By Amy Nicholson
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Amy Nicholson
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Chris Packham
By Stephanie Zacharek
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
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.
8. High Fidelity. As insightful a romantic comedy as we've seen in the last couple of years, from the talented Stephen Frears.
9. Chocolat. Yeah, Lasse Hallström's movie is almost too sweet, but I was totally charmed by this American knockoff of Latin American magical realism. Wonderful cast.
10. Cast Away. I'll probably regret this one down the line, but I was deeply moved by parts of this yuppie Robinson Crusoe story and was impressed by how well director Robert Zemeckis resisted his inclinations to go for the obvious slick Hollywood satisfactions.
And a few picks in random categories:
Most underrated: Under Suspicion. Everyone else thought Stephen Hopkins' thriller sucked. I was knocked out. So sue me.
Best documentary: Dark Days. A real underground movie: Marc Singer goes to live with the homeless in New York's subway tunnels.
Best long-overdue release by a great filmmaker: Madadayo. Why did it take seven years for Akira Kurosawa's touching valedictory to reach American screens?
Best totally startling avant-garde vision: Matthew Barney's Cremaster 2. Jesus, what is this guy smoking?
Best totally startling avant-garde vision, Hollywood division: The Cell. Director Tarsem Singh is obviously dipping into Matthew Barney's stash.
Hong Kong-goes-America honorable mentions: The Legend of Drunken Master (Jackie Chan's best '90s film finally gets released in the U.S., dubbed but otherwise intact), Shanghai Noon (Chan gets to make his long-awaited martial-arts Western, and it turns out amazingly well) and M:I-2 (far from John Woo at his best but still better than the series deserves).
There were some remarkable films released this year, movies that will live long past the arbitrary expiration date bestowed on them by critics rushing to compile glib Top 10s (some job, eh?). I've failed to include many of them -- George Washington, Before Night Falls, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Black and White, Best in Show -- simply because, as moving and marvelous as they are, their prowess and achievements fail to cut deep to the bone. (If this list went to 20, the next 10 entries would be named Croupier.) They strike my head and not my heart, and lists such as these should favor those movies that make an impact emotionally as well as intellectually. It's little wonder, then, that several of the films on my list (which is arranged alphabetically) are about writers, music fetishists, comic-book fans or all three (though I'm not sure what the inclusion of American Psycho says about me). Your Top 10 list will no doubt be far different, as well it should. Just don't put The Perfect Storm on there.
1. Almost Famous. Cameron Crowe makes the perfect concept album about a teen (and teeny) rock crit on the way up, a rock band on its way up and out, and a groupie on the way home. Sure, it's glossy and damp with nostalgia. It's supposed to be. Docked points, though, for containing the third-best Billy Crudup performance of 2000, after Jesus' Son and Waking the Dead.
2. American Psycho. Mary Harron's adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' lurid, turgid novel isn't to be celebrated for excising the violence and trimming the Huey Lewis speeches. It's to be celebrated because it's the funniest movie of the year -- a comedy with, ah, guts.
3. Chicken Run. The best Mel Gibson movie of the year is the one in which he doesn't actually appear; that's what men want, anyway. And this is the movie women should have wanted: The Great Escape starring chicks. Claymationed chickens, anyway.
4. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Or, the anti-Charlie's Angels. Ang Lee's Eastern fairytale dolled up for the Western multiplex is the most thrilling and moving film of 2000: It kicks your ass and breaks your heart. What else do you need?
5. High Fidelity. Yeah, yeah -- it drops the better ending from Nick Hornby's novel, and some of the best scenes landed only on the DVD. But what guy out there hasn't chosen his record collection over a girlfriend? No, be honest.
6. Quills. It's not about censorship or, for that matter, sex. And it's not about Geoffrey Rush's cock, either, though showing his schlong will do wonders for his Oscar chances -- stripped naked for his art, blah, blah, blah. Actually, Philip Kaufman's movie, adapted from Doug Wright's play, is about how little control the artist (in this case, the Marquis de Sade) has over his art -- meaning his dick.
7. Traffic. The Academy's going to give Steven Soderbergh the nod for Erin Brockovich, which, when translated from the original Urdu, means "Julia Roberts' tits." But he deserves the praise for this piece of reportage from the front lines of the war on drugs, which might be the best Miami Vice episode ever made.
8. Unbreakable. So, you hated the ending. Yeah, and comic books are for kids, too.
9. The Way of the Gun. For his directorial debut, Chris McQuarrie, the man who wrote The Usual Suspects, loads the shotgun (and machine gun and Glock and so on) with dark, resonant laughs. Audiences and critics hated it because it was way too smart, but only in a brilliant kinda way.
