Combustible Celluloid

2001: The Year in Review

What Happened to Me in the Dark

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Ah... my favorite time of year. The time when movie reviewers the world over wrap up the year in film, poised at one single moment looking back over twelve months and trying to gauge the great unknown of the future. We log our ten films with a hint of nostalgia and with a guess at staying power -- will our ten classics be remembered as such? Or will people laugh at us the way they laugh at the Academy for choosing Ordinary People as Best Picture over Raging Bull?

Most people will gripe about how 2001 was just as horrible a year as 2000 was, and if you gauged box office reports and watched "Entertainment Tonight," it was. However, I found not only ten but fifteen outstanding films that barely registered a grunt in mainstream media -- quite a few more than last year. For purists, I've ranked my official Top Ten, then listed the other five as a tie for 11th place.

My list purposely does not contain any "Oscar" films that contain Serious Messages or focus on Important Subjects or are based on Literary Masterworks. My fifteen films come from great artists who -- simply, painfully and beautifully -- tell the true story of the world the way they see it. That's all it takes.

May we see more of these worlds in 2002.

The Top Ten

1. Yi Yi
One of the biggest gnawing pains of drawing up a year's top ten list is where to establish the cut-off point. The best film that opened in San Francisco between January 1 and December 31, 2001 was this Edward Yang masterpiece. But it officially qualifies as a 2000 release and already received all the accolades it was ever going to get last year. Nevertheless, I stick to my San Francisco rule, and it counts as a 2001 release here.

Yang's three-hour portrait of a Taiwanese family opens at a wedding and closes at a funeral, covering the innermost desires, wonders and uncertainties of several family members in-between. Perfectly staged and beautifully poetic, echoing both the delicate poetry of Jean Renoir and the formal stylization of Stanley Kubrick, this film belongs less on a list of the year's best and more on a list of the greatest films of all time.

2. Memento
I was pretty easily dazzled at age 8 when I saw Star Wars, and it excites me when films like Run Lola Run and Memento continue to dazzle me in my 30s. Christopher Nolan's miraculous, mysterious film runs backward so that we're just as much in the dark as its hero Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) who lacks a short-term memory. Other films this year may have more to say, but this one gives me butterflies and makes me grin like a maniac.

3. In the Mood for Love
While Wong Kar-wai set out to impress with his early features, he settles down a little here and concentrates on an emotional game. We witness lonely married Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung as they slowly realize their unseen spouses are cheating on them -- with each other. Wong makes the cramped Hong Kong apartments and the physical dislocation of the characters part of the movie's many gorgeous moods.

4. Ghost World
Just when you think filmmaking is becoming too galvanized, too machine-run, too corporate, a wonderful film comes along that has human handprints all over it. Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes each contributed bits of their own views of the world, and they meld perfectly in this funny, heartbreaking treasure.

5. The Royal Tenenbaums
Like many other comedy filmmakers, Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson can create a funny scene that looks great, but they alone can suddenly turn it into a moment of sheer poetry and poignancy. Little flashes of this magnificent film keep coming back to me: Luke Wilson releasing the falcon during the climax of "Hey Jude," listening to old records in a pup tent, Danny Glover falling in a hole just before nervously proposing to Anjelica Huston.

6. The Circle
One of two Iranian masterworks I saw this year. The other, The Day I Became a Woman, makes my runner-up list simply because this one, by Jafar Panahi, hits so much harder. Panahi follows three different women connected by the barest thread of plot, but emotionally connected by their longings unlikely ever to be fulfilled.

7. The Man Who Wasn't There
Joel and Ethan Coen continue to grow as filmmakers, turning inward and exploring the land of the emotionally repressed. Though none of the characters in this beautiful black-and-white movie really say anything to each other, what they do say is hilarious. Billy Bob Thornton deserves huge acclaim for his remarkably restrained performance.

8. Mulholland Drive
David Lynch going over familiar territory, but this time with a lighter touch. His Hollywood-noir film still plays like a swim around the brain's own dream canal, but with pure explorations of fear and loneliness.

9. Amelie
To quote Alex from A Clockwork Orange, "Gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh." Little Audrey Tautou won many hearts with her charming do-gooder whose plans to help others go to delightful and cartoonish lengths. Her own true passion comes alive in a magical scene where she literally melts in the wake of her beloved suitor.

