Movies Of The Year: 2000

You’d have to go all the way back to 1983 to find a year where I saw as few films as I’ve seen from the year 2000. This was the year I started dating my eventual wife, graduated college, started working full-time and moved away from all the cool movie theatres. Plus, it wasn’t a very good year for movies, with only one true classic.

28. Loser
27. Mission: Impossible 2
26. Escaflowne: The Movie
25. The Perfect Storm
24. Dancer In The Dark
23. Erin Brockovich
22. American Psycho
21. Charlie’s Angels
20. Gladiator
19. Where The Heart Is
18. Chunhyang
17. Romeo Must Die
16. Traffic

15. Memento – As I mentioned in the 1999 list, I’m not a big fan of trick movies, and this one is a prime example of that genre. It’s very well-made, with good performances from Guy Pearce and Joe Pantoliano. The backwards running narrative thing is pretty cool, but I’ve never seen the reason to watch this a second time. I was annoyed that when it came out nobody seemed to mention that it was essentially a noir remake of the classic Dana Carvey comedy Clean Slate (#40 in 1994), only without Valeria Golino and the one-eyed dog.

14. Jeff Buckley: Live In Chicago – This concert film looks like it was shot on video for a local PBS station. There’s nothing interesting about it cinematically, what makes it worthwhile is Buckley himself. It’s a long and great show, really demonstrating what made Buckley such a great singer. If you’re already a Buckley fan, you’ll love it. If you’ve never heard him, you’ll still love it. The concert isn’t as good as the one on the Live At Sin-é album, but it’s still great.

13. X-Men – Like most of the superhero movies of the 90s, this is very slick but lacks soul., it’s like candy. I was a huge fan of the comic book as a kid, so it’d probably be impossible to make an X-Men film that’d make me happy, but this does a decent job. Hugh Jackman is a pretty good Wolverine, Famke Janssen is a great Jean Grey, Patrick Stewart Rebecca Romijn and Ian McKellen are great and James Marsden is just as annoying as the Cyclops character was in the books. I like Anna Paquin a lot, but her Rogue really annoyed me, but that’s the fan in me, her character is totally different than in the books. Overrated, but still good.

12. Battle Royale – I admit I was a little disappointed in this Japanese action film. It’s set in a vague future where problem high school students are exported to a wilderness where they are made to fight to the death until there’s only one left. I was looking forward to seeing Chiaki Kuriyama, who was great as Go-Go Yubari in Kill Bill, and she is very good, but not a big enough part of the movie. It also stars Takeshi Kitano, whose very different film Fireworks I liked a lot and rated #19 in 1997. Pretty good, but ultimately really depressing.

11. Bring It On – Without a doubt the best movie about cheerleaders ever made. The rich white cheerleaders, led by the very perky Kirsten Dunst, learn that all their best moves were stolen from the black inner-city cheerleaders. Dunst must scramble to come up with some moves of her own, with help from the new girl Eliza Dushku, as the rich kids new competition is that same inner-city black high school. It’s the Karate Kid with really short skirts. What’s not to love?

10. Chicken Run – The Great Escape reenacted by a flock of claymation chickens: pure genius. It’s the same guys that made all the Wallace And Gromit movies which unfortunately were too short for me to include in my Movies Of The Year lists. Not just The Great Escape, but the movies chock full of movie references like the Indiana Jones movie and Braveheart. The movie stars the voices of Mel Gibson, Miranda Richardson, Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton and Jane Horrocks.

9. The Beach – A Danny Boyle movie that people hated even more than A Life Less Ordinary, this film was killed in the public imagination by two things. First, the rumors that the production caused an environment catastrophe on its location in Thailand, which convinced all the lefties to hate it. Second was the massive success of Titanic (#11, 1997) and the cooptation of Leonardo DiCaprio by the teenage girl marketing machine. With 5 years of hindsight and Martin Scorsese’s concerted effort to make him into his 21st century DeNiro, we can see that it was Titanic that was the anomaly in an otherwise extremely respectable acting career. In another five or ten years, he might even be able to shed his teen idol image, like Johnny Depp managed to do eventually. Judged on it’s own merits, The Beach is a flawed film. A rather incoherent mess of interesting ideas and good performances. Leo plays a hipster burnout how finds a map to a beach where other freaks have established their own little society outside the rest of the world, with Tilda Swinton as their leader. There’s the inevitable romantic entanglements between Leo and every girl he meets, and some perfect-society-gone horribly-wrong craziness as Leo goes nuts and imagines himself as a video game character. An interesting mess.