2000 was by no means the best of times for moviegoers, but only a curmudgeon would fail to find, say, 10 points of light in a darkened room.
1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.Once we marveled at the flying gymnastics of Bruce Lee. Now it's Ang Lee who moves us -- with a martial-arts movie that defies the laws of gravity and blows away the conventions of the the genre. The Taiwanese director is no stranger to daring -- he's previously visited suburban America for The Ice Storm and 18th-century England for Sense and Sensibility -- but this transcendent kickfest may be his edgiest effort to date, a thrilling action movie that encloses two beautifully wrought love stories. It is balletically choreographed, elegantly shot and brimming with intelligence.
2. Wonder Boys. Curtis Hanson's first movie since L.A. Confidential didn't find an audience when it opened in February, but re-release has provided new life for this quirky, observant little comedy about a burned-out English professor named Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) who can't put the lid on his unruly second novel, which is now 2,100 pages long and threatens to be a work in progress forever. Robert Downey Jr. (out of the joint on a day pass?) is wonderful as Tripp's bisexual literary agent, and the interplay between the pot-smoking protagonist and his genius protégé (Tobey Maguire) is surpassingly funny and moving.
3. You Can Count on Me. Kenneth Lonergan's beautifully written, perfectly acted independent feature is at once a drama about the unresolved traumas of childhood and a sly comedy about how sibling conflict tests the limits of family love. Set in a quiet village in upstate New York, it features Laura Linney as a wounded single mother trying to build a respectable life for herself and Mark Ruffalo as her wayward brother who returns home with a résumé featuring odd jobs in half-a-dozen states, a fistful of broken romances and a stint in jail. That they relate at all is comic; that they strike an emotional bargain a miracle.
4. A Time for Drunken Horses. The stark simplicity of Kurdish filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi's drama about a boy's quest to hold his family together in the face of poverty, disease and corruption does nothing to obscure its emotional power or the complexity of the geopolitical issues underlying it. In just 80 minutes, Ghobadi examines the courage of kids willing to become human pack mules, trudging over snowy mountain passes for the sake of their siblings and, by extension, the plight of 20 million persecuted Kurds.
5. Croupier. In British filmmaker Mike Hodges' satisfyingly twisted drama, a writer played by Clive Owen hires on as a roulette dealer with the idea of turning out a potboiler about his experiences in the casino. But that goal, along with almost everything else, gets tangled up in Hodges' deliciously devious plot, in which no one and nothing is quite what it seems.
6. Gladiator. No big-budget extravaganza that features ravenous tigers in hot pursuit of vulnerable human flesh can be all bad, and Ridley Scott's revival of the fun and games in ancient Rome is not just exciting, it improves on the lavish helmets-and-breastplates epics of the 1950s. That's Russell Crowe as the Roman general Maximus, who's as beloved by his men as Colin Powell is by his. Naturally, the envious new emperor (Joaquin Phoenix) orders Maximus to be killed, and from this executive decision derive all our moviegoing rewards -- bloodletting, enslavement and physical heroism aplenty.
7. Requiem for a Dream. In his second film, young Darren Aronofsky (π) gives us a savage and wholly convincing journey into the surreal terrors of drug addiction, and he gives controversial novelist Hubert Selby Jr. the vivid cinematic translation his book deserves. Jared Leto stars as a young Brooklyn junkie, Ellen Burstyn as his speed-addicted mother and Jennifer Connelly as a fresh beauty swept into a maelstrom of depravity. Visually exciting and thoroughly unsettling, here's an authentic horror movie.
8. Quills. Imagine Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis de Sade, locked in a cell but liberated of mind; Kate Winslet as the saucy laundress who sneaks his writings out to the printer; and Joaquin Phoenix as the jailkeeper/priest who forbids the scandalous marquis to publish. Philip Kaufman's wickedly funny indictment of censorship and sexual hypocrisy is both mischievous and artful.
9. Hamlet. In Michael Almereyda's spellbinding new take on Shakespeare, the Melancholy Prince, portrayed with vigor and passion by matinee idol Ethan Hawke, slouches through the concrete canyons of present-day Manhattan and is driven into his bleak funk by the ruthless power-mongers grappling for control of the shadowy Denmark Corp. Almereyda takes liberties with the great tragedy in order to reignite it, and rock-ribbed traditionalists aren't likely to approve. Still, imagine "To be or not to be" delivered in the "Action" aisle at Blockbuster.
10. Billy Elliot. This year's hit British charmer is about a downtrodden coal miner's son who wants to be a ballet dancer. Yes, it falls squarely into the same triumph-over-trouble genre as The Full Monty and Brassed Off, but it's sent aloft by the performance of young Jamie Bell, a whirling dervish who becomes a witty and winning screen presence. Movies can (and most often do) commit worse sins than strumming on the heartstrings; at least this strumming comes decorated with sharp observations on boyhood, class warfare and the stubbornness of provincial thought.
