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Essays & Articles

January 15, 2001
The Best Films of 2000
by Dustin Putman

    When 2000 first fell upon us, many people saw it as a new beginning--a way to start fresh and, in the film world, be opened up to completely new experiences and original ideas. On that level, 2000 was a major anticlimax, despite several motion pictures that do, indeed, fit that criteria. And even more than that, there were several great movies in 2000 (even a few brilliant ones), and then there were a large amount of really good ones. My choices for the "Top Ten Films of 2000" are an admittedly eclectic mix, but they are all deserving in my eyes, for one reason or another, of special notice. So let's not waste any more time! I hope you enjoy my list, and I wish everyone happy moviegoing in 2001!

    The Top Ten Films of 2000

    10.) "Nurse Betty" is the gentlest, most human film director Neil Labute has made to date, when his last two pictures, 1997's "In the Company of Men" and 1998's "Your Friends and Neighbors," seemed to relish their own viciousness. In a career-best performance, Renee Zellweger proves that she was clearly the only true choice to play Betty Sizemore, a hopeful coffee shop waitress who is in love with the soap opera "A Reason to Love" and its leading character, Dr. David Ravell (Greg Kinnear). Following a traumatic experience involving a couple of hitmen (the excellent Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock) and her philandering husband (Aaron Eckhart), Betty miraculously becomes victim to a peculiar fugue state in which she believes her beloved soap opera is actually real, and sets out to make her dreams come true. "Nurse Betty" is a magical comedy, a humorous fantasy, and a touching drama. It's also, truly, one-of-a-kind.

    9.) "Dr. T and the Women" is a return, after a brief interlude into mediocrity with 1996's "Kansas City" and 1999's "Cookie's Fortune," to the type of effortless ensemble pictures world-class director Robert Altman used to make (his 1975's "Nashville" is one of the greats of all time), and he exposes once again how simple it is for him to create a bunch of original, lightly nuanced characters, and allow them to interact as people do in real life. Richard Gere stars as Dr. T, a much-loved gynecologist in a wealthy southern town, whose life is filled to the brim with women, including his ailing wife (Farrah Fawcett), two grown daughters (Kate Hudson and Tara Reid), a drunken sister-in-law (Laura Dern), an admiring work assistant (Shelly Long), and a new owner of the golf course he frequents (Helen Hunt). "Dr. T and the Women" is a big entertainment--smart, often hilarious, witty, and truthful--not to mention Altman's most assured and successful film since 1993's "Short Cuts."

    8.) "Groove," directed by Greg Harrison, was a Sundance favorite that ultimately didn't gain the theatrical notoriety it deserved, although it can't be denied that it is anything less than a detailed, highly accurate portrait of the rave scene, as it follows various young people throughout what is supposed to be a fun night of dancing and partying, until hard emotional truths are exposed and unforseen relationships are formed. A pitch-perfect slice-of-life with honest performances from a cast of largely unknown actors, non-flashy, subtle writing, and rocking techno-dance music. Most of all, it is an endlessly fascinating look at a scene that many people have heard of, but generally few have experienced.

    7.) "Requiem for a Dream," directed by Darren Aronofsky, is the first of two horrifically brutal, astonishing motion pictures 2000 saw. A heartrending drama about the power of addiction, centering on three young drug addicts whose lives are spinning recklessly out of control (Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans), and Leto's flabby, lonely mother (a devastasting Ellen Burstyn), who begins to take too many diet pills in an attempt to lose weight to fit into an old, red dress she plans to wear on a game show. Controversial and released theatrically without a rating when the MPAA threatened it with an NC-17, "Requiem for a Dream" is an important film with the power to possibly even change lives. Graphic and unblinking in its harsh reality, the movie is admittedly tough to endure, and even more difficult to look away from for even a second.

    6.) "Almost Famous," director Cameron Crowe's semiautobiographical tribute to the beauty of music, follows a 15-year-old dreamer (Patrick Fugit) who, through a stroke of luck, gets hired to write a story for Rolling Stones magazine on the famous rock band Stillwater, and ends up following them across the country on their concert tour, circa 1974. "Almost Famous" is a glorious achievement, both for Cameron Crowe's direction and his wonderfully nostalgic screenplay, and the '70 music that plays throughout is worth a recommendation all on its own. Even more than that, the picture lovingly captures an era in a way that few films could even hope to achieve. At the center of everything is Kate Hudson, whose portrayal of the 16-year-old Penny Lane, a free-spirit follower of Stillwater, is brilliant and unforgettable--the standout supporting performance of the entire year.