8. High Fidelity – Well, it’s not as good as the book, that’s for sure. But that may be overly harsh. John Cusak is perfect for the part of the music obsessed romantic loser, as is Jack Black as his even more music obsessed friend/employee. It’s directed by Stephen Frears, who did Dangerous Liaisons (#1, 1988), The Grifters (#26, 1990), and Mary Reilly (Unseen). The rest of the cats includes Tim Robbins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joan Cusak, Lisa Bonet, Natasha Gregson-Wagner and Lili Taylor. Frankly, while I enjoyed the movie, I would have liked it a lot more if I hadn’t read the book first. I don’t think I can really judge it on it’s own merits. I really should see it again.

7. Best In Show – Not as good as Waiting For Guffman (#21, 1996) but this was a bad year for movies, so it sneaks into the top ten. The Christopher Guest led improv crew makes a movie about the crazy people who compete in dog shows. I’d put this squarely in the middle of the three Guest movies (Guffman and A Mighty Wind are the other two), and my opinion of them is directly proportional to how mean they are to their characters. Guffman is hilarious and great in that it not only mercilessly mocks the losers who make up the play, but it also clearly has a lot of affection for a bunch of weird folks who just want to put on a show. A Mighty Wind has none of that human feeling, it just wants to depict some silly characters for us to laugh at. Best In Show is somewhere in between. A few of the characters are sympathetic (Christopher Guest and the gay couple being the main ones) but the rest are just savaged. It’s funny for awhile, say, a sketch, but over the course of a feature length film, it gets tedious.

6. State And Main – A showbiz meets small town America comedy written and directed by David Mamet. William H. Macy is the director who’s trying to convince Sarah Jessica Parker to do a nude scene, Alec Baldwin’s the star who seduces local teenager Julia Stiles, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is the screenwriter who falls for local guru Rebecca Pidgeon. It’s a smart, funny, entertaining film, but not a great one. Again, this ain’t a great year for movies.

5. Wonder Boys – Michael Douglas plays a pot-smoking writing professor and novelist who’s stuck in a rut. Frances MacDormand plays the married chancellor of his college, who’s he’s having an affair with and is now pregnant. Katie Holmes is the adoring student who rents a room in his house, Robert Downey Jr is his agent, in town for a writing festival and to get him to finally finish the book he’s been working on for a very long time, and Tobey Maguire plays his very weird yet promising student. Based on the book by Michael Chabon, which I haven’t read, but I’ve read two of his other books, Summerland and The Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay, which are both very good. The soundtrack is a whole lot of Dylan, and Bob even won an Oscar for the song “Things Have Changed”. A weird, dark, fun film.

4. In The Mood For Love – Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung star in Wong Kar Wai’s film about neighbors in 1962 Hong Kong who discover their spouses are having an affair. Even though the two of them are seemingly perfect for each other, they resolve not to become like their spouses. Like every Wong Kar Wai movie, it’s beautiful and slow and thoughtful. But like all of his films other than Chungking Express, it’s a bit too cool and humorless. 2046 makes a heck of a lot more sense if you’ve seen this one first, by the way.

3. O Brother, Where Art Thou? – A letdown coming off of The Big Lebowski, but still a pretty good movie. A loose adaptation of The Odyssey with George Clooney escaping a chain gang and trying to get back to his wife and rid her of her suitors. It’s set during the depression and works as a survey of old weird America as well as a Homer adaptation. John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson are Clooney’s fellow escapees. Along their way they meet John Goodman as a cyclops, the KKK, some corrupt politicians, Babyface Nelson, some sirens and Tommy Johnson, waiting for the devil at a crossroads. I hear the soundtrack was pretty popular.

2. Almost Famous – Cameron Crowe’s autobiographical film about a teenage rock critic on the road with a mediocre band is flawed but ridiculously watchable. A couple months ago, in fact, I watched it twice in one day, and I haven’t done that with any movie for years. The soundtrack is great, as Crowe’s soundtracks always are, Kate Hudson, Frances McDormand, Jason Lee and Billy Crudup are all very good. It’s got Philip Seymour Hoffman, Zooey Deschanel, Anna Paguin, Jimmy Fallon, Fairuza Balk and Noah Taylor in supporting roles. It’s not my favorite of Crowe’s films largely because I just don’t like Patrick Fugit’s performance in the lead role, I just think he’s annoying.

1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – The only truly great film of the year still managed to be overrated by American film critics who somehow managed to remain ignorant of the Hong Kong movie scene throughout the 90s. They generally praised the originality of the film, especially in its work with wire stunts (see David Denby’s review in the New Yorker: The characters can fly! I’ve never seen that before!). This act of collective critical ignorance would be roughly analagous to crediting Touch Of Evil for inventing the chiaroscuro lighting for film noir genre films. Anyway, despite the dfumb Americans, this is a great movie. Yuen Wo Ping’s action choreography is pretty much perfect: alternately fun and fast and slow and beautiful. The cast is excellent, though I think director Ang Lee fell into the trap that so many directors have in the last decade, that of not allowing Chow Yun-Fat to smile. Michelle Yeoh and epecially Zhang ZiYi are tremendous and Chang Chen, who you might recognize from Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together (#4 1997) or 2046, is pretty good. Speaking of Wong Kar-Wai, it should be noted that another act of critical ignorance was crediting Ang Lee with legitimizing the martial arts film with a serious and artistic presentation. Of course, Wong Kar-Wai did that with Ashes Of Time back in 1994. Still, Crouching Tiger is the better film, and it’s better than Zhang Yimou’s two great martial arts art films, House Of Flying Daggers and Hero, largely because among those film it has the best balance between image and story, between genre film and art film.

