importantly, it was a film with the kind of artistic substance that warranted such attention. After surviving a passenger plane engine falling through his room, Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) is visited by a demented-looking bunny who orders him to execute seemingly destructive tasks for reasons only to be revealed in time (fans with catch the pun). Swayze fans will find one of his most unconventional performances here. Also, check out the director’s cut, which splices in more exposition, thus making for a completely different and equally satisfying experience.

So, that's the year 2001 in film.  What are your favorite films from that year?  Did I overlook one that deserves mention?  Let me know in the comments section below, Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter.  I love hearing your feedback.  Also, vote in the poll to the right on your favorite movie from 2001.

Next time on Film Faves, we finish a decade with a battle royale between bad motha's, unbreakable men, '70s rock bands, mutants, and Oscar-winning females. Crank out your top fives (um, you may need to write them on your arm with a Sharpie so you don't forget), it's the year 2000!


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