2000 TOP TEN: MOVIES
ALMOST FAMOUS: Some people knock this movie for viewing the seventies
through rose-colored granny glasses, but, hey, it IS told from the point-of-view of a
very, very happy 15 year old kid who not only gets to write for Rolling Stone, but also
loses his virginity to a trio of sexy groupies! For me, the hero's starry-eyed wonder was
the whole point: it's a rare movie that can honestly make me remember how exciting,
innocent and mysterious life (and, for that matter, show biz) seemed before I became
such a cranky old man. Plus, I've always gotta give props to a Hollywood movie made
with such heartfelt emotion, humanity and attention to detail. All that and Phillip
Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs (maybe one of my favorite movie characters of all
time), a good role for Fairuza Balk (for a change), that cool-ass stewardess outfit worn
by Zooey Deschanel and the luminescent Kate Hudson as the embodiment of the Great
Unattainable. (Also, it gave me a nice, optimistic catchphrase for 2001: "It's all
CHUCK & BUCK: Funny, touching, creepy and unnerving is a rare
of elements to find in one movie, but that's what we're talking about, here. The
characters (especially the socially-retarded, maturity-impaired "Buck" and the tough old
broad he befriends at a children's theater) are just great, and there's not a false note in
the whole story. Best of all, I had NO idea what the ending was going to be (or even
what KIND of ending to expect)...and just TRY to get that damn
"Oodily-oodily-oodily" song out of your head after the film's over (trust me, you'll know
the one I mean).
STATE AND MAIN: Although David Mamet is one of my favorite writers,
movie direction is usually stiff, clunky, and lifeless...except, I guess, when he's got an
ensemble cast this good and a script this funny. As the writer and director, respectively,
of a Hollywood production that invades an impossibly quaint New England town,
William H. Macy and the ubiquitous Phillip Seymour Hoffman have a great time playing
normal people for a change, and Alec Baldwin (as a jerky movie star) gets props for
providing my SECOND favorite catch-phrase for 2001 involving the root-word
"happen" (you'll know it when you hear it). I dunno how funny all the show biz in-jokes
will be for non-show-biz-obssessed types...but, hoo-boy, for us addicts it's a frickin'
CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: You'll laugh! You'll cry!
wish you knew karate...although the fight scenes in this movie are closer to ballet (or
fireworks) than, say, even the most kinetic Jackie Chan fight scenes. At first, I worried
I was going to have to sit through a lot of subtitled dramatic exposition to get to the
"good stuff," but eventually I realized the yearning, mythical romantic drama WAS the
good stuff, and the fight scenes were just gravy.
WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM? For some reason, nearly every critic in
America felt the need to beat this funny, touching allegory to a bloody pulp. Sure, I can
understand a knee-jerk reaction against a movie starring a t.v. comic as an alien with a
buzzing penis who comes to Earth through an airplane toilet looking for sex. Sounds
like some horrible Saturday Night Live vehicle, right? But it's not...for one thing, it's
actually FUNNY, and (more important) it somehow captures the tricky landscape of
romantic relationships with a clarity missing from any number of "respectable" films on
the subject. And the main reason is Annette Bening, whose sparkling performance as
the tough but vulnerable alcoholic love interest is equal to (and maybe even BETTER
than) her celebrated work in American Beauty. No, really...I'm SERIOUS!
THE SPECIALS: This came out for about five minutes in L.A., and I
only saw it
because the New Times and the L.A. Weekly raved about it. They were both right for
a change, and so now I'm spreading the love in case you ever spot this in a video store.
The premise is similar to Mystery Men - i.e., an ensemble comedy about a team of
low-rent superheroes - but The Specials is less a genre parody than a look at the group
dynamics of co-workers who just HAPPEN to be superheroes (although for most of
the movie, they could just as easily be doctors, musicians or real estate salesmen).
REAL "indie" filmmaking at its best, the movie features sharp, funny dialogue and
performances that put most 2000 Hollywood product to shame.