Quite a few Unseen movies this year, a lot of them are probably pretty good too:

The Tao Of Steve
You Can Count On Me
Amores Perros
Chopper
Shadow Of The Vampire
Unbreakable
Snatch
Requiem For A Dream
George Washington
The Contender
The Legend Of Bagger Vance
Sexy Beast
The Way Of The Gun
Boiler Room
The Emperor’s New Groove
Quills
Nurse Betty
Thirteen Days
Space Cowboys
Shanghai Noon
Coyote Ugly
Shaft
Dude, Where’s My Car?
Scream 3
U-571
Pitch Black
Chocolat
Scary Movie
Meet The Parents
Cast Away
Pollack
Before Night Falls
Nine Queens
The Princess And The Warrior

Advertisements

Snake Oil Indeed

Well, I finally got myself mentioned on Cinecast. I was one of many people who mentioned, in response to their review of Shopgirl, that they should see LA Story, which was my #1 film of 1991. That’s also my analogy they cite describing it as Steve Martin’s version of Woody Allen’s Manhattan, though it got a bit garbled in the translation.

The episode where I got mentioned is also the one where they gave rave reviews to Syriana, written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, the guy who wrote Traffic (which looks to be about #16 in 2000). I just watched Syriana Monday night, and since I haven’t mentioned it here yet, I thought I’d copy the response I posted on the Cinecast website. As you can tell, I wasn’t a big fan of the film.

I have to disagree with you both on Syriana. While you’re right that the film is totally cold and unemotional, you’re giving it too much credit by calling it “intellectual” or “an intellectual exercise”. It’s hard to be intellectual when your one big insight is that governments at home and abroad are corruptly intertwined with the oil industry. As Prince Nasir says in one of the few good scenes in the film: tell me something I don’t know.

I could enjoy a movie that didn’t have anything new or insightful to tell me if it was at least interesting emotionally or viscerally; I could enjoy a movie that was emotionally stiff or stylistically dull if it had something exciting to say. Syriana fails on all three levels.

Beyond that, Gaghan seems to confuse obfuscation for complexity. Jeffery Wright’s character isn’t a mystery because he’s a complex character who we’ve never seen before, he’s a mystery because the writer has withheld information from us, or rather has misled us into thinking he’s a different generic type. By removing the backstory and context from his scenes, Gaghan creates the illusion of complexity without having to do the work necessary to make a truly intelligent film.

I’m not a big fan of Traffic, I thought a third of it was an after-school special, a third of it was mediocre and the third of it with Benicio Del Toro was outstanding. But Syriana doesn’t even have that kind of interesting character or performance to redeem it.

Movies Of The Year: 1999

This was a pretty good year for movies. Very tough to decide between the top 3 films this year. The total number of films I’ve seen went down again, but almost every movie from this year is worth seeing. Really only the last place one is truly awful.

54. Payback
53. Audition
52. Sleepy Hollow
51. The Woman Chaser
50. But I’m A Cheerleader
49. Meeting People Is Easy
48. Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
47. Teaching Mrs. Tingle
46. Beyond The Mat
45. 200 Cigarettes
44. Any Given Sunday
43. The Limey
42. The Ninth Gate
41. Big Daddy
40. Anna And The King
39. Anywhere But Here
38. She’s All That
37. Dick
36. Bringing Out The Dead
35. Dogma
34. Varsity Blues
33. 10 Things I Hate About You
32. The Mummy
31. Mystery Men
30. Being John Malkovich
29. The 13th Warrior
28. Time Regained
27. Man On The Moon
26. American Beauty
25. The Phantom Menace
24. Bowfinger
23. The Sixth Sense
22. Topsy-Turvey
21. Galaxy Quest
20. Cruel Intentions
19. The Talented Mr. Ripley
18. Summer Of Sam
17. The Messenger
16. The Blair Witch Project

15. Go – Doug Liman’s follow-up to Swingers was this often overlooked little exercise in non-linear storytelling. It’s three different and, of course, ultimately interconnected stories about some kids who work together at a grocery star. Sarah Polley and Katie Holmes are the very attractive leads, and it also features Scott Wolf, Jay Mohr, William Fichtner, Breckin Meyer and Taye Diggs.

