Here are my picks for the top films of 2001:
1. "Ghost World," with Thora Birch, is documentarian Terry ("Crumb") Zwigoff's first feature, and it was an extraordinary tough look at a disaffected teenager. Her disdain for the world shields her pathetic vulnerability as she tries to convince herself she doesn't care about the super-nerdly Steve Buscemi. Birch is pitch-perfect, and the film has the zombie-teen thing so right it's scary.
2. "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" restores the oldest and most primitive of movie pleasures to the screen: seeing neat stuff go on and on and on. I'm not a Hobbit-type guy (what's the deal with a culture that has invented umbrellas and waistcoats but not shoes and socks?), but "Lord of the Rings" has a sense of thunder and blood: a huge landscape clotted with monster-soldiers, close-quarter combat with sword, bow and staff, evil cavalry, stud heroes with dirty faces. It's really cool.
3. "Black Hawk Down" doesn't open here till Jan. 18, but it's the best pure battle movie since "Zulu" many years ago. You are simply there, with the 75th Rangers and First Special Forces (Delta) for 12 hours in Mogadishu in 1993, when 2,000 men with AK-47s and RPGs decided to wipe them out. It's a terrific tribute to military professionalism and sheer guts. Ridley Scott directs a great cast, including Josh Hartnett, Tom Sizemore, Sam Shepard and Aussie Eric Bana in a star-making turn as the toughest of the tough Delta commandos.
4. "Diamond Men" is modest, superb independent filmmaking. First-time director Daniel Cohen follows the awkward relationship between two traveling salesmen in the diamond business as they ply their trade in the small towns of rural Pennsylvania. Measured performances by Robert Forster and Donnie Wahlberg bring the movie into contact with life.
5. "The Man Who Wasn't There" is the Coen brothers' tribute to the elegant despair of noir. Set in California in the 1940s, it follows as Billy Bob Thornton, feckless and weak and "not there," makes a grab at a big score and unleashes forces that destroy everybody. Black-and-white cinematography, gray, beige and satin morality.
6. "Shrek" is great movie storytelling; the high-tech, pixel-fabulous creation of reality on a hard drive somewhere has nothing to do with it. Much better is the sense of character and courage as big ugly old Shrek proves himself the best man in the kingdom as he rescues a princess and defeats a monster.
7. "Our Lady of the Assassins" is Barbet Schroeder's vivid variation on "Death in Venice," set not in plague-haunted Venice but violence-haunted Medellin, Colombia, where a writer has returned to die but falls in love with a beautiful boy instead. The modern wrinkle: The boy is a stone killer in the city's drug wars.
8. "A Beautiful Mind" has drawn some fire for fictionalizing the story of tormented math genius John Forbes Nash, whose sexual confusion the movie fails to mention. On its own terms, Ron Howard's film is a beautifully acted parable about the courage to mend, as Russell Crowe plays the hulking schizophrenic with great skill and subtlety and demonstrates how the man defeated his disease on will alone.
9. "Va Savoir" is Jacques Rivette's beautifully mounted French farce, taking the shape of a roundelay, as various lovers switch partners over its running time, proving that love will out in the end -- if only for a little while.
10. You can't make too big a thing about Silvio Soldini's "Bread and Tulips," the story of much-put-upon Roman housewife Rosalba (Licia Maglietta) who, accidentally abandoned by her family, heads to Venice, where her humanity, her capacity for love, her passion and her earthy beauty are suddenly appreciated, not taken for granted. But the film is quietly lovely, a document of a woman's journey to a sense of worth and a sense of independence. It's one of those seemingly modest films that sneak up on you, and when all the shouting and hyping is over, it's one of the ones you remember.