CHICKEN RUN: It's a weird year when some of the most sophisticated
characters and dialogue are in movies about aliens, superheroes and dancing chickens,
but I'll take the excitement, suspense and (British) patriotism of this utterly charming
children's movie over the sadistic violence of The Patriot, the overblown, hollow
spectacle of Gladiator or the clunky by-the-numbers predictability of U-571 any day of
ERIN BROCKOVICH: I love movies that break new ground, take my breath
away and make me look at the world in a whole new way...but, barring that, I'll settle
for Julia Roberts' cleavage. No, wait...what I meant to say was that in a year filled with
so much lazy studio crap, I'll always root for something like Erin Brockovich, the kind
of solid, well-built mainstream product Hollywood is SUPPOSED to be making (what
with all the frickin' money they get paid, fer chrissake!). Plus, Albert Finney is just
flat-out great by any yardstick, and it's always nice to see "the little people" stick it to
"the Man" (in Fantasyland, at least).
X-MEN: Yep, more superheroes. Oh, sure, I could've picked something
to put on my list here, like Croupier or Quills, or I could've picked something more
"indie" like High Fidelity or Groove or Ghost Dog or The Tao of Steve or The Virgin
Suicides or The Way of the Gun...but all those movies wind up on the honorable
mention list instead of the #9 spot because...well, they were all plenty enjoyable -- but
nothing more -- and none of them wound up being top-to-bottom, full-throttle
"gotta-see-it-opening-night" movie EVENTS. X-Men earns its spot if only because it
didn't disappoint me (in a year of disappointments), because it was a lot more clever
than it needed to be, and because it briefly made me feel like I was 12 again (in the
good, uncynical moviegoing way). That's good enough to make the list in 2000, I
IT ON: Again, I suppose this spot could easily have gone to one of
(arguably more deserving) movies in the Honorable Mention section, but, come on...like
I'm gonna say no to fabulous babes in cheerleader uniforms! And, to be honest, this
movie WAS perfect in its own cheerfully goofy way, like, I dunno, The Sanford & Son
theme or a Cherry Garcia bar. As with, say, The Virgin Suicides or Croupier or Ghost
Dog or Groove - it's not really ABOUT anything, and exists mainly as a mood piece -
and I sure left the theater in a GOOD mood. Also, as enjoyable as High Fidelity was, I
can't really remember anything in it as vividly as, say, the really funny opening dream
sequence cheer in Bring It On...so what the hell. It's my number 10 film. It's that kind
MENTION: The Virgin Suicides, Ghost Dog, Groove, Road
Trip, Saving Grace, Croupier, High Fidelity, The Way of the Gun, Best in Show,
Charlie's Angels, Quills, Billy Elliot, Traffic, Time Code, The Tao of Steve, Dr. T & The
Women, Shadow of the Vampire, 50% of The Perfect Storm
O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? - The biggest challenger for a
spot on my 2000 top-10 is this latest Coen Brothers film, which I won't get to see until
2001. I've heard from plenty of people who HATED it, but, heck, I loved The
Hudsucker Proxy (which, until now, was the most reviled Coen Brothers movie), so
there's no telling what I'll think of this baby.
WORST MOVIES OF 2000
I SAW: REINDEER GAMES. Oh, sure, Requiem for a Dream
and Blair Witch 2 were both awful in their respective ways (see below), but at least
they were TRYING to do something, whereas this one infuriated me for being so
aggressively lazy and mediocre in every way, a perfect representation of everything that
was wrong with the 2000 movie year.
I DIDN'T SEE: THE FAMILY MAN. There were plenty of awful
movies I DIDN'T see this year (Hanging Up, Pay It Forward...egad), but even the
commercials for this one make me want to throw up. Gee, what a dilemma...to be
super-rich and bang a different super-model every night or be utterly adored by a
gorgeous wife and cute kids in a gigantic upper-middle-class home? Nice to see
Hollywood tackling the tough issues.
FILM OF THE YEAR: REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, or
Trainspotting for Dummies, as I like to call it. So, okay, the rave reviews are for...what,
exactly? The daring, controversial idea that...gasp...drug addiction is bad? The hokey,
sub-MTV visuals? The cartoonish, one-dimensional characters? The sneering
condescension towards poor, sad, lonely people? Oh, I know, it must be the achingly
self-conscious, utterly humorless pretension! I mean what is the point of this exercise in
grim hopelessness, exactly? The characters are just as pathetic (and DULL!) when
they're sober as when they're fucked-up (they never even seem to get any pleasure out
of their drugs of choice) and there's no solution or alternative to all their misery...it's like
the art film equivalent of a Friday the 13th movie: you meet some paper-thin characters
with one trait each (one's sulky, one's pouty, one's black and one wants to fit into an old
red dress) and then wait for them to get knocked off, since it's the only interesting thing
that's likely to happen. (And, excuse me, but wouldn't a trained medical doctor dealing
with a pill-addicted middle-aged woman try, I dunno, placing her into a 12-step
program or something before zapping 50,000 volts into her frontal lobe? Ooh...but that
wouldn't be EDGY!)
