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The 10 best films of 2000
(CNN) -- Please note that I've listed the movies in alphabetical order this year. Don't get too worked up if you disagree with me.
This is my opinion, folks, not a Bible.
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
Directed by Ang Lee. Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi. Rated PG-13. 119 minutes. (Sony Pictures Classics)
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is a dreamlike Chinese fairy tale that's interspersed with breathtaking kung-fu sequences. It's a delightful journey, from beginning to end. Lee and legendary director-fight choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping have devised a series of gravity-defying, hand-to-hand confrontations, the beauty of which can't be properly conveyed in written form.
In the first battle, two dexterous combatants gracefully skip from rooftop to rooftop as they pursue each other. There's also an elegant scrap that's pitched among the branches of swaying trees. This poetic film is easily the pinnacle of Lee's career. Both the art-house crowd and Bruce Lee enthusiasts will enjoy it immensely.
"Dancer in the Dark"
Directed by Lars von Trier. Starring Bjork, Peter Stormare and Catherine Deneuve. Rated R. 140 minutes.
"Dancer in the Dark," a depressing, mostly ill-advised revisionist musical, is as flawed as any movie I've ever put on a 10-Best list. That said, I'm including it here because it contains one of the most profoundly moving performances in recent memory.
Bjork is Selma, a childlike factory worker who's slowly going blind. Rhythmic industrial noises grind through Selma's environment, triggering primitive, usually ridiculous anti-escapist musical numbers. Bjork wrings so much genuine anguish from von Trier's goofy script that you actually fear for her well-being. Her final scene is nothing short of harrowing: The actress, not the character she's playing, becomes the film's subject matter. It makes sense that Bjork -- better known to music fans as a boldly experimental pop star -- says she'll never act again; a couple more roles like this one, and she might be pushing up daisies. Look for Oscar voters to be too frightened to give her the prize she so fully deserves. Then look for her to not care.
"Dr. T and the Women"
Directed by Robert Altman. Starring Richard Gere, Helen Hunt, Kate Hudson, Laura Dern, Farrah Fawcett and Tara Reid. Rated R. 122 minutes.
Robert Altman's best movies are reminiscent of an inventive jazz instrumentalist deconstructing a familiar melody; his staccato riffing is more enjoyable if you know how the tune is usually played.
"Dr. T and the Women" isn't the deepest thing you'll ever see, but Altman puts his gallivanting cast through a variety of hilarious paces. Gere gives the best (or is it the only?) performance of his career, as a sensitive gynecologist who's forced to contend with an onslaught of hysterical women. Hudson is memorable as a soon-to-be-married, would-be Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. But it's Dern who steals the show, in a small role as a continually tipsy socialite. It's nice to know that there are still directors out there who aren't concerned with convention, and, most important, can flaunt their disregard in a lucid manner.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring Julia Roberts, Albert Finney and Aaron Eckhart. Rated R. 131 minutes.
Based on a true story about a struggling single mom who brings a class-action lawsuit against a powerful chemical company, "Erin Brockovich" is a crowd-pleaser with a conscience. Julia Roberts unexpectedly frees herself from the constraints of toothsome movie stardom with her winning performance. It's a sassy, self-aware triumph.
Erin and her boss, lawyer Ed Masry (very likeably embodied by Albert Finney), slowly gain respect for each other while collecting evidence. The script's central concern is Erin finally getting the chance to display her inherent worth as a person. In that respect, the movie is a lot like Mike Nichols' 1983 classic, "Silkwood."
Soderbergh mates guerilla filmmaking tactics with a crackerjack sense of how to entertain a mass audience. Though not the most ambitious film of the year, this looks like the one to beat come Academy Award time, in several major categories. Soderbergh and Roberts prove that you can have fun with the audience and still make a picture of substance. Imagine that.
"The Filth and the Fury"
Directed by Julian Temple. Starring The Sex Pistols. Rated R. 108 minutes.
A ramshackle documentary about the creation and immolation of The Sex Pistols, "The Filth and the Fury" is assembled like a great punk-rock single. Temple jaggedly ties together interviews with the surviving band members, odd TV clips from 1977 and suitably ferocious live footage. The Pistols were consistently hilarious and played raucous rock 'n' roll for true believers. That makes them a lot more like The Beatles than they'd probably care to admit. Rent the video, and turn it up loud enough to rattle your neighbors' teeth.
Directed by Alison Maclean. Starring Billy Crudup and Samantha Morton. Rated R. 107 minutes.
"Jesus' Son" is a darkly comic study of a gentle, continually hopeful heroin addict. Its disconnected vignettes would probably topple without Crudup's considerable magnetism. Maclean is interested in the peace of mind that enables some people to live through experiences that devour everybody else.
