Writers, Fighters, Dancers and Chickens: Collin Souter's Best of 2000
By Collin Souter
Posted 01/07/01 03:22:01
Blah, blah, blah, this year sucked, yadda-yadda-yadda. Okay, we got that out of the way. Think of what we have to look forward to next year. Have you seen the teaser for A.I. yet? How about Monsters Inc.? Hey, 2001: A Space Odyssey will be re-released. Pearl Harbor anyone? Hannibal?
Okay, okay, I know this year will leave a deep emotional scar for most of us, especially those of us who saw The Legend Of Bagger Vance. But, come on, people, let’s try and be a little optimistic. At least the year finally ended, right? At least we can walk through the new year with a little more wisdom. We just have to proceed with a little more caution about what we see. Remember:
Just because a movie stars Kevin Spacey, it doesn’t mean it will be good. Just because a movie title ends with the number 2, it doesn’t mean you have to go see it. And just because one movie starring Keanu Reeves as a serial killer has the power to singlehandedly destroy our cultural and intellectual stamina while dragging us deep into the depths of cinematic hell, it doesn’t mean we have to go there. We can always walk away and express our personal gratitude for the air in our lungs, sunshine, freedom of choice, and films of years past.
So, next year when Hollywood unleashes its Battlefield Earths, its Patriots, and its Scary Movies 2, 3, and 4s, whenever that may be, I hope you’ll visit one of your remaining video stores and wax nostalgic on some of the finer diversions of yester-year, however few there may have been.
Might I suggest the following, in reverse order?
(Consider 1 & 2 a tie)
10.High Fidelity The “romantic comedy” genre finally received the face-life it so badly needed. Not since 1996’s Beautiful Girls have we seen such a realistic and engaging depiction of male behavior and thought patterns when it comes to love and relationships. I’m trying to write about this without making references to my own life, which this movie eerily resembles. In fact, this might be the most frightening movie I’ve seen all year.
All that aside, High Fidelity has a lot going for it. John Cusack’s character did not have one of those annoying best-friend characters. You know, the ones who have lines like, “Man, your problem is you’re afraid of commitment. Here’s a girl who loves you, man,” or, “Women only get in the way of a good party…Now let’s go out, find some real women, and have meaningless sex with them.” No, here, Cusack travels alone, and appropriately so.
This movie didn’t make my Top 5 for the end of the year, but as far as romantic comedies go (especially in this day and age), I think I could squeeze it in.
9.Dancer In The Dark This year’s Eyes Wide Shut, the movie of the year that divided its audience equally between those who loved it and those who hated it. Both have valid cases, and I wouldn’t argue with either person. Such a horrible movie, yet such a hard one to shake off. An absurd plot, yet a perfect one. An art-house downer with musical numbers, Dancer In The Dark may well be the most adventurous and daring movie of the year. You’ve never seen anything like it and you probably never will again. Many of you will consider that a blessing.
Bjork wins my vote for Best Actress of 2000. She has said that she will never act again, since she learned how grueling it could be. Pity. She seems like such a natural, and when you think about it, what other actress can pull this off? I can’t imagine any other actress in that cell conveying so much heartbreak and desperation while trying to find a rhythm with which she can sing, one of many moments in Dancer that will make it legendary.
8.Jesus’ Son This film took me by complete surprise. I sat in my chair prepared to be depressed (as most movies about drug addiction tend to do). Ten minutes into it, I actually laughed. Then, I laughed again…and again, and again, and again. The laughter eventually tapered off after the first hour or so, where the characters begin to fall from grace (if you can call it that), but the movie had me at every second.
Billy Crudup wins my vote for Best Actor of 2000, with his triple treat of great performances (Almost Famous and the beautiful Waking The Dead). Here he wins the award for doing the best voice-over performance since Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption. He talks to us as his character would as though we would be interviewing him. He stutters, catches his mistakes, and sounds as though he has never been sure about the reason for his existence.
