2000: The Year in Review

Feature article by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
January 31, 2001

Now that January is coming to a close, I suppose it's about time to look back at the year 2000 before it is forgotten. It wasn't the best year at the movies -- some critics claim it was the worst since 1930 -- especially after an exciting year like 1999. In my review of that year, I said it was a great year to become a film critic. Now, after the first full year of operation at FilmHead.com, I can see that it only set me up for a disappointment. Still, I now have a full year of reviews to look back on, and my choices for what were the best and worst films of the year can be more comprehensive. Yet this year also saw additional contributors to FilmHead.com, so I did not personally see everything that was reviewed. Some films, like Quills, Bounce, and Snatch, drew high praise from my other writers, but I have not seen them myself, and therefore cannot add them to my list. I have selected twenty films that were true diamonds in the rough, and this year it was difficult to come up with that many. First, let's look at what I see as the ten best films of 2000.

1. Wo hu cang long (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) VHS DVD
A film like this is rare. In my review, I compared it to Star Wars -- another film that has the ability to capture the imagination and only grow larger in the viewer's mind. So many films, especially last year, are quickly forgotten after leaving the theatre, but Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is at the beginning of an eternal life as a classic film. Its greatness transcends spoken language as it is set to become the highest-grossing subtitled film in American cinema history.

2. Requiem for a Dream VHS DVD
After his breakthrough indie Pi, Darren Aronofksy was able to get the funding necessary to create a film that can fully showcase his great genius. He even bucked the MPAA, refusing an NC-17 rating and releasing the film unrated. It didn't get the film into a lot of theatres (an R-rated video cut has been made to appease Blockbuster), but it did provide the greatest political statement of the year, if only the second-greatest artistic one.

3. Traffic VHS DVD
As Requiem for a Dream was the most effective public service announcement against drugs, Traffic serves a different take on this country's drug problem. Stephen Gaghan's intelligent screenplay asks some difficult questions, and Steven Soderbergh brings them to vivid life.

4. Dancer in the Dark VHS DVD
They loved it at Cannes, but the film has had a hard time in the States. Its unconventional style put off some audiences, but I found it to be incredibly powerful -- a hurricane of emotions brought forth through music and melodrama.

5. Joe Gould's Secret VHS DVD
It's the great film that nobody saw. At its peak, it was showing on 33 screens, and ultimately made only $641,117 at the box office. It was another film that I compared to Star Wars -- in a stretch of logic that few were able to make. Stanley Tucci's Joe Gould's Secret, like his earlier Big Night, was a simple, quiet, beautiful film. Of course, nobody wants to see that anymore.

6. Almost Famous VHS DVD
Cameron Crowe made another simple, quiet (aside from the continuous rock music), beautiful film, and people stayed away in droves. Those who saw it loved it, but its absence of big stars and a botched release schedule doomed the film to failure.

7. Before Night Falls VHS DVD
Another portrait of the artist by another artist, Julian Schnabel's biography of Reinaldo Arenas is as unconventional as its subject.

8. Chicken Run VHS DVD
Last year made it look like animation would be a dominant force in 21st-century filmmaking, but only this British charmer would make an impact. However, with this film, we are reminded that most people are content with plasticine in the age of computer animation.

9. Shadow of the Vampire VHS DVD
More fun than a barrel of blood, this film is a real treat for horror film buffs who always thought there was something a little too peculiar about Max Schreck.

10. High Fidelity VHS DVD
This film is so good, you have to pinch yourself to remember that Disney made it. They couldn't sell it, but at least they took a chance. Don't expect it to happen in the future.

Honorable Mentions

Of course, several other films deserve mentioning. I've decided to organize this list like the college rankings in U.S. News. Consider the following ten films to be the "second tier", listed in alphabetical order.