14. Cradle Will Rock – Hoosiers for lefty theatre geeks? Tim Robbins’s film is a big mess of an epic about a bunch of famous people who just want to put on a show and the famous people who want to shut them down for the good of capitalism and democracy and apple pie and all that. The enormous cast features: Hank Azaria, Joan and John Cusak, Cary Elwes, Philip Baker Hall, Bill Murray, Vanessa Redgrave, Susan Sarandon, John Turturro, Emily Watson, jack Black, Bob Balaban, Gretchen Mol, Ruben Blades and Paul Giamatti.

13. Existenz – I’m not especially familiar with David Cronenberg, as I’ve only seen this, The Fly and A History Of Violence, but I liked this one a lot. Jennifer Jason Leigh invents a really realistic virtual reality game that she plays with Jude Law. The game’s so good that they can’t tell the virtual from the actual reality. A popular theme in 1999 as a couple films higher up on the list explore the same subject. Also stars Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Eccleston and Sarah Polley.

12. Eyes Wide Shut – Stanley Kubrick’s last film is a fairly incoherent mess that looks really great and maybe doesn’t make that much sense. Tom Cruise is so upset after his wife tells him she once thought about cheating on him that he runs off into the night into one bizarre group of sexual weirdos after another, all told in Kubricks slow-moving, ultra-clinical style. Nicole Kidman’s performance is great, Cruise is decent enough. I have no idea what to think about the whole rich-people cult-orgy thing.

11. The Insider – I avoided this Michael Mann film for quite awhile, chalking it up to another generic bit of anti-smoking propaganda. When I finally saw it, I was pleasantly surprised to find it was about journalism and whistle-blowing in general and had very little to do with cigarettes. Russell Crowe stars as the tobacco scientist who, more or less, wants to expose the industry evil despite his non-disclosure agreement and his family’s objections. Al Pacino is the 60 Minutes producer who prods him along. Both are excellent. It could have been just another issue movie of the week, but thankfully it’s much much better than that.

10. Three Kings – Another movie that thankfully exceeded my expectations. I was sure it’d be a bland war is bad issue movie. Instead, this is an old school action adventure movie, more in the mold of Gunga Din than Courage Under Fire. George Clooeny, Marky Mark, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze set off in a Quest For Saddam’s Gold in the last days of the first Gulf War, but end up actually fighting bad guys and becoming heros. Also stars Nora Dunn, Mykelti Williamson, Jamie Kennedy, Alia Shawkat and Judy Greer (the last two are on Arrested Development). Directed by David O. Russell, who did Spanking the Monkey, which was alright, I Heart Huckabees, which I liked and Flirting With Disaster, which I haven’t seen but really should.

9. Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai – Forrest Whitaker is great as a quiet mob hitman who tries to be a samurai, inspired by the book Rashoman. When one of his hits is witnessed by a girl, the mob decides to kill him. So, he tries to kill all the bad mob guys without hurting the girl or his master, the mob guy who saved his life when he was a kid. In the meantime, he hangs out with his best friend, an ice cream vendor who only speaks French (Ghost Dog only speaks English). Probably Jim Jarmusch’s most commercial film, but that isn’t saying much.

8. Sweet And Lowdown – I just bought a Best of Django Reinhardt album yesterday, it’s pretty great so far. This is the last good Woody Allen movie (though I hear Melinda and Melinda and Match Point from 2005 are pretty good, I haven’t seen them yet.) It’s a fictional biopic of a jazz guitar player (Sean Penn) who likes to get drunk, shoot rats and hang around with a mute Samantha Morton. As you’d expect in a Woody Allen movie, it’s funny, smart has great music and great acting by Penn and Morton.

7. American Pie – By far the best of the late-90s teen comedies. There were a lot of attempts to imitate it’s success, including two pretty bad sequels, but none managed to do it. The reason is that what they tried to imitate was the grandma-scaring sex jokes instead of the intelligent screenplay about realistic high school kids. It’s almost enough to make you think the good parts of the movie were just an accident. That they were actually just trying to make another Road Trip. Maybe writer Adam Herz was, and that’s why he’s written nothing but American Pie related films. But director Paul Weitz went on to direct In Good Company, which was pretty good, and About A Boy, which I haven’t seen.

6. Election – Alexander Payne’s vicious satire of high school, politics and Middle America. Matthew Broderick plays a schlub of a social studies teacher who tries and fails to cheat on his wife, and rigs the high school student body president election he’s in charge of so the obnoxiously perky Reese Witherspoon won’t win it. Chris Klein, from American Pie, plays the brain-dead jock he gets to run against Witherspoon. Might be the best movie about high school ever.

5. South Park – The best musical in a very long time. Upset by the language in a movie all their kids are seeing, the parents of a small Colorado town organize and instigate a war with Canada. Meanwhile, Satan and his boyfriend, Saddam Hussein, eagerly await their return to Earth. Our only hope are four grade school kids, one of whom surprisingly dies in the early going (I won’t give away which one). best song: the inspirational “What Would Brian Boitano Do?”

