I guess it’s officially tradition now: I can’t narrow the best films of the year down to only 10, so, like Nigel Tufnel’s amp, this one again goes to 11.
Film critics and fans alike have been heard to complain that 2000 was an awful year for film, but I’m not sure that that is entirely the case. As with last year, I came up with a short list of about 25 really terrific films and had a tough time winnowing it down to even 11. The stinkers of 2000 stunk to high heaven, it’s true (I had trouble paring down my worst-of list, too), and the many, many films in the mediocre middle were somehow extremely mediocre this year. But the top tier of 2000 still shines. There’s not a film on my list, I believe, that won’t be considered a classic a decade from now.
So, in alphabetical order and with commentary, here are my top 11 films of 2000:
Cameron Crowe’s semiautobiographical coming-of-age ode to rock ’n’ roll may gloss over some of the rough edges of the 1970s scene, but this is a film about the joy and freedom of music, not the underbelly of its world. Rarely have I had a more exhilarating experience at the movies. (If this movie didn’t exist, Billy Elliot would be here instead. The music is ballet but the journey of personal discovery is the same, and just as enjoyable, in that deep-down, soul-satisfying way.)
Perhaps the slyest, funniest movie of 2000, this is not only a satire of 80s culture but a riff on male aggression: Rich-bastard stockbroker Patrick Bateman is so full of rage that he turns to serial murder to express it. Or is it all in his head? Christian Bale’s performance is one of the very best of the year. (If this movie didn’t exist, Boiler Room would be here instead. It’s not a comedy, but it’s just as pointed a rebuke at male sharkiness.)
An escape movie about chickens could only have come from the sweet but twisted brain of animator Nick Park. Comedy and unexpectedly touching drama sit at the heart of this charming and hilarious film, one sprinkled with enough references to Hollywood of old to keep a film buff busy for ages. And with both a female hero and a female villain, this is one of two startlingly, sneakily feminist movies of 2000.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
And this is the other. Set Star Wars in ancient China and cast it with a female Luke and a female Han, and fill it with adventure, romance, revenge, and the most breathtaking hand-to-hand combat sequences ever committed to film, and you have a movie to remind you why you fell in love with movies in the first place.
This is what Hollywood does best: big, rousing, bloodthirsty action tempered with genuine deep feeling. Russell Crowe keeps us riveted through the physical and emotional trials of Maximus, making for an epic story told on a very personal scale.
The House of Mirth
Oh, the injustices of life! Gillian Anderson is extraordinary as a woman so sure of herself that she is blind to the weaknesses that will lead to her downfall. The inequities of the Edwardian world have never been slammed with so gentle a touch.
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The Coen Brothers’ latest gonzo road movie does what movies were meant to do: transport us to a parallel universe just slightly to the left of our own, tickling us with its knowing sense of unreality. (If this movie didn’t exist, Nurse Betty would be here instead. Here it’s only Betty’s personal reality that dips into the unreal, but we follow her willingly.)
Shadow of the Vampire
The idiosyncrasies of filmmakers are always ripe for satire, and this bone-dry comedy doesn’t miss a one, likening actors to vampires and directors to mad scientists. Simply, utterly, viscerally hilarious. (If this movie didn’t exist, State and Main would be here instead. It’s less audacious but still wicked sharp in its sending up of Hollywood.)
A dismal and depressingly realistic documentary-style look at the international drug trade and the hopeless efforts to stem its tide. By far the better of director Steven Soderbergh’s two 2000 films, this one may not feature Julia Roberts’s breasts, but it shows off Benicio Del Toro as an actor to watch.
A complete reimagining of comic-book stories, this astonishing film manages to anticipate and confound its intended audience’s reactions. The result: if you’re comfortable with the film’s mindset, you’ll seldom find yourself so startled by a movie. (If this movie didn’t exist, X-Men would be here instead. The best comic-book adaptation ever, it captures both the action and the intelligence of its source material.)
There are lots of movies about writers but few films about writing. This comfortable, friendly film gets it just right: the unconscious creativity, the precariousness of navigating your way through personal crises while ferreting it all away for a later book. (If this movie didn’t exist, Croupier would be here instead. Clive Owen’s novelist is even more insular, lives even more inside his head, than anyone in Wonder Boys.)
In addition to those missed-it-by-a-hair films previously mentioned — Billy Elliot, Boiler Room, Nurse Betty, State and Main, X-Men, and Croupier — a few more films have earned kudos. The Tao of Steve and You Can Count on Me were refreshingly realistic in their explorations of, respectively, romance and sibling relationships. Orphans was the funniest and most knowing movie about grief I’ve ever seen. The Color of Paradise and the documentary Kestrel’s Eye made love to the natural world in ways that are rarely seen on film.
Hall of Shame
These may not be the very worst the film industry had to offer in 2000 — I missed a lot of crap early in the year — but they are certainly the absolute, rock-bottom, most godawful movies I saw last year:
First, we have the unholy trifecta of Bad Movies Starring Beelzebub: Bless the Child, Lost Souls, and The Ninth Gate. There was little doubt previously that the Prince of Darkness has an office in Beverly Hills, but these three nightmares of incoherence and Satanic hoo-ha prove it.
Women in Absurd Danger figure in both The Cell and Eye of the Beholder (not reviewed). In the former, Jennifer Lopez travels into the mind of a serial killer, which looks amazingly like the cover of a heavy-metal album, circa 1986. I’m not sure that anyone has yet figured out what Ashley Judd was up to in the latter.
What can a girl geek say about Dungeons and Dragons (not reviewed) and Highlander: Endgame? Roll your saving throw and pray that you’re actually immortal, cuz these Level 25 Demonic Beasts hurt. Bad.
And finally, there is the bad movie to end all bad movies. The Ed Wood wet dream that is Battlefield Earth emanates a reek that permeates not only the year 2000 but all of human history. It’s enough to make one take comfort in the fact that our sun will go nova in 3.5 billion years or so, and forever erase this travesty from the universe.