Sunday, December 31, 2000

The Year In Review: Film




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        When re-issues threaten to overrun the annual Top 10 list, the weakness of the 2000 movie menu is obvious. Few titles from this year's crop are likely to hold their value as reliably as The Exorcist, This Is Spinal Tap, A Hard Day's Night or Blood Simple.

        That's not to say 2000 lacked appealing and entertaining films; but a widespread failure of artistic nerve made the cinematic horizon look mighty flat.

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        Nonetheless, the year had its highlights,including a nice outbreak of intelligent sci-fi (Frequency, X-Men and Unbreakable). As always, there were low-lights, too — the arrival (and blessedly quick departure) of Battlefield Earth, and the depressing popularity of the shallow, cynical crowd-pleaser Erin Brockovich.

        The list that follows reflects gut feelings more than technical perfection. These are films with rewards that stayed with me; they even amplified with the passing of time. That alone makes a movie notable amid clouds of movies that evaporate from consciousness as soon as the closing credits roll.

        A note about the field: A few of this year's choices will not open in Cincinnati theaters until January, but are official 2000 releases. At the same time, some of the year's most promising films, including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Yi-Yi; The House of Mirth; and Before Night Falls, were not in the running because they were not screened here.

        My ranking of films that 2000 had to offer:

[photo] A scene from Chicken Run.
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        1. Almost Famous — Cameron Crowe's heartfelt memoir of an extraordinary adolescence shimmered with truth and affection — and yet another startling, down-to-earth performance by Frances McDormand.

        2. Traffic — Three stories, three casts, three locales and one horrific subject add up to a movie that handles a tough public-policy issue and private emotional ordeals with equal respect.

        3. Chicken Run — A smart, funny movie is hard to find. But a smart, funny movie about chickens made out of clay? Long live Nick Park and Peter Lord.

        4. Wonder Boys — Michael Chabon's lustrous novel laid the groundwork for this graceful, brilliantly cast adaptation. Frances McDormand (again), Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire and Robert Downey Jr. worked together like silken threads for director Curtis Hanson.

        5. High Fidelity — Stephen Frears deserves the prize for best use of an unexpected cast in a tricky story. No director has captured John Cusack's wounded charm so well since Cameron Crowe's Say Anything.

        6. Cast Away — Bold, beautiful technical work from director Robert Zemeckis and a splendid star turn by Tom Hanks make this a movie with staying power.

        7. O Brother, Where Art Thou? — This is my favorite movie that is most likely to be hated by others. The Coen brothers steal some ideas from Homer, then pile on authentic American music, a deep Southern setting, a quirky episodic narrative, plus cartoonish comic characters. The result is original, unsettling and funny as all get-out.

        8. Gladiator — Who knew that sword-and-sandal blood-letting could be revived in such grand and moving style?

        9. Jesus' Son - Requiem for a Dream had more style and ambition, but my mind keeps turning back to the simplicity and unvarnished sorrow of this drug-fueled tragedy, not to mention another wonderful performance by Billy Crudup.

        10. Proof of Life — A movie with the guts to turn its back on easy, action-adventure cliches, it made even better use of Russell Crowe's smoldering intensity than Gladiator did.

        Honorable mention: Best in Show, The Dream Catcher, Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, Girlfight, My Dog Skip, Nurse Betty, The Perfect Storm, Return to Me, The Tao of Steve, Two-Family House and You Can Count on Me.

       

       



The Year In Review: TV & Radio
The Year In Review: Theater
The Year In Review: Popular Music
- The Year In Review: Film
The Year In Review: Dance
The Year In Review: Classical Music
The Year In Review: Visual Art
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DEMALINE: 13 weeks of theater sets stage for fine winter
An appreciation
Disabled Tristaters moved forward in 2000
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