DISAPPOINTMENT: BLAIR WITCH 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO.
I'm not ashamed to say The Blair Witch Project scared the bejesus outta me. Maybe
I'm just overly paranoid and excitable, but I literally couldn't walk down a certain dark,
tree-lined street one night after seeing it (and, yes, I felt stupid about it, but logic and
self-aware irony are no defense against a sudden, drastic case of the creeps). So I was
looking forward to the big budget, 35mm sequel, and for the first five minutes I thought
it was gonna be great...but halfway through, I realized BW2 was the most
jaw-droppingly awful, amateurish crock of shit this side of Battlefield Earth (a gem of
Hollywood craftsmanship by comparison). Making it worse, as has been noted
elsewhere by the esteemed Senator Von Doviak, is the fact that the director, who
defended kids accused of murder mainly 'cuz they dressed weird (in the documentary
Paradise Lost), here condones the very same "weird-looking-people-must-be-killers"
attitude he slammed in his earlier, far superior outing. BW2 is utterly repulsive, shrill
and terrible in every way.
DANCER IN THE DARK. The end of this movie had a
scene so excruciatingly painful to watch that I felt like I'd been punched in the ribcage,
and I was furious afterwards. Which is not to say it's a bad movie, exactly. Which is
not to say it's a good movie, either. I have to give a certain amount of respect to a film
that produces such a visceral reaction in me - but, then again, I had a similar reaction to
the infamous bootleg videotape of a politician shooting himself in the head at a press
conference. Like somebody said once, it's easy to get a reaction out of an audience:
just strangle a puppy. But that don't necessarily make it art.
OF THE YEAR: "Ass to ass! Ass to ass!" -- Requiem for
MOVIE LINE: "You the man now, dog!" (or whatever)
-- said by the embarrassingly white Sean Connery to some embarrassed-looking black
kid in the ad for Finding Forrester.
2000 T.V. TOP TEN
10. The Sopranos (Big Pussy and Nancy Marchand, R.I.P.!)
OF THE YEAR: Not that I saw much theater in 2000, but SIDE MAN
(with Edie Falco, a.k.a. Tony Soprano's wife), the story of a hepcat fifties trumpet
player, the wife he drives insane and the kid who grows up in the war zone between
them, is hands down one of the best productions I've ever seen on stage OR screen.
Funny, harrowing and deeply moving.
seem to buy less music the older I get (or maybe there's just less good
out there nowadays), but the following CDs (not necessarily 2000 releases) got heavy
rotation in my own personal radio station this year:
P.J. HARVEY, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
AIMEE MANN, Bachelor #2 (or the Last Remains of the Dodo)
U2, All That You Can't Leave Behind
ALMOST FAMOUS (Soundtrack)
and, of course,
THE YEAR (Again, not necessarily released this year, but all worth
HOUSE: A beautifully written story about the relationship between
spinster librarian and a thoughtful young man who grows to be a freakish giant in
fifties-era Cape Cod. It sounds strange, but it's actually a wry, heartfelt love story.
Kudos to John and Jana for bringing it to my attention. Highly recommended!
SURVIVOR: Loved the crew's-eye perspective!
Horrible but fascinating true-life story of the F.B.I.'s corrupt
relationship with former Boston crime honcho Whitey Bulger.
Very funny show biz ruminations by British actor/gadabout Richard E.
I liked the book better than the movie (except for the ending, for
reasons too bitter to go into right now).
The first graphic novel series I've been hooked on since, oh, say the
early nineties. Lots of sex, gore and blashphemy, and God makes frequent guest
DAYS OF DISCO (WITH COCKTAILS AT PETROSSIAN
FOLLOWING): For those (like myself and, um, well, I don't know anyone else) who
couldn't get enough of the original Whit Stillman movie.
REACTIONS AND CARBURETOR DUNG: Thanks to Almost
Famous, I finally got around to reading this, and, yes, that rascally Lester Bangs fellah is
pretty durn lovable.
THE KINGDOM: All kinds of Michael Eisner-related show biz
skullduggery, for them what like that kind of thing.
Anyway, here's wishing you all a Happy New Year (and better movies in 2001)!