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Laurence Station's Best Films of 2001

Top 10:

1. The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (Peter Jackson, New Zealand)
This film could have gone wrong in so many ways, from script-tampering by studio execs clueless about the source material, to allowing special effects wizardry to overwhelm the epic storyline. Fortunately (some might say miraculously), the exact opposite has occurred, and the end result is without question the year's finest, most entertaining motion picture. Kudos to all involved on a job very well done.
 
2. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, USA)
Exploring the destructive nature of obsession as only he can, David Lynch makes one of the finest films of his brilliant, if incredibly checkered, career. Reigning in the more outlandish impulses that have torpedoed recent efforts, Mulholland Drive works because every scene counts, no matter how unusual or seemingly bizarre. Though it must be stated for the record that the phenomenal lead performance of Naomi Watts is the essential component of its success.
3. What Time is it There? (Tsai Ming-Liang, Taiwan / France)
Director Tsai Ming-Liang has explored alienation in prior films, but never with such insight and consistency as he does here. An achingly sad and remarkable examination of how people cope with distance, grief and loneliness. What Time is it There? is a skillful, elegiac, and brilliant gift to the world of cinema.
 
4. In the Bedroom (Todd Field, USA)
It's what happens after tragedy strikes a family in a small Maine town that Todd Field's full-of-surprises In the Bedroom reveals its true form. Themes of grief and revenge have rarely been explored with such depth and care, taking what could have been little more than an artily-dressed up thriller and elevating it to something far more potent, devastating and, strangely, cathartic.
5. Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, USA)
Richard Kelly's scathing indictment of the latchkey kids/Reagan-dominated '80s works as marvelous satire and melancholic  examination of a deeply troubled young man looking for comfort in a world that seems utterly alien to him. Trumping predestination has rarely been illustrated with such bold, bizarre and engaging visual flair. A true gem.
 
6. Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, USA)
Daniel Clowes' graphic novel focused on two girls recently graduated from high school, apathetically wondering what to do with their lives. Zwigoff's adaptation changes the focus to the relationship between teenaged misanthrope Enid (deftly handled by Thora Birch) and Seymour, an eccentric forty-something record collector. The move pays off handsomely, thanks to Steve Buscemi's genuine performance as Seymour. A smart, non-saccharine-flavored treat.
7. Moulin Rouge (Baz Luhrmann, Australia / USA)
Willfully anachronistic, unashamedly over the top, and delightfully campy, Moulin Rouge should have been nothing more than a guilty pleasure. But the acting, art direction, choreography and, yes, the music catapult it beyond mere cult-movie spectacle. Some viewers might find Baz Luhrmann's hyper-kinetic style exhausting, but the film pays definite dividends to those willing to keep up with the relentless visual calisthenics.
 
8. Amores Perros (Love’s A Bitch)* (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Mexico)
Three interconnected stories set in Mexico City reveal just how much dogs can teach their masters. The middle tale, involving a couple who lose their cherished pet beneath the floorboards of their apartment and try frantically to recover it, is a truly remarkable film sequence. A slightly drawn out, but still-impressive debut from director Inarritu.
(*This film was released internationally in 2000 and in the USA a year later.)
9. The Man Who Wasn’t There (The Coen Brothers, USA)
It appears that the Coen Brothers are determined to tackle every genre in Hollywood history. Based on their track record thus far, this looks to be a good thing. Film noir gets the brothers' patented treatment here, with Billy Bob Thornton delivering one of the year's most subdued and contemplative performances. Cut a few unnecessary plot distractions and this film could very well have stood near the top of the list.
 
10. Gosford Park (Robert Altman, USA)
A fine example of what can happen when the initial reason for gathering such interesting people together (i.e., a murder mystery movie) evolves into something far more engaging and sublime. By film's end it would have been nice to have had less (or better yet no) mystery, and simply let the interactions between the characters carry the day. There's a much better film lurking inside this one, struggling to get out of a clichéd dinner jacket.
 
Notable near misses (Alphabetically Listed):
 
  • A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, USA) The year's most intriguing, promising mess. The main storyline never gets fully developed because a second rate tale of renegade robots interrupts it. Great job by Haley Joel Osment, though.
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch (John Cameron Mitchell, USA) "Six inches forward, five inches back, I've got an angry inch." Great music, campy fun. Ultimately suffers from a lack of commitment to either a mock-documentary or zany experimental style.
  • Memento (Christopher Nolan, USA) Nolan's reverse-narrative script will win the awards and garner the lion's share of praise, but this is ultimately an actors' film to carry or fumble. Guy Pearce (as Leonard, the short-term amnesiac protagonist) and Joe Pantoliano (as the man who seems to want to help Leonard find his wife's murderer) shine, providing the movie with an edgy authenticity that is sorely needed after initial curiosity over the structural gimmickry wears thin.
  • The Others (Alejandro Amenábar, USA / Spain) Watching Moulin Rouge and The Others back-to-back only reinforces what an astonishingly gifted and versatile performer Nicole Kidman is. As a mother protecting her children from the (perceived) damaging effects of sunlight, Kidman takes what should have been a modest twist on Henry James' Turn of the Screw and transforms The Others into a haunting examination of love and love after death.
  • The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, USA) An entertaining family-in-crisis comedy that takes on a little more drama than it can safely handle.
  • Sexy Beast (Jonathan Glazer, UK) Seedy London underworld thugs disrupt the southern Spain paradise of "retired" gangster and likeable lug Gary (Ray Winstone). Menace has rarely been personified as effectively as it is by Ben Kingsley's psychotically infantile  Don Logan. A stylish, smart study in guilt and devotion by director Glazer.
  • Startup.com (Chris Hegedus, Jehane Noujaim, USA) Great document of the boom-to-bust Internet gold rush from the mid-to-late '90s. This film will be taught in business classes for years to come as a cautionary tale of how (and, more importantly, how NOT) to grow a business.

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