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Great Years in Film: 2001

It was the year that many critics dubbed the worst in recent memory. With a toxic summer movie season that gave us disappointing dreck like Pearl Harbor and The Mummy Returns, and a dismal couple of autumn weeks where theatres were inundated with a staggering level of mediocrity (forgettable titles like Bandits, K-Pax, and Thirteen Ghosts to name a few), the year was looking unsalvageable.

But once awards season came, the cinemas were suddenly flooded with prestige films that were actually worthy of their plaudits. Michael Mann’s Ali–an impressionistic deconstruction of the legendary boxer, not just a by the numbers biopic–turned out to be one of the most visceral Civil Rights films ever made. The Coen Brothers fatalistic noir, The Man Who Wasn’t There, brought new Hollywood irony to old Hollywood gloss. Veteran auteurs like Robert Altman and Ridley Scott came out with some of their strongest material in years. Altman’s sophisticated whodunit Godsford Park was a Rules of the Game homage by way of Agatha Christie while Black Hawk Down featured Ridley Scott in utter command of his pyrotechnic prowess. Amid the resurgence, two future auteurs emerged. Actor Todd Field made his directing debut with In the Bedroom, and Peter Jackson, known largely for schlock horror movies, entered cinema and special effects history with his epic first entry in The Lord of the Rings saga, The Fellowship of the Ring.

2001 also gave us two fantastic movie musicals, both of unconventional sorts. Moulin Rouge! was a spectacular fury of sight and sound, an old school formula brought to dazzling new life by a bevy of classic and contemporary hits. Hedwig and the Angry Inch, John Cameron Mitchell’s rock opera about a transsexual’s tumultuous quest for love and musical stardom, elevated the genre to almost phantasmagoric heights. Each carried wit and whimsy matched only by the foreign and animation markets. That year, no film was as fun and fancy free as Amelie, as striking and sinister as Spirited Away, or as rich and romantic as In the Mood for Love. All five were movies of uncommonly vibrant colors, sounds, and emotions.

Amid the noise of the summer movie season, Steven Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence became the most surprisingly esoteric picture of the year, ushering in a new crop of movies dedicated to smart premises and daring storytelling. Led by David Lynch’s dreamlike Mulholland Dr., these puzzle films were unafraid of playing with narrative structure and subverting genre expectations. Austrian provocateur Michael Haneke’s Code Unknown confounded audiences by interlocking seemingly unrelated story threads without tying them together. Similarly, the narrative curves of Memento and Donnie Darko didn’t just demand multiple viewings; they turned the independent sleepers into future cult successes and 2001 into the unlikeliest of memorable cinematic years.


5. Memento- By unfolding its mystery of a man with short term memory loss investigating his wife’s killer in reverse chronicle order, director Christopher Nolan devilishly evoked the temporal evanescence of film by bringing fractured storytelling into the mainstream.

4. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence– Blockbuster golden boy Steven Spielberg tackled the late Stanley Kubrick’s final project about an artificial child’s search to become real with tact and courage, creating a science fiction fairy tale simultaneously bold, imaginative, disturbing, and infuriating.

3. In the Mood for Love– A study in passion and repression, Wong Kar Wai’s beautiful rendering of 1960’s Hong Kong managed to be erotic without being sexual; a feat achieved by the palpable chemistry between actors Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung.

2. In the Bedroom– A slow burning examination of a husband and wife’s grief after an unspeakable tragedy, director Todd Field took a scalpel to the family drama, uncovering layers of hostility and resentment where mercy and forgiveness would normally reside.

1. Mulholland Dr.– A shadowy mystery wrapped in a tawdry love story wrapped in a sensually menacing enigma, David Lynch showed that in Hollywood, dreams aren’t just devoured, their transmogrified into ghastly versions of their former selves.

Other titles: The Claim, The Devil’s Backbone, Lagaan, Session 9, Y tu mamá también