I did a similar version of this post at the end of 2009, but forgot to do it at the end of 2010 and figured I’d missed my chance. However, with my choice for best movie of 2000 coming out on DVD and Blu-Ray in a new Criterion Collection edition, another opening has presented itself. Here, with the perspective of 10 years, is my list of the best movies of the year 2000. For reference, my list of best movies at the time was 1. Almost Famous. 2. The Virgin Suicides. 3. Requiem for a Dream. 4. Chicken Run. 5. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. 6. The House of Mirth. 7. You Can Count on Me. 8. High Fidelity. 9. State and Main. 10. (tie) Erin Brockovich and Nurse Betty. At the time, I was mildly disturbed to find that seven of my picks also appeared on People magazine’s best movies of the year. Now, I see that 2000 was the year that the Chinese speakers ruled. (My dad will quickly inform me that the directors of Nos. 1 and 3 are Taiwanese.) Anyway, here’s the list.
1. Yi Yi (A One and a Two). I have a perfectly legitimate reason for not listing this movie at the time: It wasn’t screened for the critics here. Edward Yang’s three-hour masterpiece (and sadly, his last film) examines a Taiwanese family going through various issues. Yet that description doesn’t do justice to the incredible wealth of material here, which includes a ghost, a wedding brawl, a moody teenage girl, greedy Buddhist monks, and the middle-aged hero’s unexpected friendship with a Japanese businessman. (They converse in English.) The little boy’s monologue at the end is a fitting and hopeful end to this small-scale epic.
2. Almost Famous. In the intervening decade, Cameron Crowe hasn’t made anything nearly as resonant as this autobiographical drama about a high-school kid catapulted into the world of 1960s rock journalism. Don’t blame this movie for all the crappy Kate Hudson romances that came after it. This was her finest cinematic moment. Heck, it was Jimmy Fallon’s finest cinematic moment, the finest moment for Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”, and a moving story about coming of age while covering a moderately awesome band. As the groupies say, “It’s all happening.”
3. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Before this, seemingly every Chinese-speaking filmmaker had talked about reviving the wuxia (swordfighting) action film, but it was Ang Lee who actually got up and did it with this radiant, romantic, seductively beautiful, stone-cold badass piece of cinema with some great, opulent music by Tan Dun. The influence of this movie and its flying warriors has only grown through the years.
4. The Virgin Suicides. Ah, to be young and in love! Sofia Coppola seems to catch the hormones floating in the air in this adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel about five sisters from a repressed Michigan household whose self-slaughter leaves a community baffled and obsessed. The prom scene alone is a breathtakingly gorgeous set piece. Sadly, the effect is largely lost on DVD, as is the case with most Coppola films. If you get a chance to see this on the big screen, take it.
5. Requiem for a Dream. People talk about the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, but they never talk about the last 20 minutes of Darren Aronofsky’s drug addiction drama, which are every bit as assaultive, intense, and terrifying. This adaptation of Hubert Selby’s novel has moments of incredible beauty and compassion, which only accentuates the horror of its four main characters’ descent into chemical dependence and resulting loss of dignity, sanity, limb, and life. Clint Mansell’s music became more famous than the rest of the film.
6. The Color of Paradise. Actually, the more literal translation of Majid Majidi’s film is The Color of God. This tale of a blind Iranian boy and a father who curses Allah for burdening him with a handicapped son manages to avoid sticky excess, and it’s shot with all the visual beauty that’s denied to the boy. The father’s terrible moment of hesitation late in the film will burn itself into your memory, as will the ferociously ambiguous final shot.
7. Suzhou River. Lou Ye’s astonishing film seems to be in a constant state of creating itself. The narrator decides that his tale of a Shanghai motorcycle courier and a rich client’s daughter isn’t exciting enough, so he adds on layers of soapy intrigue, romance, and criminal misdeeds until the movie becomes an intoxicating mix of melancholy, reverie, and fantasy, splashing color all over the polluted canal that runs through the city.
8. The House of Mirth. “I have tried hard, but life is difficult, and I am a useless person. And now I am on the rubbish heap.” The words just seem wrenched out of Gillian Anderson — how did this performance not make her a huge star? Terence Davies’ stony, sumptuously beautiful adaptation of Edith Wharton’s novel about a socialite’s fall plays out with rigorous logic, but it’s Anderson’s performance that makes this movie bleed.
9. Erin Brockovich. If Steven Soderbergh really is retired, then this thoroughly charming star vehicle represents him at his apex. This stinging, funny, socially conscious drama married scruffy new-jack stylings to the demands of old-fashioned Hollywood entertainment. It’s part of a streak of great films that rival the creative flowerings of Alfred Hitchcock or Pixar at their finest, and its subversive streak is sorely missed in mainstream movies today. Also, Julia Roberts is really hot.
10. Chicken Run. In retrospect, the one-note supporting characters in Nick Park’s henhouse prison-break movie haven’t aged so well. (Though if you want to talk about things that haven’t aged well, Mel Gibson voiced the male lead in this movie.) Then again, this only takes a little bit of shine off Park’s abundantly inventive and unexpectedly dark film about a bunch of chickens who literally fly the coop.
Honorable mention: Joel Coen’s O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Kenneth Lonergan’s You Can Count on Me, Neil LaBute’s Nurse Betty, Alison Maclean’s Jesus’ Son, Robert Zemeckis’ What Lies Beneath, Stephen Frears’ High Fidelity, David Mamet’s State and Main, Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark, Raymond de Felitta’s Two Family House, Curtis Hanson’s Wonder Boys, Miguel Arteta’s Chuck & Buck, Julien Temple’s The Filth and the Fury, Claire Denis’ Beau Travail, Christopher Guest’s Best in Show.