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Best Movies of 2000

By Eric Beltmann

Hollywood is a place that rewards not excellence, but success. Consider the year's four biggest box-office draws: Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Mission: Impossible 2, Gladiator, and The Perfect Storm. All of these will be judged "good" because they made money. Not one, however, risks being remembered 10 years from now. We often complain that movies should do more. But it's the audience that should do more. Of the 140 films I saw released in 2000, here's 10 worth seeking out:

1. Traffic. Effective social discourse is rare in cinema -- images are better suited for emotional pleas -- but Steven Soderbergh's humming observation of the drug war at the U.S.-Mexico border gets across, intellectually, what we all know in our bones: As long as there is demand for drugs, we can never prevent their supply. Traffic studiously reports how the profit motive renders narcotic laws futile, but what lends this worn message immediacy is Soderbergh's supreme, clear-eyed craftsmanship. Within his journalistic visual style, the multiple narratives are dense, personal, and smart. Those words also describe Benicio Del Toro's performance as a conflicted Tijuana cop, tough and complex enough to help the film resemble documentary.

2. Requiem for a Dream. Ferocious, beautiful, exquisitely stylized. Following four characters as they spiral deeper into the blackness of addiction, this three-act cautionary tale has velocity, a grooving rhythmic pulse. With transfixing structural gimmicks, director Darren Aronofsky captures, more thoroughly than any other film, how drugs turn users into shadow people. Along with directors like Tom Tykwer and Danny Boyle, Aronofsky is often denounced as grandiloquent, flashy, and schematic, and I don't know whether his self-conscious brand of psychological expressionism will endure. I only know that this breed of visual fluency, this breathless new strain of cinema, speaks to me.

3. You Can Count on Me. After months of mysterious silence, an aimless straggler reunites with his controlling sister, forging a friendship with her young son. Scattered with insight and humor, Kenneth Lonergan's authentic serio-comedy studies, quite perceptively, how a person's cadence, tone, and even quiet can reveal multitudes. Words matter in the emotional You Can Count on Me, which is not at all the icky, sentimental bummer the title might suggest.

4. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Heaped with global laurels, Ang Lee's revisionist martial-arts epic has so many admirers you might be inclined to pick for flaws. Yet, for this mythic hybrid of wuxia poetry, feminist romance, and balletic action, boarding the bandwagon has seldom been so agreeable. The stunts serve as ethereal extensions of the drama, and by eschewing computer effects, they achieve the sort of wondrous exhilaration too often missing from the screen.

5. Jesus' Son. Alison Maclean's off-the-wall junkie chronicle is gently touching, finding low-key humanity next to the track marks. Shaped with dexterity, its episodes are by turns hilarious, sad, and moving, each reflecting how an addict's life never transcends the present moment. As the drifter who serves as our unreliable narrator, Billy Crudup has a jagged amble, his nervous eyes always hunting for laughs, love, acceptance -- anything that will give his existence meaning.

6. Dancer in the Dark. D.W. Griffith would have admired the plot, about a Czech immigrant facing ceaseless injustice. Still, it's a musical, and what has confounded -- and polarized -- audiences is that it subverts every established genre convention. Most critics don't seem to know what to make of this newfangled martyr parable. For me, its spellbinding appeal is located in director Lars Von Trier's attempt to expand how cinema works: He pushes buttons we didn't even know existed.

7. The Color of Paradise. A sightless boy is exiled by his widowed father, whose own eyes are clouded by fears that a disabled son will jeopardize his hopes of remarrying. Despite the lush, pastoral imagery of northern Iran, vision is incidental in Majid Majidi's idealistic meditation upon what the heart can see. I adore this observant retelling of Isaac and Abraham for the same reasons an innocent might: it rebuffs cynicism and believes that the hand of God is everywhere.

8. The Virgin Suicides. Tapping into the confused, exuberant spirit of adolescence, Sofia Coppola's gawky, poeticized trance-out is the year's softest surprise. The delicate story of four angelic girls who end their own lives may appear morbid, but the idea is to convey, metaphorically, the extreme and baffling feelings during the first stages of teen awakening. Coppola doesn't mourn for the Lisbon daughters. She mourns instead for their innocence, which couldn't last.

9. Bamboozled. Out of spite, an African-American TV writer concocts "Mantan, the New Millenium Minstrel Show," a variety program featuring old-style blackface. Spike Lee's important, provocative burlesque was tepidly received by critics, and indeed, the last 20 minutes are maddeningly false. Nevertheless, Lee bravely -- and justly, I think -- chastises black America for tolerating modern-day minstrel shows, which exist in the form of gangsta rap and urban sitcoms.

10. Beyond the Mat. At its core, pro wrestling is very vulgar, appealing solely to a frenzied crowd's bloodlust. Unlike the detestable Ready to Rumble, this nosy but compassionate documentary understands that violence-as-spectacle carries both social and personal consequences. When he shows Mick "Mankind" Foley footage of his own kids weeping while dad is gashed for pay-per-view, director Barry W. Blaustein accidentally learns that entertainers are obligated to be responsible.

Honorable Mentions: Almost Famous; American Psycho; Billy Elliot; Bounce; Cast Away; Chicken Run; Croupier; Erin Brockovich; Gladiator; High Fidelity; The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg; Nurse Betty; O Brother, Where Art Thou?; Thirteen Days; Unbreakable.

Guilty Pleasures: Charlie's Angels; Final Destination; Gossip; Meet the Parents; What Planet Are You From?.

The Worst

1. Me, Myself & Irene; Nutty Professor II: The Klumps; and Scary Movie. The Hollywood equivalent of passing gas. Standing alone, none of these films deserve to be called the year's "worst," but together they reveal the most unpleasant trend in Hollywood these days. Like There's Something About Mary and American Pie before them, the goal of this inexcusable threesome is to trump the last sex-and-stool epic, pushing the boundaries of taste further than any of us imagined possible. Cruel obscene shock has become the new benchmark standard for mainstream comedy, elevating raunch above wit, creativity, and, unfortunately, laughs.

2. But I'm a Cheerleader. Vile. After her family stages a lesbian intervention, a cheerleader is sent to a "deprogramming" camp. Meant as a hot-button satire of religious conservatism, this amateurish screed instead comes across as a smug, dim-witted sitcom. By reviving every execrable gay stereotype imaginable, its ignorance is matched only by its hypocrisy.

3. Next Friday. For a while, it has the same lackadaisical scruffiness that the original Friday did, but it quickly devolves into buffoonery, reinforcing clownish African-American stereotypes. In the way it sells caricatured "hood" jokes to suburban white kids enamored with black culture, Next Friday is exactly what Spike Lee railed against with Bamboozled.

4. Gone in 60 Seconds. Is there anything more '80s than engines serving as sexual metaphors? Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who fetishized jets with Top Gun, now has made a retro-mindless ode to chrome, acceleration, and phallic gears. In this derivative pile-up, the hero, a thief played by Nicolas Cage, doesn't get the girl at the end -- he gets the car.

5. Black and White. Sincere but laughable. The fatally earnest James Toback returns to controversial territory, flinging off this semi-documentary about a circle of New Yorkers linked by money, music, and corruption. Toback's bogus vision of American race relations and identity crises is full of ramshackle ideas that are only loosely connected.

Dishonorable Mentions: The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle; Eye of the Beholder; The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas; I Dreamed of Africa; Isn't She Great; Love's Labour's Lost; Pay It Forward; Reindeer Games; Snow Day; Where the Heart Is.

Most Overrated: Chuck & Buck; Dark Days; Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai; The Original Kings of Comedy; Wonder Boys.

Article published 02.01.2001.


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