A Year in the Dark 

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

Page 6 of 8

4. Shrek Simply the funniest thing I saw all year, with Eddie Murphy the standout in an altogether perfect voice cast.

5. Audition Unbelievably prolific director Takashi Miike is overly obsessed with pushing our buttons and grossing us out. But, because this 1999 film is way more controlled than the other Miike titles I've been able to track down, it is also his best. The excesses here don't seem as gratuitous. The film totally freaked me out, and even the marginally squeamish should stay away.

6. In the Mood for Love Wong Kar-wai's latest may strike some as intolerably slow, but Wong works turf that is off the standard maps of cinema and creates moods that are altogether unique.

7. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Okay, I probably enjoyed the Harry Potter film more, but it didn't have an ounce of risk in it. (Still, for Chris Columbus to be turning out competent hack work is definitely a big step up.) Here, Peter Jackson, an infinitely superior filmmaker, takes on an even more daunting project and brings more inspiration to it than Columbus could ever aspire to, while still satisfying the most fanatical Tolkien fan.

8. The Fighter I usually fudge my list by segregating documentaries, but Amir Bar-Lev's chronicle of two utterly engaging alte kackers revisiting the sites of their Holocaust experiences was moving in ways that one would not have predicted. Other first-rate documentaries were Agnès Varda's The Gleaners and I and George Butler's The Endurance.

9. Gosford Park It took me two viewings to completely warm to Robert Altman's skewed take on Agatha Christie-style mysteries, but with a cast that includes half the greatest living British actors, there is even more to look at here than two viewings would allow.

10. Sexy Beast The plot of Jonathan Glazer's debut feature may be standard-issue heist material, but Ben Kingsley's performance was so transcendent it almost obliterated brilliant work from Ray Winstone and Ian McShane.

Special citations:

Eyes Wide Shut Award for Films That Will Take Me More Time to Decide About: Most of my friends completely loathed A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, finding it structurally awkward and disgustingly mawkish. I'm not sure I think it's good, but it's so ambitious I still haven't been able to assimilate it fully. To those complainers, however, I suggest the following experiment: Pretend Stanley Kubrick had directed it himself and had turned out, frame for frame, exactly the same film. Once you put aside your Steven Spielberg baggage, does the structure look inept? Or daringly original? Does the ending appear sappy? Or actually bittersweet? Maybe even just bitter? Look at it the way you might look at 2001 (the space odyssey, not the year). Interesting, huh?

Hong Kong Action Cinema: It was great to see Tsui Hark's latest directorial effort, Time and Tide, get a brief American release; it may be incomprehensible, but when it rocks, it really rocks. Still, the winner this year was Miramax's reissue of the absolutely great 1993 film Iron Monkey, produced by Tsui and directed by Yuen Wo-Ping. For once, Miramax released an HK film essentially unchanged, with subtitles instead of dubbing. And guess what? It did better business than their last several Jackie Chan reissues, even without a major star in the cast. One can only hope they've noticed.

Simultaneously Great and Awful: The animated sections of Osmosis Jones are hilarious and wonderfully executed; unfortunately, they're intercut with Peter and Bobby Farrelly's inept, ugly, unfunny live-action sequences. Get the DVD and skip the Bill Murray stuff.

Simultaneously Great and Awful, Part 2: I love what I think Baz Luhrman had in mind with Moulin Rouge and what he achieved during parts of the film. But did I have to sit through the most hideous, assaultive, unpleasant opening 45 minutes in the history of cinema to get to them?

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