The year in reviews

Notwithstanding the popular notion that 2001 was one of the less exciting years for movies, a review of last year’s offerings suggests very much otherwise. When the Southeastern Film Critics Association first approached me about compiling a “top 10″ list, my initial thought was that I’d be hard-pressed to come up with 10 movies that deserved to be called “best.” By year’s end, however, I was arguing back and forth with myself about how to fit 15 films into 10 slots.

I finally ended up with the list you see below — having none-too-happily omitted such worthy titles as Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Apocalypse Now Redux, Memento, Spy Kids and Snatch. One note, though: Because I was following SFCA’s ballot (see box for their final “top 10″ list), which had a separate section for foreign-language films, the delectable Amelie got left off my list. Had I included it, it would have been in the number-two position on my final list, and everything else would have moved down a notch.

The year’s best

1. Moulin Rouge!
Baz Luhrmann’s movie is the work of a filmmaker pushing the possibilities of film to the limit for the sheer joy of celebrating the medium. A deliberately anachronistic musical fantasia, Rouge! is a rare celebration of art and life as well as a “magnificent, opulent, tremendous, stupendous, gargantuan bedazzlement” (as one of the film’s characters puts it).

2. The Tailor of Panama
Everything about John Boorman’s The Tailor of Panama works and is surprisingly daring – from the casting to the bitterly satirical tone to the interjections of unforced fantasy. It’s not a comfortable movie, but a brilliant one from a master filmmaker.

3. The Others
An elegant, supremely old-fashioned, methodically paced, unbelievably creepy horror movie, Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others joins the ranks of the best of the surprisingly few bona fide ghost stories the movies have given us. Shock effects are used sparingly but very effectively, demonstrating that Amenabar could have gone for all-out horror rather than the pervasive, unsettling, unshakable creepiness that permeates his film.

4. Bridget Jones’s Diary
Fantastically fresh and funny, Bridget Jones’s Diary is a blessed reminder of just how good — and how pointed — British comedies can be. In a world seemingly overrun with the truly stupid and truly tasteless attempts at humor, it is a double delight to come upon this sort of genuinely edgy, bright and creative filmmaking.

5. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
An intelligent epic in the manner of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, Lord of the Rings is that rare thing: a movie that lives up to its hype. The glory of Lord of the Rings is that it really seems to be taking place in a world of its own creation — and a truly magical world it is. Better still, it’s a film with genuine characterizations and an emotional weight that rings true.

6. Shrek
This is one of the year’s biggest and best treats. It’s fresh, funny, inventive, ultimately moving and a little subversive — as well as the most amazing computer animation I’ve ever seen. The film’s true delight lies in the endless procession of genuinely funny riffs on fairy tales and nursery rhymes, as well as modern-day myths.

7. Mulholland Drive
However you see him — preposterous self-indulgent fake, cinematic visionary or deeply disturbed individual — there’s no denying that David Lynch is unique. And this film — a haunting, deeply sinister work with real staying power — is Lynch at his Lynchest. It will alienate a lot of people, but that’s the point in this strange, rich, funny and sometimes maddening film.

8. A.I.
Yes, this bastard child of Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg is ultimately something of a mess, but it’s a glorious, fascinating mess – and the first Spielberg film I’ve ever seen that I completely respected, being neither a whiz-bang popcorn movie nor a transparent bid for an Oscar. It may go too far (and it certainly goes on too long), but it has a resonance that will linger with the viewer long after more successful films have slipped into oblivion.

9. Gosford Park
Robert Altman’s classically structured murder mystery looks a bit less like the director’s usual work and a bit more like what you’d get if Merchant-Ivory tackled a thriller. It features a star-studded ensemble cast (Maggie Smith steals the show), a traditional mystery, an obvious love and respect for the genre, and more sophistication than any dozen standard Hollywood movies.

10. The Man Who Wasn’t There
The Coen Brothers have never been all that far from film noir, and with The Man Who Wasn’t There they take the final step, creating their own deliberate version of the genre – complete with glowing black-and-white cinematography and the requisite first-person narration. While the film may not be their best yet (Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink and, particularly, O Brother, Where Art Thou? are among those that spring to mind for that spot), it’s further evidence that the Coens keep growing as filmmakers, making it essential viewing for anyone who cares about film.

Unfortunately, there’s also the other side of the coin. Here, then, is my “10 worst” list for 2001.

The year’s worst

1. Glitter
Some truly bad movies are so bad, they’re good. Some truly bad movies are just plain awful. Glitter doesn’t really fall in either category, being downright painful. Mariah Carrey may sing at a pitch only dogs can hear, but her “acting” can unfortunately be all too clearly seen in this brain-numbingly abysmal flick.

