#TBT: Looking Back At The Best Films of 2001

I only recently started to understand the whole “hashtag” thing, so I figured I would put my newfound knowledge to the test and start a new monthly series here at Nerdopotamus. I will be #TBT-ing it to the best films of a year I choose. I figured it’d be a fun to go back in time and talk about films we may not have seen in awhile. Also, I enjoy re-watching films I love and now I have an excuse. So today, I will be #TBT-ing it to the year 2001 (Apparently there was a space odyssey that year but I have not been able to substantiate those claims).

Now, while I do believe there is a “statute of limitations” so to speak in terms of spoilers for films (2001 is 15 years ago for heavens sake), I will try my best to refrain from giving anything away. In case it’s unavoidable, I will alert you to any incoming spoilers.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

Courtesy of GKids
Courtesy of GKids

10. “Spirited Away”

Directed by anime feature films legend Hayao Miyazaki, known as “The Japanese Walt Disney” to some, Spirited Away centers on 10-year-old Chihiro who, after her familys move to the suburbs, wanders into a fantastical world ruled by gods, witches, and monsters- and where humans are changed into beasts.

Now, there were a few things working against this film leading up to me watching it. First: it sounds fucking whacked! A 10-year-old wanders into a fantastical world with gods, witches, and monsters (oh, my!), and in this world, humans are turned to beasts. An animated film. God knows what I should expect. Second: I’m not a fan of anime. Animated films, yes. Anime? Not so much. And lastly: I am not a fan of fantasy/fairytale films, they’re just not my cup of tea. So imagine my trepidation when reading the synopsis to this film. I had my heels dug into the ground like I was being pushed into the doctors office. But alas, I gave the film a shot…..and my oh my was I pleasantly surprised!

The film was much, much more than advertised. It was a coming of age story about a little girl trying to find a way to cope with her mixed feeligns about her life being uprooted. She’s lonely, scared, curious, and is desperate to feel like she belongs in a place and a world that was overwhelming to begin with- now add having to start over in an unfamiliar place and imagine her feelings! Myazaki handles these issues with class and beautiful animation, as well making Chihiro one of the most relatable animated characters I’d ever seen- the geniuses at Pixar included.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

9. “A Beautiful Mind”

Directed by Ron Howard, A Beautiful Mind stars Russell Crowe as John Nash, a brilliant mathematician suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, whose life takes a nightmarish turn after accepting secret work in cryptography. The film also stars the always lovely Jennifer Connelly as Alicia Nash, Ed Harris, and Paul Bettany. This film was based on the true story of John Nash, adapted from the Pulitzer Prize nominated book of the same name.

A Beautiful Mind is, for lack of a better word, beautiful. The performances are all top notch, especially Crowe’s, who is absolutely mesmerizing as Nash. I have an obsession for hands when I watch an actor, I like to see how they use them and what they do with them- any ticks, how they rest their fingers, etc. To me, if an actor takes the time to completely embody their character down the way they use their hands, that actor is firing on all cylinders- and Russell Crowe was firing on all cylinders. His ticks with his fingers and hands, the way he touched his face, the way he would place his hands in his pockets, the way he would look down and play with them when he was nervous or ashamed was brilliant. I could not take my eyes off of him. The rest of the ensemble was great as well, but it was Crowe who drove the film and made it soar.

The film does suffer from a little bit of over dramatics, but then again, what biopic doesn’t? I think Ron Howard did a great job of keeping the film from veering into soap opera territory, as well as handling the subject of mental illness with class and taste. The film is as much a glimpse into life with a mental disorder as much as it is a John and Alicia’s love story, and Howard walked this tightrope expertly.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

8. “The Score”

Directed by Frank Oz, The Score stars the great Robert De Niro as Nick Wells, an aging thief looking to retire, and Edward Norton as Jack Teller, a young thief who convinces Nick to commit one more heist at the urging of Nick’s longtime boss Max, played by the indomitable Marlon Brando, in what would be his last role.

