From a distance, the year 2000 seemed like a time where the world would be far more futuristic than it turned out to be. There were no flying spaceships, and gasoline was getting more and more expensive. It was supposed to be the year we took a huge step forward, but with the upcoming Presidential election in which George W. Bush was “elected,” it soon became clear that it was a major step back.
When it came to the year in movies, 2000 didn’t seem all that different in terms of falling backwards. The summer movie season was largely unspectacular as I remember it, and there were only like a handful of movies that actually stayed in my memory after the hot weather finally disappeared. The promise of an exciting new time gave way to expectations that were never met, and everything seemed more blah and uninspired.
But upon looking back at the beginning of the past decade, I realized that the renegade style of filmmaking from 1999 was still going strong through 2000. It wouldn’t be until 2001 where creativity really started to whimper out of cinema. Our excitement was also sapped by having to wait another two long years for Episode II of “Star Wars”. Then of course came September 11th which forever changed how we saw everything, including movies. Still, in retrospect, there were a lot great films that played at your local AMC movie theater back then, and it was only years later when we came to realize that.
These are my picks for the best movies of 2000:
Ok, this really wasn’t the one that should have won the Oscar for Best Picture as there were several other movies that better represented 2000 as a whole. All the same, Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” was an immensely entertaining spectacle that benefited tremendously from the Oscar winning performance of Russell Crowe. As Maximus, he gives the movie its heart and soul and makes the action all the more compelling when he is onscreen. Joaquin Phoenix is crazily good as Commodus, the treacherous son who murders his father and gains the throne he is not really suited for to say the least. All the characters have a strong complexity to them, so this is not even close to being another formulaic action movie.
Besides, you can never get enough of that scene where Crowe looks straight into the eyes of Phoenix vowing vengeance, as you know this guy is not fooling around.
9) “You Can Count On Me”
Kenneth Lonergan’s feature film directorial debut (which he also wrote the screenplay for) was a unique look at the complicated relationship between siblings Sammy (Laura Linney) and Terry (Mark Ruffalo). Their lives went on divergent paths in the wake of their parents’ tragic death in a car accident, and yet they still share a strong bond even when they’re miles apart from each other. Laura Linney is awesome as always, but the film’s true breakout star is Mark Ruffalo whose performance is nothing short of remarkable.
8) “Wonder Boys”
Curtis Hanson’s follow up to his brilliant “L.A. Confidential” was another great movie where the city (in this case Pittsburgh) is every bit as a big of a character as those actors on the screen. Michael Douglas gave one of his best performances ever as Grady Tripp, a writer whose latest book is destined to be twice the size of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” But then again, that’s only because he can never get himself to find the ending to it. “Wonder Boys” was one of the quirkiest movies I had seen in some time, and the characters were all so fresh and unique as compared to all other movies like it. Great performances also came from Frances McDormand as the married woman Grady falls for, Tobey Maguire as the hopelessly peculiar James Leer, and Robert Downey Jr. as Grady’s editor who is dying to see his finished manuscript even if it is not yet finished.
This psychological thriller announced to the world the arrival of the genius director that is Christopher Nolan. With a plot that ends up colliding with itself in sublime non-linear fashion, we watch as Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) attempts to piece together who is responsible for the murder of his wife. It may sound a little too complicated to follow, but believe me; it all makes scary sense when you look at the film as a whole. You won’t see the jaw dropping ending coming. Features excellent performances from Pearce as well as Joe Pantoliano and Carrie-Anne Moss who showed there was more to her than “The Matrix.”
Steven Soderbergh finally got his Best Director Oscar for this film which took three separate stories and subsequently combined them to create a piercing look at the illegal drug trade in America. Using different methods of filming, we come to see how drugs affect us all to the point where we accept it as a reality, and that we are no longer sure of the war we are fighting against them. Soderbergh is not interested in answers as he is in generating questions for the audience to ponder. Among the acting standouts is Michael Douglas (in his second great performance of 2000) as future drug czar and father of a drug addicted teenage girl, Benicio Del Toro who deservedly won an Oscar for his role as a Tijuana Police Officer who can no longer turn a blind eye to corruption, and Erika Christensen as the drug addicted teen.