4. Office Space – Now recognized as a true classic, this film bombed on it’s initial theatrical release. I’m prou to say I saw it on opening night and loved it from the start. Ron Livingston stars as a corporate drone who gets hypnotized into a state of total relaxation and starts blowing off work and gets promoted for it. Along the way, he romances a local waitress, Jennifer Aniston, and plots a robbery like the one in Superman III with his computer programmer buddies Samir and Michael Bolton. Written and directed by Mike Judge, the man responsible for Beavis And Butt-Head and King Of the Hill. Also stars Gary Cole, Diedrich Bader, John C. McGinley and Stephen Root. A favorite line is tough to pick, but I’ll go with: “You know the Nazis had pieces of flair, that they made the Jews wear.”

3. Magnolia – Paul Thomas Anderson does the Short Cuts thing a heck of a lot better than Robert Altman did. This sprawling film about many many different screwed up people in Los Angeles connected by a game show and a very strange rainstorm. It’s about randomness and coincidence and fate and post-modern life and bad fathers and screwed up kids. befitting a massivve film is the massive cast: Tom Cruise (in a very good performance), Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Phillip Baker Hall, Melora Walters, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Patton Oswalt, Alfred Molina, Tom Jane, Jason Robards, Orlando Jones, Felicity Huffman, Luis Guzman, Ricky Jay and Henry Gibson. For some reason, my wife hates this movie. She liked Punch-Drunk Love though.

2. Fight Club – It was very tough to decide between these top three as the best of the year. They’re all great films. Magnolia I put at #3 because it’s a bit too much, too depressing, too long. Fight Club I ranked second because it’s a trick movie. A movie where, once you know the secret, however great that secret is, the movie loses something. It just isn’t as good the next time you see it. Generally, I’m not a fan of trick movies for this reason. The Usual Suspects, Memento, and The Sixth Sense are all movies I think are overrated for their tricks. The Others, Vanilla Sky and Fight Club I like in spite of their tricks. Still, I’ve only seen Fight Club two or three times. Unlike those first three, there’s enough to love in it: Fincher’s direction, Brad Pitt and Edward Norton’s off the wall performances, Helena Bonham Carter trying to get as far away from Merchant-Ivory as she can, the sheer silliness of the satire, and the crazy fact that people started actually forming fight clubs in the wake of the movie (ah, to live without irony). And of course, thematically it has a whole lot in common with this year’s number one film.

1. The Matrix – What to think of a film where the lead actor’s best line is “Whoa,” yet manages to also reference Jean Beaudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation as a guide to it’s reality twisting convolutions? It’s a comic book action hero movie that inverts the trajectory of the heroic epic that has been standard since the Arthurian Romances of a thousand years ago (The hero’s world has been laid waste by the evil whatever, the hero must quest to restore the world to it’s paradisical beginning. In The Matrix, the hero’s world has been made a paradise by the evil whatever, and the hero must quest to restore it to it’s initial wasteland. What do you think that says about us?). It’s the movie that changed the action movie genre for the next decade, much like Die Hard did at the end of the 80s. Not just in it’s use of special effects, which is interesting and very cool, but in introducing Hong Kong choreographer Yuen Wo Ping to the US, where he’s gone on to be responsible for just about every interesting action sequence for the last six years. It’s a great action movie with fascinating cultural and philosophical relevance. They never should have made sequels though.

Nothing I’m too upset about missing this year, though I’ve heard great things about Iron Giant and, yes dear, Boys Don’t Cry:

The Hurricane
Runaway Bride
All About My Mother
Boys Don’t Cry
The Straight Story
The Iron Giant
Girl, Interrupted
Titus
Idle Hands
Forces Of Nature
Drop Dead Gorgeous
The Astronaut’s Wife
Pushing Tin
Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo
The Thomas Crown Affair
The Virgin Suicides
The Cider House Rules
Analyze This

Notting Hill
Toy Story 2
The Green Mile
My Best Fiend
Kikujiro
American Movie
The End Of The Affair
Snow Falling On Cedars
Angela’s Ashes
Buena Vista Social Club
One Day In September
Jawbreaker
The Winslow Boy
The Girl On The Bridge
Mr. Death
Gen-X Cops
Jesus’s Son
Pola X

Chronicles Of Gonzaga

Watched Narnia the other night and was pretty disappointed. The effects were pretty mediocre, the child actors were uniformly awful and the script was way too simplistic, with a total lack of subtlety. It’s like all the worst moments of the Harry Potter and LOTR movies, with none of the great parts. Tilda Swinton is really great though. It’s really worth seeing just for her.

