Imperfect 10s

Picking the best of a bad movie year

7. State and Main. David Mamet bounces Hollywood glitz off the small-town mythos that Hollywood itself created. A reticular satiric notion, perhaps, but the actors have fun with the Mamet-speak.

8. Keeping the Faith. The ads and trailers made this triangle between priest Edward Norton, rabbi Ben Stiller and Jenna Elfman as the girl they both loved as kids look deadly. But it's a pity, because it is actually a strong, spirited romantic comedy with rich characters, inventively directed by Norton.

9. Bring It On. Bafflingly underrated. This comedy about cheerleading is fast and furious, cut with a sweet humor that keeps it from feeling assaultive. Though it's not remotely as good a teen flick as Amy Heckerling's Clueless, it has something of that film's generous spirit and sly verbal wit (why did no one pick up on its marvelous term "overshare," for "too much information"?).

10. Godzilla 2000. Laugh if you want, but this visually elegant, deliberately low-tech monster entry is about as fun a mindless diversion as the movies afforded this summer, and it takes amusing subtextual shots at our Yank version of Godzilla, too.

Honorable mentions: Some other films that didn't leave me in bereavement: Unbreakable, Up at the Villa, Chicken Run, The Emperor's New Groove, Dr. T and the Women, Wonder Boys, Shanghai Noon, The Legend of Drunken Master, The Patriot, The Crew and the entertaining Southern-fried Gothic The Gift.

Luke Y. Thompson
Special Jury Prize: Battlefield Earth. It's easy to make a bad movie. It's hard to make one so brilliantly bad that it succeeds on a whole new level. It helps to be backed by religious fanatics (remember, Plan 9 from Outer Space was made with Baptist money), feature a delusional star who has proved to have no concept of what makes a good film, and be under the impression that an overblown piece of hackwork from a past-his-prime pulp writer somehow qualifies as good literature. Goofy platform boots and Conehead prosthetics also don't hurt. This is a film that deserves regular midnight screenings and a whole new cult that isn't religious in origin. In the sequel (yes, they're making one!), alien shark-men come to repossess Earth on behalf of the galactic bank. I'm not kidding.

Now for the rest of the best:

10. Ratcatcher. Simultaneously beautiful and ugly, harshly real and gorgeously surreal.

9. You Can Count on Me. A movie about nothing, in the best possible sense. For everyone who's ever had a confused single mom.

8. Dark Days. A Clive Barker concept come to life, and it's all true: There are people living in the darkness beneath the city, and they've made a movie to prove it. The documentary to see this year.

7. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. You'll believe an underaged Asian hottie can fly.

6. Dinosaur. Yeah, the gags were lame. It's Disney, so be glad the dinos didn't sing. Regardless of plot quibbles, the $200 million primeval landscape was one of the most breathtaking visions ever put to the screen, and the story was surprisingly dark.

5. The Specials. What do superheroes do on their day off? According to this comedy, they just sit around the house and yell at each other. Thomas Haden Church gives the best deadpan since Adam West, and screenwriter James Gunn (Tromeo and Juliet) may be a genius.

4. Charlie's Angels. Chicks. Kicking. Explosions. Three reasons God invented movies.

3. A Moment of Innocence. A film from Iran that isn't an endless meditation on silence in which children walk around in the desert for an eternity. It's also the freshest movie about making a movie to come along in recent memory. Director Mohsen Makhmalbaf stars as himself, trying to dramatize an incident from his youth in which he stabbed a policeman, and the policeman also stars as himself. They both try to cast the perfect actors and shoot the scene, not realizing that the event had a vastly different subtext for each of them. The movie is too clean to be documentary, but it blurs the line between fact and fiction and trumps any of the Dogme 95 product.

2. Unbreakable. M. Night Shyamalan brilliantly dramatizes the intangible sadness that comes from knowing your life isn't on the right track -- and not knowing how to get it there. Samuel L. Jackson, playing against type, is hereby forgiven for Shaft.

1. Tomorrow Night. I always used to hate it when critics would pick some movie I never heard of as their No. 1, so please forgive me. Tomorrow Night actually screened at Sundance in 1998 but was never picked up for distribution. It saw release in LA this year and screened exactly four times. Maybe this was just a bad year, but Tomorrow Night is far and away the best film of 2000, and I can honestly say I've never seen anything quite like it. Writer/director Louis C.K., a standup comedian and former writer for David Letterman and Conan O'Brien, has created a movie that brings to mind both The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy and Eraserhead: Shot in black-and-white, it's the tale of an uptight photo-store owner with a fetish for rubbing his bare ass in ice cream, a lonely old woman whose husband is a gibbering tyrant, and the strange turn of events that causes their lives to intersect and Cupid to intervene. There's more -- a lot more -- to it than that, but it becomes progressively more impossible to describe. Louis C.K.'s next film will be the Chris Rock Show spin-off Pootie Tang, which should fare better with audiences.

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