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Chocolate's temptation, chickens' liberation, prisoners loose, prisoner's muse

The 10 best films of 2000

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(CNN) -- The year 2000, for the most part, has been a dismal one for movie fans. Sure, we got to meet "Erin Brockovich," but we also got stuck on "The Beach" with Leo. We tried "Keeping the Faith" with Ed Norton and Ben Stiller, but they were "Gone In Sixty Seconds." "Battlefield Earth" left John Travolta looking like a "Hollow Man," and even "Nurse Betty" couldn't save the "Almost Famous" Jennifer Lopez when she got trapped in "The Cell."

Still, moviegoers have been thrown a cinematic bone or two, especially in the last two months as the year-end Oscar deadline has loomed. Some featured well-known stars such as Ralph Fiennes, George Clooney and Geoffrey Rush. Other excellent films were complete surprises, seemingly coming out of nowhere and starring Rosemary Harris, Judi Dench and other veterans.

Here are the top 10 films of the year 2000 in the order of their release date.



"Erin Brockovich"

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  • Paul Clinton's 10 worst movies of 2000
  •  

    Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring Julia Roberts, Albert Finney and Aaron Eckhart. Rated R. 131 minutes.

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    Julia Roberts puts on an industrial-strength push-up bra, spiked heels and a whole new attitude resulting in the finest performance of her career to date in "Erin Brockovich." Under the gifted direction of Steven Soderbergh, Roberts displays her remarkable innate sense of comedic timing tied to a finely tuned dramatic performance which cast this international superstar in a whole new light. Following in the Oscar-winning footsteps of other real-life stories with female names for a title -- "Norma Rae" (1979) and "Silkwood" (1983) -- "Erin Brockovich" addresses the empowerment of women who follow their hearts despite the odds.

    This deeply engaging film is cast to perfection with Albert Finney as Brockovich's grumpy lawyer boss and Marg Helgenberger as one of the clients. Soderbergh has proven that he can deliver a mainstream film with the best of them, and this heartfelt and totally satisfying film is without doubt one of the best of the year.



    "Gladiator"

    Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Oliver Reed, Richard Harris and Derek Jacobi. Rated R. 154 minutes.

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    If there were ever any doubt that Russell Crowe is a star of enormous power, his performance in the title role of "Gladiator" solidifies his place among the list of international superstars. "At my signal, unleash hell," his character says near the beginning of the film, and from that point, he holds the screen like a vise. You believe every word, while your blood runs cold.

    This sweeping, $107 million toga-and-sandal epic single-handedly brings back a film genre that reached its peak with classic pictures such as "Spartacus" (1960) and "Ben-Hur" (1959). Beautifully cast with stunning performances from Crowe, Richard Harris, Joaquin Phoenix, Oliver Reed (who died near the end of filming), and Connie Nielson, this film carries a powerful punch. The narrative occasionally stumbles, but the stunning visual effects by John Nelson and Neil Corbould, sets by Arthur Max, and the exquisite cinematography by John Mathieson -- combined with some of the best performances of the year -- make "Gladiator" a spectacular experience.



    "Chicken Run"

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    Directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park. Starring the voice of Mel Gibson and a host of other cluckers. Rated G. 84 minutes.

    Claymation chickens in the top 10? You betcha! This egg-ceptionally funny movie will crack you up. Conceived and created by the multiple Academy Award-winning team of Peter Lord and Nick Park ("Creature Comforts" and "Wallace & Gromit"), this wildly funny and amazingly engaging film is brilliantly executed. This film parodies a number of World War II prison camp-movies, chief among them "The Great Escape (1963), and takes place at a bleak egg factory. If the chickens don't produce, they learn, they're destined to become dinner.

    Mel Gibson is the voice of Rocky the rooster, a brash American cock who leads his fowl friends in their desperate efforts to escape before they're turned into chicken pies. Adult wit, combined with a charmingly simple tale, engages the whole family. This is a rare bird indeed.



    "Billy Elliot"

    Directed by Stephen Daldry. Starring Julie Walters, Jamie Bell and Gary Lewis. Rated R. 110 minutes.

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    In recent years, it seems, a small British film comes out of nowhere and sweeps the American box office and all the award ceremonies. In 2000, that film may be "Billy Elliot." Starring in the title role is the remarkable Jamie Bell in his debut performance. This heartfelt tale tells the story of a boy who defies his coal-miner father (beautifully played by Gary Lewis), as he follows his dream of becoming a dancer. The indomitable Julie Walters co-stars as Billy's ballet teacher. Beating the odds while following a dream is a formula dished up time and again in films. Movie formulas often fail, but not this time.

    Director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter Lee Hall have taken an engaging concept, added perfect casting, and the result is a film that lingers in your heart.



    "You Can Count on Me"

    Directed by Ken Lonergan. Starring Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo. Rated R. 109 minutes.

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    Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo turn in translucent performances as a brother and sister dealing with the conditions of unconditional love in "You Can Count On Me." This small gem of a film by screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan (making his directorial debut) is gently nuanced and overflowing with genuine emotion. Matthew Broderick also appears in a small, but pivotal role.

