With New Year's come and gone, I have come up with a revolutionary idea. I almost hate to even publish it for fear that other critics will light upon it like the vultures they are and try to steal it away. Once Roger Ebert or Rex Reed get wind of this, they'll be all over it and no one will ever remember whose idea it really was. That said, I will proceed, fully aware of the risks. I present to you my list of the ten best and worst films of the year. I can only hope I haven't opened a pandora's box upon the world.
It has been widely commented that this was a barren year for good movies. I don't know if that's necessarily true or not. Seems like they say that every year. I do know that it is more difficult for us to see the most critically acclaimed movies of the year, because they take a while to filter down to the peninsula. As a result, this list won't have movies like Quills or Traffic, but we'll just pretend they weren't any good anyway. One movie I did see that critics are applauding everywhere is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I wanted to put it on the list, but I just couldn't bring myself to. I have nothing against subtitles, but I think something was seriously lost in the translation. The dialogue seemed cheap compared to the richness of the rest of the movie. It is definitely worth watching, but I can only give it an honorable mention. By the same token, I really wanted to put Dude, Where's My Car on the list as the worst movie of the year but, since I walked out after ten minutes, I didn't know if that was fair. It was definitely on it's way, but it wouldn't have been worth the torture of staying just to include it on the list. It also gets an honorable mention. The following lists are in alphabetical order because my wife got tired of me bouncing my rankings off her.
All The Pretty Horses
Definitely one of the best movies I saw all year. Matt Damon, Henry Thomas, and Lucas Black are superb as three young Texans adrift in Mexico in the 1940s, but the real star is the cinematography. The sweeping landscape is at least as much a character as any of the actors, and probably deserves an Oscar to boot.
All the Pretty Horses
This story of the early seventies rock scene is touching, funny, and highly watchable. It was also severely underrated by audiences and disappeared from theatres nearly as soon as it premiered. It has good Oscar buzz, however, and may get a limited rerelease this spring. If nothing else, it should have a good video life. It would be a real shame if Almost Famous were only almost successful.
Tom Hanks can't do his laundry without getting an Oscar nomination these days, but in Cast Away he shows off his rare talent. For over half the movie, Hanks is alone on an island with little or no dialogue except the one sided conversations he holds with a volleyball. And instead of this playing as goofy or cliched, it comes off as exciting, engaging, and heart-wrenching. Kudos to Robert Zemeckis for making a big budget hollywood movie that actually makes you think.
Julia Roberts and Steven Soderbergh prove that a courtroom drama doesn't have to be overdramatic or even have a courtroom. The story is really about the people involved in a chemical pollution case and their no-nonsense crusader, not about posturing lawyers and judges. Soderbergh also proves that big budget studio and small budget indies can be successfully melded with the right story and the right star.
Besides making more money than just about any other movie this year, Gladiator was just about the most amazing to look at. Combine Ridley Scott's eye, Russell Crowe's intensity, and some of the most amazing battle sequences of the year, and you have a crowd pleaser that should make any top ten list.
John Cusack never fails to crack me up, and he is at his best here as a the owner of a vintage record store trying to understand why he constantly fails at relationships. The highlight of the movie, however, is Jack Black as the ultimate top ten listmaker and music snob. "'I Just Called to Say I Love You'? Do you even know your daughter? There's no way she likes that song! Oops, she's not in a coma is she?!"
Meet the Parents
This movie was great not only because it was funny as hell, but because it does it without grossing you out. (Guess why Scary Movie isn't on this list.) Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro play off each other perfectly, and the supporting cast provides one laugh on top of another. The elaborately carved wedding arch going up in flames is a classic movie moment.
Men of Honor
Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert De Niro elevate this sincere biography of the Navy's first black diver from being TV movie material to a highly enjoyable theater experience. With great performances against a backdrop of unwavering pride and tradition mixed with bigotry and fear, Men of Honor is thoroughly satisfying.
This is not a movie you would typically see on a top ten list, but I think it is one of the most overlooked films of the year. Taking a cliched space-monster storyline and elevating it to a work of art is no small feat, nor is doing so with a limited budget and a cast of near unknowns. Pitch Black is definitely worth another look.
Remember the Titans
Denzel Washington can do this role in his sleep, but so what? We need more movies that promote positive attitudes and relationships without pandering or dumbing down the material. With a great story and great all-around performances, Titans scores a touchdown with just about anyone who goes to see it.
The Art of War
What a waste of time this was. Wesley Snipes was ok, I guess, but a movie like this shouldn't be boring. I expect my action movies to be somewhat senseless and to have cheesy dialogue, but when I start to fall asleep, I draw the line.
Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows
This was probably the worst movie I saw all year (aside from the 10 minutes I spent in Dude...). The acting was bad, the story didn't make any sense, and there is no Book of Shadows to be found anywhere. You'd think a movie whose central theme is to criticize people making a quick buck off of the first Blair Witch could avoid doing the very thing it accuses others of doing.
Dungeons & Dragons
I walked out of Dude into this movie. Comparatively, of course, this movie is great, but even its earnest attempt to bring the D&D world to life can't overcome the really awful acting. Poor Jeremy Irons, have you sunk so low? The only highlight is the flying dragon battle at the end. I suggest renting and fast forwarding.
Gone In 60 Seconds
When is Nicholas Cage going to get off this macho trip? Used to be that his acting would stay good, even as the movie was crashing and burning around him. Not so anymore. 60 Seconds showcases Cage's worst performance ever, and despite some cool car chases, is built on one of the most ridiculous plots of the year.
The idea of being invisible is kind of cool, but under Paul Verhoevens's able direction it turns into an idiotic bloodbath. Kevin Bacon said in an interview before it came out that he thought it was more about special effects than character development or acting. Boy was he right!
Mission Impossible 2
Not the worst movie of the year, but easily the most disappointing. With nothing like the intricately woven storyline of the first MI, MI2 is purely a showcase for action sequences, most of which have little or no relation to the plot. And can somebody please do something about those damn white doves?
Mission To Mars
Don't you hate it when Hollywood takes a really neat idea and totally screws it up? The exploration of Mars deserves the kind of treatment that Kubrick gave 2001, not this ham-fisted attempt at mixing spirituality and action. This movie was merely mediocre until the complete waste of an ending that pushed it over the top and secured it a space on this list. Did they really think that anyone would buy that stupid looking martian?
The Ninth Gate
Here is another film whose biggest detriment was that it was boring. A man trying to unleash Satan using an ancient book of evil, with illustrations done in human blood? Sounds exciting, but even Johnny Depp looked like he was falling asleep.
Pay It Forward
See this title in the dictionary under the heading "heavy-handed." After subjecting the audience to two hours of degradation and guilt, the filmmakers seem willing to do anything short of running over your dog to wring a few tears out of you. This is Helen Hunt at her worst looking, and Haley Joel Osment in top weepy chipmunk form.
This movie was so bad, I had put it out of my mind. It didn't even occur to me that it was a 2000 movie until I saw it in a general list on the internet. From beginning to end this movie makes no sense. It almost feels like they cut the film apart and then randomly put it all back together, hoping for "art cred." Points to anyone who can figure out why Robert Forster agreed to be involved in this train wreck.
Well, there it is. Most of these movies, good and bad, are on video now, so it shouldn't be hard to catch up on those you haven't seen. My only regret is that Battlefield Earth hadn't come out for rent by the time I made these lists. I hear it's pretty good. Maybe I should check out rogertebert.com.
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