5) “Dancer In The Dark”
Lars Von Trier’s follow up to “Breaking The Waves” is every bit as emotionally devastating as he once again sets his story around a seemingly naïve woman who is forced to deal with circumstances beyond her control. Bjork is a revelation as Selma, a factory worker with a love of musicals and afflicted with a disease that is making her go blind. In the process of trying to save money for her son’s operation which will allow him to avoid her fate, her world crumbles and she can only escape it through music. It’s no wonder she gave up acting after doing this movie considering the emotional torment she is put through.
Bjork also composed the songs where her amazing creativity in what she can come up with truly knows no bounds. As much as I liked Bob Dylan’s “Things Can Change,” Bjork’s “I’ve Seen It All” should have won the Oscar for Best Original Song.
4) “Sexy Beast”
Now why is this one of the most visceral gangster movies ever made? The main reason should be clear by now: Ben Kingsley. His performance as the anti-Gandhi Don Logan, is one of the greatest I have seen in any motion picture, and he digs deep into the character’s pain to bring out the mad man who does not respond well to the slogan “just say no.” Even when Don Logan is not onscreen, his shadow hovers over everyone else like an earthquake on the verge of devouring everyone. Ray Winstone is perfectly cast as retired thief Gary Dove, and Ian McShane is as cold-hearted and vicious a villain in the role of Teddy Bass. This marked the feature film directorial debut (and a very impressive one at that) of music video director Jonathan Glazer.
3) “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”
The martial arts sequences, brilliantly choreographed by Yuen Wo Ping, alone would have been enough to get this cinematic treasure into the top five of the year. Audiences everywhere clapped loudly after the first big action sequence. But Ang Lee’s martial arts masterpiece isn’t just about amazing stunts and great scenery. It also has a strong story with great performances from Chow Yun-fat and Michelle Yeoh as warriors with deep feelings for one another, and whose time has not yet passed. You also have an amazing breakthrough performance from Zhang Ziyi as the daughter of a Governor who yearns for a more adventurous life, and she ends up getting it through her theft of a sword known as Green Destiny. It’s an amazing movie that deservedly reached a much bigger audience than anyone ever could have expected.
2) “Requiem For A Dream”
Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of Hubert Selby, Jr.’s novel still remains the ultimate anti-drug movie ever made. From its welcoming beginning to its gut wrenching conclusion, “Requiem For A Dream” is as brilliant as it is psychologically damaging to sit through. Aronofsky does an astonishing job of putting you into the mindset of someone caught up in their own addiction, and we find that it’s not something we can turn away from no matter how bad it gets. Jared Leto, Marlon Wayans, and Jennifer Connelly do some of their best work ever here, and watching suffer through their own delusions and desperation for the next big fix will test even the most jaded of moviegoers. But the movie’s best performance (and perhaps the best performance by any actor in 2000) was from Ellen Burstyn as a widowed mother of one, desperate to lose weight so she can wear her red dress on her favorite TV show. Her descent into madness is rendered into such a vivid nightmare, and Burstyn reminded us of the great actress she still is.
Oh yeah, the score by Clint Mansell was one of the decade’s best, and its main theme became overly used in one movie trailer after another.
And now for the cream of the crop…
1) “Almost Famous”
Man I fell in love with this movie! Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical story of teenage reporter William Miller who gets an assignment from Rolling Stone magazine to cover the rock band Stillwater was a joyous piece of filmmaking. Even in the most painful moments, this movie really made you feel so good and had you leaving with a big smile on your face. It was a road trip movie with an array of various characters, each unique from the other and unforgettable. Patrick Fugit is perfectly cast as the kind of kid Crowe probably saw himself as growing up; a smart kid who is “not cool.” Kate Hudson however stole my heart completely as the queen of “Band-Aids” Penny Lane. She was like one of the coolest girlfriends you could ever hope to have in your lifetime. I also loved Frances McDormand as William’s anti-rock and roll mother, this being her second great performance of 2000 in addition to her work in “Wonder Boys.” There’s a number of great turns from Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Billy Crudup, Zooey Deschanel, and Anna Paquin among others.
After all these years, “Almost Famous” still remains far and away my most favorite movie of the year 2000. It’s like the rock tour you always wanted to ride along with.
“Meet The Parents”
“The Million Dollar Hotel”
“Mission Impossible II”
“Remember The Titans”