The Year in Film
One of the biggest box-office grossers, Gladiator, did a cracking job of creating a colorful, digitally debauched Rome but fell all over itself when required to make narrative sense. So did another film beholden to computer-generated images (CGI) John Travolta's vanity project Battlefield Earth, which wrested the title of 2000's biggest shit fest from the Gwyneth Paltrow karaoke musical Duets. In Battlefield's attempt to make sense, it revealed corporate Hollywood's main process of creating product: Steal from older, better films--or just plain steal. The latest Arnold Schwarzenegger offering, The 6th Day, borrowed from his 1990 confection Total Recall. Mission to Mars and Red Planet saved their marketing teams' effort by sharing the same semi-plot. The Watcher and The Cell looted the same source--The Silence of the Lambs--for their components. (With its postmodern-art's-greatest-hits imagery, at least The Cell pilfered with visual flair.)
In the Even More Obvious Rehash Department, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Bedazzled, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Book of Shadows: Blair Witch II blithely shat upon their source materials. Further dilutions of the originality pool were evidenced by 102 Dalmations, Mission: Impossible II, and Nutty Professor II: The Klumps. This year saw new ideas--never a hot commodity in Hollywood--fall on even tougher times.
Mirroring the state of the movies themselves, we met lots of characters who had little idea who they were and or where they were going--and were sure to get nowhere courtesy of Hollywood's rigidly enforced "no bummers, ever!" policy. High Fidelity's well-observed, rudderless record-store nerds fell victim to tidy 11th-hour resolutions. The identity-challenged cheerleaders of Bring It On suffered sudden personality erasure in order to become happy-ending ciphers. Me, Myself and Irene and American Psycho explored similar confused-person territory with far more hilarious, eviscerating results in their respective tales of a cop with a split personality (Jim Carrey) and a stockbroker who's also a serial killer (Christian Bale). The Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle The Beach didn't even bother to establish personalities for its characters, having no recognizably human characters at all.
But even the most wretched years reveal trends. 2000 revealed two: an increasing reliance on CGI, and plain ol' racism. Granted, the latter is a harsh accusation, so make of the following evidence what you will. In The Patriot, slaves chose to continue working for Mel Gibson's title character even after winning their freedom from him for fighting in the Revolutionary War. The Legend of Bagger Vance gave us yet another manifestation of the popular Black Savant courtesy of Will Smith's titular mystic caddie. Other films offered African-Americans as idiot thieves (Bait, Pay It Forward) and possessors of very large or hyperactive sex organs (Black and White, What Planet Are You From?), while tokenism ran rampant in more films than space allows. Positioned against these mutant children of liberal guilt and/or utter cluelessness, Spike Lee's searing satire of media stereotypes, Bamboozled, was almost redundant.
But racism alone does not necessarily ruin good movies. For that, Hollywood reached out to CGI. Regardless of genre, approximately one third of all new domestic features lived and (mostly) died by special effects. Aside from the delightful Chicken Run and the goofily entertaining Charlie's Angels, few movies warranted, or were improved by, the profligate employment of high-tech bells and whistles.
Despite it all, there were films--tellingly, most of them produced outside the States--that offered the faithful continuing reasons to believe. All About My Mother, Croupier, Rosetta, and Winter Sleepers all put their American brethren to shame, while Lars von Trier's meta-musical Dancer in the Dark squeezed some fresh juice from the minimalist tenets of Dogme 95.
Back in the U.S.A., Nurse Betty maintained auteur Neil LaBute's indie cred while earning mainstream laughs, and Small Time Crooks showed that Woody Allen could still be a funny guy as long as you keep him from the young 'uns. The Hurricane gave Denzel Washington the role of a lifetime, as Darren Aronofsky's astringently brilliant Requiem for a Dream did for Ellen Burstyn. On a lighter note, director Steven Soderbergh and Julia Robert's cleavage entertainingly kicked corporate ass in Erin Brockovich. Also deserving of mention was Cameron Crowe's somewhat prettied-up remembrance of '70s boogie bands, Almost Famous, and Jim Jarmusch's hip-hop Mafia thriller, Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai.
If there was one favorable trend this year, it was the sudden influx of excellent films directed by women: American Psycho (Mary Harron), Girlfight (Karyn Kusama), Jesus' Son (Alison Maclean), and The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola).
Our critics' lists of their top 10 favorites from this year are culled from all the movies that opened or will open in Baltimore in calendar year 2000; films that have been released in other cities to qualify for the coming award season but haven't yet opened locally were not considered. Movies currently available on video are indicated with an asterisk.
And what will next year bring? Ask us when we've recovered from this year.
The Year In Tracks (12/15/2009)
. . . just in the case the album really is dead.
The Year in News (12/9/2009)
The Year in Movies (12/9/2009)
The Perfect Prescription (4/22/2009)
A musician explores the role music has played in treating his mental illness
Teen Screams (9/24/2008)
Dark Young Adult Fiction Captures Rudderless Horrors of Contemporary Adolescence
Dr. Horrible: Triumphant (7/21/2008)
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201