With 2015 upon us, we figured it was a good time to look back on the movies the millennium has brought us. And so we’ve dug into the archives and are re-running our Best of the 2000s pieces, from way back in 2009 when the Playlist was a little Blogspot site held together with tape and string. Each list runs down the top 10 films of each year starting today,with 2000 (it’s also very possible that, half-a-decade on, we’d put them in a different order and even change some of the list, but we wanted to preserve the original pieces untouched as far as possible). The original piece follows below, and thanks to staffers past and present who contributed.
So here we begin, with the year 2000, the start of the 21st century, when everyone was finally over pre-millennium tension, Y2K and other-made up nonsense by the press trying to describe some sort of global anxiety or malaise. Film was not in a bad place. After years of the Academy rewarding chum like “Forrest Gump” (over “Pulp Fiction” or “The Shawshank Redemption“) or playing it safe, (“Braveheart“), the Academy was finally wising up and awarding a dark suburban drama, “American Beauty” the 2000 Best Picture Oscar winner (released in 1999). And after several coveted nominations and a few key Grand Jury prize awards, in 2000, Lars Von Trier would finally win the Palme d’Or for his harrowing musical, “Dancer In The Dark.” It seemed, at least momentarily, good cinema was finding the credit that was due. Below, our ten best of films of 2000.
10. “Requiem for a Dream”
More horror story than after school special, Darren Aronofsky’s lightning bolt drug nightmare concerns four individuals barely clinging onto hope in 1980s Coney Island. Pitched at a heightened reality and littered with moments of crippling existential torment, this Hubert Selby Jr. adaptation still carries its visceral punch years later as a portrayal of how close ordinary people can be to the abyss. Without a single dormant moment, the volatility of the camera is countered by a set of unsettling performances we spent years divorcing the actors from, particularly Ellen Burstyn, now forever huddled behind the couch, watching for that refrigerator. Another highlight is the oppressive Clint Mansell score, which perversely became the defacto accompaniment to a series of action movie trailers.
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9. “Almost Famous”
Director Cameron Crowe mined his real life experiences on the road with bands like Led Zeppelin as inspiration for this classic-rock coming-of-age tale. Set in 1973, an aspiring high school reporter cons his way into a gig with Rolling Stone magazine and goes on the road with an up-and-coming rock band. With an all-time great soundtrack (featuring Led Zep’s first legally sanctioned film tunes), stellar performances from the likes of a young Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Philip Seymour Hoffman (a phenomenal rendering of rock critic Lester Bangs), Frances McDormand, and more “I forgot they were in this movie too” moments (Zooey Deschanel, Anna Paquin, Jimmy Fallon, Rainn Wilson), it’s tough not to fall in love with this drug-fueled look back at the golden age of rock and roll. Plus the “Untitled‘ director’s cut (a meaty 2 hours and 42 minutes) is even better.
8. “Amores Perros”
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s epic triptych of the tale of lives connected by a violent Mexico City car wreck was a festival darling and Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Film, and heralded the arrival of neo-Mexican cinema, along with Alfonso Cuaron‘s “Y Tu Mama Tambien” (both starring Gael Garcia Bernal). But, while “Y Tu Mama Tambien” is a fun, sexy romp, “Amores Perros” is a searing, visceral kick straight to the solar plexus. The film veers from adrenaline-fueled car chases and dog fights to the walls of a luxury apartment where a lost terrier drives an injured model to the brink of insanity, to the street life of the vagrant hitman El Chivo — allowing the viewer to peer into the darkest depths of human love, loss and pain. Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography sets the gold standard for the hyperrealistic, gritty style that has influenced both indie auteurs and Hollywood films since. As the original title suggests, in a classic double entendre, love is, indeed, a bitch.
7. “Before Night Falls”
A moving and passionate testament to the power of art and open expression in the face of ideological fascism, Julian Schnabel‘s sophomore directorial effort is both political in its anti-censorship stance (and anti-Castro bearing) and personal in its soulful depiction of the protagonist’s human integrity. Impressionistic and fractured, the picture is also a visually stunning portrait of the life of Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas, who paid the price for daring to be openly gay and harboring counter-cultural ideas in his published works during Castro’s revolutionary yet tyrannical regime. Already becoming a star in Spain, ‘Night Falls’ also brought Javier Bardem to wider audiences, and the film featured a show-stopping, double-duty performance by Johnny Depp as a flaming drag queen and a no-nonsense Cuban Lieutenant.
6. “George Washington”
David Gordon Green might be better known now as the guy who directed “Pineapple Express,” but in 2000 when his career was just blooming, he delivered a resplendent, poetic and Malick-ian meditation on childhood set in the decaying urban areas of North Carolina. Eschewing basic narrative for capturing snapshot moments of youth and beauty — Tim Orr‘s textured and contrasty cinematography is superb and Michael Linnen and David Wingo‘s lilting acoustic score is plaintively tender — it’s no wonder that just four years later Terrence Malick himself would ask the young filmmaker to direct the gothic Southern adventure horror “Undertow.” While Green has veered off in several eclectic directions, the lyrical and soulful “George Washington” still proves to be his most absorbing work.