    5.) "Charlie's Angels," directed by McG, had no right to even be watchable, let alone actually good. A big-budget, feature-film adaptation of the old, cheesy television series (not a good sign already), and a teaser trailer so ungodly awful it made me fear for the wonderful actors, "Charlie's Angels" came as not only the biggest surprise of 2000, but also the most genuinely entertaining movie of the year, bar none. A perfect combination of fresh, witty, fast-paced writing, dazzling action sequences, sparkling comedic moments, a fun-loving soundtrack, and top-notch casting (with Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu flawless as the Angels), the movie can hardly be looked at as anything less than a miracle in the annals of moviedom. The film also should be noted for being the rare type of picture I could watch over and over again, and never get tired of. Tellingly, I saw it three times on its opening weekend, and was still aching to see it again. If that isn't the sign of something great, nothing is.

    4.) "Cast Away," directed by Robert Zemeckis, is, at first glance, the story of a man (Tom Hanks) stranded on an island after the plane carrying him crashes. What makes this highly involving, masterfully developed drama so special is it takes its intriguing premise to really tell of a man who is forced to come to grips with his life (and possible death) after events take place that are out of his hands, and the journey that he must make after he returns to civilization four years later, with everything he ever loved now just out of his reach. For seventy-five minutes, Tom Hanks is left to fly solo, with minimal dialogue and absolutely no music, and it is a testament to his awesome acting abilities that he makes every minute completely fascinating. The wraparound sequences, both before the crash and after his return, are quiet and veritably poignant, with Helen Hunt giving an impassioned supporting turn as the love of his life that he leaves behind.

    3.) "Traffic," directed by Steven Soderbergh, is an articulate, sprawling mosaic of the daunting, dangerous drug culture in the United States, and the way in which it affects everybody's lives, both directly and indirectly. The knowing, deeply researched screenplay, by Stephen Gaghan, is astoundingly acute, and the huge cast is first-rate, with Benicio Del Toro as a tempted Tijuana cop; Michael Douglas and Erika Christensen as a father just appointed U.S. Drug Czar and his teenage daughter whom he doesn't know has become addicted to heroin; Catherine Zeta-Jones as a pampered, pregnant L.A. socialite confused and shocked to discover that her husband has been arrested for trafficking drugs; and Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman as two DEA agents on the case. Perhaps the most ambitious motion picture of 2000 for sheer scope and purpose, "Traffic" is a frightening account of a subject that has people under its grip worldwide, to which there is no cure.

    2.) "Dancer in the Dark," directed by Lars Von Trier, is the second horrifically brutal film of 2000 (with the other being "Requiem for a Dream"), a motion picture epic that mixes difficult drama with musical numbers in the vein of the Hollywood musicals of the '40s and '50s, and succeeds. Bjork, primarily known for her singing career, gives the most heartbreaking leading performance I saw this year, as a single mother named Selma in 1960's Washington State. A factory worker who is quickly going blind, she finds her loving, somewhat naive intentions for her son destroyed through a set of outrageously unjust circumstances, with the outcome of her life left uncertain. Lar Von Trier, who shot to acclaim with 1996's "Breaking the Waves," offers up another masterpiece of extraordinary beauty and unsettling tragedy.

    1.) "The Virgin Suicides," directed by Sofia Coppola, tells the story of the five Lisbon sisters living in the 1970's Michigan suburbs, who are internally suffocated by their overbearing parents (James Woods, Kathleen Turner), and who, in the course of one year, will have all committed suicide, baffling everyone in the town, including the teenage boys in the neighborhood who are entranced by their beauty and mystique. Based on the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, and with an awe-inspiring directing debut by Francis Ford Coppola's daughter, Sofia, "The Virgin Suicides" is unshakably effective in ways very few films ever are. Kirsten Dunst, once and for all, comes into her own as an astoundingly assured actress, as she brings the 14-year-old Lux, the most sexually curious and rebellious of the sisters, to radiant life, and Josh Hartnett is outstanding as the suave classmate who forever changes her life. There are no easy answers offered up in the proceedings, and that's exactly as it should be. Life and death are two of the great mysteries, and the unfortunate fate that befall the Lisbon girls is something that can be debated about, but never solved. "The Virgin Suicides" is a devastating, haunting motion picture of inconceivable power, and easily the best film of the year.

    Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order)

    "American Psycho," directed by Mary Harron, is a film that should not be compared to the novel from which it is based, by Bret Easton Ellis, because it will fail to live up to your expectations. However, if you go into it fresh, its story of a wealthy, young Manhattan stockbroker (Christian Bale) who has an insatiable thirst for serial killing is, at once, devilishly funny, extremely well acted, and positively chilling.

