January 7, updated February 28, 2000 -- It seems that a lot of people are trying to shorten up the second millenium and the 20th century so they come out on an even number ending in three zeros. Sorry, but 99 years doesn't make a century and 1999 years doesn't make two millenniums. Almost, but not quite. Anyway, here's my picks for the top movies of the next to last year of the second millenium.
First, the usual caveats, since I don't live in New York or L.A., I haven't seen "The Straight Story," or "Boys Don't Cry," or some other films not so widely distributed, so I may be updating this list from time to time as I see more films that come out on video tape or DVD. The links below are to my reviews of these films, except "The Red Violin," which I haven't gotten around to reviewing yet.I guess if there is a theme to my list this year, it is comedy. I think good comedy is more difficult to achieve than good drama and there are a lot fewer good comic actors than there are good dramatic actors. Thats why you may see more films on my list with a significant comic element than you do on some other critic's lists. On the other hand, all but two of these comedies, "Bowfinger" and "Toy Story 2" contain some very dark or tragic elements as well.
You may be wondering where American Beauty is? Well, I did not like it as much as most critics did. I rated it a B, but only A films or B+ films make my list. It might have made my top 20 or top 30, if I had compiled a list that long. On the surface it is a good-looking film, but if you look under the surface, it is shallow-minded (one critic rightly called it "existentialism light") and ugly, a deeply flawed and cartoonishly overstated indictment of American life.
1 -- Fight Club, a visually dazzling and innovative film with several tricky plot twists. It is also a cautionary tale about the hazards of following someone who has an easy formula for hapiness. It is also a powerfully-written story of the rage many men feel about the loss of their manhood, identity and power in a de-humanizing corporate system that seems to be rolling over them without mercy.
2-- Magnolia an intense and emotional drama set in Hollywood. It takes a searing look at people who need to be forgiven and then brings down the wrath of God upon them.
3 -- Cookie's Fortune a laid-back Robert Altman film about a murder mystery in the south. There are lots of good performances, creating wonderful characters.
4 -- The Cider House Rules a beautifully-crafted film which makes a compelling case for moral relativism. I don't agree with the premise, but it nevertheless is a very moving film with some wonderful characters and performances.
5 -- is Three Kings, a film that at times has a warm, humanitarian feel to it and at other times is loaded with dark humor and cynicism. It is about the tension between human values and national goals in a war, and how utterly senseless all wars are on the level of the individual soldier.
6 -- Toy Story 2, a film with probably the best-written story of the year about toys who learn the meaning of life. It also has dazzling computer animation and a wonderfully touching song by Randy Newman.
7 -- Bringing Out the Dead, a scorching ride through Hell's Kitchen in New York with master director Martin Scorsese. One of his best films in years. It combines a very dark comic humor and utter horror with just a touch of hope.
8 -- October Sky, based on a very inspiring true story of a group of boys who overcome all obstacles to win a national science competition by building advanced rockets in Appalachia. Very strong performances by the entire cast, a wonderful family film.
9 -- Princess Mononoke, an animated tale of great beauty, humanity and horror. Amid terrible battles, there is gentle healing and a hope for accommodation in man's battle with nature. It is a story like no film made in the West. Look for the English version unless you are fluent in Japanese.
10 -- The Hurricane A powerful drama about Reuben "Hurricane" Carter, the boxer unjustly convicted of murder. Features an Oscar-calibre performance by the great Denzel Washington, and that great song by Bob Dylan.
Honorable mention -- The Insider, a very powerful film about the corrupting influence of money and how the power of a large tobacco company sullied the reputation of the most popular news show on television, "60 Minutes." Great performances all around in this one.
Bowfinger, a very funny send up of Hollywood filmmaking with outstanding performances by Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin, who also wrote the script. One of the best ensemble acting performances of the year.
"The Red Violin," a fanciful tale of the history of a violin and how it affected the lives of those who owned it over the years. It is also a tale about how the authenticity of musical instruments are confirmed by researchers. A very fine film with great photography and music.
Election, a darkly comic story about a teacher who is driven a little bit crazy by the relentless political ambition of one of his students. Outstanding performances by Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick.