Film Faves: 2000

Welcome to another edition of Film Faves.  Just a reminder, Film Faves is a countdown of my favorites in film.  It is not intended to be an objective 'best-of' list.  Also, Film Faves is not the typical top 10 countdown with a list of honorable mentions at the end.  Every edition of Film Faves is a list of twelve favorite items of any given film topic.

This edition of Film Faves wraps up a decade with a look at the year 2000.

This was a rather decent kick-off to the millennium, although you wouldn't necessarily know that if you were to look at the top grossers of the year's box office.  Mission: Impossible 2, Cast Away, What Women Want, Dinosaur, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and What Lies Beneath were all among the top 10 moneymakers of the year (although Best Picture winner Gladiator was the second-highest grossing film of the year).

That said, some of the year's best included American Psycho, Chicken Run, Dancer in the DarkThe Emperor's New Groove, In the Mood for Love, Kiss Kiss (Bang Bang), Remember the Titans, Shaft, Traffic, and Wonder Boys.

On the flip side to crap, the year's worst included The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, Battlefield Earth, Big Momma's House, The Crew, Dungeons & Dragons, The Flintstones: Viva Rock Vegas, Hollow Man, The Million Dollar Hotel, and The Next Big Thing.

This also appeared to be the year of questions, as many movie titles came in the form of a question: O Brother, Where Art Thou?; Dude, Where's My Car?; Isn't She Great?; and What Planet Are You From?

But here are my favorites:


12. Fantasia 2000

This film is gorgeous and so much fun. Fantasia may be the innovative dropped idea, but Fantasia 2000 adds an extra dose of fun to the concept of an animated concert. While the original is often a chore, the sequel is a breeze. Favorite segments of mine include ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, with its populist theme set against the Great Depression; ‘Pines of Rome’, with its soaring magical realism; and ‘Firebird Suite’, which gives nature a warm hug. Fantasia 2000 is beautifully animated (I can only imagine what the Blu-Ray will look like), funny, touching, and loads of fun. This underrated gem is the last great non-CGI movie Disney put out to date. I only hope it won’t take another sixty years before we see another Fantasia.

11. You Can Count On Me

This is a superbly acted story about two siblings, who are leading very different lives, coming to terms with their differences and who they are. Laura Linney is incredible as the buttoned-up single mother who butts heads with her new manager (played by Matthew Broderick). Mark Ruffalo gained critical attention as her brother, a laid back ne’er-do-well who spends his life traveling the country and occasionally finding trouble. You Can Count on Me and The Kids Are All Right bookend a decade of over 20 movies for Ruffalo with two career-best performances as down-to-earth, flawed but likeable characters. Directed by Kenneth Lonergan (who cameos as a preacher), who later wrote the script to Gangs of New York, You Can Count on Me is an underrated little gem and hands-down one of Linney’s best performances. Do yourself a favor and give it a chance.

10. Battle Royale

It’s the new millennium and teenagers are out of control in Japan. To fight back, the government routinely picks out a random junior high class to brutally engage in mortal combat for three days. Death is the only immediate escape. The opening titles alone scream awesome epicness. But then a funny thing happens: the reality of the situation sinks in. What would you do if it were you? Thinking back on your classmates – not just the ones you hated – could you bring yourself to kill any of them? This continuation of Japanese cinema’s epic struggle between old and new generations with a tone that challenges its audience is what makes Battle Royale an unforgettably great film. Ando Masanobu and Shibasaki Kou are particularly terrifying.

9. Memento

The film that introduced Christopher Nolan to the world. I admit, I screwed up. Contrary to my initial research, Memento actually opened in the U.S. in 2001, first at The Sundance Film Festival and then a couple months later in theaters. But the film debuted at The Venice Film Festival and continued on through 2000’s festival circuit, so please forgive me this one transgression. Of course, the carefully plotted-out reverse-linear story is incomparable and reason enough to see this film. But what makes Memento great is its mystery (clearly influenced by film noir) and how the reverse plotting affects it and the mind-blowing reveal at the end. Memento is a movie about deception, trust, perception, betrayal. It is also a brilliant indication of great things to come.

8. X-Men

X-Men earns mention on this list just for being an X-Men movie, which I’d been fantasizing about since I was in middle school (complete with cast lists!). It ultimately isn’t a great movie - more like a 90-minute prologue to its superior sequel - but the excitement of seeing several characters from my favorite superhero team come to life was irrepressible. Yes, the lore was mussed about with via the various changes to the characters’ ages and the suggested original graduating class. But this was the first non-Gothic superhero film to bring legitimacy and gravitas to the genre since Superman II. It is also what allowed Spider-Man to finally get the green light. And the rest is cinema history.

7. Requiem for a Dream

From one of the decade’s greatest minds, Darren Aronofsky, comes one of the most sobering tales about addiction. There’s nothing easy or pleasant about Requiem for a Dream, but it is perhaps one of the most powerfully acted and directed films of the past twenty years. It is graphic about its subject of drugs and how far down they will drag someone, but it isn’t over-the-top or fantastical. Its uncompromising refusal to look away or sensationalize is part of the reason Requiem for a Dream is the great film it is.  Credit must also go to the spectacular performances by Jennifer Connelly and Ellen Burstyn, which were denied well-deserved awards.