2. Pootie Tang
The yardstick by which bad movies will be measured for years to come, Pootie Tang misses the number-one bad-movie slot only by virtue of being shorter, less hyped and less wasteful (it looks like it cost about $1.95 to make) than Glitter. It’s a spin-off from a skit that was part of HBO’s The Chris Rock Show, and that’s obvious since this jaw-dropper of unbelievable unfunniness plays like the beached-whale version of a TV skit.

3. The Wash
A shameless rip-off of Michael Schultz’s Car Wash, but with one significant difference: It’s not in the least funny. You sit through the film hoping that something – anything – will happen to enliven the basic tedium, but it never does. When will someone realize that Snoop Dogg can’t act and isn’t funny?

4. Freddie Got Fingered
Co-writer/director/star Tom Green (a real triple-threat man in the worst sense) came up with what may be one of the worst movies of all time. It is certainly the most pointlessly distasteful phenomenon I’ve ever encountered – the sort of thing you’d walk on the other side of the street to avoid and still feel like you needed a bath afterward.

5. Soul Survivors
I can sit through almost any horror movie, but this one really tested me. If someone hadn’t come into the otherwise empty theater (the movie played in two local theaters with a total attendance of nine patrons – eight if you don’t count me) and startled me, I’m pretty sure I would have fallen asleep. The story line is a dreary game of “truth or illusion, which is which?” The answer, in the case of this movie, is another question: Who gives a damn?

6. Joe Dirt
An idiotic glorification of the Americanus Napus Rosa at its most virulent, wrapped in lame, tasteless “jokes” that wallow (sometimes quite literally) in that subsection of humor known as scatology. Overall, the movie is all about the charms and virtues of ignorance, but just what is the virtue of ignorance? Joe Dirt doesn’t answer that question, though it certainly celebrates the idea.

7. Not Another Teen Movie
Yes, it is just another teen movie, though the trailer for the film actually looked promising. It’s also an amazingly mean-spirited, nasty-toned comedy and yet another in the seemingly endless procession of cosmically awful comedies from Columbia Pictures.

8. How High
Another astonishingly bad – and bizarrely pro-drug – “shock” comedy that isn’t so much shocking as just adolescent. This one offers us heroes who get into Harvard by smoking dope laced with the ashes of their dead friend whose ghost coaches them on their exams. When that runs out, they dig up John Quincy Adams’ corpse with the idea of smoking it for similar results. Need I say more?

9. The Animal
Not so much bad as just plain dumb and unfunny, The Animal deserves some recognition as the movie that landed Columbia in hot water for running advertisements quoting praises from a nonexistent review by a nonexistent reviewer on a nonexistent paper.

10. Waking Life
Richard Linklater’s “cutting-edge” animated film is one long, dreary, pretentious talkathon featuring a bunch of characters who drone on endlessly about the meaning of life. If you’ve ever been trapped in a room with a bunch of incredibly stoned people waxing philosophical at 3 a.m., you’ve already lived the experience, so why pay to go see it replayed?

Marci Miller’s best and worst

10 best

1. Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
Movie myth-making at its best. Exquisitely beautiful, morally mature and, most importantly, the heroes are truly heroic.

2. A Beautiful Mind
Complex, realistic, terrifying yet uplifting true story. Astonishing performance by Russell Crowe.

3. Heist
Perfectly structured crime caper. Gene Hackman is the thief who proves you should never try to con an old con.

4. Hardball
Gritty, funny, poignant true story. Keanu Reeves is the reluctant hero to a hardscrabble team of fatherless Chicago Little Leaguers.

5. The Pledge
Dark, intricate tale where justice does not prevail. Jack Nicholson is outstanding as the obsessed homicide detective who loses everything to keep his pledge to track down a serial killer.

6. Amelie
Charming, enchanting, adorable, satiric, totally French. Wide-eyed Audrey Tautou will steal your heart.

7. Songcatcher
A simple story, beautifully told. Appalachian mountain music, feminism, love, Blue Ridge scenery. Janet McTeer is unforgettable as the musicologist who finally discovers passion in music.

8. Bridget Jones’s Diary
Brilliant satire on the search for Mr. Right. Gutsy Renee Zellweger is delightful as the diary-keeping mate-hunter.

9. Recess: School’s Out
Animated comedy about smart-mouthed, resourceful fourth-grade recess-lovers who treasure friendship.

10. Just Visiting
Underappreciated time-traveling comedy that’s suitably silly, but also touching and truly funny. Christina Applegate shines as the modern-day love of a 12th century French knight.

10 worst

1. Bubble Boy
A nasty fairy tale. Evil Mommy and co-dependent Daddy ruin their son’s life but ride off merrily into the sunset when he makes it on his own. Ugh.

2. 3000 Miles to Graceland
Violence so pointless, it’s obscene.

3. Summer Catch
Wimpy guy allows himself to be chased by rich beauty. Sex was never more boring. Zzzzzzz.

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