BEST FILMS OF THE YEAR

2000 was a very good year for movies. There was something for everyone, and I’m not talking about the endless, mindless stream of wide releases that infested local cineplex’s over the last twelve months. How refreshing to arrive at the end of the year with enough choices to fill out a top-ten list.

1. ALMOST FAMOUS (DreamWorks)


As a 42-year-old male, it’s rare to find a film that speaks to me. It’s even rarer to find two in the same year. Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous” emerges as the best film of the year because it is the best film of the year. It’s a perfect example of filmmaking, so precise in its depiction of time and place you become part of the experience. Based on Crowe’s cub reporter days working for Rolling Stone in the early 1970s, “Almost Famous” spoke to my inner teen, the person I still see myself as even though my body and wisdom say differently. Crowe writes from experience, and his characters and situations always ring true. It doesn’t take long before they are no longer just characters in a film, but extensions of a memory you’ve tucked away in the back of your mind. Crowe’s film unlocks those memories, unleashing a wave of nostalgia that is both joyous and painful. COMPLETE REVIEW

OSCAR WATCH: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Patrick Fugit), Best Supporting Actress (Kate Hudson, France McDormand)

2. DANCER IN THE DARK (Fine Line)

An amazing motion picture experience, fueled by beautiful, haunting performances, and gutsy direction. No other film this year has divided audiences more. You either love it or hate it. It’s that kind of a film. This daring piece of filmmaking comes from director Lars Van Trier, whose audacious work has earned him praise and ridicule. “Dancer in the Dark” is his most accessible film, yet it’s unique look and style have managed to polarize audiences. Icelandic singer Bjork is positively mesmerizing as a Czech immigrant whose quest to save her son’s eyesight takes her down a dark and dangerous path. The brilliance of the film is that it unfolds as a musical, complete with overture. At first I was distracted by the director’s hand-held camera, but soon found myself swept along by the film’s passion and drive. “Dancer in the Dark” is powerful stuff. COMPLETE REVIEW

OSCAR WATCH: Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress (Bjork)

3. REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (Artisan)

“Requiem For A Dream” isn’t really entertainment. It’s a wake-up call, the kind of film that Hollywood would never make. It’s the kind of film that hurts to watch. It’s the kind of film that affirms director Darren Aronofsky as one of the most daring players in the movie game. The director of the edgy and moody “Pi” has created an American “Trainspotting,” a film that is as addictive as its subject matter. Utilizing stylish camera-work that draws us into the mind of a junkie, “Requiem for a Dream” works like a sledge hammer on your mind, chiseling images into your gray matter. Ellen Burstyn is absolutely devastating as the sweet Jewish mother whose life spins madly out of control after she becomes addicted to diet pills. Her horror story is told against that of her junkie son and his friends, all losers in the game of life. The miracle of Aronofsky’s direction is that we feel compassion towards these characters despite their weaknesses, enough to want them to get better. Don’t hold your breath. COMPLETE REVIEW

OSCAR WATCH: Best Director, Best Actress (Ellen Burstyn)

4. HIGH FIDELITY (Walt Disney)

Director Stephen Frears’ “High Fidelity” is the perfect companion piece to “Almost Famous.” “High Fidelity” benefits from a brilliant, observant script that perfectly pegs what it is like to be a thirty-something male in America. John Cusack (who co-wrote the screenplay) is excellent as Rob Gordon, the record-store owner who is unlucky in love and wonders which came first, “the music or the misery?” He’s not alone, as “High Fidelity” spoke to me in the same way “The Big Chill” spoke to the generation before mine. Enormously entertaining. COMPLETE REVIEW

OSCAR WATCH: Best Screenplay, Best Actor (John Cusack)

5. CHICKEN RUN (DreamWorks)

It was only a matter of time before the creators of the Oscar-winning “Wallace & Gromit” animated shorts would turn their talents to a feature-length film. It took time, but the wait was more than worth it. “Chicken Run” arrived as this year’s most fun film, a madcap combination of stop motion animation and clever whimsy set against the backdrop of such great films as “The Great Escape” and “Stalag 17.” Directors Peter Lord and Nick Parks respected the genre while making it their own. Their characters, both fowl and human, were more animated than most live actors. COMPLETE REVIEW

