The year in movies

The RN&R’s movie critic looks back at the good, the bad and the truly awful films released in 2000

<i>Thirteen Days </i>

Thirteen Days

The year 2000 was a decent year for films, even if it was scheduled by studio executives on crack. When looking back, the top films of the year were actually quite decent. We just had to wait for the last couple of weeks in December to see most of them.

Here in Reno, much of the year-end rush trickled into January. Thanks to some shameless begging at the desks of my editors, this annual year-end assessment comes a bit delayed, so that films like O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Thirteen Days, Cast Away and Traffic could be considered. To put it plainly, my Top 10 list was only six movies long a few weeks ago.

There were some pretty flaccid movie weeks in 2000. It’s hard to recall a summer movie season as boring and useless as the one we just experienced. Summer is supposed to be the time for Event Movies, with movie nerds clamoring for the Friday paper to see what potential cinematic jewels will be thrown at their faces that weekend. The lack of blockbuster fun carried on into a rather boring holiday stretch as well.

<i>The Perfect Storm</i>

You’re in trouble when the big-budget, science fiction event movie of the summer is John Travolta’s Battlefield Earth. And while Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas was mildly enjoyable, it’s sad to see a movie like that score the year’s biggest box office gold, while next to nobody experienced the likes of Almost Famous, Jesus’ Son and High Fidelity.

It’s worth noting that over 60 percent of the films I saw this year rated just “good” or below (see the sidebar). In fact, I had a difficult time culling my Top 10 worst. The bad films were so bad and bountiful that Battlefield Earth was spared a berth.

On a very sad note, this was the year that claimed my baby, my sweetheart, the Keystone II Cinema. One of the few cornerstones of “art” in this nutty city has died, and it didn’t have to happen. While I confess a preference for something like X-Men on the larger screen and superior (when it’s working) sound system combo that Century offers, the loss of the Keystone II kept us from seeing films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Dancer in the Dark, Requiem for a Dream and the critically acclaimed You Can Count on Me. I also miss those couches.

Please, if there is any justice in this city, let us get our art theater back. While I’m at it, if we should ever get another chance at a movie house devoted to art films, let’s patronize it to major, downright annoying extremes so we don’t lose it again. We blew it the last time around.

<i>Erin Brockovich</i>

The best
Thankfully, the film year did rally big time in December. The year’s best weren’t as inventive as some of last year’s triumphs, like Being John Malkovich and Magnolia, but when scanning over my Top 10 and its runners-up, there are plenty of movies to like and even love. I am presenting my Top 10 lists in ascending order, trying to create some fun for you, so don’t skip ahead! Alas, please take into consideration that this list is subject to revision. I haven’t seen films like Shadow of the Vampire as of yet, so this is a work in progress.

10. Thirteen Days
The only problem with Kevin Costner’s Boston accent in this drama about the Cuban Missile Crisis is that we know what he normally sounds like, and the accent is perhaps too good. Director Roger Donaldson does a remarkable job of maintaining high intensity in a story where most of us know how things conclude. Costner returns to form (he is a decent actor, you know) with Jack and Robert Kennedy expertly portrayed by Bruce Greenwood and Steven Culp. Steven Culp is Robert Kennedy. It’s frightening.

9. Wonder Boys
There’s a wonderful thing happening with Michael Douglas lately. Unlike fellow actors putting on a few years (Harrison Ford, I’m talking to you), Douglas doesn’t seem afraid to acknowledge his age on screen. This film gave us a Douglas willing to portray an absolute goofball, even adding a few extra pounds, and he’s never been this fun to watch. As a struggling, pot-smoking writer-professor hanging around with a deranged student (Tobey Maguire, the future Spider-Man), he’s a constant delight. Making a graceful progression into the roles of older gentlemen, Douglas is a class act.

8. The Perfect Storm
The negative reviews showered upon this film are perplexing. The movie had me from start to finish, with one of the year’s best ensemble casts that included George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly. Not simply a special effects movie, the story had me feeling horrible for those guys heading out for a fishing trip on the wrong day, and, while I was aware of their fates, director Wolfgang Peterson had me hoping all the way that things would take a turn for the better and the crew would wind up back at that Gloucester bar sipping brews. Don’t be surprised if this turns out to be one of the more durable films from this year’s crop—in short, a classic.

<i>State and Main</i>

7. Chuck & Buck
Far and away, this was the year’s scariest film. It’s also very funny and sweet in an absolute creepazoid sort of way. It tells the story of lonely Buck (Mike White), a man/child at 32, whose mother has passed away, prompting him to look up Chuck, his childhood friend. Chuck and Buck did more than play Atari growing up, and while Chuck has moved on to vocational success, Buck remains in a demented fantasy world. Nothing like this movie has ever been produced, nor is anything like it ever likely to be produced again.

