Imperfect 10s

Picking the best of a bad movie year

Maybe it wasn't such a bad year for filmgoing after all, if only because it's far harder to assemble a Top 10 list this year than it was last year. Or maybe the best of 1999 towered so far above the worst (and the middling, which includes the grossly overrated American Beauty) that ranking them was a no-brainer on a par with Coyote Ugly, Battlefield Earth, Little Nicky, Road Trip and Pay It Forward. Speaking of which, Kevin Spacey might look into a little thing called "being picky": Between Pay It Forward and The Big Kahuna, the dude's this close to getting his Oscars revoked or having someone use them to bash some sense into that head of his. And just when we were forgetting all about Hurlyburly.

Last year's derring-do has given way to this year's derring-don't (three Jerry Bruckheimer films, for starters and enders). Suddenly every film feels as though it was made in 1983 and filtered through NBC on its way to becoming one of TNT's "modern classics." Little surprise that two of this year's releases -- The Tao of Steve and Remember the Titans -- are on their way to the small screen; they played tiny even at the cineplex. Even the "quality" pics of 2000 feel like pilots for hourlong dramas, chief among them critical fave You Can Count on Me, starring Laura Linney as that woman from Providence, Matthew Broderick as his character from Election and newcomer Mark Ruffalo as Vincent D'Onofrio. About the only movie of 2000 that bore any of 1999's adventuresome residue was The Cell, which was beautiful to look at, if only you didn't actually pay attention to its story or dialogue or characters.

But do you trust any year in which the ironically named Proof of Life makes the best-of list in Time? (Or, for that matter, the dreary, overlong Sunshine and Nurse Betty, which proved that you can never trust a trailer?) If Proof of Life is a Top 10-er, then Autumn in New York and MVP: Most Valuable Primate can't be far behind. Expect to see Frequency on more than one list, too. And Billy Elliot. Sometimes you feel like a chump, sometimes you don't. -- Robert Wilonsky

Crouching Tiger, HIdden Dragon
Crouching Tiger, HIdden Dragon
Chicken Run
Chicken Run

Andy Klein
The year 1999 was too good to last, but did 2000 have to be such a big letdown? Did the best film year in at least a decade-and-a-half have to be followed by one of the worst? This year, there are a good 20 films that would have been jostling for spot 10 on last year's list but not even one that made me jump up and down and drag friends into the theater. Below are my 10 favorites, all of them really good movies. (All the usual caveats apply: I haven't seen everything, particularly among the rush of December releases; my list would be different if I drew it up tomorrow; and I may regret this all in a week.)

1. Chicken Run. In the tradition of Babe, this hysterical piece of plasticine animation from Nick Park and Peter Lord probably gave me more pleasure than anything else I saw this year. Simply by being a feature, it is less compactly perfect than Park's shorts, but it's still pretty damn good.

2. Wonder Boys. It took me a second viewing to appreciate just how good this is. The combination of this gentle comedy and Curtis Hanson's previous film, L.A. Confidential, mark him as a truly great director of ensemble performance. Everyone in the film is doing the best work of their careers. I know this was a tough sell, but people are missing a wonderful movie.

3. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. If Ang Lee's film were the first Chinese swordplay I had ever seen, it probably would have been my top film this year. But, having been immersed in the genre for a decade now, I'm a little too aware of how derivative it is. But that shouldn't stop you from seeing it. The combination of Michelle Yeoh, Chow Yun-Fat, newcomer Zhang Ziyi and the spectacular action direction of Hong Kong veteran Yuen Wo-Ping is hard to beat.

4. Suzhou River. The debut feature of mainland Chinese writer/director Lou Ye feels like a cross between the minimalism of the French New Wave and the lush romanticism of Alfred Hitchcock, most specifically Vertigo, whose basic plot elements Lou frankly and acknowledgedly borrows. Intriguing and mystifying, it continues to fascinate after multiple viewings.

5. Best in Show. Once again using the improvisational technique of his previous Waiting for Guffman and This Is Spinal Tap (the latter directed by Rob Reiner), director/co-writer Christopher Guest provides a perfect context for a bunch of brilliant improv talents.

6. Croupier. This complex, almost cerebral thriller from the interesting but spotty director Mike Hodges sat on the shelf for two years without American distribution. It finally gets a tiny booking and -- guess what? -- it's way, way better than almost anything out of Hollywood. This is a devilishly clever, engaging piece of work that milks every cent of value from its tiny budget.

7. Dancer in the Dark. OK, so it's the most depressing musical ever made, and I don't want to ever see it again. But I still thought it was brilliant, and, combined with Lars von Trier's other 2000 release, The Idiots, this gives him the award for Best Total Output for the year, edging out Steven Soderbergh with Erin Brockovich and Traffic.

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