As for the much balleyhooed Christian allegory: bleh. Aslan the Lion King sacrifices himself to save the kids. That’s all well and good, but then he comes back to life and explains that he knew all along if he allowed himself to be sacrificed that he’d be resurrected in the morning. So what’s so great about the sacrifice? He knew he wasn’t really going to die. Compared to the death and rebirth of Gandalf in LOTR, this is just silly.

In happier news, I’ve been watching as many Gonzaga basketball games as I can get on the tivo, which is surprisingly quite a few. I’ve seen every game since their triple overtime thriller in Maui against Michigan St. Today’s game against Oklahoma St. at Key Arena was another great one. Junior Adam Morrison (from my alma mater Mead High School), who’s leading the nation in scoring, was seemingly held in check by some very good defense, yet still managed to score 25 points including the game winning 3 pointer with 2 seconds left in the game. Gonzaga’s been struggling, losing to UW last weekend and trailing OSU for most of today’s game, but they are playing with their starting back court out with injuries. As the game ended today, one of the announcers from CBS called Morrison the best player in college basketball. It’s hard to argue with that.

Movies Of The Year: 1998

Back to the countdown after a couple weeks off. The total number of films seen continues to drop. This was a pretty good year for movies, despite the grossly overrated oscar winners.

60. 54
59. Your Friends & Neighbors
58. Snake Eyes
57. Godzilla
56. Psycho
55. Star Trek: Insurrection
54. Lethal Weapon 4
53. Celebrity
52. Disturbing Behavior
51. Permanent Midnight
50. Pecker
49. Mulan
48. American History X
47. No Looking Back
46. Next Stop Wonderland
45. The X-Files
44. Small Soldiers
43. Without Limits
42. Sliding Doors
41. The Replacement Killers
40. The Faculty
39. The Last Days Of Disco
38. Armageddon
37. The Truman Show
36. Enemy Of The State
35. Shakespeare In Love
34. Little Voice
33. Slums Of Beverly Hills
32. Saving Private Ryan
31. The Mask Of Zorro
30. The Waterboy
29. The Opposite Of Sex
28. Can’t Hardly Wait
27. The Seige
26. What Dreams May Come
25. Croupier
24. Wild Things
23. A Simple Plan
22. Smoke Signals
21. He Got Game
20. Bulworth
19. A Civil Action
18. Dark City
17. The Wedding Singer
16. Buffalo ’66

15. Ronin – Low-key spy/action movie starring Robert DeNiro and Jean Reno. Directed by John Frankenheimer, and possibly his best movie that isn’t The Manchurian Candidate. It’s similarly styled, but smarter, than Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity. Also stars Stellan Skarsgard, Jonathon Pryce, Natascha McElhone, Sean Bean and my all-time favorite figure skater, Katarina Witt.

14. Primary Colors – It’s not a great film, but I rate it this high because it has a lot of nostalgia value for me, as I followed the Clinton campaign pretty closely in 1992. John Travolta and Emma Thompson are alright as the Bill and Hillary characters, but Billy Bob Thornton is great as the James Carville character. Kathy Bates’ character is really annoying. Adrian Lester is good as the audience surrogate campaign worker and Maura Tierney is outstanding, as always.

13. The Zero Effect – Odd little film in which Bill Pullman plays a brilliant detective who has problems interacting with actual human beings. Ben Stiller plays his frazzled assistant and Kim Dickens is his client/love interest. Written and directed by Jake Kasdan, the son of director Lawrence Kasdan. A quirky, very likable movie, in fact, I’ve yet to hear of anyone who saw it and didn’t like it.

12. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas – Not as good as the book, of course, but still pretty good. Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro are great in the lead roles. Terry Gilliam’s film works because he walks the same fine line Hunter S. Thompson did between madcap drug-induced hilarity and biting social satire and poignant nostalgia: “a savage journey to the heart of the American dream”. The best parts in the movie are the slow ones: Thompson writing about the crashing of the 60s wave, the diner scene. the movie, and book are about a lot of things, drugs are not one of them.

11. Out Of Sight – The overrated Steven Soderbergh;s best movie, by far. Also probably the best of the Tarantino-imitation films of the 90s. It helps that it’s an adaptation of a story by Elmore Leonard, Tarantino’s favorite author. George Clooney plays an escaped bank robber, Jennifer Lopez is the US Marshal who hunts him down. Of course, there’s a romance along the way. Great supporting performances from Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, Dennis Farina, Ving Rhames, Luis Guzman, Steve Zahn, and Michael Keaton. It’s told in a non-linear style (a la Tarantino) and is a really great-looking movie with a very cool use of color. I haven’t seen his Oceans 11 films, but this is very slick for Soderbergh.

