The Lord of the Rings : The Fellowship of the Ring - Peter Jackson delivered a fantasy opus that rivaled that of Lucas's original Star Wars with this grand and purely satisfying adaptation of the first chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. The film used all the tools and trickery in bringing Middleearth to life with breathtaking authenticity and realism. But the film doesn't work merely as a special effects extravaganza. It is written with such love and care for the source material and the performances are treated with every bit as much care. This really is the most impressive film of 2001, and perhaps the decade. The cinematic landscape literally changed with the release of this film. Whether or not it was for better or worse is up to interpretation (not unlike when Star Wars did the same thing in 77), but it is inarguable that Lord of the Rings molded modern cinema. The performances are stellar across the board with Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood, Sean Bean and Ian Holm being particular stand outs in this installment. This is also one of those rare films where the expanded cut really does strengthen a near perfect picture. This was, for me, the best film of 2001 and I am still a little aghast that it did not take Best Picture (though that was a fine film as well).
Memento - Christopher Nolan knocked it out of the park with this mind bending thriller that plays with the formula of narrative and uses the medium of film to great advantage in presenting information to the audience. Nolan has made many good movies and many of his best ones are where he harnesses the presentation of information and audience expectation as a subversive tool. The film has a strong visual language and carries strong performances from all actors. The plot surrounds a man with tragic memory loss who needs to take constant note to achieve his goal, a goal being that of revenge over his dead wife. One of my criticisms of Nolan's work in general is that he often fridges the wife/girlfriend characters, but as this was my introduction to Nolan's work, it did not bother me as it will with later works of his. That said, this is a compelling thriller that will keep you guessing to the ending and once you get there, you will immediately want to rewatch the film with new understanding.
Monster's Ball - Racial tensions fuel this film about a prison guard who falls for the wife of a prisoner he witnessed the execution of. Strong performances from Halle Berry, Heath Ledger, Billy Bob Thornton and P.Diddy (of all people) really strengthen the film. I was also quite taken with the cinematography of the feature. It looks good and captures unexpected beauty with many shots.
Monster's Inc. - Pixar delivered a delightful film that examine the monster in the closet that we all feared in our youth. This film really pushed the envelope with its animation at the time but more than that, it tapped into humanity on an unexpected level. It examines how there is an urge to use aggressive force and fear tactics within a crisis when there may be alternatives that are genuinely more effective. This film is funny, inventive and emotionally engaging. I dare you not to fall in love with little Boo. Literally impossible. The films final twenty minutes are incredibly satisfying and really quite lovely. I must also give praise to John Goodman and Billy Crystal for breathing such life and emotion into these characters. This film is really one of Pixar's highlights.
Vanilla Sky - Cameron Crowe directed this wonderfully and unexpectedly weird soft-thriller about a vain man who has to come to terms with a life altering incident. Strong performance work from Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz, along with a dream-like narrative and visual style lends it to making this list. Some people won't entirely go for the premise, but if you are willing to let the movie guide you, you will be in for a treat.
Best Picture : A Beautiful Mind - Ron Howard directs this engaging drama about a brilliant man who is suffering from Schizophrenia. Excellent work from Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany really hep sell the film.
Biggest Box Office : Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - Christopher Columbus was able to bring J.K. Rowling's delightful first Harry Potter novel to life with a vibrancy and genuine love for the source material. They creative team were able to hit the tone of whimsy and magic perfectly. The adult cast plays into their parts well and the kids...well, they are trying and by movie three many of them will get there. It is funny to go back to this film because, as perfect as it is in managing the tone, feel and look from the books, boy those special effects do not hold up. It looks like a BBC original movie by today's standards, but the film is so magical and imbued with such kindness that it is really hard not to fall for. Last thing of note, John Williams provides an incredible score here. If fact, you are probably hearing it in your head just now.