Jesus’ Son might feel a bit un-even for many people. The second half moves a bit slow after the hilarity of the first half, but I think that makes the movie all the more involving. As Crudup’s lifestyle comes to an abrupt and appropriate stop, we get the feeling of being under his skin. Sometimes in life, things just have to slow down.
It also has one of the best casts of the year: Crudup, Samantha Morton (who actually speaks in this movie), Dennis Leary, Holly Hunter, Dennis Hopper, Greg Germann, and Jack Black…all great.
7.Erin Brockovich A movie that audiences and critics can actually agree on? A smart movie with characters worth cheering for? A box office hit with no special effects? How did this happen? Well, having Julia Roberts’ name at the top of the poster helped a bit, I’m sure. However, this does not come off as a vanity project, but rather a personal choice made by Roberts. Just as Erin Brockovich tries like hell to be taken seriously by the snooty lawyers in this film, Roberts seemed to want to earn the respect of critics and filmgoers who pegged her as an actress who looks good, but doesn’t have the acting chops to win any awards.
She proved us wrong. Roberts, who (at the request of Steven Soderbergh) did not meet the real Erin Brockovich until after filming, wins us over in every scene. One of the best movie moments of the year came when Roberts listened on her car phone as her boyfriend (Aaron Eckhart) describes how her daughter spoke her first words. Albert Finney brings in a great performance as her boss, and both will be honored come award time, I guarantee it.
6.You Can Count On Me This one came out of nowhere this year, a thoughtful and funny look at the relationship between siblings, one a struggling single mom, the other a societal drop-out. This film stands as a perfect example of how natural and beautiful a movie can be without the use of Hollywood sets, James Horner music or just plain ego. It has nothing about it that seems forced or false, just good actors working from a top-notch script.
Laura Linney (The Truman Show) seems to be getting a lot of recognition for her work on this film, as well she should. Her character (unlike, say, the female protagonist of any Nora Ephron film) gains our sympathy, as does Mark Rufallo, who plays her brother, with the best slacker performance I’ve ever seen. Cheers also to one of the best newcomers of the year, Rory Culkin, who played Linney’s son.
5.Quills As 1999 went down as the Year of the Identity Crisis, 2000 shall go down as the Year of the Writer, and no movie conveys true devotion to the written word quite like Quills. Geoffrey Rush plays yet another eccentric genius, Marquis de Sade, and Kate Winslet plays his most devoted groupie. One has to give credit to director Phillip Kaufman for making a movie about Sade without inserting repetitive sex scenes. Here, true eroticism and titillation comes effectively through telling, and not showing. After all, why shouldn’t words be arousing?
In a time when eroticism in the mass media has helped shape our sensibilities, Phillip Kaufman, director of the NC-17-rated Henry and June, has fashioned a daring and fiendishly entertaining tale of a man who knew that the arrival of a naked body after a strip tease could never be as great as the suspense leading up to it. Sade also knew, as we do, that sex could be hilarious, especially when it involves a famous authority figure.
4.Billy Elliot The year 2000 may also go down as the Year of the Dance Number. At least 10 films had one, but only a couple of the dance numbers had a deep emotional purpose. Billy Elliot, the best of the bunch, sets itself apart from most films simply because it had life and blood pumping through its veins even without the dances. This movie came out in October. It would be another two months before we would see anything just as good. A movie so alive and made with the purest of hearts, Billy Elliot felt like a rush of adrenaline during the dullest of movie seasons.
Look for Oscar nominations for screenplay, editing, and maybe even Best Picture. Jamie Bell, who plays the titular hero, should also be considered for Best Actor.
3.Chicken Run The funniest, most original movie of the year. Nick Park and Peter Lord have come a long way since their Academy Award-winning short Creature Comforts, without having lost any of their charm or innovation. This film came out at the jump-start of the big summer season and actually had to struggle like a chicken doing sit-ups to reach the $100 million mark. Don’t get me started. These gutsy, determined, fine-feathered flappers with charming over-bites should have been our folk heroes this year. The scene in the pie machine had far more excitement and tension than anything in Mission Impossible 2: Electric Boogaloo.
