Monday, 10 December 2007

list: the top ten films of 2000

Following the astonishing wave of ambitious, risk-taking and brilliant films that emerged from Hollywood in 1998 and 1999 (I'm thinking of The Thin Red Line, Fight Club, Eyes Wide Shut, Magnolia, The Matrix, Being John Malkovich...), 2000 was not a particularly good year for cinema. With the exception of the films occupying the top two or three slots, which are genuinely remarkable, most of these films might have struggled to find a spot on the top ten list in an average year. Which doesn't mean they're bad - all the films here are worth watching, all are very good, but, for various reasons, not all manage to cross the line from "very good" into "great".

Luckily, 2001 was to prove a far more interesting year...

tenth: snatch. (guy ritchie)

With Snatch., Guy Ritchie essentially redeployed the formula that made Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) - itself little more than a cockney rip-off of Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994) - an international success. There is little in this film that is new, original or meaningful - every detail in its hundred-minute ride through the London criminal underworld is a homage to films that were themselves homages. But there is no denying that this breathless pop-culture rush is energetic, hugely stylish, often painfully hilarious and riotously entertaining. This could be the very definition of mindless entertainment, but sometimes that's exactly what you need.

ninth: ghost dog: the way of the samurai (jim jarmusch)

Anchored by a typically excellent performance from Forest Whitaker, this quintessentially Jarmusch film takes a pulp narrative (a Mafia hitman living according to the Bushido samurai code) as the core for a moving and drily humorous study of characters living in their own worlds on the fringes of society. It's not Jarmusch's best, but it offers a unique, offbeat take on a tired genre, and a host of memorable and perversely lovable characters.

eighth: almost famous (cameron crowe)

Cameron Crowe's fairy-tale vision of the 1970s rock scene may have little to no relation to any actual reality, but, taken as Crowe's love letter to the music he grew up with, and as a magical coming-of-age tale, it is a resounding success, and a standout in the director's somewhat mixed oeuvre (it was easily his best film since 1989's Say Anything...). Its golden-hued nostalgia could easily have been maudlin, but there's a genuine honesty of feeling that makes it affecting.

seventh: the virgin suicides (sofia coppola)

Sofia Coppola's debut film was a languid, gorgeously sensual and disturbingly enigmatic period piece, locating a disquieting, unaccountable horror within the life of five beautiful sisters in 1970s suburbia. There is a poetic grace and a sensitivity to the inexpressible in this film that belie its nature as a first film, and mark it out as the arrival of a noteworthy film-making talent.

sixth: amores perros (alejandro gonzalez inarritu)

The first of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's trilogy of non-linear, multi-narrative epics, Amores Perros is also far and away the best. There was a rawness, an immediacy, an intensity and a directness here that disappeared as 21 Grams (2003) and Babel (2006) grew increasingly formulaic, ponderous and self-consciously Important. Here, nuance and a keen, unflinching eye for character match the film's epic scope and wide canvas, making this the closest Inarritu has come to a masterpiece.

fifth: o brother, where art thou? (the coen brothers)

Admittedly a step down from the Coen brothers' late 90s masterpieces, O Brother, Where Art Thou? remains an engaging, joyous and wonderfully-crafted oddity. The Odyssey reworked into a part-slapstick, part-musical, entirely whimsical and beautiful picaresque trip through 1930s America, this was at once an inventive, hugely entertaining road movie and an affectionate celebration of American pop-history and folk music.

fourth: requiem for a dream (darren aronofsky)

Requiem for a Dream may possess a somewhat one-note emotional register, and its vision may be too unremittingly nihilistic to swallow. But what is undeniable is that it achieves a rare, monomanic intensity that is palpably frightening, and that sears itself indelibly into one's memory. Many have interpreted this as a simplistic anti-drugs movie, but beneath the surface it's a terrifying, bleak vision in which tragedy is the only possible result when one reaches for their dreams.

third: crouching tiger, hidden dragon (ang lee)

I'll admit that I find Ang Lee a talented but somewhat overrated filmmaker, with a career consisting of well-crafted and interesting films lacking the true spark of greatness. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (along with, possibly, Sense and Sensibility (1995)) is the exception, and far and away his standout achievement to date. It may seem over-familiar in retrospect, viewing it in the wake of the wu xia resurgence it helped spawn, but at the time it was something almost completely new. Marketed as art-house material, at heart this is a crowd-pleasing epic adventure, but one executed with a grace, gravitas and a sweeping beauty that is rare in any genre, and that invests its undeniably thrilling action with a lasting sense of melancholy.

second: dancer in the dark (lars von trier)

Almost a polar opposite to the traditional idea of the movie musical, Lars von Trier's Palme D'Or winner Dancer in the Dark is one of the most devastating, almost unbearable character tragedies ever put to film. A stunning performance and soundtrack by Bjork are at the heart of the film's emotional pull, and the success of the film is at least as much due to her input as to von Trier's. There is little about the film that is subtle - one could easily argue that von Trier here (and elsewhere) is as emotionally manipulative as Hollywood at its worst - but its raw, unflinching impact is undeniable and unforgettable.

first: in the mood for love (wong kar-wai)

Wong Kar-Wai is one of the greatest masters working in the cinematic medium, and In the Mood for Love is his unqualified masterpiece. Aided by Christopher Doyle's gorgeously saturated cinematography and by impressive performances from Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, he crafts a quietly intense study of two people trapped in disintegrating marriages, unable to consummate the tentative love that develops between them. One doesn't watch a Wong Kar-Wai film, one inhabits it, immersing oneself in the sensuality of its textures and colour, in the finely-observed details of character and indefinable moods, in the expressivity and emotion that invests even the simplest gesture and image. This is a perfect film, one that deserves the oft-abused appellation of genius, and one of the greatest films of the decade.

honourable mentions: Chocolat, Billy Elliot, Unbreakable, X-Men

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