The cream of this year's film crop was carefully selected not only for the movies' countless wonderful qualities but because, as the list indicates, they form terrific thematic double features for contemplation and discussion. These days, there's plenty of evidence to indicate that now, more than ever, movies may not be our best entertainment value, but here are a few productions guaranteed to sustain the medium for at least another year. It takes a lot of nitpicking in reverse (a phrase lifted from The Contender) to find the gold, so, finally, here's the stuff. But don't take a critic's word, just see them. As Julie Walters sagely puts it, amid all those great T. Rex songs in the beautiful Billy Elliot: "Please yourself, darlin'."
1. Deranged Defenders: Nurse Betty and The Specials. Neil LaBute's best film so far could be chalked up to the ingeniously wry script by John C. Richards and James Flamberg, but massive credit also goes to Renée Zellweger's pitch-perfect performance as the delirious wannabe R.N. Meanwhile, Thomas Hayden Church and Rob Lowe will drop your jaw as the most preposterous dialogue of the year comes out of their silly superhero mouths in Craig Mazin's debut feature.
2. Ethical Entreaties: The Contender and Family Tree. It's easy to send a crack division of studly, violent idiots off to an exotic land to kill random, faceless enemies, but heroism on the home front is tricky business, and both Rod Lurie's muckraking and Duane Clark's leaf-raking succeed with a direct approach. Grace fills the performances of Joan Allen establishing a fair standard and Cliff Robertson defending a small town's heritage, and two vital battles are gently but firmly won.
3. Freedom Fighters: Chicken Run and Chocolat. Perhaps it's strange to equate butchery and religious oppression -- or perhaps it's not -- but these two films beautifully sum up the grandness of liberating the human spirit ... which is amusing, because one of them features Nick Park and Peter Lord's goofy little chunks of clay. The other, of course, features Juliette Binoche seducing an entire village with sweets.
4. Fulgent Fellas: High Fidelity and Orfeu. Stephen Frears invades Chicago, whereas Carlos Diegues reaches back into Greek myth to redefine a Brazilian classic, but, beneath the intensity of their respective soundtracks, both movies masterfully display the agony and ecstasy of a young man's romance. One imagines that if John Cusack met Tony Garrido, they'd have plenty to talk about.
5. Groovy Gals: Me Myself I and Trixie.The stars of the lush, heavy Hilary and Jackie return this year in separate projects, both whimsical and engaging for the discerning romanticist. In the former, Rachel Griffiths makes director Pip Karmel's fantastic and humdrum universe seem all of a piece; in the latter, Emily Watson's unparalleled malapropisms transform Alan Rudolph's caper flick into a light adventure for weirdos.
6. Hip Horrors: It's the Rage and Shadow of the Vampire. Some may shop at Wal-Mart, but America's gun lust might dwindle significantly if enough people caught James D. Stern's superb ensemble cast (including, once again, Joan Allen, as well as Anna Paquin and Andre Braugher) illustrating -- with great verve -- exactly why we have a big problem here. Interpreting horror more literally, E. Elias Merhige takes us back to the making of Nosferatu, wherein director F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) employs a real vampire (Willem Dafoe) to rid his production of "artifice."
7. Longing Lovers: Waking the Dead and Wonderland (Romantic Runners-up: The Closer You Get, Beautiful People, East Is East). It was a great year for love stories, especially unlikely ones like Keith Gordon's solemn, intense portrait of loss and Michael Winterbottom's blithe romp with lovelorn Londoners. Because this category was unusually rich, do yourself the favor of checking out the lovely honorable mentions.
8. Mortal Missions: Himalaya and Pitch Black. Director Eric Valli's powerful mythic journey through the mountains of Nepal bowed last year as an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film. This year, it's received scanty viewings in this country, but it is well worth seeking out. Vin Diesel battling a bunch of yucky aliens may seem more like guilty pleasure, but a surprising morality play twists this quest into a level high above B.
9. Lascivious Liaisons: 8 1/2 Women and Don't Let Me Die on a Sunday. Goodness, Mr. Greenaway, does your blood ever cool? Apparently not, as the director of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover transposes kinky Euro-Japanese trysts over a father-son struggle for balance. Also titillating on the legitimate screen was Didier Le Pêcheur's sharp-witted entry, which somehow manages to stir some tact into a sea of tack as it grapples with sex and death.
10. Yearning Youths: Almost Famous and Billy Elliot. "Rock stars have kidnapped my son!" declares Frances McDormand in Cameron Crowe's semiautobiographical story of his curiously spent youth as a teenage music critic, and the journey offers more human insight from tour buses and hotel suites than seems possible. Pretty much the year's brightest star, however, was Jamie Bell transforming his little cosmic dancer into a global beacon. Enormous kudos to Stephen Daldry for his fine film.
