Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The 100 Project: Top 10 Movies of 2001

2001 started off as a rather happy-go-lucky year. We had survived the Y2K scare a year before and we were just beginning our journey into a new, and hopefully better, millennium. That all changed on September 11 when New York's World Trade Center, specifically the Twin Towers, was brought down during a terrorist attack. While this hadn't yet affected the type of stories movies would tell, it immediately changed the imagery. As a result, a number of films were delayed as they were rushed back into post-production to have the towers removed. Otherwise, the films we got were unencumbered by any recent earth shattering events. Even the toughest topics tackled were either on a personal level or were dulled by the passing of time.

My Top 10 Movies of 2001

  • According to my Letterboxd account, I've seen 69 movies that were released during 2001.
  • I saw 7 movies in theaters, the fewest since 1994. 2 made my top 10 while one other is an honorable mention.
  • I've seen 3 of the 5 movies nominated for Best Picture. None of them make my top 10. 2 are honorable mentions.
  • For the first time, 3 non-English movies make the top 10.
  • Also for the first time, 2 animated movies make the top 10, including a first-ever #1.

10. Save the Last Dance
This is another of those movies that's been a favorite in the Dell household for years. Sure, it's got problems and is a cliched dance flick. It has also has an infectious cast that goes full tilt and is clearly having a good time. I even went to high school with one of them in real life - Fredro Starr, who plays Malakai. Name dropping aside, I have a blast with this film. I long ago lost count of how many times this movie has played in my house. And I was happily present for most of them.

9. Ali
Muhammad Ali was the first person outside of my family that I looked up to. I've been reading and watching things about him ever since I can remember. That includes the 1977 biopic The Greatest, which stars the champ as himself. I was very eager to go to the theater and see what Michael Mann could do with the material with Will Smith as his star. I was not disappointed in the least. Much to my dismay, many people were. If you were one of those people, please give it another chance. This film deserves it.

8. Black Hawk Down
A few years earlier, Saving Private Ryan brilliantly moved its plot forward mostly through action scenes. Black Hawk Down turns the same trick. And it's a tough, tough watch for so many reasons, good and bad. It's tense and pulls you to the edge of your seat while you simultaneously recoil.

7. Ichi the Killer
The plot of this movie is pretty good, but you'd be forgiven for not remembering it even if you've seen it. That's because the visuals in this are so bonkers they devour brain cells that dare attempt processing it all. A lot of movies are nuts, then there's this live-action anime that goes beyond plenty of actual anime.

6. Blow
Before every role of his was just another exercise in self-parody, Johnny Depp was a damn good actor. His work in this movie is proof. The tale is a familiar one: the rise and fall of a gangster. Admittedly, his gangster is more Hollywood heartthrob than Scarface, but it works so well for this film. Depp pulls me in right at the start of the film and makes his character a sympathetic figure. Sorta.

5. Spirited Away
Occasionally, a movie gives you a calming sense of beauty despite veering into grotesque waters. Spirited Away is one of those. It's true magic, however, lies within the fact that it disturbs that calm just enough to unnerve us. It unnerves us just enough to make us truly care about our young protagonist. It makes us care enough to share in her despair and her exhilaration.

4. Training Day
In lots of movies, the villain is far more interesting and cooler than the hero. I can't think of any film in which the gap between the two is as wide as it is in Training Day. Ethan Hawke plays the good guy. He's a fine actor who does a good job in the role. Fortunately for us, he drowns in the shadow of Denzel Washington as the bad guy. We can't take our eyes, or our ears, off him. Whenever we think about this movie, we think about Denzel, posturing, wickedly grinning, intimidating anyone in his path, and just generally being evil. King Kong ain't got shit on him.

3. Ocean's Eleven
If Training Day is a movie with a cool bad guy, Ocean's Eleven is a movie full of them. They're so magnetic and charismatic, they make us completely forgive the ridiculous heist at its core. When you step back and think about it, you realize there's no way that's working, even with guys as skilled as they are. Still, we can't help but get caught up in their endless planning and bickering. By the end, we think it would be really cool to get together with all of our buddies and pull off a huge, sophisticated robbery. We're less deterred by the legality and morality of such an undertaking than we are by the fact that neither we, nor our friends are anywhere near as suave as George Clooney or Brad Pitt.

