Common Year 2001 exploded with uncommon cinema

Ghost stories were also in no short supply in 2001, including both effects-laden emptiness such as Thirteen Ghosts and extremely spooky nerve-janglers, including Brad Anderson's excellent Session 9. In one of the year's weirdest simultaneous collusions and severings, Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise got spooky in The Others and Vanilla Sky, respectively, with the Great Red Hope's former flame producing Alejandro Amenábar's misty English spookfest while starring in Cameron Crowe's odd but engaging remake of Amenábar's Abre los Ojos. While plenty of movies were still bent exclusively on kicking ass -- Swordfish, The Fast and the Furious, the reprehensibly vulgar Black Hawk Down (a.k.a. Blacks Shot Down), etc. -- popular cinema revealed a distinct turn toward spectral encounters.

And, last, let us not forget the many movies featuring people being chased by digital stuff that isn't actually there. These films tend to take an unfair beating by stodgy practitioners of this trade, but fun's fun, and this year, we were afforded awesome kicks along with Brandon Fraser in The Mummy Returns and Henry Selick's way-underrated Monkeybone (Tim who?), plus some guy with big boobs running around shooting stuff in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, the amusing Jurassic Park III, and the striking Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, wherein actors finally became unnecessary.

Was it a great year? Heck, when the list of runners-up includes terrific must-sees such as The Dish, A Beautiful Mind, In the Bedroom, Last Orders, Last Resort, Our Song, Mulholland Drive, Chain Camera, Rush Hour 2, Snide and Prejudice, Training Day, and Iron Monkey, the question answers itself. Now here's la crème de la crème.

James Silvani

10. Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back: Those who have evolved beyond copycat pretense will recognize this as the year's funniest movie. In addition to barking 2001's best line ("What the fuck is the Internet?"), Jason Mewes -- a.k.a. Jay -- stands as cinema's rawest nerve since Brando was a boy. Everyone catches shrapnel as director Kevin Smith -- a.k.a. Silent Bob -- deftly detonates his beloved Askewniverse. (But, dudes, you would have ranked higher if you'd sent the posters as promised.)

9. Atlantis: The Lost Empire: Yes, a rollicking Disney cartoon devoid of crap and full of wonder. So what if the polychromatic cast smells like marketing statistics and Leonard Nimoy can barely croak his lines as the King of Atlantis? Directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise (Beauty and the Beast) outperform all expectations, trotting out their Jules Verne trappings to support a tale about ancient beauty, modern exploitation, and an archaeologist caught between.

8. The Charcoal People: Got slavery? This engrossing film from Oscar-winning documentarian Nigel Noble reveals everything you don't want to know about iron sourcing in the Brazilian Amazon. Essentially, lacking other occupations, local tribes have taken to tearing down their forests, burning the wood in huge smelting ovens to produce pig iron, and destroying their bodies, communities, and environment in the process. The director's matter-of-fact approach will have you thinking twice about your sporty SUV.

7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: Yea, and as I walk through the valley of critical hostility, I shall have no fear. Sure, this is a big, honking product of the AOL Time Warner machine, but it's also a luminous, boldly faithful adaptation of a wonderful story. In the lead, Daniel Radcliffe holds his own while ensconced in much magic, as Robbie Coltrane and Alan Rickman turn in stellar supporting performances. Anyone with a modicum of imagination will feel right at home at Hogwarts.

6. Vengo: Not unlike the impressive import Behind the Sun, this passionate effort from Tony Gatlif (Latcho Drom) derives its drive from a familial blood feud, but the incredible Andalusian Gypsy music adds a powerful dimension. Flamenco dancer Antonio Canales fights for his business and family while musicians Tomatito, Sheikh Ahmad Al Tuni, and La Caita burst into plangent, raging song, nearly prompting one to distribute lozenges. When they sing, "I come from nowhere... I have no homeland," anyone can relate.

5. The Shipping News: Lasse Hallström drags Kevin Spacey to the harsh coast of Newfoundland and finally makes a man of him. Based on the Pulitzer-winning novel by E. Annie Proulx, this seemingly icy tale warms up via crackling performances from Judi Dench, Julianne Moore, Scott Glenn, and Cate Blanchett (who steps in briefly as the ho to end all hos). Stark, tender, and funny, the movie toes the line of sentiment without becoming sickening -- a daring feat. Now, Mr. Hallström, it's time to deliver your balls-out thriller.

4. Waking Life: A director must be sparking if you can close your eyes and still be transported by his film. Case in point: this eclectic experiment from Slacker director Richard Linklater, which offers the extraordinary sounds of Austin-based string quartet Tosca as it floats among dreamers, beautiful and otherwise, who add their unique philosophy to this state-of-the-union address. Connoisseurs of visual stimuli will appreciate that it's also animated in all kinds of weird ways.

3. Moulin Rouge: It's loud, garish, divisive, and delightful, this big pop circus. Baz Luhrmann's indisputably unique and confident vision lights up the screen as Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor defy the odds (and the hecklers) to deliver a romance so exaggerated that it becomes real. Jim Broadbent is an awesome impresario, and songs such as "The Children of the Revolution" and "El Tango de Roxanne" prove irresistible.

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