10. Va Savoir
A considerably minor work from director Jacques Rivette, but a minor work by him still beats major works by most others. At two and a half hours, it's as light as a breeze, following the lives and loves of six artists and writers in Paris. What more could you ask for?

Tie for 11th Place

  • The Day I Became a Woman (Marzeieh Meshkini)
  • The Gleaners and I (Agnes Varda)
  • Gosford Park (Robert Altman)
  • Taboo (Nagisa Oshima)
  • Waking Life (Richard Linklater)

    Runners Up

    A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg), Amores Perros (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu), Eureka (Shinji Aoyama), George Washington (David Gordon Green), In the Bedroom (Todd Field), Kippur (Amos Gitai), The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson), The Pledge (Sean Penn), Ratcatcher (Lynne Ramsay), Songs from the Second Floor (Roy Andersson)


  • Audition
  • Baise-moi
  • Cure
  • Ghosts of Mars
  • Iron Monkey
  • Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
  • Josie and the Pussycats
  • Joy Ride
  • The Others
  • Time and Tide

    Guilty Pleasures

  • America's Sweethearts
  • The Million Dollar Hotel
  • The One
  • Scary Movie 2
  • Sugar & Spice


  • Best Actor: Jack Nicholson in The Pledge
  • Best Actress: Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive
  • Best Supporting Actor:Gene Hackman in Heartbreakers and The Royal Tenenbaums
  • Best Supporting Actress (tie): Scarlett Johansson in Ghost World and The Man Who Wasn't There and Maggie Smith in Gosford Park
  • Best Director: Wong Kar-wai for In the Mood for Love
  • Best Cinematography: Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping-bin for In the Mood for Love
  • Best Score: Howard Shore for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and The Score

    Things to Look Forward To Next Year

  • ABC Africa (Abbas Kiarostami)
  • Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese)
  • Hollywood Ending (Woody Allen)
  • I'm Going Home (Manoel de Oliveira)
  • In Praise of Love (Jean-Luc Godard)
  • Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino)
  • The Lady and the Duke (Eric Rohmer)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Peter Jackson)
  • Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
  • The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke)
  • Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
  • R-Xmas (Abel Ferrara)
  • Sobibor, Oct. 14, 1943, 4 P.M. (Claude Lanzmann)
  • Spider-Man (Sam Raimi)
  • 2046 (Wong Kar-wai)
  • The Weight of Water (Kathryn Bigelow)
  • Werckmeister Harmonies (Bela Tarr)
  • What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-liang)

    Some Other Worthy Opinions...

    Rob Blackwelder --
    1. Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
    2. Memento (Christopher Nolan)
    3. No Man's Land (Danis Tanovic)
    4. The Road Home (Zhang Yimou)
    5. With a Friend Like Harry (Dominic Moll)
    6. Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly)
    7. Waking Life (Richard Linklater)

    Robert Joseph Butler --
    1. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch)
    2. Memento (Christopher Nolan)
    3. The Man Who Wasn't There (Joel Coen)
    4. In the Bedroom (Todd Field)
    5. Monster's Ball (Marc Forster)
    6. Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff)
    7. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson)
    8. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai)
    9. Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
    10. Waking Life (Richard Linklater)

    Roger Ebert
    1. Monster's Ball (Marc Forster)
    2. Black Hawk Down (Ridley Scott)
    3. In the Bedroom (Todd Field)
    4. Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff)
    5. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch)
    6. Waking Life (Richard Linklater)
    7. Innocence (Paul Cox)
    8. Wit (Mike Nichols)
    9. A Beautiful Mind (Ron Howard)
    10. Gosford Park (Robert Altman)

    J. Hoberman
    1. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch)
    2. Werckmeister Harmonies (Bela Tarr)
    3. La Captive (Chantal Akerman)
    4. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai)
    5. Fat Girl (Catherine Breillat)
    6. Sobibor, Oct. 14, 1943, 4 P.M. (Claude Lanzmann)
    7. The Heart of the World (Guy Maddin)
    8. Platform (Jia Zhang-ke)
    9. Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly)
    10. Little Otik (Jan Svankmajer)

    Dave Kehr
    1. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson)
    2. The Tailor of Panama (John Boorman)
    3. Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
    4. Waking Life (Richard Linklater)
    5. The Circle (Jafar Panahi)
    6. Fat Girl (Catherine Breillat)
    7. Shrek (Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson)
    8. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson)
    9. A Chronicle of Corpses (Andrew Repasky McElhinney)
    10. Eureka (Shinji Aoyama)