2. Y Tu Mamá También
We switch from movies that ooze cool to one that drips awkwardness. A couple of guys in their late-teens (18-19, I think) set off on an impromptu road trip with a much older woman. It's equal parts realistic and boyhood fantasy, growing pains and wings spreading, silliness and poignancy. The oft-ignored part of the film is the growth and realization done by the woman. It all mixes to create a bittersweet concoction that's impossible to forget.

1. Shrek
If I've said it once during this project, I've said it a thousand times. Films effectively deconstructing films while still being good at the very things its tearing down is my thing. Shrek destroys Disney fairy-tales in hilarious fashion, but at the end of the day it's a really good Disney fairy-tale, albeit one not made by the mouse house. The jokes are on point, the songs are great, and it was body-positive before that was a thing. When I left the theater the first time I saw it, I knew I had seen greatness.

Honorable Mentions (alphabetically): 61*, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, A Beautiful Mind, From Hell, Hardball, Jason X, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Monsters Inc., The Princess Diaries, Rush Hour 2


  1. I've seen six of you top 10 picks and an additional 7 of you honorable mentions. All great films!

  2. I loved Save The Last Dance! I've been seeing people mention it a lot on Twitter lately for being problematic.

    Ichi is one I almost watched but I think something about it scared me off, I'd have to re-look at the parental advisory to see what that was.

    Y Tu, Blow, and especially Spirited Away would be on my list too. LOTR would also be. I love that you mentioned Hardball, that was another one I loved as a kid.

    1. I haven't seen those tweets about StLD, but understand how it could be viewed as such. I've seen it and enjoyed it so many times I'll forever be an apologist for it.

      Ichi is gory, insane, and contains a good deal of mutilation of self and others. Imagine a full-blown, hardcore manga come to life.

      Lots of people would have LOTR on their list, lol.

  3. As usual, a good list, and I agree on a lot. A chunk of your top 10 and honorable mentions would make my list.

    Here are a few alternates:
    In the Bedroom--not a pleasant film, but a damn good one. People who were giving Marisa Tomei shit about her acting in 2001 saw this and shut up.
    The Brotherhood of the Wolf--A sort of French werewolf movie set in the 18th century, but including a martial artist.
    Pulse--The original Japanese one, not the terrible American remake.
    The Son's Room--Sad and tragic, but rather beautiful
    The Devil's Backbone--My #1 movie from 2001, hands-down. This is Guillermo del Toro learning to be who he is now.
    Amelie--My second favorite 2001 movie.
    Kandahar--A woman returns to Afghanistan to try to rescue her sister.
    Mulholland Dr.--I know you're not a Lynch fan, but I am, so this belongs here.
    Pootie Tang--I know it's dumb, but it makes me laugh so much.
    Frailty--The only movie directed by Bill Paxton as far as I know. Really underrated and underseen--worth tracking down.
    The Others--Goes for much more than just gore. It really wants to scare the audience deeply, and sometimes succeeds.
    The Royal Tenenbaums--I'm a sucker for good Wes Anderson.
    Monsoon Wedding--surprisingly deep and complex for what could have been a dumb little story.
    Iris--Judy Dench with Alzheimers and Jim Broadbent trying to keep her alive. Sad, but great.
    The Mummy Returns--As good as the first one, maybe better.
    Scotland, PA--Macbeth, but set in a 1970s fast food restaurant in Pennsylvania.

    1. I've seen a handful of your alternates, including Mulholland Drive. I keep telling myself I'm going to give it a rewatch, like everyone says I should. Just haven't pulled the trigger on it yet. Same goes for Amelie, if we're being transparent. I don't hate that one, thought it was decent, but I think the hype ruined that one for me.

      Pootie Tang! Now THAT'S an inspired choice. Fun movie.

      The big miss for me is The Royal Tenenbaums. Gotta see that soon.

  4. We share 2 films in our respective top 10s as my list definitely is all over the place in terms of diversity as I've seen some of Blow but it's a film I need to watch as a whole while Ichi the Killer is the one film in that list I haven't seen.

    1. Hope you get to see the rest of Blow soon. Honestly, it's time for me to give it a rewatch. Ichi is nuts. That's your warning.

