When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 2001, it gave its Best Picture award to A Beautiful Mind, a biopic that starts strong, peaks with an ably executed plot twist, and then gradually degenerates into crap. It isn't on my list.
1. Mulholland Drive
Written and directed by David Lynch
In dreams it isn't unusual for a person to switch identities, for one figure to turn into several (and vice versa), or for time to fall out of joint. And as Lynch's soap opera evolves into a horror movie, it follows the logic of an especially nightmarish dream.
2. Spirited Away
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki
All of Miyazaki's fairy tales are wonderful, but this is the one I like the most.
3. Y Tu Mamá También
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Written by Cuarón and Carlos Cuarón
As engrossing as the plot is, what really lingers after this picture are the details of a larger world lurking in the background while the protagonists obliviously zoom by.
4. Sex and Lucia
Written and directed by Julio Médem
The picture that proved DV could be used as artfully as film—and did it by embracing the alleged drawbacks of the medium. I imagine Médem talking with his cinematographer: "So the sky looks washed out? OK; see if you can make that beautiful."
5. The Man Who Wasn't There
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
"He told them to look not at the facts but at the meaning of the facts, and then he said the facts had no meaning. It was a pretty good speech. It even had me going."
6. Donnie Darko
Written and directed by Richard Kelly
Harvey meets Carnival of Souls.
7. The Office
Written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant
Steve Kurtz always gives me a hard time when I put a season of a TV show on one of these lists. Well, look: This is a coherent three-hour story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Feel free to give me some shit if I start slipping in some seasons of the American Office, which is amazing at its best but is also more sprawling and open-ended. But these six episodes could be a miniseries.
8. Waking Life
Written and directed by Richard Linklater
Alex Jones' cameo haunts this movie the way Donald Trump's walk-on role haunts Home Alone 2, but as far as I'm concerned that just adds to the effect. (Reason #23,000 not to trust the Motion Picture Academy: It found room for Jimmy Neutron among its Best Animated Feature nominees, but not for this.)
9. The Sopranos 3
Written by David Chase, Todd A. Kessler, Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess, Terence Winter, Lawrence Konner, Frank Renzulli, Michael Imperioli, Salvatore J. Stabile, and Tim Van Patten
Directed by Van Patten, Allen Coulter, Henry J. Bronchtein, John Patterson, Jack Bender, Daniel Attias, and Steve Buscemi
Yes, more television. Come on: They're all moving pictures, right?
Directed by Ray Lawrence
Written by Andrew Bovell
"This is not an affair. It's a one-night stand that happened twice."
11. The Pledge (Sean Penn)
12. Storytelling (Todd Solondz)
13. Claire (Milford Thomas)
14. Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
15. Gosford Park (Robert Altman)
16. The Others (Alejandro Amenábar)
17. Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff)
18. Buffy the Vampire Slayer 5 (Joss Whedon)
19. The Last Words of Dutch Schultz (Gerrit van Dijk)
20. What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-liang)
That item at #18 is the fifth season of a television show—sorry, Steve!—so Whedon is listed as the showrunner, not the director. Though he did, as it happens, also direct some individual episodes.
Of the films of 2001 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Fat Girl.