Unfortunately, we can't blame David Letterman.
Like almost every periodical, including those having nothing particularly to do with cinema, Film Comment publishes a "Top Ten Films of YYYY" every year in their Jan/Feb YYYY+1 issue. They also include lists from individual contributors to the main list, as well as other year-in-review commentary. Sadly, this year is the first that FC has omitted its "Moments out of Time" feature: a collection of sentences or half-paragraphs describing individual images, sounds, motions, or sensations, culled from films ranging from the most obscure foreign and independent releases to the most banal Hollywood blockbusters, that stayed with the viewer for months after other cinematic moments have faded. I was especially fond of this feature, as it was the reason that I subscribed to FC in the first place; it demonstrated that thoughtful and learned film critics could and did appreciate the worthwhile portions of lesser films, that one could love the wrong movies for the right reasons. I could ask for no better defanging of my intimidation of film scholarship.
Nevertheless, I have never compiled my own Top Ten list, for many reasons. The first, of course, is because it's puerile. Even in 2000, who loved only ten films? Second, "released in 2000" often means "screened at Sundance 2000" or "now showing on one screen in New York and one in Los Angeles." Even in Seattle, it may take over a year to get a theatrical release, and Scarecrow Video may have it on Region 2 DVD before then. But the most enduring reason is that I can't remember all the films that I've seen in the preceding 12-month period, irrespective of whether they're "2000 releases." I often have quite a bit to say about cinema, and I can even construct comparative hierarchies of quality and meaning. It's just that my focus is on upcoming releases, festival reports, and production notes; it's usually more important to me to insure that I don't miss what's coming next than to reflect on what has come before.
This year, however, FC decided to "make it interesting." They invited readers to participate in a poll submitting their own Top Ten lists, and they sweetened the deal with prizes of hundreds of dollars worth of DVDs--precisely my most virulent consumer pathology. And to make it even easier, they included a list of all US theatrical releases in 2000. Below I have first listed those 2000 releases that I was able to view in time to consider them before the 19 February 2001 submission deadline, followed by my own Top Ten Films of 2000, with comments included with my submission to FC. I invite responses to my list, as well as lists from fellow cinéastes.
US Theatrical Releases in 2000 Viewed by Eric
Major Studio Releases
Before Night Falls
I would have really liked to have considered those titles in italics but, dammit, I failed to view them before the 19 February 2001 deadline.
Eric's Top Ten Films of 2000
Still a bit daunted by the attribute "Best," "Favorite" seems more comfortable, if somewhat pre-rational. In an attempt to make my subjectivity more demonstrable, and thereby more wieldy, I have gone with "Memorable" as the necessary and sufficient criterion.
The marvelous troika of Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, and Zhang Ziyi marry Aeschylus to Confucious, a dysfunctional family than can purée anyone they meet, but are fated to gouge each other. Ang Lee and choreographer Wu Ping Yuen give us the most thrilling martial arts fights I have ever seen. Yun-Fat and Yeoh grapple with their aging, unrequited love with both sad grace and adolescent awkwardness, and we weep that we might love so deeply. Then Ziyi swoops in and we can't stop cheering for her to conquer the world. Every movie is a leap off a precipice, but so very few leave you afterwards breathless on the ground, waiting to catch your breath so you can go again.
Many drug movies founder when they, like addicts themselves, let the particular drug loom so large that they fail to connect with viewers who have no experience of that drug. As the fiercest drug stories are often memoirs, this is to be expected. Aronofsky transcends this problem by showing, not the effects of a particular drug addiction, but addiction per se. The complicity and self-betrayal that addicts live with are far more ubiquitous and difficult to dismiss than needle tracks. All four actors portraying addicts in Requiem touched me in their struggles to own their addictions (or not), but Burstyn mesmerized me in her headlong rush into her Garden of Televised Delights.
Lonely men in the desert, taken in by a brotherhood that rarely "serves the good cause" anymore. With hues out of an oil painting and tones out of an opera, Claire Denis finds language for these mute sentinels. Small and fierce, Denis Lavant slams up against his men, grasping limbs and torsos, finding a love and, squeezing too hard, expels himself from warmth and light. In a place where it hurts to look, we know that this story is far older than the Legion or the Royal Navy.
Edward Yang brings this family drama off so effortlessly, I forgot that it was (to me) a foreign language film, and only when encountering such anomalies as horoscopes, lucky names, and Buddhist retreats does this family living in Taipei, that most Western of Chinese cities, seem at all removed. Anxiety of a grandmother's mortality set family members off on their own traumas, and though they face away from each other, this only binds them more tightly together. What saves them (and us) is their capacity to surprise themselves and each other. Nien-Jen Wu and Jonathan Chang are heart-breakingly potent, both in tandem and apart.
In addition to refining the state of feature-length animation, Nick Park has crafted a story that both is compelling and makes the most of the medium's potential; we accept the frightful world of Tweedy's Farm because it is both fantastic and familiar. In demonstrating the importance of sacrifice and courage, these sublimely absurd chickens reveal our noblest humanity.
A happy instance of a film adaptation being much more effective than the original novel. Christian Bale turns the failing "not believable" on its head in lampooning an Eighties Manhattan that I never knew but am more than willing to believe was unbelievably shallow. When Bale's Bateman hesitates with his staple-gun, you can hear the moral vacuum whistling in his forced exhalation. Mary Harron earns my respect and gratitude for honestly enjoying Bale's physique; a delicious indulgence of conspicuous consumption.
This screenplay is smarter than Mamet has been in years, but not, to its credit, clever. Clive Owen's Jack strives for ironic distance to better control his life and write his novel, but Mike Hodges and Paul Mayersberg let us pretend we sympathize with this fish only to spin the wheel out from under us. Critics of the "unsatisfying" ending want the same kind of control, but Mayersberg gleefully shows us up for the punters we cinephiles are.
I wrote a lengthy commentary after seeing Quills. Despite my differences with Kaufman, Geoffrey Rush makes every minute of his screentime vibrant and vital. The range of his attempts to seduce (convert?) Phoenix and Winslet made me both fear for the youths and cheer for the rake. All that is missing is a climactic confrontation between Rush and Caine; both men have labored long to disillusion themselves and would relish a fair fight.
More than any film this year, I wanted to discuss this film with others and learn their reactions. At the same time, I didn't dare recommend it to anyone. Unable to escape from adolescent indulgences of misogyny and anti-Americanism, von Trier nevertheless captures an unrepeatable and unforgettable performance from Björk, and challenges fundamental conceptions of narrative in cinema, leaving me gasping. In so doing, von Trier has exhausted the principal of my goodwill and patience he earned with Zentropa and The Kingdom; I may not sit through another such ambush. It is worth noting that this film bumped Traffic off my Top Ten list. Soderbergh's pseudo-documentary, as visually well-conceived as Dancer, was unbalanced in its narrative web. Critics made much of Traffic's "brave" refusal to give pat answers to an American audience, but it also failed to ask any insightful questions. In contrast, Dancer is provocative, in all senses of that word, from shameless to breathtaking.
A seamless transition from London to Chicago, Frears and Cusack again create a compelling net of relationships among actors who easily could have portrayed mere caricatures. The discovery of Todd Louiso alone justifies this film's shelf space. While I was drawn to this film by the justified promise of intelligent humor that all Cusack collectors crave, there's also an adult romance waiting to be found. In observing that Rob needs to grow up while enjoying the fact that he hasn't, we get to have our Cusack and eat him, too.
Copyright © 2001 by Eric Scharf.  All rights reserved.