  • Billy Elliot VHS DVD
    The best case ever made for ballet over Margaret Thatcher.
  • Cecil B. DeMented VHS DVD
    Thank God for John Waters. On second thought, maybe we should thank somebody else.
  • The Contender VHS DVD
    Republicans as salivating monsters? OK, I'll buy that.
  • Finding Forrester VHS DVD
    It was good year for writers, especially reclusive Scottish ones.
  • State and Main VHS DVD
    David Mamet also sympathizes with writers (naturally), and shows why a Writers' Guild strike should come as no surprise.
  • Two Family House VHS DVD
    They loved it at the film festivals, but theatres wouldn't touch it. Too good, I suppose.
  • The Virgin Suicides VHS DVD
    Even though I didn't write the review, I agree with it completely. I actually watched it in my free time!
  • Wonder Boys VHS DVD
    They tried twice, but Michael Douglas' writer couldn't sell tickets.
  • Xizao (Shower) VHS DVD
    An entirely different Chinese film -- more like Rain Man than Star Wars.
  • You Can Count on Me VHS DVD
    Another film anybody would like if only they would see it.
So, you can see the theme so far of this article. There were some very good films last year, even a few great ones, but nobody got to see them. The Hollywood star vehicles made money, but they weren't very good, and mostly were horrible. That's where this bad reputation came from.

There were a couple other great films that I saw last year, but I couldn't count them as "2000" films because of 1999 releases that started very slowly. They were Kadosh and Girl on the Bridge -- two foreign gems that would have easily made last year's top ten list if only I had seen them in time. No doubt other "2000" films have slipped under my radar, and my review of 2001 will have to note them.

And on the other side of the tracks...

Now, let's see some examples of what made 2000 such a bad year for going to the movies. I only gave two films less than one star, but there were plenty under two stars. Of those two wretched films, only one had the honor of no stars at all. This inhumanity is called...

Dude, Where's My Car?

Horrible, just absolutely horrible. In my review, I said, "Nobody with an ounce of intelligence could possibly enjoy this film." Well, that resulted in many letters from stupid people who were offended because they actually like the film. I give my sincere condolences to the families of these people, who will no doubt have to support them financially for the rest of their lives.

If only they had stopped there!

Other films also deserve dubious mention. But instead of dwelling on the very worst, I'll focus on some films that were either misguided or should have never been made.

Battlefield Earth - This half-star disaster looked like it was going to take the crown until Dude, Where's My Car? reared its ugly head. Nobody disagreed with this negative review, yet John Travolta is still planning on a sequel.

Bait - If this film had been any more popular, it would have set race relations back about fifty years.

Charlie's Angels - This film is the prime example of Hollywood conceit in 2000. The hype told everybody that they had to see it, and then they did. Expect this tactic to be repeated.

I could keep going with the negativity, but let's move on.

Picking the best new faces in the film world was a little easier this year, mostly because there weren't that many. 1999 was full of fresh voices, while 2000 was just a retread of earlier years. Luckily, there were some exceptions.

So, here are my choices for the most welcome additions to the art.

Best New Director: Sofia Coppola. The girl can't act, but she has filled her daddy's shoes quite nicely. The Virgin Suicides shows where her true talent lies, and I expect even better things to come.

Best New Screenwriter: Stephen Gaghan. I was so amazed with Traffic, I thought I was watching a film from another time, when filmmakers were willing to assume that their audience was at least somewhat intelligent.

Best New Star: Zhang Ziyi. Her turn in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon looks like the beginning of a hugely successful career. She's already shooting her first American film: Rush Hour 2, with compatriot Jackie Chan. Expect more prestigious projects in the future -- films that are entirely free of Chris Tucker.

Best New All-Around Talent: Kenneth Lonergan. The Broadway playwright first found Hollywood success in 1999's Analyze This, but it was his work in writing, directing, and even acting in You Can Count on Me that has made him one of the hottest prospects in the industry. He also wrote the screenplay for the megabomb Rocky and Bullwinkle, which I happened to enjoy very much.

What, no flying cars?

As a child, I looked to the year 2000 as a mythical time. Movies and comic books predicted amazing things, providing images of a world that has yet to appear. It turns out that 2000 was a rather mundane year -- a big anti-climax after the big hype leading up to it. The films that came out during those 366 days covered a great range, but they were concentrated on the low end of mediocrity. I still remain hopeful as ever about 2001. Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick made this year famous long ago with their brilliant Space Odyssey. So far, the films of January 2001 have turned out better than those of January 2000, which may be a good sign. I hope I can keep this site going for another full year, and with several active contributors, it looks like a definite possibility.

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