    "Center Stage," by Nicholas Hytner, is far better than it has any right to be--a flashily choreographed, emotionally sound musical comedy about the teenage competitors who have been accepted to the American Ballet Company. The best of its genre since 1987's "Dirty Dancing."

    "Chuck & Buck," directed by Miguel Arteta, is a painful, unsettling comedic drama that begins as the story of a child-like adult (Mike White) who sets out to rekindle the friendship he once had as a child with Chuck (Chris Weitz), now a successful businessman, and turns into so much more by the end. A film that understands the human condition through and through, and treats it with a great deal of heart and feeling.

    "Duets," by Bruce Paltrow, was ignored by audiences and critics (save for Gwyneth Paltrow's duet with Huey Lewis, "Cruisin'," which has become a radio favorite), but it is a marvelous ensemble picture about three different sets of characters all traveling to Las Vegas to compete in a karaoke competition. The film instantly involves you, entertains you, and allows you to walk out with a bunch of great, classic songs roaming around in your head.

    "Loser," directed by Ame Heckerling, did not achieve the type of success that her last picture (1995's "Clueless") received, but it is one of the very best mainstream films about teenage characters to come around in some time. More realistic than the average genre movie, and written with care and simple delicacy, the film centers on the friendship and budding offbeat romance between two NYU students (Jason Biggs, Mena Suvari) who don't seem to fit in anywhere but with each other.

    "Me, Myself & Irene," directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly, is infinitely more entertaining and rib-tickling that their biggest hit, 1998's "There's Something About Mary." A road movie between a meek Rhode Island state trooper named Charlie (Jim Carrey) who is suffering from fits of narcissistic rage with involuntary acts of schizophrenia, his despicable, canniving alter ego named Hank (Jim Carrey), and the sweet-faced Irene (Renee Zellweger), whom both of them fall for. As has become the custom of the Farrelly Brothers, this twisted, extremely enjoyable comedy is raunchy from beginning to end, but also has a lot of heart. Carrey and Zellweger make a perfect team, and the film also has the distinction of offering up the best soundtrack of the year, with several remakes of classic Steely Dan songs.

    "Scary Movie," directed by Kennan Ivory Wayans, is about the closest any R-rated picture could come to getting an NC-17 without actually getting it. A delightfully witty, always hilarious send-up of the slasher movie genre, a 'la "Airplane/The Naked Gun," the film pokes fun at everything from "Scream" to "I Know What You Did Last Summer" to "The Usual Suspects" to "Halloween," and its joke success rate is far higher than it has any right to be.

    "Scream 3," directed by Wes Craven, was a perfectly respectful conclusion to what became the most popular trilogy of the decade. Bringing back all of the central characters for one last go-round, followed by a surprisingly affecting way of saying goodbye to Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Officer Dewey Reilly (David Arquette) and reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox-Arquette). Not very scary, but still pulse-poundingly exciting when it gets going, with a completely wacky, standout turn by Parker Posey, as a pampered Hollywood actress.

    "Small Time Crooks," directed by Woody Allen, is a throwback to the types of innocent, yet hilarious, comedies that started his career in the early '70s. An adorably sweet, delightfully sassy crime caper that turns decidedly serious by the gratifying final scene between two people who have had their share of problems, but really do love each other. Tracey Ullman is dynamite, as is Elaine May as her ditzy cousin, May.

    "Wonder Boys," directed by Curtis Hanson, is a winning, refreshingly literate slice-of-life tale set over one weekend on a New England college campus, focusing on aging novelist/college professor/dope-smoker Grady (Michael Douglas) who has hit writer's block, and all of the people in his life, including a suicidal student who he takes under his wing (Tobey Maguire), a beautiful classmate (Katie Holmes) who pines for Grady as she rents a room in his home, and a long-suffering girlfriend (Frances McDormand). A marvel of directing, writing, and acting.

    Other very good films I saw in 2000 include: Bedazzled, Billy Elliot, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, Bounce, Boys and Girls, Bring It On, But I'm a Cheerleader, Chicken Run, Crime + Punishment in Suburbia, Eye of the Beholder, Final Destination, The Gift, Gladiator, Here on Earth, Hollow Man, Meet the Parents, Miss Congeniality, Mission: Impossible 2, The Perfect Storm, Red Planet, Remember the Titans, Road Trip, The St. Francisville Experiment, Unbreakable, Waking the Dead, What Planet Are You From?