6. State and Main
This film chronicles the trials and tribulations of a big Hollywood movie trying to film in a small Vermont town. Nobody writes like David Mamet, and he serves himself well as his own director. This is his best work on film, and his dialogue is delivered by actors with a tremendous sense of timing. William H. Macy is in his usual top form, Alec Baldwin is hilarious as a star actor with an ill-advised taste for young girls, and Rebecca Pidgeon is charming and totally unique as one of the few intellectuals inhabiting Waterford, Vt. It’s one of the year’s greatest surprises.

5. Erin Brockovich
I never thought I would be touting Julia Roberts for Best Actress at any time during my movie-viewing career, but she snuck up on me with this one. She is nothing short of magnificent as Brockovich, and as of this article’s writing, no actress is realistically challenging her for Best Actress honors. She’s always had star power, but never has it combined with her talents with such success. All hail director Steven Soderbergh. For a director to make a film like this, and have it not be the best film he directed the year it was produced, is amazing.

4. High Fidelity
John Cusack starred in last year’s best film (Being John Malkovich), and he almost repeated that accomplishment in 2000. This is the year’s funniest movie, propelled by the always fine work from Cusack and a breakthrough performance by Jack Black as a mean-spirited record store employee. The moment when Cusack and his cronies kick Tim Robbins’ ponytailed ass is one of the year’s funniest. Cusack and Black are gods!

<i>Wonder Boys</i>

3. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Can you recall filmmakers as consistent as the Coen Brothers? They’ve yet to make a bad film, and this is one of their most joyous and beautiful. Set mostly outdoors in the Depression-era deep South and loosely based on Homer’s The Odyssey, the Coens have created yet another delight. George Clooney lights up the screen with a kinetic performance, and while many are comparing his work here to Cary Grant, I detected large doses of Clark Gable. With great music and gorgeous scenery, there is no universe quite like the Coen universe. May they make 900 more movies.

2. Almost Famous
This is Cameron Crowe’s delightful semi-autobiographical look at a teenage journalist’s travels with a touring rock band. This film had me smiling like a dork for over two hours. Billy Crudup delivered his second great performance of the year (after Jesus’ Son) as the Clapton-like band leader, and Frances McDormand locked up Best Supporting Actress honors, in my mind, as the domineering but strangely cool mother. Crowe’s gift for dialogue has always been apparent, but it’s never been as touching as in this movie. You probably missed it in the theaters, so you must add this to your future rental list right now. Go ahead; grab your pen and paper. I’ll wait.

1. Traffic
The year’s best film. Director Steven Soderbergh created a movie that is unlike anything we’ve ever seen, going for the throat of the U.S. drug war while perfectly balancing multiple storylines and remarkable performances. Michael Douglas, Benicio Del Toro and Catherine Zeta-Jones all deserve Oscar nominations for what they manage to do in this movie. Soderbergh did an excellent job with Erin Brockovich, but this is the film that deserves the most recognition. He topped himself and every other director offering up films in 2000. Remarkable.

Nurse Betty; Cast Away; Bamboozled; Croupier; Gladiator (on DVD); American Psycho; Jesus’ Son; X-Men; Hamlet; The Family Man.

<i>Chuck & Buck</i>

A quick clarification
Before we get on with it, it’s time for a bit of a retraction. While I still don’t think some of Gladiator‘s special effects looked good on the big screen, my attitude about the film has changed drastically since seeing it on DVD. The special effects and computer graphics played better on TV and were no longer distracting (after all, the graphic artists design these effects on big computer monitors, not multiplex big screens). With the effects less distracting, I found myself far more absorbed by the story and the performance of Russell Crowe. I liked Gladiator before, but I’m liking it far more after a second viewing.

The worst
Now, it’s time to proceed to the more difficult portion of this column, whittling down a list of many possibilities to determine the Top 10 worst films of the year. I had enough to fill three lists, but I settled on this grouping of gopher poo for special acknowledgment. Make sure to pinch your nose before reading the following paragraphs. It gets stinky.

10. What Women Want
Mel Gibson falls into a bathtub with a hair dryer, electrocutes himself and, unfortunately, survives that accident to delve into some very unfunny and ugly comedy. Given the ability to hear women’s thoughts, he initially takes advantage of the ladies, but then becomes some sort of avenging angel superhero, not unlike Bruce Willis’ extremely boring raincoat man in Unbreakable. It’s a head scratcher for me that this is such a success. Sloppy and humorless, this is one of the worst films of Gibson’s career. And he was in Lethal Weapon 4.

