Denver Bar Association
December 2000
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2000 Flicks Good, But Nothing Like Last

by Greg Rawlings

Films this year gave people an excuse to go out, but lacked the umpf of 1999s hits.

The year 2000 has, surprisingly, been an interesting one for film, so far. Mainstream smashes like "Gladiator" and "The Perfect Storm," and, to a lesser extent, "The Patriot," referenced the heyday of the studly male star, in the spirit of old Steve Reeves movies. None was nearly as cool as last year's "Three Kings," so let's just call them the Three Queens.

In the world of serious film, meaning films in which script and character are more important than plot and special effects, it was a boom year. From the completely over the top visuals of Juliet Traylor's "Titus," a modernist take on Shakespeare's bloodiest gorefest, "Titus Andronicus," to the understated charms of "Butterfly," probably the best film this year, there was something for anybody who loves the real item.

"Titus" featured Anthony Hopkins in his wildest role yet, which means it's one of the wildest roles by any actor in recent memory. His Titus makes his Hannibal the Cannibal seem like a petulant child. And Jessica Lange throws all restraint to the wind as the bloodthirsty Queen of the Gauls. Imagine her as Frances Farmer as Malificent, the evil one in Sleeping Beauty--but meaner. One word of warning: there are a couple scenes in this movie that will haunt you for a good long while. If you know the play, you can guess them; if not, view at your own risk.

"Butterfly" is a small, low budget Spanish film about the nervous days before the Spanish Civil War. It is beautifully cast, pleasantly shot, and completely charming. And the ending will break your pathetic hearts. In a world of cheap, stupid Hollywood endings, gone over by committee rather than by logic or artistic need, this ending is the real McCoy.

Other excellent films so far this year include the brilliantly vague "Croupier," by iconoclastic director Mike Hodges. Clive Owen stars--and I do mean stars--in this sharply told tale of a man driven to work in a British casino so he can get material for a book, and to make a living. Well, does he ever get material. This film is so good that you should see it multiple times, if for no other reason than to figure out what actually happens--then call me, because I'm still not too sure. Like the "Usual Suspects," this is a labyrinth of a movie.

Close contender, along with "Croupier," for best English-language, art-house flick of the year, is Jim Jarmusch's latest, "Ghostdog: The Way of the Samarai." As always, Forrest Whitaker gives an acting clinic, this time in a crazed story of a modern samarai, one who toils for the least competent and most hilarious mobsters in recent cinema. Whitaker takes what could have been a cartoonish role and makes it so human that by the end you can't help wondering if his character's warped logic isn't far more real than not. Plus, the music in this film, by RZA, is as perfect as film music gets. That this film won't get some Oscar consideration is a crime and trust me, it won't. Same with "Croupier."

My favorite mainstream American flick so far, is "Almost Famous," Cameron Crowe's loving ode to the last real days of rock and roll and his first days as a rock writer. If for nothing other than its pacing, this film should be a lesson in how to make a top notch mainstream movie. Featuring a fine ensemble of young actors, including Billy Crudup, who also starred in the disturbing "Jesus' Son;" Kate Hudson, Goldie Hawn's gorgeous daughter; the great Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Boogie Nights," "Magnolia," "Talented Mr. Ripley") as my childhood hero Lester Bangs; young Patrick Fugit; Frances McDormand; and Jason Lee, this film should garner perhaps eight-10 Oscar nominations. Hudson simply glows as groupie/band aid Penny Lane. McDormand is, of course, one of the most talented film actors on the planet. This film reminded me of the early 1970s (it's set in 1973) in a much less cliché fashion than the vast majority of '70s flicks.

Other films worthy of mention this year: the troubling "High Fidelity," which was way too real for me; it was like watching a parallel me in a parallel place if I hadn't lucked on to the right woman at the right time. Check out the Pavement poster in John Cusack's apartment--and the lists, God the lists.

"Black and White," is a sexy take by James Toback on white kids trying to be part of the NYC hip-hop world, and looking exactly like the poseurs they are; the funny but somewhat lame "The Tao of Steve"; and the release of the director's cut of "Blood Simple," not a great film but a very important one, in that it helped jumpstart the whole indie scene in the mid-1980s.

Not a bad year. Nothing as grand as last year's dazzling "Eyes Wide Shut," but plenty of good time in the cool dark, away from the world of courts and criminals.


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