I said I would do my best to keep my reactions spoiler free, so I won’t spend too much time on this one as I might slip up. This film threw me for a loop! While maybe not “great” in the traditional sense (I had a few problems with the film), the performances, pacing, suspense, and GREAT climax elevate the film. I was glued to the screen for its entire running time. Do yourself a favor and watch it! Three generations of method actors in one film. What more do you want?

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

7. “Black Hawk Down”

Directed by Ridley Scott, Black hawk Down stars Josh Hartnett (in his best role), Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Eric Bana, and William Fichtner as U.S. soldiers dropped into Somalia to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord and find themselves in a desperate battle with a large force of heavily-armed Somalis.

This film is tough, man. So brutal, in your face, and just a punch to the gut. Ridley Scott’s direction was top notch here, eliciting fantastic performances from his all-star cast, not pulling any punches, and setting the tone with visceral, gritty visuals and hard hitting action. One of the best war films ever made, Black Hawk Down is a portrait of modern warfare and what our troops go through- something that not only makes me proud to be an American, but makes me count my blessings.

Courtesy of Disney/Pixar
Courtesy of Disney/Pixar

6. “Monster’s, Inc.”

Directed by by Pete Docter, Monster’s, Inc. follows Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. “Sully” Sullivan (Walter Sob-, er, John Goodman) and their merry bandmates as monsters responsible for generating their city’s power by scaring children, but are afraid of being contaminated by children themselves, so when one enters Monstropolis, Sully and Mike have their hands full.

For quite a long time, Pixar had a run of hit after hit, each film seemingly better than the last, and Monster’s, Inc. is no different. Filled with wonderful, colorful and lovable characters, plenty of comedy, and a heartwarming story, Pixar hit another one out of the park. I have never seen a studio churn out so many brilliant animated films. I grew up watching Looney Tunes and Animaniacs and silly cartoons on Nickelodeon, so I had come to expect all cartoons to be the same way. Animated to me meant pianos falling on people’s heads, a coyote falling off of a cliff and exploding after chasing a bird, an incompetent hunter with a terrible lisp being outsmarted by a talking rabbit, and they were all drawn! But then came Toy Story and Pixar changed the game forever, and they’ve had a vice grip on the genre ever since- telling REAL stories with REAL characters and REAL emotion. They just happened to be talking toys.

Courtesy of USA Films
Courtesy of USA Films

5. “In The Mood For Love”

Directed by Wong Kar Wai, In The Mood For Love centers on two neighbors, a man and a woman, who form a bond after they each suspect extramarital activities from their spouses, but they agree to keep their bond platonic so as not to commit similar wrongs.

Wong Kar Wai is the most romantic director alive. I swear, the man could direct a chick flick you’ve seen recycled thousands of times and make it so damn beautiful and heartfelt that even men won’t mind going to the theater for 2 hours. With the expected gorgeous cinematography from the great – and frequent Kar Wai collaborator – Christopher Doyle, Kar Wai has always been able to say so much more visually in 20 seconds of screen time than most directors say in 20 minutes. His blocking so precise, his framing so deliberate, Kar Wai is a visionary behind the camera and a brilliant visual storyteller.

Courtesy of The Criterion Collection
Courtesy of The Criterion Collection

4. “Y Tu Mama Tambien”

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, Y Tu Mama Tambien follows two teenage boys (Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna in the roles that made them stars) and an attractive older woman (Maribel Verdu) as they embark on a road trip and learn about life, friendship, sex, and each other.

Alfonso Cuaron showed early on his mastery of the film language with this film. Rather than taking the easy way out and making this a two hour comedy about raunchy, horny teenage boys wanting to have a threesome with a hot older woman, he showed patience and restraint and focused on the naivetés of these characters and how much they have to learn.

