The Best and Worst of 2000

| January 18, 2001

Here’s my list of the best and worst films of 2000. I’ve restricted the list o’ the best to the titles only; there are only so many ways in which to say a film is good, and my thesaurus is MIA at the moment. They are, however, listed in order from favorite to least-favorite.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Meet the Parents
State and Main
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
High Fidelity
Chicken Run
I’ve taken a different approach for the worst films of last year. While one need not specifically back up every comment of praise, I feel I’d be remiss in my duty if I didn’t explain what each film did to earn its place on the list o’ infamy. In other words, it’s easier to rant about a bad movie than it is to adequately praise a good one. And if you’re familiar with my reviews, you know I already painted myself into a corner recently trying to express my esteem for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. For these films, there is no particular order–each of them, in its own uniquely putrid way, was the worst film of 2000.
The Ninth Gate–This bland Roman Polanski movie ended so abruptly, I figured the fellow upstairs had fallen asleep from boredom and forgotten to thread the last reel of film into the projector. Johnny Depp portrays our “protagonist,” a sleazy rare books dealer. He’s hired by our equally sleazy villain, Frank “Forgive me for Cutthroat Island” Langella, a rare books connoisseur and Satanic megalomaniac. At his bidding, Depp travels the globe in order to compare copies of a rare book that will grant Langella demonic powers. Depp tosses the priceless manuscript around like a bag of potatoes, smoking over it, handling it with unprotected hands, and treating it more like a world-weary Trapper Keeper than a rare book. Langella performs the rites in the book and sets himself on fire to prove his newfound invincibility. Opps, Depp messed up. In the film’s moment of satisfaction, Langella realizes he is burning–it just took a minute to get the flames going. There’s an odd sex scene between Depp and Emmanuelle Siegner (Polanski’s wife), thrown in for no good reason, and the movie ends.
Beowulf, Highlander: Endgame, and Dungeons & Dragons–I lumped these three films together because they all sucked mightily, they all should have gone straight to video (although only Beowulf did so), and they all featured Christopher Lambert and/or Bruce Payne. For guys with no talent, they get a lot of work. How many [pick one: “wooden, mumbling” or “histrionic, screaming” ] performances is a man allowed to turn in before Hollywood ninjas wrestle him to the floor and kidnap his SAG card? How many unknowns remain exactly that because Lambert and Payne fill roles that, in the right hands, could have been the springboard to somebody’s career? An extra serving of bile goes out to Beowulf for doing such a piss-poor job with such an intriguing poem from which to work. Straight to video or not, if you’re going to make a movie based on a well-known classic of literature, you’d better do a damn fine job–as did the Coen brothers with their loose nod to “The Odyssey,” the recent O Brother, Where Art Thou?.
Mission to Mars–So much hype, yet so very little back up said hype. Billboards, posters, signs, TV spots, radio spots–like Visa, it was everywhere you wanted to be. Unlike Visa, though, it wasn’t accepted at millions of locations around the globe. It, like our Godzilla catastrophe of a few years back, might not have been met with such deep loathing if it hadn’t been offered up as some sort of celluloid miracle. All bitching about the hype aside, it must be said that the script and characters were no prize, either. When the likes of Gary Sinise and Tim Robbins can’t save a film, it’s time to take it out behind the barn and put some daylight through it. And what’s up with the alien logic? “We are a peaceful people–unless you ring our super-complex doorbell the wrong way, in which case we’ll dismember you with gale-force winds. “I’d hate to have seen what would have happened had we blasted them with ray-guns or actually done something aggressive. Note to Hollywood decision-makers: Mars is a boring planet. It’s desolate and monochromatic. If you’re going to set a film there, make damn sure that we’ve got something to keep us interested, because the scenery and special effects (for which the Mission to Mars folks paid so dearly) aren’t going to cut it.
Titan A.E.–This was another film that got crushed under the weight of its own incessant hype. It would have been an enjoyable enough film, had it been released without so much fanfare. If nothing else, this one should be remembered for ringing the death knell to Fox’s now-defunct Phoenix Animation Studio, which was completely dismantled in light of the disappointing results.
Lost Souls–This film got pushed way beyond its original release date, which should have been the first of many warning bells to have gone off in my mind. Word is that they didn’t want it to have to compete with 1999’s End of Days. Compete with it? Hell, they should have offered both films as a double-feature. Ben Chaplain does the best he can with the material, but the screenwriter sure didn’t do him any favors. Wynona Rider wears a lot of mascara and looks haunted, and that’s about the extent of what she brings to the table. Elias Koteas plays a priest for perhaps the 84th time, neck and neck with Brendan Fraser for the Oddest Self-Inflicted Typecasting Award. This is just another tired retread of the whole, “Oh, the devil’s coming to earth, the world’s going to end, and everybody you’ve ever known is actually a closet Satanist.” Considering the high stakes for which each side is playing in Lost Souls, the movie has a breathtakingly flaccid ending. You’ll think there’s more to see, right up until the credits start rolling, and you realize that that’s it.
I’ve got three more rancid films to add to the list o’ ignominy. Luckily, I managed to avoid seeing these three movies, but each one’s premise was so bad that it merited a spot on the list, sight unseen.
The first one is The Next Best Thing. A woman (Madonna) and her dashingly gay male friend (Rupert Everett) get sauced one evening and end up in bed together. Despite this being the first time they’ve been near ovaries, Everett’s sperm bat a perfect game in the fecundity department and–lo and behold!–Madonna is pregnant. Do they fly in the face of convention as they cheerfully toss the idea of the nuclear family on its ear? Does Madonna become the envy of her friends, all of whom are saddled with boring heterosexual men? Does she eventually meet some other man whose presence leaves Everett worrying about being squeezed out of the picture? Undoubtedly, on all counts. As a final thorn in our collective side, Madonna saw fit to cover (read: bastardize) Don McLean’s “American Pie” for the film’s soundtrack, guaranteeing that local radio stations would play the damned thing ad nausium.
The second film is Battlefield: Earth. From what I understand, John Travolta had been trying to get this film off the ground since 1985. If only he had taken an hour or two anytime in that fifteen-year period to watch any of the various incarnations of Star Trek, perhaps he would have realized that the villains (Psychlos) in his proposed film were actually Klingons. How else to explain the dreds, the odd-shaped heads, the outfits, and the brutishness? Of course, judging by the still shots, the Psychlos were very well-endowed. Maybe they just shamed the vanguard of Earth’s planetary defenses into surrendering.
The last film is The Ladies’ Man, starring Tim Meadows as the title character–a be’froed and befuddled skirt-chaser. It truly boggles my mind that the actors involved in this uniquely rancid subgenre of film haven’t figured out yet that SNL-themed films are the cinematic equivalent of Zyklon-B. The fact that a two-minute SNL skit is funny doesn’t mean that it’s adequate inspiration for a 90-minute feature film. I’m willing to bet that Phil Hartman could have pulled it off, but sadly, we’ll never get the chance to find out.

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