5. “Dancer in the Dark”
While it’s now remembered as the film where Lars Von Trier‘s exacting directorial style drove Björk to declare she would never act again, it needs to be reassesed as one of Von Trier’s most distinct works to date. The film, a daring and moving blend of musical tropes with Bergman-esque tragedy, is a heartbreaking journey through the increasingly drastic and selfless acts of a mother determined to save her son’s sight. Featuring a great soundtrack exclusively written by its star, with inspired and slightly amateur musical numbers, “Dancer In The Dark” moves headlong into to the rare shock ending that will leave you in tears.
4. “Beau Travail”
A great adaptation should take its source story, throw away everything it doesn’t need, and reveal what’s left in a way only the film medium could. French auteur Claire Denis does just this in her reimagining of Melville’s classic, “Billy Budd.” The story, now set in modern day Djibouti, revolves around a French Foreign Legion whose commanding officer (Denis Lavant) cannot come to terms with the physical and moral superiority of one of his men. As one would expect from a contemplative French drama, not a lot is said or done, but the underlying emotionally tacit storm between the characters lurks under every scene, creating an effect of masculine tension that simmers violently. The film sets Benjamin Britten‘s enormous score (taken from his opera adaptation of the same novel) to the every day military drills of the troop, turning routine procedure into choreography. The end result is as much a film as it is a graceful ballet and a slow-moving work of poetry.
Lynne Ramsay‘s expressive and well-observed debut about a latchkey lad living in the squalor of 1970s Scotland during a garbage strike is breathtaking; a beautiful and raw slice of cinema vacillating back and forth between the gray and decrepit landscapes of poverty and negligent parents and the celebratory escape of imagination and play. An accidental drowning kicks-off the story, but rather than becoming a whodunit mystery, the film simply follows the exploits of the guilt-ridden boy trying to make sense of his world and cope in his bleak surroundings. It’s haunting and dilapidated, while still hinting towards hope. Spike Jonze said “Ratcatcher” largely influenced the tender yet honest childlike tones and gorgeous, roughhewn visuals of “Where The Wild Things Are,” and it certainly shows.
Featuring 135 speaking parts, 110 locations and shot in 8 different cities, Steven Soderbergh‘s drug trade epic could’ve been a mess. However, by wisely deciding to color code the intersecting storylines of the film’s exploration of the proliferation of drugs from manufacture to distribution to use, Soderbergh gave Stephen Gaghan‘s sprawling script a final structural layer that brought viewers viscerally from the grimy drug warrens of Mexico to the pristine political hallways of Washington. Boasting an ensemble cast that mixed heavyweights with promising newcomers (some of whom would later gain A-list status), Soderbergh’s film is a sobering account of the failures of the “War On Drugs” on all levels.
1. “In the Mood for Love”
Wong Kar-Wai‘s film about two neighbors who form a bond when they suspect their spouses of infidelity, is a moving masterpiece about the boundaries of passion and the longing of desire. The sumptuous cinematography by Christopher Doyle is only aided by an impeccable attention to detail in the costume and set design departments. Nor would it be as moving if weren’t for one of the best soundtracks of the decade, featuring a sensuous, well-chosen collection of jazz, string motifs and Chinese pop. But none of it would be worth talking about were it not for the impeccable performances by Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung who say more here with silence and furtive glances than most actors do with dialogue over their entire careers.
2000 had several great films that we’re a bit bummed to have to cut off this list, but we gave ourselves a rule of 10 films only. Suffice to say there was lots of bickering, fighting and arguing, but such is life with lists like these. The biggest controversies for 2000 amongst Team Playlist were Edward Yang‘s sprawling family drama, “Yi Yi” and Kenneth Lonergan‘s remarkable brother-sister drama, “You Can Count on Me” with excellent performances from Mark Ruffalo as a total fuck-up 30-something and his exasperated sister, Laura Linney. Other films that we admire, but didn’t quite make the cut included Alison Mclean‘s “Jesus’ Son” featuring awesome performances by Billy Crudup and Samatha Morton as drug-addict adult-lescents in the 1970s, Stephen Daldry‘s celebratory boyhood-meets-ballet drama, “Billy Elliot,” Lars Von Trier’s comedic docu-like dogme film “Idioterne” (“The Idiots,” made in 1998 but only released in the U.S. in 2000), Steven Soderbergh‘s economic and no-nonsense “Erin Brockovich,” Stephen Frears‘ manchild, record store-centered love story, “High Fidelity,” Terence Davies‘ “The House of Mirth” featuring an excellent Gillian Anderson turn, and perhaps Neil LaBute‘s best film, tellingly one he didn’t write, the dreamy and odd, “Nurse Betty.” Also, let’s not forget Jim Jarmusch‘s excellent “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” which has awesome performances by Forest Whitaker, Isaach De Bankolé and features a bold and excellent instrumental hip-hop score by the Wu-Tang’s RZA.
Yes, that’s a long-ass honorable mention list, but there were a lot of films to love that year. So, your favorite or best pictures of 2000?
– Katie Walsh, Kevin Jagernauth, Rodrigo Perez, Kimber Myers, Beau Delmore and Gabe Toro,