As a teenager, we think we know everything – I know I did. Cuaron captures that beautifully, sweetly, and naturalistically in this film, with some help from his old friend and now three-time Oscar winner, Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki. This is the penultimate road movie of the 2000s.

Courtesy of Miramax
Courtesy of Miramax

3. “In The Bedroom”

Directed by Todd Field, In The Bedroom stars Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek as a couple who have reservations about their college aged son (Nick Stahl) dating a woman ten years his senior (the lovely Marissa Tomei) and must deal with the repercussions of allowing their son to make his own choices.

A powerful, heart wrenching portrayal of grief, In The Bedroom is Todd Field’s debut film, which he followed up with the absolutely brilliant Little Children, and it’s a knockout. It’s unfortunate that he’s only made the two films mentioned because starting with In The Bedroom, Todd Field showed to have absolute control over characters and their emotions- what makes them react the way they do and why they do it. His films never come off as preachy or pretentious, and even though he deals primarily with upper-class characters, they all feel relatable and easy to empathize with. He always manages to get such realistic and natural performances from his actors that make his films that much more visceral. I very much look forward to his next project, whatever it will be.

Courtesy of Lionsgate Films
Courtesy of Lionsgate Films

2. “Amores Perros”

Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Amores Perros connects three stories through a horrific car crash, each involving characters dealing with loss, regret, life’s harsh realities, all in the name of love.

Before he reached the top of the mountain and won Best Director twice (The Revenant and Birdman) and Best Picture for Birdman, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu burst onto the international cinema scene with this hard hitting, brutal, gritty ensemble piece about love and what people endure for it – and my personal favorite film of his. Establishing his trademark pull-no-punches, gritty style, Inarritu grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go, leaving you absolutely breathless with his gritty visuals and stomach punching narrative. All of these characters go through hell and you are all the better for it because you are watching a master at work. This film is an experience.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

1. “Mulholland Drive”

Directed by David Lynch, Mulholland Drive takes off after a horrific car crash on the winding Mulholland Drive renders a woman (Laura Harring) amnesiac. She and perky Hollywood hopeful (Naomi Watts in her film debut) search for clues and answers across Los Angeles in a twisting venture beyond dreams and reality.

Full disclosure: I absolutely HATED this film the first time I saw it. I hated everything about it, especially the fact that I wasted two and a half hours of my life watching it. But I saw it again a few months after….and I fell in love – it has become one of my all-time favorite films. Though the definitive “mindfuck,” Mulholland Drive is an indelible masterpiece.

David Lynch sends us on a trippy journey that only he can, and lets us fend for ourselves as we try to decipher what the hell we are watching- but he leaves us clues along the way. Clues that, while seemingly nowhere to be found upon first viewing, are as apparent as the nose on your face upon the second viewing. Here is the biggest clue that I got, which allowed me to “unlock” the film and totally melt my brain- the very opening shot. It looks like a throw away, but it is the most important shot of the film- if you miss it, you will want to pull your hair out.

With a wonderfully ominous and haunting score from Angelo Badalamenti, Lynch crafts a maze that blurs the lines between reality and fantasy, and does so ever so deftly. Lynch is a mad genius who fuses aspects of experimental film and narrative film better than anybody to create an experience that cannot be duplicated, and Mulholland Drive is his masterpiece- a film that is much more than meets the eyes. The layers to this film and the way Lynch takes a simple story we have seen so many times before, and just completely turns it on its head, is a true work of art.

If you haven’t seen it, please do yourself a favor and do so. And if you have seen it and hated it like me, I urge you to please give it another watch and watch closely.


Well, that’s all folks! Feel free to comment and let me know what you think- agree, disagree, did I miss a film or two? You can always find me here at Nerdo, but feel free to join my film page on Facebook, Reel People, Reel Reviews to talk all things film! You can also find me on my personal Facebook and Twitter where I am always talking about all things film.

This is Jovanni, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.

FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: DISNEY/PIXAR

Jovanni Ibarra
jovannixibarra@gmail.com