January 2, 2002 The Year in Review: 2001's Best and Worst
by Dustin Putman
Say what you will about the movies released in 2001, but this was statistically the best year in film (for me, at least) since 1996. Scanning over my list of 4 and 3 1/2-star pictures, there was a wealth of originality and innovative vision on display. Filmmakers, it seems, put down their guard to take a chance on things never before seen on celluloid. And, in a lesser year, any one of my five 4-star inductees could have easily placed at #1. In fact, my top five candidates are so close in sheer quality as to almost be interchangeable in where they have been listed.
With the best of 2001 came many stinkers, although not quite as many as expected. Oddly enough, only one truly great picture was released in December (usually the high point of each year), while there were no less than five stinkers released in the last two weeks alone. Such a strange occurrence goes with the unpredictable territory, I suppose, of reviewing movies and trying to keep up with everything being released.
With this essay, I plan to not only go over my top 10 lists of the best and worst of 2001, but I also want to make a mention of what I think were the best performances turned in this year. Some of the actors have been more widely acclaimed than others, but they are all worthy in my eyes of being acknowledged at the impending awards season. So, without further adieu, I give you my personal 2001 picks.
The Best Performances of 2001 [Pick for best is indicated in red]
10.) Exit Wounds - This may have been Steven Seagal's highest-grossing release in years (thanks to costar/rapper DMX), but that doesn't mean it was better than any of his other low-grade action pictures.
9.) Monkeybone - A truly lifeless comic fantasy with a great premise. Allegedly destroyed by its studio, 20th Century Fox, with severe recutting and financial stinginess, and it certainly shows.
8.) American Outlaws - The first of two awful westerns this year that give the slowly dying genre a very bad name.
7.) Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Weepy, idiotic, historical hokum with a romance at its center about as sterile as my 80-year-old grandma.
6.) Texas Rangers - The second western of the year to give the slowly dying genre a very bad name. Rightfully kept on the shelf for several years before Dimension Films unceremoniously dumped it into a few hundred theaters.
5.) Spy Game - The worst A-list motion picture of the year, and also the biggest chore to sit through.
4.) Bones - An annoying slasher film with Snoop Dogg in just one of four terrible performances this year.
3.) The One - Laughable, dim-witted sci-fi/action film that also goes down as proof Jet Li needs to learn English before appearing in English-language movies.
2.) The Musketeer - Embarrassing, dreary, poorly acted adaptation of the Alexander Dumas classic with martial arts sequences thrown in for no good reason. Dumbass is more like it.
1.) The Wash - Offensive, exploitative urban comedy that is repugnant in every respect. The kind of trash that gives the African American population so many negative stereotypes.
11.) The Pledge - Last January, I said that this was strong enough to possibly make my 10-best list for the year, and it did. Jack Nicholson has never been better than in this unconventionally chilling, ruminative thriller directed by Sean Penn.
10.) The Anniversary Party - An incisive, thought-provoking look at the questionable longevity of marriage and relationships, writer-actor-directors Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh managed to garner a marvelous ensemble cast that includes Kevin Kline, Phoebe Cates, Gwyneth Paltrow, John C. Reilly, Parker Posey, Jane Adams, and Jennifer Beals.
9.) Hedwig and the Angry Inch - Director-star John Cameron Mitchell made an astounding leap to the big screen with this adaptation of his off-Broadway show, about a singing transvestite looking for love in a cold, cruel world. Funny, heartbreaking, and overflowing with life.
8.) Jeepers Creepers - A taut, suspenseful throwback to the kind of gritty horror films that were being made in the 1970s, director Victor Salva has made the most purely frightening scarefest in ages. Consistently goes against the rules of the genre in a non-jokey manner, with a disturbingly bravura ending.
7.) Monster's Ball - A stark, emotionally shattering motion picture about the power of hatred and bigotry in families, Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry give two of the year's most courageous performances as an unlikely pair who find solace when tragedy hits each of their lives. Marc Forster directs.
6.) Mulholland Drive - Director David Lynch's greatest cinematic achievement since 1986's "Blue Velvet," this masterfully baffling, creepy look at the dark corners of life and the hidden dangers of Hollywood demands multiple viewings.
5.) Moulin Rouge - A gloriously rewarding, visually stunning ode to the movie musicals of yesteryear, director Baz Luhrmann invigorates every frame, performance, and song with a genuine love that cannot be denied or ignored.
4.) Vanilla Sky - Cameron Crowe's remake of 1997's "Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes)" does the unthinkable by improving upon its predecessor. A tragic, enigmatic story of life, death, love and dreams, the film is so truthful, multidimensional, and emotionally stirring as to prove utterly unshakable.
3.) Bully - Director Larry Clark's grim, shocking masterpiece about a gaggle of teenage friends going nowhere who decide to murder the meanest of the group, is all the more frightening because it is based on a true story that occurred in Florida in 1993. Bloody, sex-infested, and with more nudity than you can shake a stick at, but one thing is for sure: you will never be able to forget these characters or their story.
2.) A.I.: Artificial Intelligence - Director Steven Spielberg's extravagant, deeply felt fantasy may not have been the box-office success many had expected, but there is no doubt in my mind that this visionary science-fiction masterpiece will, in time, be held in as high a respect as Stanley Kubrick's 1968 classic, "2001: A Space Odyssey." An example of filmmaking perfection from beginning to end.
1.) Donnie Darko - As fascinatingly complex, brazenly original, and criminally overlooked as any motion picture release this year. Part teen-angst drama, part darkly funny satire, and part science-fiction epic, director Richard Kelly has created an unforgettably woven tapestry that covers some pretty heavy topics, including the value of life, the mystery of death, and the possibility of changing one's past and future, without striking a single false note. I can safely say there has never been anything like this before, and to have it be done with such a brilliantly assured hand is what the world of cinema was created for.