10. Elizabeth – Speaking of slick, this is an MTV version of the historical costume drama. Director Shekhar Kapur uses a great sense of color, and a modern visual style to make a Queen Elizabeth biopic that is never boring. Actually, compared to recent highly acclaimed biopics like A Beautiful Mind, Ray and Walk The Line, this is a masterpiece. Cate Blanchett is remarkable in the lead role, unfortunately, the other actors aren’t so good. Geoffry Rush and Richard Attenborough chew scenery as the Queen’s top advisors, Fanny Ardant, Christopher Eccleston are alright, and John Gielgud is really old. Joseph Fiennes though, he’s really bad as Elizabeth’s whiny, incompetent boyfriend. He really drags the movie down.

9. Meet Joe Black – Three great looking movies in a row. This is a guilty pleasure of mine, as I’ve yet to hear of anyone else who actually likes this movie. I love it though, and I’ve seen it a lot. Anthony Hopkins is a wealthy old businessman with a couple of daughters. Instead of dying like he’s supposed to, Death decides he’s curious about life and gets Hopkins to show him around. To help with this endeavor, Death kills Brad Pitt and takes over his body. Of course, Death promptly falls in love with Hopkins’s youngest daughter, Claire Forlani. It’s all very melodramatic and romantic and tend s to make the room a little dusty but I dig it nonetheless. Director Martin Brest has had an up and down career (Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run, Scent Of A Woman, Gigli), but this is my favorite of his films. It’s the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki that really gets me: very lush, deep browns and yellows, everything looks so rich. Looking him up, he’s a pretty accomplished DP. In addition to this and the upcoming Terrence Malick film The New World, he also did Y Tu Mama Tambien, Ali, Reality Bites, A Walk In The Clouds, The Birdcage, Sleepy Hollow The Cat In The Hat and Lemony Snicket.

8. Pi – What a year for great-looking movies, though this is about as opposite to Meet Joe Black as you can get. Darren Aronofsky’s debut film is about a schizophrenic mathematician who believes he’s close to cracking a code that will explain the meaning of life, or something like that. Soon, he’s under attack by corporate goons, the NSA and crazy cabalistic Jews. It’s shot in an ultra-low budget handheld black and white, rapid cut style (and a punding techno soundtrack) that gets more and more frantic as the film moves along. The film is structured like a black hole: the main character spirals around, faster and faster until he reaches the center, where all the laws of physics breakdown. A great great film. But I’ll still never watch Requiem For A Dream.

7. Run Lola Run – Another very inventive indie film with a loud electronic soundtrack. You probably already know the gimmick here: Lola has to find a bunch of money that her boyfriend lost before he robs a grocery store and gets himself killed. The film explores three different scenarios in a clever game of What If? Franka Potente is great as Lola. A very fun, stylish movie, quite possibly my favorite German film. It’s certainly up there with M and Aguirre: The Wrath Of God.

6. There’s Something About Mary – Not so much the cause of the dumb character/gross-out comedies of the late 90s/early 2000s as it is the best of them. The reason it succeeds where so so many others failed is that it actually does have a heart. Not an ironic heart, but an actual sappy corny melodramatic heart. Ben Stiller gives one of his best performances, and one of the few where he isn’t playing the angry guy from Mystery Men. Cameron Diaz is great as the object of everyone’s desire and Matt Dillon and Chris Elliot are terrific in their supporting roles. Also stars Jeffery Tambor, Markie Post, Keith David, W. Earl Brown (from Deadwood, unrecognizable as Mary’s brother), Khandi Alexander and Sarah Silverman.

5. Pleasantville – A great cast highlights this inventive coming of age movie. Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, William H. Macy, Joan Allen, Jeff Daniels Don Knotts and JT Walsh star. Witherspoon and Maguire were largely unknown at the time (though not to film geeks like me) and they give their typical great performances. Joan Allen is outstanding as the slowly-becoming-unrepressed housewife (she even makes an appearance as a sound clip in each episode of The Rachel Maddow Show). One of those movies that suffers because people focus way too much on it’s political content (which isn’t all that interesting) to the detriment of it’s inventiveness as a film. The mixed black and white/full color scenes are really beautiful and the coming of age stories are very well-told and believable. One of those movies the Academy inexplicably passed over: it got great reviews, did very good business, had great performances, but got nothing come Oscartime. It’s ten times the film that Shakespeare In Love is. Writer-director Gary Ross also wrote Big, Mr. Baseball and Dave, and wrote and directed Seabiscuit.

4. Rounders – A great little movie that was largely ignored theatrically but found a great following on video as it got caught up in, and helped fuel, the great poker revival of the early 2000s. Directed by John Dahl, who did Red Rock West and The Last Seduction, this film stars Matt damon as a former poker hustler trying to go straight by going to law school after he lost all his money to John Malkovich. But when his amoral old buddy Edward Norton gets out of jail, Damon gets sucked back into the poker lifestyle, to the detriment of his relation ship with the cute wet blanket girlfriend Gretchen Moll. Norton predictably gets them both into big financial trouble and the only way to save them is for Damon to beat Malkovich in the big game. Along the way he gets some help from his law professor Martin Landau and Famke Janssen. Oh, and John Turturro shows up somewhere in there too. It’s the Karate Kid of the 90s. A truly classic sports film.