  5. "Ichi is gory, insane, and contains a good deal of mutilation of self and others. Imagine a full-blown, hardcore manga come to life" You should do movie posters! The image of the guy being like a blowfish was quite something.

    Great to see animated films. Would have Spirited Away higher and Mnsters Inc in there too. Why do you think so many were tough on Ali?

    1. Thanks! That entire movie was quite something.

      No arguments from me on Spirited Away. It's a great film. I'm not quite as high on Monsters Inc. as most others, but it is really good. Hence, the honorable mention.

      Not sure why Ali got the rough treatment. If I had to guess, I'd say Michael Mann made a more stylistic movie than people expected or wanted and the pacing felt a bit rushed in places. It also wasn't a straight up puff piece and by this time Ali himself had long ascended to national hero status. Therefore, some didn't want all the nuance and warts Mann offered.

  6. The Royal Tenenbaums, Amelie, Ali...
    I definitely loved STLD at the time but haven't seen it in a while. Probably this century?
    Pootie Tang I own and watch frequently.

    1. I so need to see The Royal Tenenbaums.

      Yay, another vote for Pootie Tang!

  7. Holy Moly Dell we are miles apart this time out!!!

    We share exactly one match-Oceans 11-though we’re pretty close in our placement of that fun film.

    I’ve seen 4 others of your top 10. My disdain for Save the Last Dance is probably tied up in my aversion to that Julia Stiles creature. Ali, Y Tu Mamá También and Black Hawk Down were fine films but outside of that first watch I’ve never had any desire to return to them.

    I avoided Training Day when it came out but it’s on my to see list. Blow never appealed to me and I think you know where I stand on Spirited Away and Shrek (though with that one I’ve seen enough to know that I’ve seen enough). Just that picture from Ichi is enough to tell me that movie was not made for me!

    As far as your honorables go I liked 61*, A Beautiful Mind and Hardball but never felt the need to see them again. I enjoyed A.I. until it went on beyond the obvious Kubrick ending to the tacked on Spielberg one. As a rule I tend to like Spielberg movies more than Kubrick ones but for the story the film was telling the first made perfect sense. The Princess Diaries despite Julie Andrews’s presence was a bit too precious for me.

    I loathe the entire LOTR’s trilogy.

    Haven’t seen From Hell, Jason X, Monsters Inc. or Rush Hour 2.

    1. Ocean's Eleven is a good one to share.

      Wow...did Julia Stiles do something to you? Lol.

      I think you should definitely give Training Day a go. No, Spirited Away and Ichi the Killer are most certainly not for you.

      The tacked on ending is what ultimately kept A.I. off my list. It would've been perfect had it ended in the water, but going on after that just dragged the whole thing down.

      My opinion on the LOTR trilogy goes down as the years go by. Had I done this back in 2010, all of them would've comfortably made my list for their respective years. Now? Well, Fellowship got an HM. You'll have to wait and see if the others managed to snag a spot.

      From Hell is an interesting take on Jack the Ripper you might enjoy. It's got some horror elements, but it's more police procedural than scary flick. I know you want no parts of Monsters, Inc. Judge whether or not you should see Rush Hour 2 on your feelings about the original.

  8. Here’s my top 10 and honorable mentions:

    1. Gosford Park-An Agatha Christie type mystery served up Robert Altman style with a jaw dropping cast that includes a huge number of the greats of the British acting world-Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Alan Bates, Kristin Scott Thomas, Clive Owen, Emily Watson, Eileen Atkins and Kelly Macdonald among many others.

    2. Ocean's Eleven-Sleek remake of the Rat Pack film improves on the original with a panache all its own driven by the megawatt team of Brad Pitt and George Clooney.

    3. Legally Blonde-Turns the dumb blonde ethos on its head with the story of effervescent Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon). When dumped by her preppy boyfriend because she’s too blond and perky for a more sober, snobby brunette Elle decides to show them all and go to Harvard Law School. In the process she finds a new strength within herself without having to change who she is.

    4. Lantana-A detective’s (Anthony LaPaglia) investigation of the disappearance of a man’s (Geoffrey Rush) grieving wife (Barbara Hershey) leads him into a web of deceit and death. Complex Australian filmed mystery.

