When it comes to the year 2001, it’s hard to get past the tragedy of September 11 or Stanley Kubrick’s movie of the same name. Over a decade later, you have to do some real research to look at what else happened in this eventful but traumatic year which finally brought us the new millennium. 2001 was the year where we saw the first movies of the “Harry Potter,” “Lord of the Rings,” and “The Fast & The Furious” franchises. It was the year that Tom Cruise filed for divorce from Nicole Kidman, and it wouldn’t be the last time he would go through that process. It was also the year where we lost Ray Walston, George Harrison, Jack Lemmon, and NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt.
After all these years, it feels right that I am compiling my list of the best movies of 2001 now. Through the passing of time I got to catch up with movies which have since gained a large cult following or which I rented from Netflix and ended up not getting around to watching for a ridiculously long time. So let’s cut to the chase and get to my list of the ten best movies I saw that were released in 2001.
10. “Monsters, Inc.”
One of my favorite Pixar movies, this has more than enough imagination for two of them. Billy Crystal and John Goodman give their vocal talents to Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan, two monsters who are employed at a company where they scare children in order to collect needed energy for their city called Monstropolis. Both Crystal and Goodman create some of the sweetest monsters you children would ever dare themselves to see, and the little girl named Boo is one of the most adorable people I have ever seen in a movie. The animation itself is amazing in its design, especially in the sequence where the characters travel the factory where millions of closet doors are stored.
9. “Y Tu Mamá También”
This movie represents one of my Netflix rentals which I didn’t get around to watching for a ridiculously long time (I plead the 5th in regards as to how long that was). He had already made “A Little Princess” and “Great Expectations” before this one, but “Y Tu Mamá También” made it clear to the world that Alfonso Cuarón was a filmmaker whose talents could not be easily dismissed. This was a road movie you experienced more than watched as two teenage boys played by Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal make their way down the roads of Mexico along with an older woman named Luisa (Maribel Verdú). What follows is unforgettable and exhilarating, and while it doesn’t differ too much from other road movies like it, “Y Tu Mamá También” still feels wonderfully unique to its genre.
8. “The Royal Tenenbaums”
Wes Anderson’s follow up to “Rushmore” once again proved how great he was at combing comedic and dramatic elements into a single movie. Gene Hackman gives one of his last great performances (before his unceremonious retirement with “Welcome to Mooseport”) as Royal Tenenbaum, a father with his kids who themselves experienced amazing success in their youth, but who eventually left the family when they were adolescents. Suffice to say, he left a lot of damage in his wake and while his attempts to repair such damage are somewhat pathetic, Hackman makes this patriarch endearing and hilarious.
7. “Vanilla Sky”
Cameron Crowe’s remake of the Spanish film “Open Your Eyes” proved to be the love it or hate it movie of 2001. However, I liked that the writer/director of “Almost Famous” and star Tom Cruise went out of their way to give us something that was far from conventional, and it proved to be a fascinating combination of various genres including sci-fi and romance. I could never figure out exactly where the movie was going, and I liked it all the more for it.
6. “Mulholland Drive”
Like with many a David Lynch movie, I have a very difficult time describing what it’s all about. At the same time, this one is undeniably mesmerizing as it deals with a dream state and reality, and you will find yourself desperate to get back to the dream as the story progresses. “Mulholland Drive” also features a pair of extraordinary performances from Laura Elena Harring as a person suffering from amnesia who is trying to rediscover their self again, and the infinitely brilliant Naomi Watts as aspiring actress Betty Elms. There’s also no forgetting Rebekah Del Rio who sings an emotionally powerful version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying.”
5. “Moulin Rouge!”
Using contemporary music to tell such a romantic story, director Baz Luhrmann creates one of the most beautifully exhilarating musicals ever as he takes us back to Paris in the year 1900. “Moulin Rouge!” wears its heart on its sleeve without shame, and watching it just lifted my spirit to a state I never expected to be in without cringing endlessly. Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman (who finally nabbed her first Oscar nomination for her performance as Satine) give Luhrmann their all and create a loving couple that even those who are sick of romantic movies will want to root for, and Jim Broadbent steals the show with his unforgettable version of “Like A Virgin.”
4. “Black Hawk Down”
With his frenetic depiction of Battle of Mogadishu, director Ridley Scott gives us one of the most exciting and visceral war movies this side of “Saving Private Ryan.” Based on the non-fiction book by Mark Bowden, “Black Hawk Down” proves to be understandably critical of military intervention in other countries, but it is by no means an anti-American or anti-troop movie as we watch these soldiers risk their lives to get their comrades out of the danger zone before they are killed. Scott’s film proved to be far more patriotic than Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor” which came out the same year.
3. “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”
Peter Jackson’s first movie of the first book in J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic (not to mention epically LONG) trilogy proved that New Line Cinema’s risk in making a movie out of each “Lord of the Rings” book had paid off. What Jackson does so well that most filmmakers miss the mark on is that he combines amazing special effects with a strong story filled with unforgettable characters, and he manages to balance all those elements out equally to where one doesn’t overwhelm the other. “The Fellowship of the Ring” also works as a stand-alone movie which left us begging for more, and it gave us the experience we were expecting to (but didn’t quite) get with the “Star Wars” prequels.
2. “In The Bedroom”
Todd Field’s debut movie perfectly captures the look and feel of a small town while plumbing the depths of our souls with such an emotionally devastating story. Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek portray a loving couple whose son (played by Nick Stahl) is about to go off to college. Tragedy however strikes hard when their son is murdered by his girlfriend’s jealous ex-husband, and they each end up dealing with their grief in different ways. It’s one of the strongest character pieces I have seen, and it is powered by the tour de force performances from Wilkinson and Spacek who share a shattering moment when they finally get to the hard truth about their relationships with their son.
1. “Donnie Darko”
I didn’t get around to seeing Richard Kelly’s cult classic until 2004 when it was released in a director’s cut, and I ended up paying to see it twice in the same week. “Donnie Darko” for me is a movie that is as mesmerizing as it is mysterious. Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of his best and most entertaining performances as Donnie, a disturbed teenager (is there any other kind?) who is warned by a scary looking rabbit that the world will soon come to an end. Is this for real, or is Donnie just dreaming all this up in his head? Kelly tantalizes you with the possibilities as he creates one of the most original science fiction movies ever. I love this film for being unlike any others in its genre, and for giving us teenage characters who are not the least bit clichéd.
“A.I. (Artificial Intelligence)”
“A Beautiful Mind”