    Rory Culkin (the youngest of the acting Culkin clan) turns in an understated and insightful turn as Linney's fatherless son. This character-driven story has no neat and tidy ending with a big Hollywood bow on top. "You Can Count on Me" is about faith, trust and family and the accompanying emotions that are, at best, messy; at worst, they're downright overwhelming.



    "Sunshine"

    Directed by Istvan Szabo. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Rosemary Harris, Rachel Weisz, William Hurt and Jennifer Ehle. Rated R. 179 minutes.

    Legendary Hungarian director Istvan Szabo (who won an Academy Award in 1981 for best foreign film with "Mephisto") has created one of the most powerful movies in years. Along with co-writer Israel Horovitz, the director has crafted "Sunshine" (an unfortunate title) as a sweeping epic that follows three generations of the wealthy Sonnenschein family. In each generation Ralph Fiennes plays the head of the family, appearing first as the grandfather, followed by the father and finally the son. Fiennes portrays three very different Jewish men who struggle with their wildly divergent dreams and ambitions. Each seeks his own identity, as a Jew and as a man, while the currents of history swirl around him. Beginning with the dawn of the 20th century, this deeply patriotic Hungarian family lives through the rule of a monarchy, followed by the Nazis, the Soviets, and finally the end of the Cold War.

    Rosemary Harris also shines in her role as the family's matriarch. Romance, intrigue, murder, two world wars, love, betrayal and a hint of incest -- all set against a world that no longer exists -- combine to make "Sunshine" a breathtaking and soul-satisfying experience.



    "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

    Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen. Starring George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, Charles Durning, John Goodman and Holly Hunter. Rated PG-13. 106 minutes.

    Love 'em or hate 'em, filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen are an acquired taste. Their latest, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" can be found on both the best- and worst-lists of films. Loosely based on Homer's epic 3,000-year-old poem, "The Odyssey" (and set in the South during the Depression, with bluegrass music providing an essential theme), the movie is a wry and witty adventure buddy flick.

    George Clooney is perfection as Ulysses Everett McGill, a silver-tongued, petty crook who escapes from a chain gang along with two fellow prisoners played by John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson. Also on hand are Coen film veterans John Goodman, Holly Hunter and Charles Durning. This funny, intelligent comedy is a joyful blend of historic literature, foot-tapping music, hilarious one-liners and that peculiar creative prism through which the Coens filter all their films.



    "Quills"

    Directed by Phillip Kaufman. Starring Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joachin Phoenix and Michael Caine. Rated R. 123 minutes.

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    The Marquis de Sade, from whose name the word "sadism" comes, lived in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. His scandalous, depraved, repugnant writings about sexual matters made him an object of great controversy both in his own time and in the pages of history. Eventually sent to an insane asylum where he continued to write and later died, the Marquis seems an odd choice for a biographical film. But in the hands of director Philip Kaufman, screenwriter Doug Wright and the amazing talents of Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis, "Quills" is a fascinating tale that manages to be disarmingly funny while carrying a message about freedom of speech. The is a magnificent movie, thought-provoking rather than blatantly sexual, a rage against hypocrisy rather than a call to immorality. Joaquin Phoenix delivers an award-winning performance and Kate Winslet scores her best role since "Titanic" (1997). "Quills" will be major Oscar bait in numerous categories.



    "Traffic"

    Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring Benicio Del Toro, Benjamin Bratt, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Don Cheadle and Dennis Quaid. Rated R. 147 minutes.

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    With "Traffic," director Steven Soderbergh has created a modern classic. This contemporary thriller starring Benicio Del Toro (in his best role to date), Michael Douglas, Don Cheadle, Dennis Quaid, and Catherine Zeta Jones is set in the world of international drug trafficking. Seen through a series of interlocking stories -- some deeply personal and emotionally heart-wrenching, others featuring webs of corruption filled with fast-paced gunplay and the temptations of power and money -- Stephen Gaghan's sprawling, but deeply effective script about the hypocrisies and hopelessness surrounding the war on illegal drugs is brilliantly conceived and executed.

    Using handheld cameras, natural lighting, and various developing processes, Soderbergh has achieved a unique look that results in a shocking realism rarely seen in mainstream filmmaking. This film will be on many short lists for next year's Academy Awards.



    "Chocolat"

    Directed by Lasse Hallstrom. Starring Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin and Johnny Depp. Rated PG-13. 121 minutes.

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    "Chocolat" is a delightfully delicious confection. This romantic fable is set in a small remote French village where tradition keeps the people tightly bound within the confines of what is and is not expected of them.

    Molina is perfect as the uptight mayor outraged by Binoche's character, a mysterious woman who arrives out of nowhere with her daughter in tow and opens a chocolate shop at the beginning of Lent. The pious Catholic villagers find themselves sorely tempted by her chocolates, which seem to have magical powers. Things get even more complicated and delectable when Depp, as a wandering gypsy, shows up with temptations of his own. Dench again gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a cantankerous old woman who defies her daughter by living her life as she chooses. Also look for Leslie Caron in a small part. This movie about the power of acceptance, liberation and chocolate is a total delight. Go ahead and take a bite.



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