- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 29, 2001

As this movie year draws to a close, it seems a repeat of last year. That was when "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," a foreign-language production, kind of rubbed in the notion that the Hollywood system was more of an obstruction than a spur to quality filmmaking.

This quarter, the September 11 terrorist attacks on this country overshadowed anything else. The best large-scale movies since then have been the animated farce "Monsters, Inc." and the adventure fantasy "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring."

Pixar, which operates its own studio in Emeryville, Calif., while being associated with the Disney organization, made "Monsters, Inc." "The Fellowship of the Ring" marks the first installment in a three-part epic derived from the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy and was shot entirely in New Zealand by Peter Jackson, a talented and enterprising outsider.
Until the arrival of "Monsters" and "Fellowship," the year seemed to belong almost exclusively to imports and modestly budgeted independent features, several made in Los Angeles without the benefit of major studio patronage or promotional commitment.
The first example, Christopher Nolan's crime thriller "Memento," remains the year's most intriguing stylistic achievement. It's a fable about memory and identity loss told in reverse chronology. Perhaps no movie was better timed for the advent of the DVD, which allows "Memento" to be seen in out-of-order chronological order to test its structural cleverness.
The above three titles are the best movies this year, especially among the English-language releases. The rest of the best, in roughly chronological order of their appearance at area theaters, include "The House of Mirth," "The Golden Bowl," "The Road Home," "In the Mood for Love," "Enemy at the Gates," "Series 7," "The Price of Milk," "The Dish," "One Night at McCool's," "The Circle," "The Anniversary Party" and "Divided We Fall."
Others are "Everybody's Famous," "With a Friend Like Harry," "Under the Sand," "The Princess Diaries," "Ghost World," "The Others," "The Deep End," "An American Rhapsody," "The Score," "Under the Sun," "Amelie," "Waking Life," "The Endurance" and "A Beautiful Mind."
"Gosford Park" and "Black Hawk Down," a pair of 2001 titles that open here after the first of the year, also merit recognition.
If there must be a top 10 list, let it be the following group: "An American Rhapsody," "Waking Life," "Memento," "Monsters, Inc.," "The Fellowship of the Ring," "The Road Home," "The Dish," "Gosford Park," "Under the Sand" and "Series 7." If some of these titles failed to surface at a theater near you, it's not surprising. That's what backups such as the home video rental market and the Sundance Channel are meant to remedy.
Even an art-house market as dependable as Washington neglected to embrace some of these movies as warmly as they deserved. The sorest cases were "The Dish," an Australian comedy about the 1969 Apollo 11 moon mission from the Aussie perspective; the autobiographical saga "An American Rhapsody," which deals with the assimilation of a Hungarian-American family; and the brilliantly mocking "Series 7," which reduced the sensation-pandering TV "reality" shows to mercenary basics while providing the formidable young actress Brooke Smith with a terrific leading role.
Outrageousness was smartly calculated in "Series 7." In Tom Green's farce "Freddy Gets Fingered," outrageousness was so loathsome that denying Mr. Green the citation for worst movie of 2001 would be perverse. Among the large-scale outrages, nothing really surpassed "Hannibal" and "Swordfish," which doted on sadistic protagonists whose vanities were too ravenous for this life. It would be gratifying to think that September 11 has undercut the appeal of psychopaths with big egos. Some producers have no relationship with the public outside of wanton and predatory thrillers. If "Swordfish" isn't producer Joel Silver's rhapsody to terrorism, I don't know what it is.
A generous accounting of the unwholesome must also include "Moulin Rouge," "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," "Ghosts of Mars," "Angel Eyes," "Legally Blonde," "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider," "The Man Who Cried," "Original Sin," "Town and Country," "Summer Catch," "Don't Say a Word," "Bandits," "My First Mister," "Domestic Disturbance," "Brother," "Heist," "Fat Girl," "Sidewalks of New York" and "The Royal Tenenbaums," whose rave reviews provide the latest case study in critical obtuseness.
At one time I would have included "Pearl Harbor" in this batch, but its grandiose shortcomings have been diminished by the terrorist attacks of September 11. I'm now rather grateful that the movie focused renewed attention on the Japanese attack of December 7, 1941, even if its fictionalized re-enactments were miscalculated and even absurd.
Now that "The Fellowship of the Ring," definitely a fighting movie, has turned out so well, we can even be grateful that the reason Disney rejected it may have been that the company was saving up to bust the budget on "Pearl Harbor." (The "Ring" was released by New Line Productions.)
Other developments:
Anne Hathaway emerged as the newcomer actor of the year in "The Princess Diaries," Disney's saving grace of 2001.
Threats of strikes by writers and actors proved to be greatly exaggerated. Insiders kept hinting that the race to beat strike deadlines could account for the broken-down condition of films rushed into production.
mScreenwriting care and ingenuity are rare enough to generate special notice. Pixar has produced entertaining characters and plots in four consecutive features.
In the mystery genre, people admired "The Others" and "The Deep End" because they seemed to make more sense than the typical Hollywood thriller, even when venturing into supernatural or depraved territory.
In the spirit of the holidays, let's extend the courtesy of some credence to the claim that general Hollywood standards of workmanship took a plunge that just could not be helped in 2001. How bracing to think that 2002 will require a reawakened pride and vigilance, both patriotic and professional, within this privileged community. Maybe some of the prevailing junk can't be helped, but this is scarcely the time for self-respecting movie people to let their country down or themselves.

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