Nitpicking in Reverse

While there was plenty to criticize about the year's big releases, 2000 shone nonetheless for its subtle surprises

In fact despite all the detritus, 2000 was a year of many, many honorable films. La Otra Conquista delivered an amazing epic about heroism and cultural identity in Mexico, while Shakespeare showed up on the streets of New York in Hamlet and in Kenneth Branagh's effervescent musical Love's Labour's Lost. Humor hit a feverish pitch in Keenan Ivory Wayans's balls-out (er, literally) and gloriously offensive Scary Movie, while Meet the Parents -- with Ben Stiller repeating Keeping the Faith's triumph of the nebbish -- allowed Robert De Niro to deliver the best single line of the year: "I've got nipples, Greg; could you milk me?"

In a year of gentle, not entirely unpleasant romances like Joan Chen's Autumn in New York or Bonnie Hunt's Return to Me, it truly was the weird stuff that stood out, even when it wasn't good. You may well choke on the surrounding schmaltz, but just try to avoid laughing at Jim Carrey as The Grinch. Or witness Frank Langella and Jeremy Irons making enormous prats of themselves in messy junk like Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate and Courtney Solomon's Dungeons and Dragons. (Oops, it's probably a mortal sin to utter the names of those two directors in the same breath.) The year's top title belongs to Troma Studios' Fertilize the Blaspheming Bombshell!, and the best scene ... well, it's either Robert Downey, Jr., flirting with Mike Tyson in James Toback's Black and White, or that magical moment of the guy spontaneously belting out an aria in the bathhouse of Zhang Yang's Shower.

Which leads us to the cream of this year's crop, films carefully selected not only for their countless wonderful qualities but because, as the list indicates, they form terrific thematic double features for contemplation and discussion. These days there's plenty of evidence to indicate that now, more than ever, movies may not be our best entertainment value, but here are a few productions guaranteed to sustain the medium for at least another year. It takes a lot of nitpicking in reverse (a phrase lifted from The Contender) to find the gold, so, finally, here's the stuff. But don't take a critic's word, just see them. As Julie Walters sagely puts it, amid all those great T. Rex songs in the beautiful Billy Elliot: "Please yourself, darlin'."

The creators of Chicken Run found soul in a lump of clay
The creators of Chicken Run found soul in a lump of clay
Now boarding. Destination: Almost Famous
Now boarding. Destination: Almost Famous

Gregory Weinkauf's Top 10 Double Features:

1. Deranged Defenders: Nurse Betty and The Specials

Neil LaBute's best film so far could be chalked up to the ingeniously wry script by John C. Richards and James Flamberg, but massive credit also goes to Renée Zellweger's pitch-perfect performance as the delirious wannabe R.N.

Meanwhile Thomas Haden Church and Rob Lowe will drop your jaw as the most preposterous dialogue of the year comes out of their silly superhero mouths in Craig Mazin's debut feature.

2. Ethical Entreaties: The Contender and Family Tree

It's easy to send a crack division of studly violent idiots off to an exotic land to kill random faceless enemies, but heroism on the home front is tricky business, and both Rod Lurie's muckraking and Duane Clark's leaf raking succeed with a direct approach. Grace fills the performances of Joan Allen establishing a fair standard and Cliff Robertson defending a small town's heritage, and two vital battles are gently but firmly won.

3. Freedom Fighters: Chicken Run and Chocolat

Perhaps it's strange to equate butchery and religious oppression -- or perhaps it's not -- but these two films beautifully sum up the grandness of liberating the human spirit, which is amusing, since one of them features Nick Park and Peter Lord's goofy little chunks of clay. The other, of course, features Juliette Binoche seducing an entire village with sweets.

4. Fulgent Fellahs: High Fidelity and Orfeu

Stephen Frears invades Chicago while Carlos Diegues reaches back into Greek myth to redefine a Brazilian classic, but, beneath the intensity of their respective soundtracks, both movies masterfully display the agony and ecstasy of a young man's romance. One imagines that if John Cusack met Tony Garrido, they'd have plenty to talk about.

5. Groovy Gals: Me Myself I and Trixie

The stars of the lush, heavy Hilary and Jackie return this year in separate projects, both whimsical and engaging for the discerning romanticist. In the former Rachel Griffiths makes director Pip Karmel's fantastic and humdrum universe seem all of a piece, while Emily Watson's unparalleled malapropisms transformed Alan Rudolph's caper flick into a light adventure for weirdos.

6. Hip Horrors: It's the Rage and Shadow of the Vampire

Some may shop at Wal-Mart, but America's gun lust may dwindle significantly if enough people catch James D. Stern's superb ensemble cast (including, once again, Joan Allen, as well as Anna Paquin, Andre Braugher, and others) illustrating -- with great verve -- exactly why we have a big problem here. Interpreting horror more literally, E. Elias Merhige takes us back to the making of Nosferatu, wherein director F.W. Murnau (John Malkovich) employs a real vampire (Willem Dafoe) to rid his production of "artifice."

7. Lascivious Liaisons: 8 1/2 Women and Don't Let Me Die on a Sunday

Goodness, Mr. Greenaway, does your blood ever cool? Apparently not, as the director of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover transposes kinky Euro-Japanese trysts over a father-son struggle for balance. Also titillating on the legitimate screen was Didier Le Pêcheur's sharp-witted entry, which somehow manages to stir some tact into a sea of tack as it grapples with sex and death.

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