Nation’s crix champion their personal bests

'Mulholland Drive,' 'Bedroom,' 'A.I.' among favorites

We asked several of the country’s leading film critics to pick what they hope will be nominated in the Oscar picture race. Many point out that what they loved in 2001 may not end up on the typical Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voter’s list, but it’s always noble to champion the underdogs:

David Ansen, Newsweek

I would like to see “Mulholland Drive” nominated. It’s perhaps the best movie of the year, period. I find it quite mesmerizing and moving in a way that most films aren’t usually. It’s obviously a movie that divides people strongly. But it shouldn’t be approached as a puzzle to be solved. You just have to go with the flow. It’s a genuine surrealistic movie. If you let it resonate in your mind, it’s a wonderful experience.

“In the Bedroom” is the best American indie of the year. For a first film, it’s a work of tremendous control and very strong emotional impact. It’s beautifully acted top to bottom. I liked it better the second time I saw it.

Another movie that divides people completely is “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” which to me is one of Spielberg’s most interesting, a very challenging and misunderstood movie. Twenty years from now, people will still be watching it and wondering why it didn’t get any Oscar nominations.

If they nominated foreign films for best picture, I’d like to see one for the Swedish movie “Together.” Jean Renoir would be proud. It has that depth of character — a very rich, warm, charming movie.

The other nominees I would like to see would be “Shrek,” “Moulin Rouge,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” “Dinner Rush” and “Black Hawk Down.”

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, “Ebert & Roeper and the Movies”

In the best of all possible worlds, the five Oscar nominees would be the first five titles on my list of the year’s best films. In the real world, this is highly unlikely. For example, this year’s best picture Oscar will go to “The Lord of the Rings,” which is not even in my top 10.

That’s because the Academy worships long, expensive epics, and is shy about films that are quirky, serious, daring or controversial. My consolation will be that “The Lord of the Rings” is certainly a better film than “Gladiator,” whose director, Ridley Scott, himself has a much better film in contention this year.

Here are the five wonderful films that should be nominated: “Monster’s Ball,” “Black Hawk Down,” “In the Bedroom,” “Ghost World” and “Mulholland Drive.”

Molly Haskell, author and critic

My five favorites are “Mulholland Drive,” “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “Gosford Park” and “A.I.” The Coen brothers (“Man”) and David Lynch (“Drive”) are expressing their affection for old movies in a completely modern idiom. The Lynch film is much more involving. Once you get used to the idea that it’s not going to fit together, you can relax and enjoy it.

In “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” I liked the mixture of moods and wry humor that erupts once in a while. “Gosford Park” is a tour de force in the way (Robert) Altman orchestrates the whole ensemble.

“A.I.” contains such a powerful emotional theme, much darker than anything Spielberg has done. It reverberates in a way most films don’t. “A Beautiful Mind” suffers a little from the trajectory of a biopic, but it’s full of surprises. Russell Crowe gives an incredible performance, much better than in “Gladiator.” It’s not sentimental, but very challenging and provocative.

Todd McCarthy, Variety

“Mulholland Drive” is at the top of my list. It’s the film that stuck with me the most, daring and thought-provoking. A few days later, I got it. I couldn’t wait to see it again. It’s the only thing I felt compelled to see a second time. It’s a deeply mysterious, intuitive film by a true filmmaker.

“Lantana” is more conventionally made, but very sophisticated and complex. Although it has a certain thriller aspect, it’s a multifaceted look at a marriage and relationships. There’s an enormous amount of truth and character revelation to it. “The Tailor of Panama” is evocative entertainment with tremendous atmosphere, intriguing characters, and superbly made in a classical manner.

“A.I.” is a deeply problematic film and yet is so ambitious and so continually interesting.

There’s much more to it than most films made this year. It was very underappreciated, and does not deserve to be dismissed.

“Monster’s Ball” is a surprising film, slow to reveal itself. Its characters are very detailed, unexpected in this day and age. “Tape” is a very small film, but of its type, it’s about as good as it gets. It’s extremely alertly directed. “In the Bedroom” is a solidly, impeccably made piece, quite an accomplishment for a first-time director.

Peter Rainer, New York Magazine

It was an abysmal year for movies from major distributors, but in terms of independent and foreign films and documentaries, it looks much better. The best studio picture I saw all year is “Shrek.” The most innovative and exceptional in terms of use of the medium was another animated picture, Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life,” although there’s some debate there.

“Gosford Park” is a marvelous movie. It’s wonderful that a director in his mid-70s, who for most of his career has bucked the establishment has now made a superlative example of — at least on the surface — an establishment movie, a star-studded British drama-comedy of manners.

“In the Bedroom” is a terrific film and in some ways the most rejuvenating film of the year. It’s a clear signal from a new talent. John Boorman’s “The Tailor of Panama” was a very daring picture that combined many different tones that don’t normally go together, like comedy, drama, slapstick and action.

There are some veteran directors who made tremendous comebacks. Agnes Varda’s “The Gleaners and I” is the best documentary of the year, a wonderfully handmade, personal memoir. Barbet Schroeder’s “Our Lady of the Assassins” was a tremendously evocative black comedy. “The Circle” was an amazing movie from Iran about the plight of women there. “Amores Perros” is another extraordinary directorial debut.

Richard Schickel, Time Magazine

I would very much hope that “Black Hawk Down” would be one of the Oscar nominees. It’s uncompromising, unforgiving and hugely relevant in the sense that those are the kind of wars we’re going to fight in the 21st century. “In the Bedroom” is a wonderful movie about middle-class silences and the price we pay by not talking about and dealing with things until it’s too late.

I would love to see “Shrek” not as an animated feature but as a regular feature. It’s the most delightful movie of the year. Kids love it, but it’s hip and smart in a way that adults can enjoy.

The others I liked were not American movies. I liked “Lantana,” I liked the Swedish movie “Together,” and I thought “Amores Perros” was terrific. So was the French movie “With a Friend Like Harry.” I don’t think it was a bad year if it was a worldwide year. There were a lot of fine films that were not American movies.

Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

My top choice by far is “The Lord of the Rings.” For me it was moviemaking at its grandest and most epic. It was ambitious, sweeping moviemaking. What I loved is that it took a risk in a field where it is very frightening to take a risk.

I also liked “A Beautiful Mind,” “In the Bedroom,” and “Monster’s Ball.” Also “Black Hawk Down,” just because it’s big and bloody. “In the Bedroom” is indie filmmaking at its best. There is something so quintessentially fine and American about its domestic storytelling.

Some of most interesting films are not likely to be nominated, like “A.I.”; “The Tailor of Panama”; “Waking Life”; and “The Royal Tenenbaums,” which really ought to have a nomination. Wes Anderson is a truly innovate filmmaker, who created a world contained unto itself, and he’s done it beautifully.

“Shrek” should be running in the best picture category. If the animation category didn’t exist, “Shrek” is as good or better as anything else that’s come out this year.

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