Imperfect 10s

Picking the best of a bad movie year

Others worthy of note: X-Men, Almost Famous, An Affair of Love, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Tigerland, Erin Brockovich, Thirteen Days, Nurse Betty, Pitch Black, State and Main, George Washington, Snatch, An Everlasting Piece, Human Traffic, Godzilla 2000, Committed.

Oh yeah, and Gladiator sucked. Sorry.

David Ehrenstein
Everybody says it was a terrible year for the movies -- and it was. But even the worst year has its high points.

1. Croupier. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences should be ashamed of itself for declaring this incisive character study of a novelist who moonlights as a gambling casino worker ineligible for the Oscars because of a technicality about its opening date. Director Mike Hodges, screenwriter Paul Mayersberg and star Clive Owen are all deserving of receiving every award that isn't nailed down.

2. Paragraph 175. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's documentary about gays and the Holocaust is both a historical eye-opener and an overwhelming moral experience.

3. Time Regained. One would think that a film version of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time would be impossible, but director Raoul Ruiz causes one to think again. Featuring an amazing cast that includes Catherine Deneuve, Edith Scob, Marie-France Pisier, Pascale Greggory, Vincent Perez and that axiom of the modern cinema, John Malkovich.

4. Taboo. Nagisa Oshima's drama about how a beautiful young samurai disrupts the world of his fellow warriors is one of the great director's subtlest and most beautiful films.

5. The House of Mirth. Terence Davies' adaptation of Edith Wharton's romantic tragedy is three times the size of his other films (Distant Voices, Still Lives; The Long Day Closes), but no less intimate on an emotional level -- with a brilliant star performance by Gillian Anderson as the lovely, unlucky Lilly Bart.

6. Nuyorican Dream. Made over a period of several years, Laurie Collyer's documentary about New York schoolteacher Robert Torres -- a gay man who is the pride of his desperately poor and deeply troubled family -- opens a window onto the world of the underclass that today's conservative orthodoxy loathes with every fiber of its being.

7. Urbania. Jon Shear's film of one gay man's Long Dark Night of the Soul is based on a play by Daniel Reitz, but it's as cinematic as a movie can get. Dan Futterman is remarkable as the troubled hero, and Alan Cumming is touching, and hilarious, as his HIV-positive best pal.

8. Wonder Boys. Curtis Hanson's film of Michael Chabon's novel, adapted by screenwriter Steve Kloves, is one of the brightest films of the year and a career high point for the talented director. Michael Douglas looks and acts his age as the chief protagonist -- a failed novelist turned literature professor. Tobey Maguire is wonderful as his creepy-yet-compelling protégé , and Robert Downey Jr., only moments away from the slammer, gives his best performance to date as Douglas' libidinous editor who's hot for Maguire.

9. Beau Travail. Claire Denis' reworking of Melville's Billy Budd -- set in the French Foreign Legion -- is the homosexiest movie of the year. Denis Lavant (on leave from director Leos Carax) is a standout as the Claggart of the story.

10. Benjamin Smoke. A documentary with the punch of a dramatic feature, Jem Cohen and Peter Sillen's film simply lets Richard "Benjamin" Dickerson, an HIV-positive musician living in the slums of Atlanta, tell his own story in his own way. Before he dies.

Honorable mentions: Full Blast, 101 Rent Boys, Pola X, Before Night Falls, Dr. T and the Women, Venus Beauty Institute, Cecil B. Demented, Shadow of the Vampire.

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