Jon’s Top 10/Bottom 10, and Some In-Between
by Jon Bastian
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The final year of the twentieth century was a really difficult one for movies. In fact, I had a hard time thinking of ten films deserving of the best of list. I have to say that the number one culprit in eliminating a lot of films was — the script. Whether through test-market tinkering, producer meddling or writer laziness, a lot of otherwise great films fell apart two thirds of the way through.
Now, on to the lists.
Jon’s “Best of 2000”
10. Small Time Crooks
9. Requiem For A Dream
8. Finding Forrester
7. High Fidelity
6. Chicken Run
5. Almost Famous
4. The Contender
3. American Psycho
2. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
1. Chuck & Buck
Honorable Mentions: Thirteen Days, The Wonder Boys, Pitch Black, Mission Impossible: 2. Although Pitch Black is essentially a riff on Aliens, it adds plenty of its own details, and Vin Diesel is an actor to watch. Hard to believe the same person could play both a nasty killing-machine convict and the kindly robot of Iron Giant. As for MI:2, it was a sequel that was lightyears better than its predecessor, which should just be forgotten.
The “Three Kings Memorial Award for Ruining a Great Film at the Very Last Minute”: Traffic and Unbreakable both had me up until almost the end. Traffic blew up in a nonsense subplot involving Michael Douglas’ character, and then a wishy-washy attempt at a statement that would have been better if it had been stronger or completely ironic. Unbreakable exploded in a forced twist ending that M. Night Shyamalan probably felt compelled to include, à la The Sixth Sense. Unfortunately, it felt like a betrayal of his characters, not a truth about them. Either film would have made the top ten otherwise. Consider them 98% on the top ten list, 2% on the bottom.
The “Get Your Screenwriter to an Optometrist Right Now” Award: Quills and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Both of these films ultimately lacked focus, a flaw that became obvious in their final acts. For most of Quills, we were following the wrong character. The story should have been about the Marquis de Sade and the keeper of the asylum in which he was locked. It wasn’t. As for Tiger, it was never really clear how we were supposed to feel about the antagonist, and the entire film stopped for a seventeen-minute flashback that did succeed in building up sympathy for that character, only to have it immediately taken away as soon as the detour was over. Again, except for these small flaws, either film would have made the top ten.
The “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” Award: The Exorcist That You’ve Never Seen. And there were reasons we never saw it, binky. This film is a classic that has stood the test of time. For the sake of a quick buck, scenes were restored that shouldn’t have been. Imagine Citizen Kane in which the opening is replaced with Orson Welles doing a long monologue on why he misses his sled so much just before he utters “Rosebud.” Yeah, that’s sort of what they did here, even if Linda Blair crawling down the stairs backwards was kind of cool.
The “Fight Club Memorial I’ll Probably Kick Myself When I See It” Award: In 1999, I left Fight Club off my list because I hadn’t seen it yet. That was the film that should have been number one. Everything I’ve heard tells me that it would be the same with High Fidelity. Maybe I’ll let you know in 2002.
The “Stop It, Stop It, Just Stop It Now” Award: Obviously, the “pre-built” audience angle doesn’t always work, but this doesn’t keep studio heads from greenlighting ridiculous projects that are based on other things. Rule number one on remakes: don’t fiddle with what was pretty decent in the first place. Hey, anybody remember the TV version of Casablanca, starring either Starsky or Hutch? Exactly. The original Bedazzled is perfectly fine as it is. The original Gone In 60 Seconds was never more than cheap thrill, B-movie exploitation, so remaking it with an A-list cast never made any sense. Or much money, apparently. Then there was Shaft, which at least had the decency to include Richard Roundtree but had none of the anachronistic sensibility that made the original film and its sequels work in their own strange way. Finally, The Grinch was a one-joke idea, and the original, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, is a perennial near perfect classic as it is. What’s next? A live action It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown? I can hear Charles Schulz rolling over in his fresh grave right now. The scary part is, I can see it happening: Drew Carey as Charlie, Alan Cumming as Linus, Rosie O’Donnell as Lucy and Matt Damon as Schroeder. Throw in Ellen DeGeneres as Peppermint Patty and use CGI for Snoopy and Woodstock, and start the toy mills turning. The scariest part is that some suit, somewhere, is going to take all that seriously, and you’ll be reading about it in Variety soon.
Then there are the sequels. Mission: Impossible 2 was the exception. The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, Highlander: Endgame, 102 Dalmatians, Scream 3 and The Blair Witch Project 2: Book of Shadows were the rule. Blech.
Probably worse than either category, though, are the TV show translations. The only examples I can think of that worked were the two Brady Bunch movies, which didn’t take themselves at all seriously, and the two Addams Family movies, which stayed absolutely true in spirit to the original. Otherwise — stop this now. The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle was cute, but why not turn this generation of kids on to the old cartoons? Likewise, what was the point of taking that ultimate piece of 70’s kitsch, Charlie’s Angels, and doing it as a straight update? Dishonorable mention here goes to every single SNL alum who’s still alive. Once upon a time, like twenty-five years ago, a few cast members got lucky and actually made good movies. That mine has long since been tapped, but we still get crap like The Ladies’ Man when you think the producers would have learned from such other big hits as A Night at the Roxbury. (And Adam Sandler single-handedly brought down a studio head with Little Nicky, but that made another list, below.)