9. Miss Congeniality
Sandra Bullock isn’t the greatest of actresses, but there’s no doubting her charisma. When the funniest thing about your big-budget comedy is William Shatner, a buttload of charisma is not nearly enough to make the proceedings tolerable. If your idea of fun is Sandra Bullock talking with her mouth full of ice cream, by all means, indulge.

<i>Almost Famous</i>

8. Disney’s The Kid
This was not a good year for Bruce Willis fans. Besides the letdown of Unbreakable, which featured the year’s worst ending, there was this foray into family fare, featuring one of cinema’s all-time most annoying children. Didn’t the folks in post-production notice how irritating that kid’s voice was? They could’ve saved us with a few carefully modulated audio tricks, but oh, no, they let that kid’s voice come through in all its grating glory. Sadistic bastards!

7. (three-way tie) Urban Legends: Final Cut, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, Wes Craven Presents: Dracula 2000
Not a good time this year for horror fans. Lucifer, the devil himself, did have a hand in this trio of scary wannabes, but he didn’t add his influence to scares. His influence can be detected in the stomach and head troubles each of these films induced.

6. Highlander: Endgame
This movie was so bad, I don’t want to do it the honor of naming it the year’s worst. That’s an honor too good for this film, which desperately needs to fade into oblivion before more good, honest, hardworking people hurt their faces with it. Now that you’ve read my little blurb, put it out of your head and forget this film exists. Please, take my advice and move on, before it makes your rental list!

5. Eye of the Beholder
The most unintentionally hilarious film of the year. A movie that was shelved because it was so bad sees the light of day due to the rising stardom of Ashley Judd and Ewan McGregor, who simply can’t be happy that this one resurfaced. When Ashley Judd killed that guy and declared through mournful tears, “Merry Christmas, Daddy,” I so wanted to be outside the movie theater, running like the wind, running to a far-away country that had not heard hide nor hair of this movie, or Ashley Judd for that matter. Until further notice, Ashley Judd is the enemy, regardless of her mother’s fine singing voice.

<i>Disney’s The Kid</i>

4. Gone in 60 Seconds
Nicolas Cage salvaged his movie year with the very good The Family Man, but that came after he occupied this, one of the very worst films of his career (he’s made quite a few lousy ones, so that’s no small accomplishment). The worst car film since that Tom Cruise thing, and Robert Duvall’s wrinkled ass was featured in both of them. Not a refrigerator-magnet moment for the legendary actor, for sure.

3. The Next Best Thing
Hey, Madonna, knock it off with the fake English accent. You’re an American, and you’re just going to have to live with it. While you’re at it, stop making movies, please. You embarrass yourself, your fans and my dog, a former fan who has officially written you off. Seriously, the dog had all your albums and has since pissed on them.

2. Big Momma’s House
This year’s loser latex comedy had Martin Lawrence spewing out toilet humor and looking like the victim of multiple bee stings in dreadful makeup. Large swaths of people attended this film, and you’re hard-pressed to find someone who actually thought it was funny. The financial success of this movie guarantees a sequel and at least 90 minutes of additional pure hell for the likes of me. The future is bleak.

1. Pay It Forward
From last year’s Best Actor to this year’s worst, Kevin Spacey suffered a bit of a setback with this hunk of pure drivel. If I get one more film served up to me offering Haley Joel Osment as a Christ figure, I’ll stomp on a rare plant. Hollywood writers take note: Haley Joel Osment is not Jesus Christ! He’s not even Simon Peter, so give it a rest with the pious, star child crap. Up next for Osment: playing a potential Christ figure in Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Will somebody please cast this kid as a C-student possessing a penchant for burning grasshoppers with a magnifying glass? His little pixie head is swelling as you read this.

Coyote Ugly; Battlefield Earth; Romeo Must Die; The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas; Loser; The Replacements; Scream 3; Autumn in New York; Scary Movie; The Watcher.

A sneak preview
As for the year ahead, it looks good on the blockbuster, big-movie front. Promising offerings are coming from Steven Spielberg (A.I.), as long as Haley Joel Osment doesn’t turn water into wine, Tim Burton (a Planet of the Apes remake), Peter Jackson (the first Lord of the Rings film), dinosaurs (Jurassic Park 3) and Ridley Scott (Hannibal).

We will also be getting director Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor, boasting possibly the largest budget in Hollywood history. While I won’t go so far as to list this one as promising, I will forecast it as possibly the longest, most ponderous and self-indulgent television commercial about Pearl Harbor ever made. I also predict that 92 percent of it will be in slow motion, and Japan will be played by Nicolas Cage.

May Steven Soderbergh win some Oscars, may small art films somehow find a new home in our budding metropolis and, most importantly, may studios schedule their releases so that summer doesn’t flame out like last year. Here’s to seeing some decent films in months other than December, and none featuring Madonna.