Top Films and Television of 2000

Ben Varkentine

Top Films and Television of 2000

Ordering this list was in some ways even more difficult than the one I made for PopMatters on music, and it is definitely more arbitrary. What I mean is that I wouldn't want anyone to think that I'm saying that Love's Labour's Lost is necessarily a "better" film than Requiem For A Dream, just because the one appears higher on my list than the other. Both are films of merit, but very different (very, very different) viewing experiences. You can't really compare one to the other. So, as you read this list, please keep in mind that the order is essentially unimportant. It could just as easily go back-to-front or have all the pieces thrown into the air to see where they come down.

Top Films of 2000

1. Love's Labour's Lost (Kenneth Branagh)
Kenneth Branagh's attempt at a musical film version of one of Shakespeare's minor plays was widely dismissed by critics, most of whom credited the idea but faulted the execution. I found the whole thing charming, and after re-watching it on video recently, still do -- though I probably would have cut at least one of the musical numbers, and Alicia Silverstone's performance has definitely not grown on me the second time around.

2. Waking the Dead (Keith Gordon)
A story that leaves the answers to many of its questions ambiguous. Because ultimately, that's not what Waking The Dead is about. What, then, is it about? I think it is about what you get from another person in a relationship, the way he or she can cause aspects of yourself you may not have considered to come to the fore. Better aspects, perhaps. And then, it is about whether you can find that part of yourself again when your beloved is gone.

3. The Emperor's New Groove (Marc Dindal, Mark Dindal, and Roger Allers)
An infusion of Looney Toons spirits into a Disney feature -- and come to think of it, a perfect balance weight to the entertaining but self-conscious Fantasia 2000 -- brings on the funniest film of the year, and the funniest Disney film since Aladdin, if not The Great Mouse Detective.

4. Quills (Philip Kaufman)
A film about the Marquis de Sade that is really about freedom of expression. And in its way, a fine potential double feature with The People vs. Larry Flynt, as both make the point that it is rarely on the highest of plains that such battles are fought.

5. Cast Away (Robert Zemeckis)
Actor Tom Hanks, writer William Broyles, Jr., and director Robert Zemeckis -- three men whose credits are about as Hollywood as you can get -- combine here to give me hope. Hope for the possibility of more thoughtful and thought-provoking Hollywood movies carrying me away by sheer virtue of their storytelling, as this one did.

6. Reindeer Games (John Frankenheimer)
The almost universal criticism of the plot and acting of this film made me wonder at times if others had seen flaws in it I missed. I found it smart entertainment: stylish, solidly directed by Frankenheimer, and cleverly scripted by Ehren Kruger, with charming and beautiful stars (Ben Affleck and Charlize Theron). Granted, it's no Scream, but it's a good night out nonetheless.

7. X-Men (Bryan Singer)
The new definitive movie adaptation of a comic book (replacing the first two Superman movies). It's said that 45 minutes were cut from the film -- you do sense their absence, yet the film as a whole still works, which suggests that streamlining can be a good idea.

8. Requiem For A Dream (Darren Aronofsky)
Darren Aronofsky's film, based on the novel by Hubert Selby, Jr., is a harrowing experience that sends you out of the theater changed. This is the kind of movie that separates the actors from the movie stars. Chris O'Donnell, Meg Ryan, Ben Stiller, Drew Barrymore, and other perfectly competent but essentially interchangeable-with-others-of-their-sex-and-age-group "movie stars" may be able to open films. But they will never be able to open themselves up the way Ellen Burstyn , Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans (!) do in this film. This look at different kinds of addictions and the things we substitute for what we really need is astounding and unflinching, and the most beautifully sad movie about slow death since Leaving Las Vegas. Any chance the characters have for happiness dissolves with the certainty of a tragedy.

Don't Underrate Her Because She's... Award: Jennifer Connelly
I don't detect any particular pattern to my choices, apart from the fact that Jennifer Connelly appears in two of them. I suspect the fact that Connelly is kick-to-the-heart beautiful may keep people from noticing that, especially in this most recent work, she's an actress who seems less concerned with cosmetics than with creating a real person on screen.

Painting a Mustache on the Mona Lisa Award, for Most Unnecessary Remake: Bedazzled
The best thing you can say about this film is that its release prompted the video reissue of the original, written by and starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore on videocassette. One of the funniest comic duos of the '60s and '70s, Cook and Moore brought their cheerfully insane idiocy to the Faust legend, but all Brendan Fraser brought was the sense that he was miscast. And all that Elizabeth Hurley brought (to Cook's original role as the Devil) was a great set of... horns. To see what is lost in "writers' convention" movies like this one, which was rewritten to the detriment of its characterization and tone, the film should be compared with Cast Away, which employed only one writer through all drafts.

Most Unlikely to Get Any Resistance If She Ever Tries to Assassinate Me Award: Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, blue and naked in X-Men


TV-related highlights of 2000:

As hip and cool as it is, and long has been, to dis TV, the fact is that it's only a medium -- so called, in the words of Fred Allen, because it is neither rare nor well-done. But when it is well-done, which is rare, it should be treasured. Aaron Sorkin's West Wing, for example, is as beautifully written as anything I have ever seen on any screen.

Keeping Network TV Comedy Alive Award: Will And Grace (ABC)
Being a show in which half the regular characters are gay, remarkable in the lack of condemnation it has attracted from the religious right (although it did make the "worst list" of a conservative watchdog group then-chaired by the late Steve Allen). Why? I think it's because unlike Ellen, by all accounts, it never puts shaking a finger at us ahead of making us laugh. It's about men who are gay, not Gay Men. But their preferences are in no way closeted -- they've done very memorable (and very funny) shows about coming out, the desire to see gays represented on TV, and the different ways gay men can live their lives. And that's another thing: it's one of the only shows I recall that points out there are different ways.

Honorable Mention: The Drew Carey Show (ABC)
Besides one of the most unlikely sitcom leads who turned out to be one of the best, this show has a lovely supporting cast, writing that at it's best somehow walks a line between the out-there comedy and the surprisingly dramatic, a penchant for dance numbers -- which haven't yet reached the point The Simpsons have, where a song seems to be a substitute for writing an ending -- and most terrific of all, from my perspective: Kate O'Brien as played by Christa Miller.

Guilty Pleasure Highlight: Chandler and Monica's engagement: Friends (NBC)
No, I don't need a tissue, get the hell away from me, I've got something in my eye, it'll pass.

Reason Enough For Owning A TV, Period Award: The West Wing (NBC)
Thomas Jefferson believed in writing of an idealized people and raising the people to that level through education rather than writing to a lower but perhaps less utopian level. Watching this show brings that to mind: an honest, committed, and compassionate President surrounded by highly competent people all speaking a great writer's witty dialogue. (And some people tell me Buffy is a superior fantasy show.) Add to this the best dramatic ensemble cast working on television today, the great guest star roles, and characters who are genuinely thoughtful. I think it's one of the signatures of good drama of any kind that it's unafraid to show its characters thinking, and these characters have some big things to think about.

It's Time To Pack Niles and Daphne Up Into The Winnebago And Send Them To The Spin-off Award: Frasier (NBC)

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