    5. Blow Dry-When the National Hairdressing Championship chooses to hold its yearly competition in the small Yorkshire town of Keighley trouble starts brewing between former champ Phil (Alan Rickman), his ex-wife Shelly (Natasha Richardson), their son Brian (Josh Hartnett) and Shelly’s lover Sandra (Rachel Griffiths) over long simmering resentments. If that wasn’t bad enough current champ, the underhanded Ray Roberts (Bill Nighy) comes and tensions hit the boiling point. From then on its dirty tricks as the fur and hair fly!!

    1. I can see why we're so far apart this year. The film we share is the only one I've seen from this half of your list. I've tried to watch Legally Blonde several times, but haven't gotten more than a few minutes into it. The biggest problem isn't actually with the film, though. It's that when I have bumped into it, it's being broadcast on some network or another, and thus, riddled with cuts and commercials. I can't stand watching movies that way. I'll see it at some point.

    2. I hate that too!!! Ruins the entire flow of the film and with a comedy/character study like Legally Blonde it makes it tough to sustain the level of engagement.

  9. 6. Heartbreakers-It’s con against con against con when a mother/daughter pair of grifters (Sigourney Weaver & Jennifer Love Hewitt) who specialize in ripping off rich men meet their match in someone who was supposed to be an easy mark (Ray Liotta).

    7. The Safety of Objects-Esther Gold (Glenn Close) has lost focus on all but caring for her comatose son, Paul (Joshua Jackson), and neglects her daughter (Jessica Campbell) and husband (Robert Klein). Lawyer Jim Train (Dermot Mulroney) is devoted to his career, not his family. Helen Christianson (Mary Kay Place) wants to find a new spark in life, while Annette Jennings (Patricia Clarkson) tries to rebuild hers. A bit odd but Glenn is electric.

    8. The Cat's Meow-In November of 1924 William Randolph Hearst (Edward Hermann) left for what was supposed to be a pleasure cruise on his yacht with his mistress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst), Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard), actress Margaret Livingston (Claudia Harrison), author Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley), reporter Louella Parson (Jennifer Tilly) and director Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes) but during the voyage something happened and Ince died, a long rumored murder which was hushed up by the powerful Hearst. Director Peter Bogdanovich’s posits what might have transpired onboard.

    9. The Others-Grace (Nicole Kidman), the devoutly religious mother of Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), moves her family to the English coast during World War II. She awaits word on her missing husband while protecting her children from a rare photosensitivity disease that causes the sun to harm them. Anne claims she sees ghosts, Grace initially thinks the new servants are playing tricks but chilling events and visions make her believe something supernatural has occurred. Excellent chiller.

    10. The Son’s Room-This study of how a happy Italian family’s lives are torn asunder by the accidental death of the son won the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

    All Over the Guy, The Deep End, Enigma, In the Bedroom, Joy Ride, Late Marriage, Scotland, PA, The Wedding Planner

    1. Of this group, I've only seen The Wedding Planner. And if we're being totally transparent, I can't swear I've seen all of that one. I think I have. I mean, I've seen the beginning, the middle, and the end, just never at once.

    2. I'm a little shocked that you haven't seen The Others. That one seems right up your alley. I'm no Kidman fan but the story suits her chilly screen presence. It's the only film that she's starred in that I can honestly say I enjoyed.

      I think you'd like Heartbreakers. It's a bit of silly fun and Jennifer Love Hewitt's push up bra has nearly a costarring role!!

      Oh and Julia Stiles falls into that group of actresses that includes Juliette Lewis, Zellweger and Shailene Woodley among others. Bland, dull and not terribly magnetic or talented women who for some unfathomable reason achieved a level of success in a profession for which they have almost no skill. I see their name in a cast list and it drives me away!

    3. The Others is one of those I have come close to watching many times but always wind up watching something else. I'll fix it one day.

      JLH is, um, special, in that department. And I don't mind a bit.

      That said, as far as her actual ability, I see her more along the lines you see Stiles, certain assets aside, of course. I also look at Anna Kendrick and Katherine Heigl that way, though I can't say I that I loathe either of them. For years, I thought the same Sandra Bullock, but she's won me over. For whatever it's worth, I really like Lewis and Woodley. Not much of a Zellweger fan.