And, in the TV vein, though not a remake: Tom Green. He’s annoying enough on the small screen, don’t put him on the big one. He was the turd in the punchbowl that ruined Road Trip.
The “Didn’t You Make Enough Money Already?” Award: Films adapted from video games, toys and other fads. Ready To Rumble, X-Men and Dungeons & Dragons. That last one is particularly odd, since I thought that fad died about fifteen years ago. Watch for “Magic, the Gathering: The Movie” at a multiplex near you soon. Likewise, Pokémon movies should be banned for violating the Geneva Convention’s rules on torture.
The “You Can Stick Mars Up Uranus” Award: Two different Mars films, two similar plots. Hey gang, guess what — there ain’t no face up there, stop milking the same concept. Between Mission To Mars and Red Planet, though, the former film was much less heinous.
And now, with explanation, the worst of the year just passed.
10. Boys And Girls and The Loser (tie): artificial and unbelievable, both of these scripts could have used another ten or twenty rounds of rewrites just to get to something coherent. Boys And Girls was also flawed by its casting of a big piece of wet cardboard as the male romantic lead, while The Loser just meandered all over the place.
9. Me, Myself and Irene: Jim Carrey proved himself a good actor in The Truman Show and Man In The Moon. Revisiting his days of physical mugging is a giant step backwards, even if he is playing two different parts. It might be interesting if he ever tackles a remake of Sybil, though.
8. Lost Souls: Okay, enough with the coming apocalypse. And what is the deal with these “heavy Catholic dogma comes to life” movies always having the protagonist be a big old doubter, anyway? When was the last time you heard of an atheist seeing Jesus in a taco or sprouting stigmata?
7. Autumn in New York: Or was that “Implausible in SoHo?” The romantic pairing of Richard Gere and Winona Rider is somehow just plain icky. Didn’t they already make that movie twice and call it Lolita? Besides, it isn’t a good sign when you know exactly how the movie’s going to end thirty seconds into the trailer, is it?
6. The Perfect Storm: The perfect mess, which a great cast — George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg — couldn’t bail out no matter how many buckets they had.
5. What Lies Beneath: Not much, in this silly ghost story from Robert Zemeckis. This also gets the hokiest dialogue of the year award: “I think she might suspect something.” “Who?” Long pause. “Your wife…”
4. The Patriot and What Women Want (tie): What is it with Mel Gibson, anyway? He isn’t attractive as an actor or a person, but he’s still a big star. In The Patriot, he again engages in heavy duty Brit-Bashing while doing some shilling, intended or not, for the NRA. The only thing missing was the “It is good to hear the dying of your enemy and the lamentations of their women” speech. As for What Women Want, the answer in that film is apparently Mel, Mel, Mel. Could we show a little bit more ego there, Mr. Gibson?
3. Little Nicky: The concept actually looked good on paper. His mom’s an angel, his dad is Satan, and he comes to Earth. Maybe without Adam Sandler and an inflated budget, it might have worked as a small comedy. But there are lessons to be learned here. When you make an eighty-million dollar turkey, heads will roll, as the president of production at New Line just found out.
2. Battlefield: Earth: The biggest problem with this film is that it just wasn’t bad enough. Yes, it sucked, but it was just run-of-the-mill sucking. With some better than average sucking, the movie could have easily been a Plan Nine from Outer Space for the next millennium. Also, a lot of the story ideas and alien design reeked of grand theft from Gene Roddenberry, but weren’t. It just took John Travolta so damn long to get the movie made that most of its ideas had already been used up by the time it got to the screen. Consequently, the Psychlos look like latter-day Klingons and act like Ferengi. I’ve heard rumor that Travolta is working on the sequel, but maybe that idea will crash and burn. After all, you still can’t make a hit out of crap like this no matter how many Scientologists you induce to line up and see it over and over.
1. Gladiator: Yes, I expect to take an assload of flack for picking this as the worst film of 2000, but I think it was. I had high hopes for Gladiator when I first heard about it. After all, Ridley Scott is responsible for Blade Runner, one of my all-time top ten films, and I’m a huge fan of Roman history. Unfortunately, it was a good concept that turned into utter crap before my eyes for so very many reasons. The entire set-up of Russell Crowe’s character was straight out of Syd Field 101; by the numbers, predictable, unnecessary. I’m just surprised they didn’t have the vengeful Roman soldiers hang his dog along with his wife and kid. The result was a character who was so damn one-note it became plain annoying halfway through. Beyond that, the action sequences were so badly shot and muddled that it was impossible to figure out what the hell was going on. I could swear that several characters in the fight sequences died at least twice. It’s the equivalent of shooting a boxing match entirely in close-up on one boxer’s glove, but all the gloves are the same color. By the time we got to the big showdown at the end, I was just hoping Commodus would off Maximus with a single blow to shut him up and get the whole boring thing done with already. Kudos to Joaquin Phoenix, Richard Harris and the late Oliver Reed for their performances here, but they couldn’t save this mess no matter how hard they tried.
Dishonorable Mentions: Family Man, Vertical Limit, The In Crowd, Drowning Mona, Miss Congeniality, The Replacements, The Skulls, Space Cowboys…and so many more that are probably just best forgotten.
Jon Bastian is a screenwriter and playwright working in the business in Los Angeles.
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