The annual 10-best list may be a film critic’s sacred duty, but everybody has their own rules. Mine are: no fewer than three public screenings; no more than five years old (thus eliminating the best American movie of 1979, Apocalypse Now). Despite a dispiriting first half, 2001 turned out to be a pretty darn good year. I had real difficulty restricting myself to 10 films. Half of my “second 10” could have made the big list. (For purposes of the film poll, I subtracted The Captive and Platform, and added The Royal Tenenbaums and Memento.)
1. Mulholland Drive
2. Werckmeister Harmonies
Thanks to Anthology Film Archives for booking this totally sustained immersion in the voluptuously bleak universe of Hungarian master Béla Tarr (and to the Museum of Modern Art for giving New York its first full Tarr retrospective).
3. The Captive
The Walter Reade and BAMcinématek combined to give the requisite number of screenings to Chantal Akerman’s distributor-less gloss on the fifth novel of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. Intractable, object-like, beautifully symmetrical, this is a great negative love story.
4. In the Mood for Love
The epitome of choreographed yearning, this is a perfect analog to The Captive. Wong Kar-wai may be the most fetishized—as well as fetishizing—of contemporary directors, and here he takes this form of worship as his subject.
5. Fat Girl
Having disposed of romance in her absurdist melodrama of the same name, France’s foremost provocatrice, Catherine Breillat, returns to her favorite subject—the construction of female adolescent sexuality. Fat Girl was banned in Ontario; here, we had the advantage of seeing it shortly after Breillat’s long-shelved first exploration of the subject, A Very Young Girl.
6. Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 pm
Claude Lanzmann’s feature-length footnote to Shoah interviews Yehuda Lerner—once upon a time, a 16-year-old participant in a death-camp uprising. His account is as mysterious, suspenseful, and ultimately illuminating as any movie I’ve seen this year.
7. The Heart of the World
Guy Maddin continues to invent an alternative movie history. This artfully beat-up trailer for an imaginary Soviet silent film, seemingly re-released with a dubbed soundtrack, packs nearly every human emotion (and then some) into five supercharged minutes. The late, lamented Shooting Gallery showed what Maddin calls “the world’s first subliminal melodrama” on a bill with the estimable refugee drama Last Resort.
Walter Reade and BAM again combined for half a dozen screenings of this great film by independent filmmaker Jia Zhangke—a meditation on the Chinese ’80s through the mutation of the propaganda-performing Fenyang Peasant Culture Group into the equally cheesy All Star Rock and Breakdance Electronic Band. In a futile attempt to attract U.S. distribution, Jia has allowed the movie to be cut by 40 minutes.
9. Donnie Darko
Another evocation of the 1980s, part comic book and part case study, this first feature by 26-year-old writer-director Richard Kelly is a wondrous, moodily self-involved piece of work that employs X-Files magic realism to represent the era’s toxic politics and galvanize what might have been a routine tale of high school angst.
10. Little Otik
Another fantasy with a political undercurrent, Jan Svankmajer’s latest partial-animation is all about appetite—and the horror of mindless creation. A comic nightmare about a childless Prague couple who raise a tree stump as their baby, it trumps A.I. as the year’s creepiest fairy tale about mother love.
Second 10, Alphabetically
La Ciénaga Lucrecia Martel, Argentina; The Circle Jafar Panahi, Iran; Cure Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan; Ghost World Terry Zwigoff, U.S.; The Legend of Rita Volker Schlöndorff, Germany, The Man Who Cried Sally Potter, U.K.; Memento Christopher Nolan, U.S.; The Royal Tenenbaums Wes Anderson, U.S.; The Tailor Of Panama John Boorman, U.S.; Voyages Emmanuel Finkiel, France.