Compiling a 10-best list this year proved difficult, not because there were so few interesting films, as the critical consensus holds, but because there were so many. The following films, although far from perfect, proved enormously involving and satisfying.
1. Quills. One of many films this year that falls into the love-it-or-hate-it category. I loved it for its wit, style, topnotch acting (by Joaquin Phoenix, Kate Winslet and Geoffrey Rush) and for the many shades of gray that director Philip Kaufman brings to his subject matter. Savage and humorous in equal measure, the film is anything but a wholesale endorsement of unbridled free expression -- despite what some critics have alleged. Outstanding production values, starting with Martin Childs' production design.
2. Girlfight. A remarkable directorial debut from Karyn Kusama and an equally magnificent performance from first-time actress Michelle Rodriguez, who, regardless of whether she can scale such thespian heights again, was unquestionably born to play this role. She smolders with the repressed rage of a young Marlon Brando.
3. A Time for Drunken Horses. This Kurdish film from first-time feature director Bahman Ghobadi is the most extraordinary film of the year, as well as the most heart-wrenching. If I had passed a Peace Corps recruitment office on my way home, I would have unhesitatingly signed away my next two years. As it is, I increased my year-end donation to Doctors Without Borders and a multitude of foreign-aid agencies.
5. Wonder Boys. In addition to all of his other talents, Curtis Hanson is a wonderful director of actors. Michael Douglas gives his finest performance ever as a washed-up academic coping with an extended life crisis. Terrific support from Robert Downey Jr. and Frances McDormand.
6. Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport. A documentary about German Jewish children who found a safe haven in England just before the outbreak of World War II. The extraordinary archival footage includes miraculously preserved home movies of Germany before the war, as seen through the eyes of children.
7. Luminous Motion. A dreamlike observation of loss and separation, this hypnotically involving, profoundly disturbing psychological drama was directed by Bette Gordon, a filmmaker previously unknown to me. Seeing this film made me want to rush out and rent everything she had ever made.
8. Goya in Bordeaux. Spanish director Carlos Saura and Italian-born cinematographer Vittorio Storaro reteam for this visually stunning journey through the last days of painter Franciso de Goya's life. Moody, atmospheric, hallucinatory.
9. Erin Brockovich. Finally, a studio picture that gets it totally right. Credit and kudos to director Steven Soderbergh, screenwriter Susannah Grant and actress Julia Roberts. Why can't they all be this good?
10. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. A wondrous tale, told wondrously, that transports the viewer into a totally new and awesome universe. Thank you, Ang Lee.
Honorable mentions: The Big Kahuna, Tigerland, Butterfly, Pitch Black.
The normal preponderance of mediocrity in human affairs makes every year seem like a bad movie year, but a December review of this year's titles really was discouraging -- the rewards for going to the movies were unusually slim. Still, there were some bright spots.
1. Almost Famous.How could critics not love a movie about a critic who, while still a teenager, saves the soul of rock & roll and gets deflowered by a gang of groupies to boot? That surely accounts for some of the extremes of praise heaped on Cameron Crowe's coming-of-age boast. But for all its softness around the edges, this movie was the biggest bonbon of the year. It finally made Billy Crudup seem like a star, and Frances MacDormand turned her role from a running gag into one of the classic movie moms.
2. Requiem for a Dream. A dazzlingly directed and acted meditation on addiction, adapted from the Hubert Selby Jr. novel. This sophomore effort by director and co-adapter Darren Aronofsky marks a big leap from his debut feature, π.
3. Nurse Betty. Neil LaBute's grim satire about the blurred line between TV and real life has a lot more texture and purpose than his previous exercises in nastiness (In the Company of Men, Your Friends & Neighbors). Renée Zellweger is touching in the title role, and Morgan Freeman hasn't had this good a part -- or given this fine a performance -- in years.
4. Hamlet. Even despisers of Ethan Hawke were amazed at the force and raw grief of his Dane in this ingenious modern-dress adaptation. Flawed -- how could any production of Hamlet not be flawed? -- but full of good performances, most notably by Sam Shepard as the Ghost.
5. Best in Show. Not as good as director/co-writer/star Christopher Guest's earlier effort, Waiting for Guffman, but still hemorrhage-inducingly hilarious for most of its length. Great dogs, too.
6. Shaft. Samuel L. Jackson lacks Richard Roundtree's sexual mojo, but his star quality, the superb turn by Jeffrey Wright as the villain and the good, jangling dialogue by Richard Price, Shane Salerno and director John Singleton make this a fine macho entertainment.
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.
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.
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.
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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