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Laramie Movie Scope:
Top films of 2001

The best films of the year 2001

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 6, 2002 revised January 21, 2002 -- This year the films were slightly better than last year, due to a flood of high-quality films released in December. I have gotten this list done quicker than ever, due to access to a large number of screening tapes and DVDs available through my membership in the Online Film Critics Society. Thanks for all the screeners. I gulped down 10 or more films in the last week of the year because of deadlines and late releases of movies.

Before we get to the top 10 list, here are my picks for various technical achievements. Best director, John Singleton for "Baby Boy." Best adapted screenplay, Robert Festinger and Todd Field, based on a short story by the late New England author Andre Dubus (who helped with the screenplay adaptation before his death). Best original screenplay, "Training Day." Best actor, Denzel Washington, "Training Day." Best actress, Nicole Kidman, "The Others." Best supporting actor, Timothy Spall, "Rock Star." Best supporting actress, Hellen Mirren, "Gosford Park." Best cinematography, Janusz Kaminski, "A.I." Best foreign language film, "No Man's Land." Best musical score, "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring."

There are a few top films I haven't seen this year, such as "Donnie Darko," "The Royal Tennenbaums," "Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale," "Bully," "Eureka," "Tape," "Va Savoir," "Innocence" and some other limited-release movies. "Black Hawk Down," the Ridley Scott film about U.S. soldiers killed in Somalia, for instance, is only playing in New York and Los Angeles. It won't go into wide release until January 18, 2002. I finally did see this film on January 18 and it was good enough to make the top 10 so I have revised my list to include it.

I have seen "Monster's Ball," "Gosford Park," "Amélíe", "The Shipping News," "Memento," "Mulholland Drive," "Ghost World," "Waking Life," "The Man Who Wasn't There," "The Pledge," "Sexy Beast," "Moulin Rouge," "The Tailor of Panama," "A Beautiful Mind," "Apocalypse Now Redux," "Fat Girl" and some others that have found their way on to some top 10 lists. These films just didn't make the cut for my list. I did not do a worst films of 2001 list because I skipped most of the worst films of the year. I saw enough turkeys in 2000. I had no desire to punish myself again.

So that's what I have, and haven't seen. Here's the top 10 list, followed by honorable mentions and the top documentary films. In order to get on my top 10 list, the film has to earn either an "A" or "B+" rating in my A-F rating system. Only six films this year, my top five, got A ratings. The rest of the top 10, including the honorable mentions, are B+ (same as an A-):

1. In the Bedroom -- The only film I can recall seeing this year that did not require me to suspend my disbelief. The screenplay is so well-written, the acting so excellent, the setting so perfect, that it is very believable. In fact the plot is so convincing it seems inevitable, and very much character-driven. Sissy Spacek won the best actress award from the American Film Institute for her performance in this film.

2. A.I. Artificial Intelligence -- Steven Spielberg's brilliant fairy tale science fiction film was originally a Stanley Kubrick project. It became a hybrid Spielberg-Kubrick film, with Kubrick's vision and Spielberg's humanity making a great combination.

3. Training Day -- Denzel Washington is awesome in this gritty, emotionally compelling drama about crooked cops. Washington understandably won the best actor award from the American Film Institute for his performance in this film.

4. Baby Boy -- This is an intense, and very sexy story of a young black man who is having trouble growing up and leaving his home. Powerful performances by Tyrese Gibson, Adrienne-Joi Johnson, Ving Rhames and Snoop Doggy Dogg.

5. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring -- A brilliant job of bringing a classic book to the screen. A monumental task, filming all three of J.R.R. Tolkien's ring trilogy stories in a year and a half, and getting it just right. Who would have thought? This was named best film of 2001 by the American Film Institute. It looks to be the favorite to win the same award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences this spring.

6. Black Hawk Down -- This is the best war movie since "Saving Private Ryan." It highlights the chaos of war, but still gives you the big picture of the entire battle, the operations room strategies and U.N. politics. It also gives you an insight into modern warfare from the soldier's point of view.

7. The Dish -- A film that expertly combines the charms of small town life with the grand adventures of space exploration and love. Comedy is much tougher than drama and the tone of this film is just perfect, a real crowd-pleaser. Features an excellent performance by Sam Neill.

8. The Others -- This is the only gimmick film on my list. For my money it is more impressive than the other high-profile gimmick films this year, "Memento" and "Mulholland Drive." This, and "The Sixth Sense" are the best ghost films in recent years.

9. Shrek -- The year's best musical comedy just happens to be animated. Eddie Murphy's wonderfully expressive voice carries most of the comedy in the film.

10. Hedwig and the Angry Inch -- A far out, but effective musical based on the award-winning off-broadway play. Has the fun and energy of off-the-wall musicals like "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Awesome performance by John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig, both acting and singing. Just for fun, the versatile Mitchell also wrote the screenplay and directed the film.

Honorable Mention

1. O -- An updating of Shakespeare's Othello done to near-perfection. Outstanding performances by Josh Hartnett, Julia Stiles and Mekhi Phifer.

2. The Deep End -- A low-budget thriller that is exceptionally well scripted, acted and directed. Who says there aren't any good independent films?

3. Bridget Jones' Diary -- A British-type comedy with good performances by Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant and Colin Firth. Again, comedy is tougher than drama.

Best Foreign Language Film

No Man's Land -- As sharp, biting, and darkly comic as any film I've seen this year.

Best Documentary Film

Trembling Before G-d -- A documentary that squarely takes on the issue of tension between homosexuals and the conservative religious establishment. This film deals specifically with strict, conservative ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Judaism, but it applies just as well to the conservative elements in Christianity and Islam.

Honorable Mention Documentary

The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition -- A film about the 1914-1916 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. It features rare still photos and 35 millimeter motion picture footage taken during the historic expedition by pioneer Australian documentary photographer Frank Hurley. A great story of adventure and survival.

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Copyright © 2002 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]