Choosing ten films for an annual personal best list isn't too scientific a process. All this critic does is figure out which movies have stayed stuck to his ribs into the New Year. Given all the vogue talk of how disastrous 2000 was in terms of cinema, I am surprised by the number of resonant flicks I saw in the past twelve months, and I'd like to share their titles with you now.-Bill Chambers, January 1, 2001.
10. What Lies Beneath
Robert Zemeckis directed an unheard-of two $100-million grossers last year, and this one's my unequivocal preference. (The other was Cast Away.) In addition to funhouse shocks that are among the best in new wave horror, What Lies Beneath offers Michelle Pfeiffer in the most haunted (pardon the pun) performance of her career. An elevated blend of Hitchcock and "Tales from the Crypt".
Fine, I underrated it; I can't get this unpredictable look at the comic-hound/superhero ethos out of my head. That said, all the attention hyphenate M. Night Shyamalan gets for his twist endings ought to be redirected towards his keen visual sense and superb command of montage--I still believe that Unbreakable is better directed than it is written.
I suspect that Unbreakable's fragile Elijah Price would have nothing except praise for Bryan Singer's big-screen adaptation of Marvel Comics' fan fave "X-Men": Beginning in Holocaust-era WWII, this is a straight-faced--though, thankfully, not self-important--treatment of a years-long graphic ode to oppression and intolerance in a supposedly evolved society.
7. High Fidelity
Isn't it ironic that High Fidelity just missed my Top Five?
6. George Washington
Writer-director David Gordon Green's talent came out of the box already assembled. I can't think of very many debut films as austere and accomplished as this southern fable about the sleepy lives of young African-American dreamers. Sincere echoes of Terrence Malick's style (introspective narration, abstract nature imagery) are a testament to Green's high-art aspirations. A quiet triumph.
5. Chuck & Buck
A refreshingly non-judgmental portrait of stalker life (an arrested weirdo follows his boyhood buddy/crush around L.A.), Chuck & Buck was one of the two love stories in 2000 to really move me.
4. Waking the Dead
Keith Gordon's fourth feature outing as a director (he also wrote the screenplay, uncredited) is a thing of beauty. The perennially underrated Jennifer Connelly finally comes into her own as the deceased object of politician Billy Crudup's undying affection. A searing, boldly constructed tale of loss that definitively captures how it feels to fall in love.
It opens with Benicio Del Toro's tormented Mexican cop reiterating a nightmare, and for the next, brisk two-and-a-half hours, Steven Soderbergh's Traffic has us in an unrelenting, dream-like grip as it examines the impalpable "drug problem." Much is being made of how Soderbergh offers no answers, as if this is somehow more ennobling than suggesting battle-plans for the war on narcotics. The truth is, he just wallows in the compelling, inevitable despair of it all, and offers a pretty good case for not trying the junk in the first place. Affirming and bleak all at once, Traffic is also a great showcase for great actors.
2. Dancer in the Dark
Oh, how I want to hate this squeamish, illogical melodrama from Lars von Trier, the Danish auteur who seems equally enamoured of handheld digital video and putting women through the wringer. Dancer in the Dark would be nearly unendurable were it not for singer Björk's heartfelt turn as an almost-blind factory worker obsessed with musicals; she, in fact, keeps it all very endurable indeed, warbling her way through cool flights of melodious fancy and expressing arcane emotions I dare say disabled folk will recognize as gospel. If I cry this much, cast and crew must be onto something.
1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
I've always admired the work of director Ang Lee, for its quiet authority. But I never would have guessed he'd have the folkloric, razzle-dazzle Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in him. When a thief (Ziyi Zhang) enters the life of Chow Yun-Fat's disillusioned warrior Li Mu Bai (in a meditative search for enlightenment, he has found only "endless sorrow"), one equipped with the knowledge of defying gravity, Li offers to hone her impetuousness. Instead, she steals his fabled sword, "The Green Destiny," and embarks on a de facto journey of self-discovery.
Lee's film is beautifully choreographed, and I'm referring to both the limitless action sequences designed by Yuen Wo-Ping and the emotional tides so smoothly navigated by Lee. Yet, all these months after seeing it at the 25th Annual Toronto International Film Festival, I'm still paralyzed to articulate my instant love for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; I left asking "how did they do that?" of its unique swordplay (expressly, a dance of sorts that takes place in a forest--atop the trees), but when I think back to the movie, I remember its humanity and its grace above all else. Within age-old contrivances emerge deeply affecting characters. Poetry.