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Laurence Station's Best Films of 2000

Top 10:

1. Dancer In The Dark (Lars von Trier, Denmark / Sweden / France)
Like some sadistic reworking of Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc, Dancer In The Dark is maddeningly manipulative, gratuitously overwrought and hyper-contrived.  It is also the single most fascinating and challenging film of the year. Björk holds nothing back as Selma, a near-blind factory worker struggling to preserve the sight of her 10-year-old son. Audiences either loved it or hated it, but few had an indifferent opinion about this unremittingly bleak musical --which is exactly the polarizing effect director Lars Von Trier hoped for.
 
2. Yi Yi (A One and a Two) (Edward Yang, Taiwan / Japan)
Opening during a wedding on the "luckiest day of the year," Yi-Yi follows the subsequent trials and tribulations of a physically close, yet emotionally disconnected Taiwanese family. A masterful study in things not said and the temptation of unexpected second chances. Edward Yang's patiently crafted film resonates with an understated, but no less potent force. A stellar achievement.
3. You Can Count On Me (Kenneth Lonergan, USA)
A single mother (the always great Laura Linney) is forced to contend with the return of her directionless, no-account brother (well-played by Mark Ruffalo), who, in turn, forms a special bond with her son (nicely handled by Rory Culkin). The relationships in this film display a brutal honesty that elevates what could have been a modest character study into something far more sublime, an uncompromising look at sibling rivalry and familial devotion.
 
4. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (The Coen Brothers, USA)
This yarn of three escaped chain gang convicts in the deep south of the 1930s, framed by an Odyssey-like story arc, might seem like an exercise in filmmaking tomfoolery. But with the right amount of verve and hair gel, the Coen Brothers manage to pull it off. The verbally challenged sparring of the three leads is rivaled only by their exaggeratedly cartoonish physical comedy; a near-flawless gem.
5. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, USA)
The period  is early 19th century China, where a magical sword has been stolen. Throw in some amazing fight choreography and stunningly beautiful scenery, and it all adds up to one of the most enjoyable films of the year. Director Ang Lee’s deft, magic realist touches make all the difference in what could have been just another campy martial arts free-for-all.
 
6. Traffic (Steven Soderbergh, USA)
Steven Soderbergh’s War on Drug and why it failed examination works best south of the border, but not so well in the nation’s capital, where recently appointed drug czar (a too earnest Michael Douglas) fights to save the life of his heroin addicted daughter. While uneven in its overall impact, the performances of Benicio Del Toro (as a dedicated, but frustrated Mexican cop) and Don Cheadle (playing a jaded, but relentless DEA agent) jointly justify the film’s existence.
7. Before Night Falls (Julian Schnabel, USA)
Javier Bardem’s portrayal of Cuban author and tragic exile Reinaldo Arenas helps transform what could have been a pedestrian film-biopic into an intriguingly nuanced study of Latin American machismo and the perils associated with shifting political and sexual identities. While a tad overlong and narratively disjointed at times, the film is ultimately Bardem’s to carry, which he impressively and gracefully does.
 
8. Best in Show (Christopher Guest, USA)
Christopher Guest’s delightful mockumentary tackles the world of dog shows and the quirky characters populating them (not to mention the owners’ wonderfully neurotic pets). The film works because of the seriousness with which it is played; hilarious parody, but in a loving, rather than cruel way.
9. Jesus' Son (Alison Maclean, USA)
Based on a collection of short stories by Denis Johnson. Billy Crudup and Samantha Morton play lover-junkies in 1970s road-to-nowhere America. Despite an intentionally loose narrative structure that weakens the film’s hoped-for visceral impact, Jesus’ Son works because of its smart interpretation of the source material and top-notch performances by the lead and supporting characters.
 
10. Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, USA)
Cameron Crowe relives his teenage years in this story of a too-young-to-shave journalist (winningly played by Patrick Fugit) who gets an opportunity to go on the road with a rock band and write an article about them for Rolling Stone. Kate Hudson’s performance as a groupie who refuses to accept the fact that she’s nothing more than that is the highlight of the film.
 
Notable near misses (Alphabetically Listed):
 
  • The Claim (Michael Winterbottom, Canada / UK) Winterbottom's glacially-paced (to a fault) study of greed and guilt during California's post-Gold Rush years is a starkly authentic (if not wholly successful) work that gradually, subtly gets under one's skin.
  • Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (Jim Jarmusch, France / USA)  Jarmusch remains one of the most important and interesting filmmakers working today.
  • High Fidelity (Stephen Frears, USA)  London to Chicago locale switch doesn't diminish the fun of this study in obsessive record collecting/list making. John Cusack gives the best performance of his career.
  • Pollock (Ed Harris, USA)  Should have had more punch than it did. The emotional fireworks between the lead characters is textbook well-acted, but lacks the raw, naturalistic fury required to make the break between Pollock and fellow artist/wife, Lee Krasner, truly affecting.
  • Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, USA) Bleak to the point of being self-obliterating. The idea of watching this on a double bill with Last Exit to Brooklyn (1990) is positively suicidal.
  • State and Main (David Mamet, USA) Mamet wimps out! Could have been a scathing indictment of Hollywood, an on location companion piece to Altman's The Player (1992). Instead, it gets tidied up with a nice red bow in the end. Great setup, torpedoed by a lame ending.
  • Wonder Boys (Curtis Hanson, USA) Truly a near miss, as it came down to this or Almost Famous for the last slot in a coin-flip close decision. Well-acted and filmed, as based on the always-reliable Weekend-That-Changed-The-Characters'-Lives-Forever model.

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