Best Media Matters of 2000
In a year without a mindblowingly original film like Being John Malkovich or a pop music epic like the Magnetic Field’s 69 Love Songs, attempting to recap the best has come down to listing the films, videos, books, albums, and performances that most generated a significant, sensorial response. Whether that feeling was pleasure, nostalgia, shock, disgust, inspiration, or all of the above, my 10 best list reflects a poppy mix of high and low culture, between which it seems ridiculous to distinguish. My preferences clearly reflect a gay perspective and love of club music, which I guess makes me an overmediated dancing queen.
But first, a few tidbits did not make the cut but merit honorable mention: the moment Kirsten Dunst awakens alone in a haze of blue on a football field in The Virgin Suicides; the synth-pop self-indulgence of Future Bible Heroes’ manic “I’m Lonely (and I Love It)”; the enormous medicine cabinet of hand-made pills in Damien Hirst’s show at New York’s Gagosian Gallery; and the consumerist logic behind BMW’s ad copy “Cost: $39,470; Feels like: $1,000,000; You Save: $960,530.” Also absent from this list are the two best mass media productions I encountered, which, sadly, were not of this year: I saw BBC’s Queer as Folk—a television production of unmatched vitality—a year too late, and Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love—a luscious, heartbreaking romance—a year too early. (The film is slated for US theatrical release in 2001.) But enough with the qualifications ... On with the list:
Kiki & Herb: Jesus Wept (2000)
Downtown New York cabaret act Kiki & Herb’s phenomenally popular holiday show is an absolute revelation. A mixture of sacrilege and pop references delivered with wit sharper than camp and more raging than Jake LaMotta. In one inspired medley, Kiki segues from the traditional Christmas hymn, “What Child Is This?” to Mary J. Blige’s “Mary” to a screaming version of Tori Amos’ “Crucify.” Viciously smart—and smart-assed—throughout, Kiki croons with the best of them, delivering on appropriately heartbreaking material such as a Christmas carol that Stephin Merritt penned especially for the show. The theater hasn’t died; it just isn’t living on Broadway.
I’m the One That I Want (Lionel Coleman 2000)
Margaret Cho’s concert film may not be technically innovative, but her autobiographical monologue (as performed during her long-running one-woman stage show) presents an introspective narrative more compelling than any feature film this year. It’s also the most foul-mouthed, angry, sorrowful, and seriously funny. Comedy, like the truth, hurts.
“Drop the Hate”/“Demons”/“Song for Shelter” (Fatboy Slim 2000)
In the wake of “The Rockefeller Shank” and “Praise You”‘s overexposure, Fatboy Slim created nothing short of a religious experience with the final three tracks of his LP Halfway between the Gutter and the Stars. (The first nine cuts, by comparison, are an uninspired blur.) “Drop the Hate” provides a danceable sermon while the gospel-laced “Demons” (featuring Macy Gray) possesses all the spirit of a revival. But it’s the ebbing-and-flowing “Song for Shelter,” a hymn to the full-body sensation of dancing, that provides true ecstasy. Listen at maximum volume for a true awakening.
Whitney Houston, revisited
I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit that I probably listened to Whitney’s remix disc, The Greatest Hits, more than any other 2000 release. (To clarify, I’ve listened to the ballad disc only once, and not all the way through at that.) From the joyous club memories evoked by “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay” and “My Love Is Your Love” to the new throbbing intensity of “I’m Your Baby Tonight” and “How Will I Know” to the newly danceable “The Greatest Love of All” or “I Will Always Love You,” this collection proves that disco had not died. In contrast, Lawrence Elbert gave Whitney an even more delicious makeover: his video short, “Whitney: Mama’s Little Baby” (screened at the MIX Festival in New York), presents the diva in fish-eyed focus as a paranoid crackhead who slurs her speech as she speaks to her child in the backseat. It’s the most uncomfortably brilliant and subversive piece I’ve seen all year.
The Buzz Club (Rineke Dijkstra 2000)
Dutch-born Rineke Dijkstra’s seemingly simple video installation presents Amsterdam club kids bobbing their heads and dancing with themselves to techno beats. Yet the project transcends its content to become a mesmerizing experience that captivated viewers of the touring exhibition Let’s Entertain: Life’s Guilty Pleasures, which has been on the road for years. This year I saw it at Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center and New York City’s Marian Goodman Gallery, but it has also been to the Portland Art Museum, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, Mexico City’s Museo Rufino Tayamo, and the Miami Art Museum.
Mifune (Soren Kragh-Jacobsen 2000) and The Idiots (Lars von Trier 1998)
Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark may have received all of the lavish praise and awards, but his previous film The Idiots and Soren Kragh-Jacobsen’s Mifune are the true cinematic achievements to come out of Dogme 95 group. With The Idiots, von Trier pushes beyond the limits of good taste to reveal a narrative of self-discovery. With Mifune, Kragh-Jacobsen has created a romantic comedy that defies all of the cloying genre cliches (perhaps most visible in anything by Nora Ephron) to offer a story in which the lovers have actual problems and flaws.
Me Talk Pretty One Day (written by David Sedaris, published by Little, Brown)
So, it’s the only book published this year that I read this year. Should that matter? David Sedaris’ loving, autobiographical short-short portraits of his sincerely quirky family would be the stuff of tragedy if it was not so goddamned funny. In one story, his 12-year-old sister Amy (star of Comedy Central’s brilliant but recently cancelled Strangers with Candy) attempts to seduce their father by impersonating a family friend over the phone. Sedaris’ conversational prose spins the stories as if they were perfectly common memories and keeps the punchlines rolling.
“Stan” (music video, directed by Dr. Dre and Philip Atwell 2000)
Dido’s backing vocals first caught my ear. Then the lyrics intrigued me, as Eminem addressed his cautionary-yet-concerned-but-possibly-homophobic relation to his fans. Then I was absolutely blown away Dr. Dre and Philip G. Atwell’s visual treatment of the material. With more plot and visual flair than most Hollywood films, “Stan” is a perfectly literal adaptation of Eminem’s song, with all the epic atmosphere of a Meat Loaf production.
Wonder Boys (Curtis Hansen 2000)
A screwball comedy with the pacing of a drama, Wonder Boys presents a canny circle of characters who, despite their professional successes, have managed to completely fuck up their lives. Curtis Hansen creates a world that feels completely lived-in, and directs Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Robert Downey, Jr., and Katie Holmes to their most nuanced performances to date. (Frances McDormand, on the other hand, is cursed by her own untopable performance in Fargo). A single shot of Downey and Maguire in bed, looking completely content and comfortable, may well be the most sensitive portrayal of gay male sexuality that Hollywood has ever produced.
Charlie’s Angels (McG 2000)
Simply the most gleeful, giddily entertaining, and ass-kicking flick in recent memory. Music video director McG makes a startling feature film debut by keeping the film at full-throttle—with a clever montage of the Angels in glamorous disguises, tight fight-scene editing, and a non-stop master mix of well-chosen songs—and never for an instant takes it seriously. Sexiness is fun again!