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To stave off the misery of isolation, the cinema turned to romance, and, happily, a lot of it worked. English comedian Ben Elton transformed his book Inconceivable into Maybe Baby, a smart comedy involving Joely Richardson and Hugh Laurie as a yuppie couple desperately trying to get pregnant. Freaky Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jeunet made the dream girl flesh -- thanks to saucer-eyed minx Audrey Tautou -- in his wantonly flashy Amélie, and Finn Aku Louhimies's supremely sexy Restless depicted yet another disoriented young fellow, who -- like his Icelandic counterpart in the delightfully charming 101 Reykjavik -- learns to get it on (life, that is). Sure, we had to deal with slop like Kate & Leopold (Want chivalry, girls? Try being pleasant), but when a pic like Monster's Ball overcomes its dreary racist clichés (and yet more pathetic fathering) with hot love via Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton, there must be hope.

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.

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.

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Gregory Weinkauf

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