Her crowning achievement is a scene at a hospital emergency room where Crudup's character -- at this point, a pill-rattled orderly -- helps the staff deal with a man who strolls in with a six-inch hunting knife jabbed directly into his eye. The patient calmly accepts the situation, but everyone else freaks out. Maclean adds a riotous comic tinge to a state of affairs that, in a lesser director's hands, would be too gruesome to endure.
"Jesus' Son" is sometimes tough to take, but it's one the most consistently entertaining films of the year. Besides, where else can you see a beautiful naked woman glide through a suburban neighborhood on a parachute?
"New Waterford Girl"
Directed by Allan Moyle. Starring Liane Balaban, Andrew McCarthy and Tara Spencer Nairn. Rated PG-13. 100 minutes.
Allan Moyle's "New Waterford Girl" is a little-seen gem that deserves an audience when it reaches video. It's a charming, sometimes scathing comedy about Mooney Pottie (the valiantly glum Balaban), an artistic young woman trying to escape the intellectual tedium of life in her small Nova Scotia community. One day, Mooney's savior shows up in the unexpected form of a gutter-mouthed, sucker-punching tomboy from New York City (Nairn). The entire ensemble is terrific, but McCarthy deserves special recognition as a high school teacher who has a crush on Mooney. Tricia Fish's fresh, funny screenplay is one of the best of the year.
Directed by Joel Schumacher. Starring Colin Farrell and Matt Davis. Rated R. 100 minutes.
God only knows how Schumacher, who's never displayed an inclination toward sense or sensibility, screwed up the will to make this one. Shot on 16-millimeter film, "Tigerland" is a handheld study of Pvt. Bozz (Farrell, in a star-making turn), a nonconformist Army recruit who's battling his way through combat training. Bozz and his fellow platoon members are supposedly being prepared for Vietnam. But he knows full well what insurmountable horrors lie ahead, and he isn't afraid to speak up about it.
Gritty and surprisingly even-handed, "Tigerland" was unjustly neglected by the American movie-going public. Had Cameron Diaz been hired to run the obstacle course while modeling extra-skimpy underwear, it might have stood a chance.
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson and Robin Wright. Rated PG-13. 106 minutes.
"Unbreakable" has suffered as much as any movie I can think of from its built-in audience's narrow expectations. A film of slowly building power, it boldly denies heroic release much in the same way that "Taxi Driver" (1976) denies its protagonist's sexuality. Shyamalan intentionally holds back for most of the picture, then forces the main character to confront a physical manifestation of his own paralyzing grief.
Bruce Willis is magnificent as David Dunn, a stadium security guard whose life is coming apart at the seams. After emerging as the sole survivor of a cataclysmic train derailment, David is contacted by Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a mysterious comic book expert. Elijah posits a bizarre theory about David's good fortune, one that eventually alters both men's existence. Shyamalan simply refuses to permit his hero a conventional form of action-film emancipation. That's the whole point of the movie, and it's exactly what many viewers are missing.
The dazzling, near-operatic sequence when David hesitantly commits to a terrifying new reality is profoundly moving. Shyamalan badly overstates Jackson's character, and a couple of scenes are almost ridiculous. But this is a formidable work of popular art, an example of commercial filmmaking at its finest. Whether people understand it or not, you can rest assured that Shyamalan is the real thing. If cornered, I'd say this is the best film of the year.
Directed by Curtis Hanson. Starring Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand and Robert Downey, Jr. Rated R. 112 minutes.
I said in my original review of "Wonder Boys" that it's always a good sign when a studio doesn't know how to market a film made by talented people. Paramount misrepresented this movie so badly the first time around that it took the gutsy, unprecedented step of re-releasing it with an entirely new ad campaign later in the year. Nobody saw it then, either.
Michael Douglas stars as Grady Tripp, a floundering novelist-college professor who's escaping his crippling writer's block via a misery-go-round of marijuana and noncommittal sex. Maguire is the gun-toting, equally despondent student who brings Grady back to the land of the living. The process through which he accomplishes this is far from conventional, with Douglas taking full advantage of the chance to finally cut loose on screen.
You can sense Grady gaining inner strength even as he drags the weight of his self-devised nightmarish existence behind him. This is a superior, intelligent performance by Douglas, the best of his career. Bob Dylan also lends a hand. "Things Have Changed," his specially-written theme to "Wonder Boys," perfectly captures the movie's sardonic, ruminative tone. It's a funky little stomper, and he moans the hell out of it. Take a bow, Zimmy.
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