The Boston Phoenix December 28, 2000 - January 4, 2001

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It was a very bad Hollywood year

A reporter from USA Today called me recently about a column I'd penned in the Phoenix declaring 2000 the worst year in the 85-year history of Hollywood. "Didn't you write exactly the same thing last year?" he asked. True, but my 1999 diatribe was tempered by a late-season outpouring of decent pictures: The Insider, American Beauty, Being John Malkovich, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Titus. And earlier there had been the wonderful comedy, Election.

The most interesting studio films this year were Mike Figgis's four-screen experiment, Time Code, and Joel Schumacher's DVD-shot Tigerland. A few others were diverting: Finding Forrester, The Gift, Traffic, High Fidelity, Nurse Betty, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, Best in Show. That's about it. I'll say it again: 2000 is the only year ever without a single Hollywood movie of true excellence. Shame, shame!

"What about 1930?" the reporter cross-examined me. Keeping him on the phone, I checked quickly through critic Andrew Sarris's year-by-year guide, The American Cinema. "There were lots of very fine movies in 1930," I said, "like Josef von Sternberg's Morocco and The Blue Angel, and All Quiet on the Western Front."

The reporter persisted: "What about 1929? When Hollywood was wrestling with switching from silent to sound?" Hmmm. Well, 1929 was almost as bad as 2000, I must admit. There wasn't a really great studio movie, yet at least four pictures are still revived 71 years later: King Vidor's Hallelujah!, Rouben Mamoulian's Applause, Ernst Lubitsch's The Love Parade, and the Marx Brothers-starring Cocoanuts.

"Those films are historically important," the USA Today reporter conceded. Would that be true, three-quarters of a century later, of Erin Brockovich, Almost Famous, and Charlie's Angels? I'd convinced him of the year 2000's dubious distinction: Hollywood goes stinko!

But that's not true for American indies, which had a distinguished year, even as attendance -- that's your fault, gentle reader! -- dropped disastrously for non-studio movies.

the year in review

art - classical - cultural explosions - dance - film
film culture - fiction - jazz - internet - law - local rock
local punk and metal - nonfiction - queer - pop
protest - theater - tv

The envelope, por favor:

The best feature of 2000: Claire Denis's Beau travail, a mesmerizing transferal of Herman Melville's Billy Budd to a homoeroticized French Foreign Legion post.

The rest of the 10 best: Bruno Dumont's L'humanité (France), Edward Yang's Yi Yi (Taiwan), Miguel Arteta's Chuck & Buck, David Gordon Green's George Washington, Kenneth Logergan's You Can Count on Me, Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Laurent Cantet's Human Resources (France), Darren Arnofsky's Requiem for a Dream, Max Färberböck's Aimée & Jaguar (Germany)

And these estimable runners-up: Zhang Yimou's Not One Less (China), Mike Figgis's Time Code, Woody Allen's Small Time Crooks, Stanley Tucci's Joe Gould's Secret, Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher (Scotland), James Toback's Black and White, Michael Almereyda's Hamlet, Robert Altman's Dr. T & the Women, Eric Mendelsohn's Judy Berlin, Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.

Best screenplay: Mike White, Chuck & Buck.

Best cinematography: Agnès Godard, Beau travail.

Best Boston fiction film: Ellie Lee's "Dog Days."

Best Boston documentary: Laurel Greenberg's 94 Years and 1 Nursing Home After.

Best documentary: Frances Reid & Deborah Hoffmann's Long Night's Journey into Day. Runners-up: The Hank Greenberg Story, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, One Day in September, The Kings of Comedy.

Best actor: Mike White, Chuck & Buck. Runners-up: Ian Holm, Joe Gould's Secret; Richard Gere, Dr. T & the Women; Colin Farrell, Tigerland; Eddie Murphy, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps.

Best actress: Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me. Runners-up: Cate Blanchett, The Gift; Renée Zellweger, Nurse Betty; Maria Schrader, Aimée & Jaguar; Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream.

Best supporting actor: Jack Black, High Fidelity. Runners-up: Luis Guzman, Traffic; Fred Willard, Best in Show; Matthew Broderick, You Can Count on Me; Robert Downey Jr., Black and White.

Best supporting actress: Madeline Kahn, Judy Berlin. Runners-up: Elaine May, Small Time Crooks; Lupe Ontiveros, Chuck & Buck; Julia Stiles, Hamlet; Samantha Morton, Jesus' Son.

Most encouraging local film news: Joe Zina, executive director at the Coolidge Corner, is keeping the Coolidge operative as a viable nonprofit film house. The new video room is a thing of beauty, and funding has been found to repair and upgrade the upstairs theater.

Most discouraging news: the sick-puppy Boston Film Festival limped along for another unchanged, non-curated year, a city embarrassment. I bolted the same week for the great Toronto International Film Festival.

Most epiphanic moment in a film: the spilling of the childhood secret in Chuck & Buck.

Other eye-popping moments: Robert Downey Jr. cruising Mike Tyson in Black and White; the Eddie Murphy-is-a-genius Klump family dinner in Nutty Professor II; the anal crack of Jack Black hilariously revealed as he bends over LPs in High Fidelity; the Prince's "To be or not to be" soliloquy getting delivered in the Action Section of Blockbuster Video in Hamlet.

Most underrated film: Nutty Professor II: The Klumps.

Most overrated films: Almost Famous, Quills, Girlfight, State and Main, Wonder Boys.

That's it . . . until I grumble again in December 2001.

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