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2001 movies: Reviewer Paul Clinton's 10 best

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

(CNN) -- Here's what I think the best ones are, listed in roughly the order of their release date.

"Moulin Rouge"

Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Starring Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor and Jim Broadbent.
(20th Century Fox)

Director Baz Luhrmann has quite simply reinvented the musical with "Moulin Rouge." Released in May, it still looms high above everything that came before and after its premiere. Starring a radiant Nicole Kidman, the film is set in one of the 19th century's most infamous and decadent times, when the rich and powerful mixed with the young and beautiful at a Parisian nightclub, the Moulin Rouge. It's a cinematic joyride that swoops and swirls with exotic camera moves and delightful music culled from the previous decades. This Orphean myth also stars Ewan McGregor, who shines next to the smoldering Kidman.


Directed by Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson, Scott Marshall.
Starring Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and Jon Lithgow.

"Shrek" is a multilayered delight for the family. The story of the title ogre -- whose swamp is invaded by fairy-tale characters exiled by the evil Lord Farquaad -- it's truly original and extremely funny. This animated instant-classic is brimming with subtle allusions to the feud between Dreamworks Studio partner Jeffery Katzenberg and his old boss at Disney, Michael Eisner. But the element that sets it apart from the rest of the pack is the adult sensibility infused throughout. From the Muffin Man screaming, "Eat me!" to the overcompensation asides about the size of Farquaad's castle, "Shrek" hits the mark with adults while never forgetting its appeal to the little ones with its messages about tolerance and beauty.

"In the Bedroom"

Directed by Todd Fields
Starring Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson, Marisa Tomei.

Since its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, "In The Bedroom" has been drawing the attention of critics and audiences. The beautifully crafted and understated performances of Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson are a wonder to behold. This case study in the complexities of small-town life, and the secrets that can bind and tear people apart, is provocative, intense and exceedingly well-directed by Todd Fields. Marisa Tomei gives her best performance in years, and Spacek could very well find herself with an Academy Award nomination for her spellbinding performance.

"The Man Who Wasn't There"

Director Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, James Gandolfini.
(USA Films)

TEST 2001 movies: Tales of Two Pauls
Click on each link to see our two CNN reviewers' favorites and least favorites from the year in films.
Paul Clinton's best of 2001
Paul Clinton's worst of 2001
Paul Tatara's best of 2001
Paul Tatara's worst of 2001

Inspired by the novels of James M. Cain, "The Man Who Wasn't There" is a masterpiece of the understated. Once again the Coen brothers continue to amaze moviegoers with the scope of their talents. Shot in black and white by award-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins, this story about blackmail, murder and infidelity details the emotional journey of Ed Crane (Billy Bob Thornton) as tragedy dogs his every step through his dead-end life. Thornton's Crane is so mild-mannered he barely registers a heartbeat, yet his character permeates every frame of film as he plays a ghost-like figure in his own life. This concise, terse movie is a throwback to the classic films of the 1940s -- it's the stuff that dreams are made of.

"Life as a House"

Directed by Irwin Winkler
Starring Kevin Kline, Kristen Scott Thomas, Hayden Christensen.
(New Line Cinema)

Kevin Kline gives his best performance in years as George Morris, a disillusioned man who, after losing his job, questions his existence. Estranged from his family and newly diagnosed with terminal cancer, he tries to bring meaning to his life by making amends. In hopes of rescuing his relationship with his son (played by Hayden Christensen in one of the best performances by an unknown actor), George enlists the boy's help to build a house. It's a move to establish what he hopes will be a lasting legacy, a sign that he mattered, a concrete example that he ever existed. Kristen Scott Thomas gives an exquisite performance as George's ex-wife whose love he re-awakens. This small movie has a huge heart.

"A Beautiful Mind"

Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connolly, Christopher Plummer.
(Universal Studios)

Russell Crowe continues his remarkable streak of exceptional roles with "A Beautiful Mind." Based on the real-life story of mathematician John Nash, who won a Nobel Prize despite suffering from schizophrenia, this tale doesn't sound like a compelling film. But in the hands of Crowe and director Ron Howard, it soars as both intelligent and strongly emotional entertainment. Spanning more than 40 years, the story is a triumph of the human spirit and a testimony to the possibilities of love, commitment and never giving up on what you believe, no matter the odds. Jennifer Connolly, playing Nash's long-suffering but loving wife, finally gets the role she deserves.

"The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"

Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, Sean Astin, Ian McKellen.
(New Line Cinema)

"The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring" is truly a cinematic marvel and the best adaptation of a wildly popular literary work since "Gone With the Wind" (1939). Director Peter Jackson, his brilliant cast, astounding production team and spectacular special-effects department have created an alternate universe that might make even "Rings" author J.R.R. Tolkien swoon. The screenplay is remarkable, given all that had to be compressed or discarded in order to make the transition from page to the big screen. The special effects -- as astounding as they are -- never overwhelm the story, and that's no mean feat. This film and its two sequels are destined to make film history.

"Gosford Park"

Directed by Robert Altman
Starring Kristen Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Emily Watson, and Alan Bates
(USA Films)

"Gosford Park" is the best film from movie maverick Robert Altman in decades. This delicious "whodunit" set at an English manor house in 1932 is a combination of "Upstairs, Downstairs" and the board game "Clue." From its splendid whirling, swirling opening, with the arrival of the aristocratic self-centered guests and their gossipy servants, to a delightfully ambivalent conclusion, "Gosford Park" is ensemble acting at its best. The energy level is astounding as this film begins at a high-octane speed and continues to gain momentum until the very end. Maggie Smith, Kristen Scott Thomas, Emily Watson and Clive Owen, among many, are at the top of their games in this delightfully sophisticated romp. This is one of those rare films that's worth seeing twice.

"Black Hawk Down"

Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Tom Sizemore, Ewan McGregor, Jeremy Piven, Orlando Bloom.

War is hell and "Black Hawk Down" gives you a front-row seat. Based on the real-life story of the 1993 firefight in Somalia which cost 19 American lives, this is the best war movie since "Saving Private Ryan." The true nature of war and the intimate face of heroism is shown in all its gory details -- and all its stupendous glory -- from the generals right down to the lowest grunt in the bombed-out buildings of Mogadishu. This story of a humanitarian mission gone horribly wrong is told in real time as the soldiers find themselves trapped behind enemy lines and at the mercy of a marauding mob of militant tribesmen lusting for American blood. You'll be nailed to your seat. Just remember to breathe. This is as close to the front lines as you can get without getting shot.

"Monster's Ball"

Directed by Marc Forster Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry (Lions Gate)

"Monster's Ball" is the most depressing film you'll ever love. Featuring Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry in career high performances, this stunning film will leave you emotionally limp. It presents a sobering, serious look at capital punishment, race relations, and the dynamics of dysfunctional families -- all interwoven with a touching and deeply moving love story. Quite simply, it is one of the best adult films in years. Thornton and Berry will break your heart as you watch these two broken spirits try to find meaning and solace in each other, despite the incredible odds against them. This unflinching film is as brutal as it is touching. It will haunt you for a long, long time.




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