A Year in the Dark 

Is it possible that 2001 was actually a good year for movies?

Page 5 of 8

6. Apocalypse Now Redux The torturous Vietnam epic that once drove Francis Ford Coppola to the brink of madness may be 22 years old, but 2001's major re-edit (enacted by Coppola and Walter Murch) serves to deepen and clarify the original film's ideas about war, the demons of conscience, and what Joseph Conrad called "the horror." Marlon Brando's Colonel Kurtz now emerges into daylight to mock Martin Sheen, those frightened Playboy bunnies inhabit a heartbreaking new scene in a wrecked helicopter, and the ghost of T.S. Eliot speaks more ill than ever of his ruined century. For Coppola, this must be closure. For us, it's fresh revelation.

7. From Hell That Allen and Albert Hughes, makers of 1993's bleak ghetto classic Menace II Society, should find themselves in Victorian London, on the trail of Jack the Ripper, is not so odd. In their view, the Ripper signals a new breed of egocentric evil and emotion-free ultraviolence that will come to infect all big cities everywhere in future decades. Johnny Depp's absinthe-swilling, opium-smoking police detective prowls the dank, dark cobblestones with spooky intensity and manages to solve the case: He, too, foreshadows the mood and manner of the coming 20th century.

8. Fat Girl A dozen Hollywood moviemakers have built careers exploiting the insecurities of teenagers. France's Catherine Breillat goes much further, taking a merciless look at adolescent trauma and the ruthlessness of carnal gamesmanship in the harrowing tale of two sisters wrestling with their emerging sexuality while on vacation at the seashore. The shapely, pretty girl (Roxane Mesquida) gets the boy, while her doughy, dejected younger sister (Anaïs Reboux) gets nothing. But there are no winners on this psychosexual battlefield, and in the end we are stunned by violence. Here are the cruel facts of life, unsugared.

9. Amélie Like Jane Austen's famous meddler, Emma, the heroine of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's bracing comedy is a doe-eyed crusader who resolves to emancipate her friends and acquaintances alike -- all of Paris, if she can. It's a beguiling quest filled with sensory overload, some spirited intellectual gymnastics, and an introduction to an intriguing new actress named Audrey Tautou. In the end, Amélie, who's both an artist and an angel in her way, even manages to find love for herself.

10. The Man Who Wasn't There Ethan and Joel Coen's new excursion into film noir is always lightened by the brothers' irrepressible urge to wise off and their underlying postmodern view. The requisite 1940s antihero, a placid, small-town barber played by a perfectly deadpan Billy Bob Thornton, gets entangled with blackmail, murder, and a wonderfully sleazy lawyer (Tony Shalhoub), but the Coens' surreal comic tilt keeps us always on the verge of a laugh. Roger Deakins' gorgeously textured black-and-white cinematography gives the most beautiful look of the year to a pulp fiction fantasy that's great, dark fun.

A Top Ten Odyssey

Looking back (and backward), 2001 had a few worthy mementos.
By Andy Klein

Had anyone asked me back in September how 2001 was looking, I would have been tempted to rate it as even worse than the dismal 2000 (which suffered further from proximity to the wondrous 1999). But my assessment shifted during the final quarter of the year -- half because of some fine late entries, half because of some catching up and even some reevaluation. What I now see is a year with a few great films, a very large number of pretty good films, and only a smattering of the truly wretched and/or offensive.

In other words, no cause to break out the champagne or the prussic acid.

As usual, for my Top Ten, I'm using Academy rules: Films must have played for at least a week in Los Angeles, beginning no later than December 31.

1. Memento Christopher Nolan's sophomore feature more than fulfills the considerable promise of his low-budget 1999 Following. Certainly no other 2001 movie absorbed as much of my mental energy (in an entirely enjoyable way). While it is not above criticism, the two major charges critics used to dismiss it were both, frankly, pig-ignorant: No, the film's bizarre chronology isn't an arbitrary gimmick, but is the only way to convey the hero's point of view; and -- even if the story, when rearranged in chronological order, isn't very interesting (and I think that it is as interesting as, say, Betrayal or The Killing, to name two other great films told out of order) -- so what? It's a bit like saying, "Well, Blazing Saddles isn't a very interesting story, if you remove the clutter of all the jokes." I wrote about 8,000 words analyzing Memento for Salon.com, and I could have written three times as much.

2. Mulholland Drive The one film that had a shot at displacing Memento on my list had many of the same great qualities: a bravely unusual structure (which may have been mandated by the project's weird history, but that's irrelevant to an appreciation of the end product), a multilayered puzzle, and exquisite execution. Indeed, David Lynch's latest also has higher highs than any isolated moments in Memento: the audition, the Club Silencio, the sex scenes. Naomi Watts' performance was simply amazing. In many ways it was a warmer version of the director's earlier Lost Highway.

3. Amélie Jean-Pierre Jeunet's earlier French films, Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, were completely sui generis, stylistically startling and hilarious in an uncomfortable way. His latest may represent a shift to the more conventional, at least in subject matter, but the style remains as ever. In fact, it is the tension between his hep, hyped-up style and the conventional romantic sentimentality of the story that makes it so interesting. And Audrey Tautou is great.


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