Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: Warner Bros.
Ken Tucker
December 07, 2001 AT 05:00 AM EST

Here are five of 2001’s top entertainment events

Any evaluation of the past year in entertainment cannot escape the dread shadow of Sept. 11, whose darkness does not fade. That being acknowledged, here are five events — chosen from the worlds of movies, music,and books — that shaped 2001’s pop culture in unexpected ways.

The release of ”A.I.” No movie event was more highly anticipated than this unique combination of directorial sensibilities: Steven Spielberg taking over a sci-fi project developed by the late Stanley Kubrick. This summer’s tale of an artificial intelligence given human form by Haley Joel Osment was, by any measure, a flawed but artistically venturesome project. Widely judged a commerical disappointment at a time when box-office performance too often determines aesthetic success, ”A.I.” featured an undeniably charismatic performance by Jude Law, a brave one by Osment, and, no matter what you thought of the result, Spielberg’s admirable experiment in expanding our notions of what a mass audience should expect from big-studio American filmmaking.

The death of Aaliyah On Aug. 25, the 22-year-old singer-actress died in a plane crash. With multiplatinum albums and a budding movie career in films such as ”Romeo Must Die” and scheduled roles in the ”Matrix” sequels, Aaliyah — with her model’s beauty and beguiling personality — was poised to transcend R&B stardom to become a pop phenomenon. Sadly, her death was the year’s biggest loss of brilliance to come.

”Harry Potter”-mania The hero of millions of copies of J.K. Rowling’s rousing adventures in wizardry sustained his popularity in making the transition to the big screen. Director Chris Columbus and screenwriter Steve Kloves were faithful to Rowling’s first volume (some said excessively so, though not the author) and the movie made stars of its Harry (a properly poised Daniel Radcliffe), its Hermione (a suitably studious Emma Watson), and its Ron (the transcendently mischievous Rupert Grint). Fans are looking forward to sequels both between hard-covers and on the big screen in the coming year.

Oprah vs. Jonathan Franzen Oprah Winfrey’s book-club selections confer automatic bestseller status upon being chosen, but for the first time, this year there was a spoiler in her midst. Jonathan Franzen, having written a skillfully sprawling family saga in ”The Corrections,” got the nod, but sneered in return, opining in interviews that Oprah’s middlebrow audience sullied the high-art audience for whom he was writing. Widely ridiculed as a snob, Franzen learned that America likes its brows set neither excessively high nor low, and that millions of citizens are able to comprehend the subtleties of a gifted writer — even if he or she happens to appear on TV.

The death of George Harrison His perennial poker-face disguised an impish wit, but then, one of the things we love about all the Beatles is that they proved to be more complicated individuals than we ever could have hoped for from their first, Fab Four incarnation. If McCartney and Lennon were the heart and soul of the Beatles, and Ringo the group’s heartbeat, George was its spine, his lead guitar lines holding firm a sprawling melody such as his own ”Taxman.” Post-Beatles, Harrison’s work was uneven but rarely without moments of clever joy, from ”Apple Scruffs” to his participation in the Traveling Wilburys. That ”quiet Beatle” tag was always a misnomer; he was the meditative one, the measured one, the Beatle most likely to age to — at least — a graceful 64, their ”Sgt. Pepper” ideal. That he, like Lennon, did not only adds to the sadness of his passing.

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