6. Erin Brockovich

This Steven Soderbergh film is remembered best as a true story about how a tough-talking legal aid discovered a southern California energy company’s blatant exposure of deadly chemicals to its neighboring community. That’s enough to make a good film (or a mediocre film if Travolta’s A Civil Action is any indication). But what makes Julia Roberts’s performance as the real-life bombshell interesting is her portrayal of this single mother at her wits end trying to keep a job that can pay for her utilities and medical bills. As I look over the filmography of America’s Sweetheart, it is clear that nothing that came before was able to both demand so much of her, as well as work her strengths as much as Erin Brockovich. It is easily her best film. Albert Finney is a treat to witness stumbling over himself while trying to keep a leash on his saucy bulldog. Aaron Eckhart looks a bit like Hollywood’s version of a biker, but overcomes with his determined sweetness and likeability. Erin Brockovich is that rare film about injustice that avoids maudlin treacle and holds up as a result.

5. Scream 3

I remember the Scream burn-out at the time around this movie’s release. However, I don’t understand for several reasons why Scream 3 is the least-liked entry in the Scream trilogy. It is a tightly constructed slasher flick that continues the self-referential and pop cultural wit the series is known for without becoming tired or irritating. Craven turns his skewer on his own industry for some fresh jabs that didn’t become overly familiar until the following years. Also, the revealed killer made sense and wasn’t as out-of-the-blue as Scream 2’s villains. All of this served to nicely wrap up the trilogy in a complete package. It’s a shame a fourth entry is currently filming as it negates the point of this movie and inevitably will kill off the survivors we’ve grown to love. Can’t Sydney just be left alone? Also worth pointing out, unlike many of the horror genre’s other franchise killers, Ghostface, as it’s commonly known now, is very specific and methodical about its victims; nobody is randomly killed and each death is part of a scheme. Also, unlike other horror franchises, the Scream trilogy isn’t terribly gory; just a stab here or there. Craven effectively rests the tension on whether or not someone will “get it” rather than how they’ll “get it”. This is rare in the genre and worth commending given how successful this approach is.

4. Unbreakable

Bruce Willis stars in what is possibly the best superhero film not based on a comic book. Of course, saying that partially spoils the mystery M. Night Shyamalan lays out in his follow-up to The Sixth Sense. One of the great things about Unbreakable is its sense of discovery, which in turn makes the climactic reveal that much more effective. Also, this is one of the best examples of Shyamalan’s former ability to build great characters. The story is anchored by the relationship between Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, which takes several pages from superhero lore. To say more would cheat those who have yet to see Unbreakable of the experience. Needless to say, my geek imagination went wild with what happens next to Security.

3. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

How did such a beautiful film become such a phenomenon? This Ang Lee epic seemed to break open barriers between foreign films and the subtitle-averse major American audiences. For a brief period of a few years after this film was released U.S. audiences lapped up at least one foreign language film a year, mostly Chinese kung fu epics. Maybe credit should go in part to master fight choreographer Woo-Ping Yuen who was responsible for the martial arts in The Matrix the year before and a style of fight choreography that exploded into every action film made before 2005. I mean, there was even a Woo-Ping Yuen influenced Musketeer movie, for Gods’ sakes. At any rate, while the ballet-like fight sequences where characters seemed to be as light as air is greatly appealing, Crouching Tiger is much more than the sum of its stunts. It is a beautifully photographed love story that also taps into ancient Chinese folklore. Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh are spectacular as restrained lovers. And Zhang Ziyi is a wonder as the arrogant and foolish Jen.

2. High Fidelity

I remember watching this for the first time at someone’s house back when I was something of an audiophile. I really identified with those three characters in the record store played by Jack Black, John Cusack, and Todd Louiso. I aspired to be as well-heard, let’s say, and knowledgeable about great music as them. The other side of that, of course, is there comes a certain snobbery that’s hard to avoid, which Jack Black’s character has in spades. High Fidelity perfectly married my love of music, romance, and lists into an intelligent comedy about maturing into being a good mate for someone. I can’t tell you how much the film spoke to me in my early twenties, how much it spoke to me in my mid-twenties, orespecially now entering my thirties how much this story of self-examination and maturity speaks to me. That last line of dialogue about mix tapes resonates with me. Let’s not forget how hilarious and quotable it is! Music lovers will love this movie. Fans of love stories will love this movie. John Cusack fans will especially love this movie. This is also that rare example of a movie being every bit as enjoyable as the novel.

1. Almost Famous

Almost Famous is one of those movies that knows how to get inside you. At turns it can make you feel melancholy, tickled, inspired, touched, and excited, depending on the moment - be it when Zooey Deschanel looks straight in our eyes (via her brother William, a stand-in for director Cameron Crowe’s younger self), assuring us that one day we’ll be cool; or when the band moves on from a rough patch by singing together Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’; or when a drunken Russell stands atop a fan’s house proclaiming his status as a Golden God; or even when William lights a candle as he absorbs those great now-classic records his sister left behind for him as some covert means of passing her rebellious spirit on to her younger brother.
This may be Crowe’s best in a stream of great films that included Say Anything and Jerry Maguire. Almost Famous is a fictionalization of Crowe’s own coming-of-age. He did tour with bands at a young age for Rolling Stone magazine in the ‘70s. His mom was as stubbornly unconventional and overprotective as portrayed beautifully here by Frances McDormand. His love of Rock & Roll is just as rich and deeply felt as any character’s here (after all, he did marry Heart’s guitarist Nancy Wilson, who also composed the film’s score). This love note to rock music is his way of leaving the records under the bed for us to find; he wants deeply to share that love with us. Almost Famous is a treasure worth rediscovering.

So that's the year 2000 and that wraps up the aughties!  What are your favorite films from the year?  Take the poll to the right or comment below, or on Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter.

Next time, Film Faves takes a look at the talents of the Digital Age.  It's an epic 3-part Film Faves!  Stay tuned.


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