3. The Thin Red Line – By far the best World War II film of the year. Way better than that Tom Hanks propaganda cheesefest that won all those awards and so many people still inexplicably drool over. This film, Terrence Malick’s first since Days Of Heaven, which I rated #2 in 1978, is an adaptation of the novel by James Jones, who also wrote From Here To Eternity, the film of which is also better than Saving Private Ryan. Sean Penn, Ben Chaplin, and Jim Caviezel are the three main characters, though theres a cast of dozens, including Woody Harrelson, John Cusak, George Clooney, Nick Nolte (a terrific performance), Elias Koteas, Adrian Brody, Jared Leto, John C. Reilly, John Savage, Tim Blake Nelson, and John Travolta. the films is basically three action set pieces divided by some long, slow reflective scenes with the characters narrating various ruminations on life and war and nature. The action scenes are as good as anything in SPR, and the slow parts, while sometimes kind of annoying, are at least more thoughtful than waving a flag and shouting “Earn this!”

2. Rushmore – Wes Anderson’s best movie is about a very strange kid, the school he loves, his rich midlife crisis-ridden friend and the teacher they’re both hot for. Jason Schwartzman, whose band does the theme song for The OC, is great in the lead role. Bill Murray revived his career with this role, and doesn’t seem to have stopped playing this character yet (this is much, much better than Lost In Translation). Olivia Williams plays the teacher, you might remember her as the bridesmaid Joey hooked up with during the wedding in London episodes of Friends. It’s Anderson’s best because it isn’t nearly as silly as The Life Aquatic or Bottle Rocket, but still has the sense of fun and play that is sorely missing from the depressing The Royal Tenenbaums.

1. The Big Lebowski – If you don’t know why this movie is the best of the year, then you simply haven’t seen it often enough. It is, without a doubt, the best film noir musical western bowling comedy ever made. One of the most quotable movies ever. For those who don’t know, it stars: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Julianne Moore, Tara Reid, Ben Gazzera, Sam Elliot, Peter Storemare, David Thewlis and Flea. After mistakenly having his rug soiled by loan collectors, The Dude becomes caught up in a blackmail and kidnapping scheme involving the rich Big Lebowski, his trophy wife and former porn star Bunny, his artist daughter Maude, a trio of former German electronic pop nihilists all while trying to get ready for the big bowling match against convicted sex offender Jesus. It’s big, weird, totally unique and absolutely brilliant. Watch it enough times, and you’ll see that the entire universe can be understood in its terms. The Out Of The Past podcast guys did a big podcast a couple weeks ago comparing and contrasting this with Howard Hawks’s the Big Sleep that I highly recommend. They clearly preferred Lebowski, as do I, though I liked The Big Sleep more than they did. Sometimes, there’s a man.

A decent number of Unseen Movies this year, but nothing I’m in a big rush to watch:

Blade
Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels
After Life
Affliction
Hilary And Jackie
Beloved
Babe: Pig In The City
Six-String Samurai
Clay Pigeons
The General
Flowers Of Shanghai
Velvet Goldmine
Half Baked
Apt Pupil
The Horse Whisperer
The Red Violin
BASEketball
Great Expectations
Ringu
Central Station
Gods And Monsters
The Avengers
Happiness
Patch Adams
The Celebration
City Of Angels
Antz
Rush Hour
You’ve Got Mail
Deep Impact
A Bug’s Life
High Art
Kurt & Courtney
Twilight
Chairman Of The Board
The Newton Boys
My Giant
How Stella Got Her Groove back
Safe Men
Gadjo Dilo
Kiki’s Delivery Service

It’s Pronounced EE-ON

Saw Aeon Flux last night. It’s pretty bad. None of the creativity of the cartoon. In fact, they seemed to be trying to not do everything that was actually cool about the cartoon: the stylish filming, the dark, noir atmosphere, the inexplicable plot. Not as bad as Tomb Raider, but still bad.

Started watching Carnivale last week, but through some kind of Netflix screw up, they sent me disc 1 of The Wire instead of disc 2 of Carnivale, so now I’m watching The Wire instead. One disc into each of them, they seem pretty good. I can already tell I’m gonna be mad that Carnivale ended after only two seasons. Speaking of HBO, this season of Curb Your Enthusiasm was pretty dull, the worst season yet in fact, but the season finale was great. And Rome, which ended it’s first season a couple weeks ago, was outstanding.

Not a lot going on in Marinerland as they’ve only signed Japanese catcher Kenji Johjima, though it looks like he’ll be pretty good and certainly over last year’s offensive black hole. Baseball’s winter meetings are going on this week, so maybe something will get done there. I’m hoping for a Kevin Millwood signing.