    Joe Leydon -- The San Francisco Examiner
    1. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson)
    2. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg)
    3. Memento (Christopher Nolan)
    4. Vanilla Sky (Cameron Crowe)
    5. Tape (Richard Linklater)
    6. Sexy Beast (Jonathan Glazer)
    7. Spy Game (Tony Scott)
    8. The Pledge (Sean Penn)
    9. No Man's Land (Danis Tanovic)
    10. Lantana (Ray Lawrence)

    Phillip Lopate
    1. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg)
    2. Sobibor, 14 October 1943, 4 P.M. (Claude Lanzmann)
    3. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch)
    4. Fat Girl (Catherine Breillat)
    5. Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff)
    6. Our Lady of the Assassins (Barbet Schroeder)
    7. The Man Who Wasn't There (Joel Coen)
    8. Waking Life (Richard Linklater)
    9. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson)

    Elvis Mitchell -- The New York Times
    1. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai)
    2. Lumumba (Raoul Peck)
    3. Amores Perros (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)
    4. The Devil's Backbone (Guillermo del Toro)
    5. Monsters, Inc. (Pete Docter)
    6. Va Savoir (Jacques Rivette)
    7. Sexy Beast (Jonathan Glazer)
    8. Faat-Kine (Ousmane Sembene)
    9. Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
    10. Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff)

    B. Ruby Rich -- SF Bay Guardian
    La Cienaga (Lucretia Martel)
    The Deep End (Scott McGehee and David Siegel)
    Fat Girl (Catherine Breillat)
    Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff)
    In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai)
    Moulin Rouge (Baz Luhrmann)
    Mulholland Drive (David Lynch)
    Our Song (Jim McKay)
    The River (Tsai Ming-liang)
    The Vertical Ray of the Sun (Tran Anh Hung)
    Waking Life (Richard Linklater)
    Without a Trace (Maria Novaro)

    Jonathan Rosenbaum
    1. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg)
    2. Waking Life (Richard Linklater)
    3. The Circle (Jafar Panahi)
    4. ABC Africa (Abbas Kiarostami)
    5. The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein ()
    6. Chunhyang (Im Kwon-taek)
    (tie) Taboo (Nagisa Oshima)
    7. Yi Yi (Edward Yang)
    (tie) In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai)
    8. What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-liang)
    9. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch)
    (tie) Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff)
    10. Boesman & Lena (John Berry)

    Susan Sontag
    1. Werckmeister Harmonies (Bela Tarr)
    2. Southern Comfort (Kate Davis)
    3. The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke)
    4. Waking Life (Richard Linklater)
    5. Journey to the Sun (Yesim Ustaoglu)
    6. The Gleaners & I (Agnes Varda)
    7. The River (Tsai Ming-liang)
    8. Last Resort (Paul Pavlikovsky)
    9. Moloch (Aleksandr Sokurov)
    10. Intimacy (Patrice Chereau)

    Michael Sragow -- Baltimore Sun
    1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson)
    2. Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport (Mark Jonathan Harris)
    3. Waking Life (Richard Linklater)
    4. Lumumba (Raoul Peck)
    5. The Circle (Jafar Panahi)
    6. Our Song (Jim McKay)
    7. Ali (Michael Mann)
    8. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch)
    9. Monsters, Inc. (Pete Docter)
    10. Amores Perros (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)

    Chuck Stephens -- SF Bay Guardian
    1. The Vertical Ray of the Sun (Tran Anh Hung)
    2. Blissfully Yours (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
    3. Seafood (Zhu Wen)
    4. Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
    5. Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku)
    6. Mon Rak Transistor (Pen-ek Ratanaruang)
    7. Werckmeister Harmonies (Bela Tarr)
    8. Ichi the Killer (Takashi Miike)
    9. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai)
    10. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson)

    Michael Wilmington -- Chicago Tribune
    1. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg)
    2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson)
    3. Gosford Park (Robert Altman)
    4. Amores Perros (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)
    5. Moulin Rouge (Baz Luhrmann)
    6. The Road Home (Zhang Yimou)
    7. Faithless (Liv Ullmann)
    8. Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
    9. Monsters, Inc. (Pete Docter)
    10. Ali (Michael Mann)

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