Better in Pairs

Generally a letdown, the year in film offered some well-crafted works that are best viewed as double features

This year the two grandest instances of this chemistry -- complexity on one hand, wryness on the other, kick-ass on both -- were the big hits Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Charlie's Angels, both of which feature pretty girls whizzing through the air in order to kick, punch and slash at villains. Crouching Tiger, considered by many critics to be the year's best film, is considered by this critic to be, in a word, "nifty." Coming from someone who loves Ang Lee's work -- Wedding Banquet, Sense and Sensibility, Ride with the Devil, all of it -- this may seem odd, but his martial arts masterstroke, lush and sensuous as it is -- feels a bit like a forced amalgamation of technique and marketing.

Bereft of any solemnity whatsoever, Charlie's Angels was without question the year's best thrill-ride (topping even the rockin' Vertical Limit and the ho-hum M:I-2), but you'd think with an effects budget big enough to make Cameron Diaz's glutes seem real, they'd be able to create a more convincing illusion of Drew Barrymore moonwalking. Ultimately the music brought the magic; the Crouching Tiger cello solos by Yo-Yo Ma, and Angels producer Barrymore's CD collection, proved as satisfying as the movies themselves.

Truly this was a year of unlikely heroines, as Helen Hunt's performance as a frazzled Las Vegas mom lit up the otherwise pompous Pay It Forward (in which Kevin Spacey also put in his year's best work). The year belonged to the Pretty Woman, however, as Steven Soderbergh's Erin Brockovich pleased crowds and wowed critics all over the place. Well, except for this one. While the film was rousing and impressive in its bouncy way, it was really hard to get around the notion that this was little more than Julia Roberts doing Norma Rae-meets-Silkwood with cleavage and extra histrionics.

Nick Park and Peter Lord's Chicken Run, like Lasse Hallström's Chocolat, beautifully sums up the grandness of liberating the human spirit.
Nick Park and Peter Lord's Chicken Run, like Lasse Hallström's Chocolat, beautifully sums up the grandness of liberating the human spirit.

Now here's something to think about: Are overpopulation and rapid technological advancement leading us into bizarre new realms of self-perception? Really, it doesn't take someone as infinitely intelligent as a film critic to realize that something strange is afoot in our world, and reflected in our entertainment. Perhaps we've produced so many humans now that it's becoming difficult for an individual to feel significant, unique or complete, as this year's spate of split-identity movies seems to attest. Yet to be seen is Nicolas Cage taking a break from explosions to portray The Family Man (like Matt Damon in The Legend of Bagger Vance and Bruce Willis in Unbreakable, he's yet another confused and pallid whitey in need of a soul man's mentoring), but the plot sounds exactly like a lovely little film that arrived from Australia this year called Me Myself I. This winsome gem finds a single, professional Rachel Griffiths suddenly facing off with her married self -- complete with obnoxious brood -- and then replacing her. This, in turn, sounds remarkably like Demi Moore's soppy, inferior Passion of Mind, in which the lady repeatedly falls asleep in the French countryside to find herself on top of the Big Apple, and vice versa.

Mike Hodges's sharp and clever Croupier, with Clive Owen playing both "Jack" the novelist and "Jake" the high roller, also figures into this paradigm, and Schwarzenegger got cloned. Hell, arguably, even Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence took their prosthetics to the big schizophrenic dance this year, adding their special emphasis on well the amazing comedic potential of the ass.

One of the year's more moving and disturbing portraits of a severed self was Gough Lewis's Sex: The Annabel Chong Story, about a real-life university student called Grace Quek who renamed herself and became, fleetingly, a legend of pornography. The year 2000 was a splendid one for documentaries in general, headed up by fine work such as Marc Singer's Dark Days, wherein homeless people inhabiting a disused Manhattan subway tunnel extol the virtues of "growing" in their sheltered existence, actually being able to suggest what to have for dinner. We also got to retrace the rise and fall of the Sex Pistols in Julien Temple's punchy The Filth and the Fury, while David Schisgall's The Lifestyle gave us more information about AARP-eligible swingers than anyone may ever desire.

In fact, despite all the detritus, 2000 was a year of many, many honorable films. Shakespeare showed up on the streets of New York in Hamlet and in Kenneth Branagh's effervescent musical Love's Labour's Lost. Humor hit a fever pitch in Keenan Ivory Wayans's balls-out (er, literally) and gloriously offensive Scary Movie, while Meet the Parents -- with Ben Stiller repeating Keeping the Faith's triumph of the nebbish -- allowed Robert De Niro to deliver the best single line of the year: "I've got nipples, Greg; could you milk me?"

In a year of gentle, not entirely unpleasant romances like Joan Chen's Autumn in New York or Bonnie Hunt's Return to Me, it was truly the weird stuff that stood out, even when it wasn't good. You may well choke on the surrounding schmaltz, but just try to avoid laughing at Jim Carrey as The Grinch. Or witness Frank Langella and Jeremy Irons making enormous pratts of themselves in messy junk like Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate and Courtney Solomon's Dungeons and Dragons. (Oops, it's probably a mortal sin to utter the names of those two directors in the same breath. Alas.) The year's best scene well, it's either Robert Downey Jr. flirting with Mike Tyson in James Toback's Black and White or that magical moment of the guy spontaneously belting out an aria in the bathhouse of Zhang Yang's Shower.

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