OSCAR WATCH: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Score

6. UNBREAKABLE (Walt Disney)

The writer-director and star of “The Sixth Sense” team up for another thriller, and despite the odds, they succeed. Could writer-director M. Night Shyamalan and star Bruce Willis catch lightning in a bottle twice? The answer is yes, as “Unbreakable” emerged as one of the most intelligent and creepy adult thrillers to come along since “The Sixth Sense.” Drawing heavily from his fascination with comic books, Shyamalan painted a clever film that delivered the same broad strokes and plot mechanics. A haunting thriller that proves lightning can strike twice. COMPLETE REVIEW

OSCAR WATCH: Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor (Bruce Willis), Best Supporting Actor

7. STATE AND MAIN (Fine Line)

Small town Americana meets Hollywood in writer-director David Mamet’s hilarious comedy. No writer-director is more qualified than Mamet to tell this witty tale of what happens when a small New England town finds itself the target of a major Hollywood film crew. Mamet writes from experience, creating characters that leap off the screen and dialogue that sparkles. Using his regular cast of characters plus newcomers William Baldwin, Sarah Jessica Parker and Philip Seymour Hoffman (all never better), Mamet captures a perfect blend of comedy and drama. I really enjoyed spending time with these characters. I hope audiences discover this slightly wicked, tongue-in-cheek comedy that recalls the great films of Frank Capra and Preston Sturges. COMPLETE REVIEW

OSCAR WATCH: Best Supporting Actor (William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman), Best Screenplay (David Mamet)

8. BILLY ELLIOT (Universal)

Father-son stories always have a fond place in my heart, especially ones told with the sincerity of “Billy Elliot.” The story of an English youth who would rather dance than learn to box marks the film debut of acclaimed stage director Stephen Daldry, who perfectly captures the local color of the story and characters. Set in 1984, “Billy Elliot” stars Jamie Bell as the title character, an 11- year-old who lives with his father, brother and grandmother in Northern England. While his father (Gary Lewis) and brother (Jamie Draven) strike against the local mines, Billy seeks out instruction from ballet teacher Mrs. Wilkinson (Julia Walters). Conflicts abound in “Billy Elliot,” all addressed with thought and resolution by screenwriter Lee Hall. Great cast in a great little movie.

OSCAR WATCH: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay (Lee Hall), Best Actor (Jamie Bell), Best Actress (Julie Walters), Supporting Actor (Gary Lewis)

9. GLADIATOR (DreamWorks)

Director Ridley Scott’s answer to the question: Why don’t they make them like that anymore? Epic in every respect of the word, “Gladiator” proved that all roads lead to Rome. Russell Crowe became a major star playing Roman General Maximus, betrayed by the emperor’s son and sold into slavery, only to become a star as a gladiator in the arena. Scott and his crew of movie magicians made it all believable, while the cast gave the larger than life screenplay depth and compassion. Not since “Ben Hur” has a film managed to be so big and yet so intimate. A real crowd pleaser. COMPLETE REVIEW

OSCAR WATCH: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor (Russell Crowe), Best Supporting Actor (Joaquin Phoenix)

10. BEST IN SHOW (Warner Bros.)

Finally, a film that went to the dogs. Like writer-director Christopher Guest’s previous mock- umentary “Waiting for Guffman,” this bitchy spoof of dog shows and the two-legged animals that inhabit them was a rib-tickler from the first frame to the last. Guest is a master of tongue-in- cheek, and with co-writer Eugene Levy, creates characters and situations that are both funny and human. Guest is blessed with a talented cast who serve him and the characters well. Mock documentaries are difficult to execute. Guest makes it look easy. COMPLETE REVIEW

OSCAR WATCH: Best Screenplay

(Please keep in mind that this list was compiled without benefit of seeing the following films: Castaway, Crouching Tiger-Hidden Dragon, Pollock, Traffic)



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