The MediaCircus Top 10 Films of 2001

Article by Anthony Leong © Copyright 2002


Compared to the annus horriblus that was 2000, 2001 benefited from a slight rebound in the quality of films. True, Hollywood was still churning out mediocre films and dumping them on unsuspecting audiences, which was especially true for the earlier part of the year. Thankfully, there were a number of great films that were cultivated outside of the Hollywood studio system-- films that dared to be different in the stories they told and how they told them. These were the films that made moviegoing worthwhile in 2001, and will be remembered in the years to come.

In deciding on the top ten for the year, one film was clearly head-and-shoulders above the rest, a film that demonstrated sheer ingenuity in terms of advancing the art of film, both as a storytelling and as an emotional medium. Thus, the best film of 2001 is:

Memento

In "Memento", director Christopher Nolan puts the audience into the shoes of hero Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce of "L.A. Confidential") by telling the story in reverse. You see, Leonard has not short-term memory, and so everything he experiences feels like 'the first time'-- which poses quite a problem given that he is trying to find the man who murdered his wife. Thus, the audience not only knows as much as Leonard does, but also experiences the same emotions as he goes about his investigation-- revelation, self-doubt, and betrayal. In a moviegoing market dominated by predictable rehashes of well-tread genres, it is a delight to come across a film that aptly illustrates how a film can still surprise and intrigue its audience, even if it is the second- or third-time around.

 The remaining nine runners-up, listed in alphabetical order:

A Beautiful Mind

Based in part on the book by Sylvia Nasar, "A Beautiful Mind" chronicles the rise, fall, and reawakening of the brilliant mathematician and Nobel laureate John Forbes Nash, Jr, who revolutionized business and economic thought before succumbing to a decades-long fight with schizophrenia. While the dissection of his intellect and illness are undoubtedly fascinating, it is the love between Nash (Russell Crowe of "Gladiator" in another Oscar-worthy turn) and wife Alicia (Jennifer Connelly of "Requiem for a Dream", who also deserves recognition) that serves as the film's emotional core, illustrating how pure genius and conviction are not enough to overcome adversity. Indeed, often it also takes the love and support of one's family and friends to truly achieve greatness.

Amelie

If there is one sure bet for a Best Foreign Film Oscar nomination for 2001, it would have to be "Amelie (Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain)". Since its release in its native France in April, this wondrous and whimsical cinematic confection has won audience awards at various film festivals around the world. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Alien Resurrection") takes moviegoers into the overactive imagination of lonely Parisian waitress Amelie Poulain (Audrey Tatou), in a performance evocative of Faye Wong from "Chungking Express"), her mission to covertly help the people around her to find happiness, and her own search for true love. With its heartfelt storytelling and striking visuals, "Amelie" is a delightful delicacy that is not to be missed.

Bridget Jones's Diary

 Rene Zellweger, despite the pre-release controversy of her casting, excels as the heroine of Helen Fielding's best-selling novel with her effortless charm and gift for comic timing. Not only does she handle the physical requirements of playing the British spinster (which included gaining twenty pounds for the role), but she also effortlessly becomes the glue that steadfastly holds the film together. Ably supported by Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, "Bridget Jones's Diary" is an amusing and well-paced production about the hell of the single life, as well as the bliss of finding one's true love.

Captain Corelli's Mandolin

 Based on the best-selling 1994 novel by Louis de Bernieres, "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" is a sweeping romance set against the backdrop of the Second World War, specifically the Italian occupation of Greece. Beautifully shot in the lush vistas of the Mediterranean, employing a script that captures the essence of the novel, and sporting some strong performances (particularly Nicolas Cage, Penelope Cruz, and John Hurt), "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" is the film that "Pearl Harbor" should have been.

In the Mood for Love

 "In the Mood for Love (Fa Yeung Nin Wa)" is the long-awaited new film from Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai, bringing his conspicuous three-year absence from the world stage to an end. Renowned for his artfully directed and intoxicatingly esoteric films, Wong revisits familiar territory with this latest film, a romance set in 1960s Hong Kong that drips with heartache and longing. Though "In the Mood for Love" is certainly not Wong's best work, this leisurely-paced character study has a rapturous quality to it, a combination of the director's distinct 'introspective' visual style and the nuanced performances he distills from his talented lead actors, Tony Leung ("Tokyo Raiders") and Maggie Cheung ("The Heroic Trio").

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

 "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" is a fantastic start to one of the most highly anticipated film trilogies, and if the next two installments are of its equal (or better), "The Lord of the Rings" may even end up eclipsing the popularity of "Star Wars" and "The Godfather". With its stirring story, rousing action set pieces, strong performances, and unparalleled spectacle, this "Ring" may very well rule them all. Tolkien fans, your long-awaited day of reckoning has truly arrived!

Moulin Rouge

 Nicole Kidman ("The Others") and Ewan McGregor ("Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace") shine in this 'popera' where today's pop songs inhabit the famous Parisian music hall at the tail end of the Nineteenth century. Though writer/director Baz Luhrmann ("Romeo + Juliet") does occasionally go a little too over-the-top, there is little doubt that the multimedia celluloid fantasy he has created is a worthy successor to the old-school Hollywood musical. "Moulin Rouge" is a grand, visually stunning, and 'spectacular spectacular' spectacle that knows how to please the eyes and ears, as well as touch the heart. In combining the old with the new, Luhrmann has fashioned a dazzling fusion of sight and sound that will surely be one of the most daring and imaginative films to grace the silver screen this year.

The Road Home

 Thanks to the popularity of Zhang Ziyi (Jen of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), currently the 'It' girl of Chinese cinema, acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou's "The Road Home" is much more marketable. As a result, North American audiences were finally able to see this rural romance after a lengthy two-year delay. Well worth the wait, Zhang Yimou has fashioned a deeply heartfelt masterpiece, making "The Road Home" an unforgettable journey into the wonders of the human heart.

Series 7: The Contenders

 Probably the second coolest film you will see this year (right behind "Memento"), this darling of Sundance 2001 takes you into an alternate universe where 'reality TV' shows have upped the ante to life-and-death stakes. It is the season finale of "The Contenders" (essentially "Survivor" with guns), where randomly-chosen citizens get their fifteen minutes of fame before being gunned down by the other contestants. Told with the elevated hype and faux-emotional narration of "The World's Scariest Police Chases", this is a disturbing yet hilarious satire of reality TV that hits its mark.

The Rest of the Best

In addition to the top ten films listed above, these cinematic offerings are deserving of honorable mention:

"15 Minutes", "America's Sweethearts", "Atlantis: The Lost Empire", "The Dish", "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone", "Legally Blonde", "Monsters, Inc.", "No Man's Land", "The Others", "Shrek", and "Zoolander".


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