This movie also maintained sophistication in the midst of its unabashed silliness, unlike Disney’s Dinosaur, which chose to dull-down its story and characters in the midst of its technical glory. Which came first, the chicken, the egg, or the dinosaur? Well, at least Chicken Run, like Charles Darwin, had the balls to ask.
The best time to be had at the movies all summer.
1-2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Who says action movies can’t be soulful and poetic? Who says martial arts can’t be artistic? Who says people in the movies have to abide by the laws of gravity? Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger didn’t just think outside the box, it jettisoned the box entirely, making for the most thrilling time at the movies since…has it been that long?
I mean, what a great film! Not only does it have the greatest fight sequences I’ve ever seen, and not only does it take chances with its storyline, but, my God, it actually has a storyline that engages the viewer even without the fight sequences. For the past few years I’ve been a fan of Hong Kong martial arts movies, such as Bride With White Hair and Michelle Yeoh’s hilarious Wing Chun, so when I saw the trailer for Crouching Tiger back in August, my heart leaped. It looked like The Last Emperor’s Rumble In The Forbidden City. Even more so, it looked like pure poetry. Ang Lee has made the one film this year that sold itself with a great trailer, and actually fulfilled its promises ten-fold.
Gene Siskel wrote in his 1998 10-best review, in his defense of naming Babe: Pig In The City the best film of the year, that a “best film” should be the kind of movie that would inspire others to make movies of their own. Something tells me he would have named Crouching Tiger the best film of 2000, for here we have a movie that, like Babe: Pig in The City, takes us somewhere we’ve never been, takes chances with its genre, and leaves us wanting to see more of it right away. Inspiring, indeed.
1-2.Almost Famous Like 1997’s The Ice Storm, Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous pinpoints the early 1970’s as where we started to go wrong in terms of our ideals. Whereas The Ice Storm focused on family values and social mores of the time, Famous centers on popular music. Both issues have equal importance. “Real music…it chooses you. It lives in your car and in your headphones,” Lester Bangs says. So, in our creatively bankrupt present, who exactly has been chosen by bland-rock titans, such as Matchbox 20, Third Eye Blind, or Vertical Horizon? I feel for you.
One should think of this film as a completely original, unconventional love story, not about love between two people, but love between people and their music. In fact, one might consider it a love-against-all-odds film, about two lovers—the fans and their music—caught in a crossfire of big business, corruption and all the cliché pitfalls of stardom.
This film works wonders. I can count the number of movies on my left hand that made me feel the way this film did throughout its entire 120 minutes. A perfect cast, a perfect script, a perfect time at the movies, and like an anthem of soulful harmony and relevance, it stays with you. I couldn’t be happier to have it, and today’s entertainment industry couldn’t possibly need it more.
While I'm at it...
11.State and Main David Mamet’s hilarious ensemble piece had the rare quality (but not for him) of having perfectly-timed razor-sharp dialogue at just the right pace. Preston Sturges would have been proud.
12.Requiem For A Dream This movie will knock you on your ass if you don’t walk in prepared. One of the most frightening, disturbing and powerful films about drug addiction ever. Look for Ellen Burstyn to win some awards this year.
13.Waking The Dead Nobody saw it, but you can rent it. Billy Crudup again demonstrates why he deserves the Best Actor award for 2000. He and Jennifer Connelly gave two of the best performances of the year in a movie that dissects and examines the pain associated with losing someone close.
14.Cast Away Tom Hanks out-does himself again in a performance only someone like him can pull off. Despite some bumpiness in the third act, Robert Zemeckis film casts a spell, of which most films out there seem incapable.
15.Wonder Boys Did I mention that 2000 would go down as the Year Of The Writer? (don’t forget Finding Forrester) Another great ensemble cast in a movie that took two theatrical releases to get any notice. It just might take a third before it hits video. Sharp, sneaky, and beautifully acted, it deserves to find its audience no matter what the format.
17.My Dog Skip
19.Love and Basketball
(Note: This could all change after having seen Traffic, Shadow Of A Vampire or O Brother Where Art Thou?)