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Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Top Ten Films Of 2001

By Kevin John

10. "Moulin Rouge": "'Like a Virgin?' 'Material Girl?' Those songs weren't around at the turn of the century," scoffed my sister. But how many of us can make distinctions between the zeitgeists of, say, 1704 and 1784? "Moulin Rouge," then, is a pink-champagne time capsule, the way the 20th century will be remembered. Well, at least by the man responsible for the very worst single of the '90s.

9. "Legally Blonde": Fashion deb Elle Woods enters Harvard Law School, introduces passion, aerobics and perm solution into the legal process, and closes out the film with a speech countering Aristotle. The hilarious screenplay of Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, based on a novel by Amanda Brown, offers such a scandalous glimpse into patriarchy's blind spots that the unfortunate homosexuality-as-secret trial sequence seems like status quo compensation as a result.

8. "Brother": Takeshi Kitano's best films sap bittersweet lyricism from the existential angst of "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia." Already over once it's begun, this one drives headlong into sick, sour nihilistic terrain and somehow soothes your weary muscles in the absurd process. Violence at its most meaningless; meaninglessness at its most violent. Sheesh — even the promo goodies were suitably grotesque, e.g. a mug that becomes riddled with bloody bullet holes when filled with coffee.

7. "Josie & The Pussycats": Next to "Election," the most telling report on the burgeoning rift between Generation X and Generation Why Not.

6. "In the Mood for Love": Desire refracted through Wong Kar-wai's prismatic eye-piece until it attains an unbearable infinity.

5. "The Closet": Messagey queer films like "The Broken Hearts Club" and the abysmal "But I'm a Cheerleader" attract their viewers like a magnetic bulls-eye draws a steel arrow. This French comedy slyly demonstrates that in order for homosexuality to truly matter in mainstream cinema, it must create demand (as opposed to explanation or affirmation) in the narrative economy, as befits any product of a capitalist society.

4."The Circle": Jafar Panahi's insurrection against the hideous treatment of women in Iran plotted out as a camera pan which comes inexorably, devastatingly full circle.

3."Mulholland Drive": The most ravishing plummet into the gulf connecting plot to story since, damn, "Last Year at Marienbad." Still holding out on what it bodes for lesbian representability, though.

2. "War Story": This half-hour world historic reclamation project stars director John Baumgartner as Metly Moorville, a Keaton-esque imp who falls in love with a soldier just about to ship off to fight in WWI. Set in 1918, "War Story " meticulously recreates silent movie style in an effort to resituate homosexuality in the cinematic history that elided it (as an overt concern, that is). Miraculously, Baumgartner walks as joyous a line as he talks. The film succeeds as a marvelous entertainment as well as a brilliant slice of queer theory, largely thanks to the agile slapstick of Baumgartner himself. No other film on this list speaks so fervently of a love for (and a disappointment with) cinema. All I could ask is that the next installment rework "Sherlock Jr."

1. "A.I. Artificial Intelligence": Directed by Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick, I insist, and the best film of either; an enormously moving and provocative gene-splice that brings the seam-ripped splendor of "Glen or Glenda?," "Track of the Cat," 'Crazy in Alabama," "An Actor's Revenge," "The Hart of London" and "Some Call It Loving" to the level of the Hollywood blockbuster. Unless my deepest prayers get answered, we shall never see its like again.

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