End-of-Year Projections

The best movies of the worst movie year in a while

More than any other year I can remember, in 2000 I heard people comment on how particularly bad movies were. In retrospect, I think they were right. The normal preponderance of mediocrity in human affairs makes every year seem like a bad movie year, but then when you review the year's titles in December, you're pleasantly surprised at how much you enjoyed. This year, for the first time, I was surprised by how slim the rewards were for going to the movies.

Anyway, here are the 10 films from 2000 I'd be most eager to sit through again:

Almost Famous -- How could critics not love a movie about a critic who, while still a teenager, saves the soul of rock 'n' roll, and gets gang-deflowered by groupies to boot? That surely accounts for some of the extremities of praise heaped on Cameron Crowe's coming-of-age boast. But for all its softness around the edges, this was the biggest bonbon of the year. It finally made Billy Crudup seem like a star, and Frances McDormand turned her role from a running gag into one of the classic movie moms.

Requiem for a Dream -- Dazzlingly directed and acted meditation on addiction, adapted from the Hubert Selby novel. This sophomore effort by director and co-adapter Darren Aronofsky marks a big leap from his debut feature, Pi.

Nurse Betty -- Neil LaBute's grim satire about the blurred line between TV and real life had a lot more texture and purpose than his previous exercises in nastiness. Renée Zellweger was touching in the title role, and Morgan Freeman hasn't had this good a part -- or given this fine a performance -- in years.

Hamlet (2000) -- 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.

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.

Shaft -- Samuel L. Jackson lacked Richard Roundtree's sexual mojo, but his star quality, the superb turn by Michael Wright as the villain, and the good, jangling dialogue by Richard Price, Shane Salerno and director John Singleton made this a fine macho entertainment.

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.

Keeping the Faith -- It's understandable that people missed this one: The ads and trailers made this triangle among priest Edward Norton, rabbi Ben Stiller and Jenna Elfman as the girl they both loved as kids look deadly. But it's also a pity, because it was actually a strong, spirited romantic comedy with rich characters, inventively directed by Norton.

Bring It On -- Bafflingly underrated. This comedy about cheerleading is fast and furious, but 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")?

Godzilla 2000 -- Laugh if you want, but this visually elegant, deliberately low-tech monster entry was about as fun a mindless diversion as the movies gave me this summer, and it took amusing subtextual shots at our Yank version of Godzilla, too.

Some other films that didn't leave me in bereavement over two hours of my life: Finding Forrester (although the title sounds to me like some sort of lewd euphemism), Charlie's Angels, Unbreakable, Up at the Villa, Chicken Run, The Emperor's New Groove, Dr. T & the Women, Wonder Boys, What Lies Beneath, Shanghai Noon, The Legend of Drunken Master (if you count it), The Patriot, The Crewand, even though it disgracefully chickens out of its own ethical stand at the end, The Contender.

Some films that did annoy, bore, affront or embarrass me: The Next Best Thing (to root canal, maybe), Pay It Forward, Isn't She Great, Gladiator, Bless the Child, Kenneth Branagh's excruciating misfire Love's Labour's Lost, the somniferous The Art of War, Dungeons & Dragons, Hollow Man, The Perfect Storm, and the visually startling, intellectually insulting The Cell.

 
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