A Year in the Dark 

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

Page 7 of 8

Among the other films that I greatly enjoyed and admired, any number of which might have made my list on a different day, are, roughly in chronological order: The Taste of Others; The Dish; Spy Kids; Eureka; Maybe Baby; The King Is Alive; Divided We Fall; Cure; The Deep End; Ghost World; The Others; Together; Va Savoir; Joy Ride; Training Day; Fat Girl; Donnie Darko; Monsters, Inc.; The Man Who Wasn't There; In the Bedroom; Ocean's Eleven; Baran; Lantana; The Royal Tenenbaums; Kate & Leopold; Ali; A Beautiful Mind; and Monster's Ball.

Shut up and Watch!

If you didn't like this year's movies, you didn't look hard enough.
By Luke Y. Thompson

When people say it's been a bad year for movies, what they often mean is, "Of the big, hyped studio movies that opened at my local multiplex, most were less satisfactory than I expected." So don't blame the movies, because you didn't look for the good ones. I've had people tell me this year was bad, then admit they had never heard of Ghost World or Memento or... well, we'll get to my list in a minute. Honestly, if you truly thought Pearl Harbor and Planet of the Apes would be great films, you deserved to be disappointed.

Which is not to say it's been a perfect year, either. Numerous films had wonderful moments without being truly great; even the botch-job Pootie Tang had a couple of transcendent scenes. If I could have shortened In the Bedroom and The Princess and the Warrior and Mulholland Drive, deleted John "Jar Jar" Leguizamo from Moulin Rouge, cut the Smash Mouth songs from Shrek, recast the Peter Stormare and Jimmy Smits roles in The Million Dollar Hotel, rewritten the ludicrous deus ex machina coincidence in Training Day, and tweaked the endings of Donnie Darko and The Others, they might have made my list. But they're all still well worth a look.

I've opted not to include on my list some excellent Japanese films: Kinji Fukasaku's high school bloodbath Battle Royale, Mamoru Oshii's Avalon, and the animé biopic Spring and Chaos, which told the life story of poet Kenji Miyazawa as enacted by anthropomorphic cats and hallucinogenic visuals. None has yet had a theatrical run, and only Spring and Chaos is available in the United States on DVD. Avalon may soon be dubbed into English for release on these shores by Miramax, which is a terrible idea; sci-fi or not, it's a slow-paced art-house film (think eXistenZ if David Cronenberg had ever actually played a videogame during his life) that won't cross over, but could do well in limited release if handled well.

Before we get to the best features of the year, though, here are some "awards" in other categories.

Best Documentary: William Gibson: No Maps for These Territories. Gibson's writing often is tedious, but the man proves to be articulate and compelling, especially when seated in the back of a car that appears to be driving across different dimensions.

Best Short Film: Commercial for Golden Sun for Nintendo Game Boy Advance. Minute for minute, this ad -- which pits angelic statues and skeletons against an opera-house orchestra and singer, culminating when a chandelier morphs into a dragon and shatters -- is some of the year's finest filmmaking. Videogame commercials are often the most vital forms of surrealism we have, ever since rock videos essentially abdicated that throne.

Best Rerelease: Akira. Finally translated correctly, the 1987 animé is revealed as the classic it was all along, now that we can understand it properly.

Best Trend: Onscreen nudity. From let-it-all-hang-out indies such as Baise-moi and Dancing at the Blue Iguana to big-screen babes Halle Berry, Piper Perabo, and Penélope Cruz baring all, this was a great year for pissing off the fundamentalists. We critics aren't supposed to admit we like this stuff, for some reason.

Most Overrated Movie: Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It's cool to love a freaky trannie, and middle-aged critics just long to be hip. But get past the admittedly rockin' soundtrack, and you'll find that not one of the characters, save the unlikable lead, is well-developed, and what little story there is is poorly told, with key relationships going unexplained. A cult film it is; a great movie it is not.

And now a drum roll, please, for the best of the best. Bear in mind that I haven't seen everything, but chances are I've seen more than you have.

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