I’ve referred often to my theory 2000 was the most okay year in modern media and that fits. 2000 sits between the greatest year in cinema in 1999 and the stunning low of 2001. It feels like a fascinating period where we caught our breath before exhaling our lungs out the next year.
And this is a very individual theory. It’s not one I hear much. But that’s fine. Theories are most fun when we’re the ones to lay them out. And my take that 2000 is one long just missed it is mine to sell. So over the next few weeks I’m going to make my case. I already did an overview of the great moments in art over at my patreon but I’m going to use this to look at film exclusively and especially my core idea.
I’m not looking at the truly bad films of the year here. There’s little to be gained doing so. These are 2.5/3 star films. I’m not looking at the great films either. You know O Brother Where Art Thou, Traffic/Erin Brockovich, High Fidelity, Unbreakable, Wonder Boys, etc. came out. There were plenty of fine films, though frankly the highs were shockingly low key which likely contributes to my feelings. So let’s look at the meh of the year and when you see the films listed, well, you’ll see why I feel this way.
In no order
X-Men. Why do I start with a movie that excited the hell out of me in 2000? A movie that was my first DVD? A movie I’ve seen many times? Because I’m not lying on this list. And X-Men is a 3/5. Sure that was better than any major Marvel character had until then but this is almost a textbook example of the kind of film you were getting this year. Very safe. Very bland. Almost unnotable. Really redeemed by three great central turns but not truly the comics. More a pilot. The series would find its footing but it began on such a minor note. This was the height of franchise filmmaking alongside the universally viewed as series worst Mission: Impossible 2 when the previous year gave us George Lucas’ gloriously wild The Phantom Menace and the next year gave us the perfection of Lord of the Rings on the way to Spider-Man giving us a full blast of the material. Too bad this is “fine,” a movie almost afraid to embrace being an X-Men movie. It speaks to Hollywood knowing genre material was out there but afraid to truly tackle it.
Titan AE. 2000 was actually a fascinating year for animation. You have the too adult for kids but excellent The Road to El Dorado kicking off the year. Then there’s the aggravating and soon for review Dinosaur in May. We had the glory of Chicken Run in the summer and the greatness of the now beloved The Emperor’s New Groove at year’s end. (I haven’t seen Rugrats in Paris but it was well liked.) But in June we got this. And what a fascinating film it is. Basically thrown at Fox Animation to keep it from closing, the film would ultimately result in the studio closing. And it’s frustrating because had this worked I sincerely think it could’ve changed animation forever. This was an attempt at doing a sci-fi blockbuster in animation as has proven fruitful basically everywhere but America. There’s great animation to look at too despite all the cutbacks they faced in production. But this is everything wrong with blockbuster filmmaking at this moment. The actors are either typecast or grossly miscast. The script is hopelessly generic. The film chases trends with no shame. The film is the definition of just there.
Almost Famous. I’ll take the heat. Yes, there is a superior cut of this film. But it’s not good enough to miss this list. Almost Famous is a good script that exposes everything wrong with Cameron Crowe long before his issues were made loud and clear. This is the kind of movie that has utterly no flavor to identify in its nostalgia brew. The period depicted was a time of energy and intensity with the film tackling some honestly toxic concepts such as the rampant mistreatment of women that in reality were pitch black dark but are in the hands of a dishwater dull filmmaker. Crowe has a decent cast but his direction isn’t there. It’s blandly shot and the acting is cloying aside from Philip Seymour Hoffman doing his usual god tier work. But more than anything, this is here as an example of how 2000 wasn’t a year for auteurs. Yeah, Spike Lee gave us the shattering Bamboozled, Soderbergh had a solid double, and the Coens had a nice minor film while Shyamalan crushed it, but it was a weirdly soft moment with everyone recharging. There weren’t even a lot of major debuts this year aside from Kenneth Lonergan who is getting a review later this year on his OTHER film.* So it’s kinda telling that this felt like a bold statement. And I’m sorry but this is boomer mythology plain and simple. Side note: Crowe would do a remake the next year, apparently lose his mind for a film, and give us the third best film of 2001 behind AI and LOTR. Go figure.
Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas. I think it’s possible this movie’s badness is overstated. Let me stress, this isn’t a good movie but it isn’t a bad movie either. It’s very much of the theme of the year in that it’s safe. It’s a film that was clearly very focus tested. Nothing about it is daring or risky with every slight decision designed to appeal to a mass audience. There has to be a story about the dangers of materialism so audiences feel smart. The Grinch needs a backstory that makes you care about him. Cindy Lou Who needs a safe song about feeling down so that years later when her actress sings about seducing priests and murder** it’s hilarious—I mean so that the film gets a big single from a major star and an Oscar nomination. Even the things that don’t work like a wrong for the job Ron Howard and the ugliness of the look feel safe because they looked good on paper. Carrey is great here but not great enough to save the film. It’s not an atrocity but it’s not worth talking about.
Finding Forrester. This spot could go to Pay it Forward but that’s not bland as much as awful. This is more in the thesis. Bear with me on this, but this well made, fairly well acted movie? It’s got issues. This is a movie that celebrates the story of a black student who gets a chance at an education at white school while he finds a white mentor in the form of Not JD Salinger. Look, this is watchable but I put it as the symbol for the spec script age. This has a perfect hook, a perfect Oscar role and a perfect star making role. It’s as artificial as the movies we whine about now. And this film…look this is white savior bullshit. No matter how you cut it, this film pulls the same BS all the films before and after it did where the white experience is an aspiration while the black experience is background to be overcome. Into The Spider-Verse was more honest about this classist and yes racist crap! The one way this is a tiny bit better is that it grounds the POC as the center but it’s impossible not to feel condescension dripping from this movie. You’re the man now, dog indeed. Seriously that single moment gave up the game that this movie was made by people who lock their doors if they take the wrong exit.
The Perfect Storm. So, somehow I have to keep going. It’s far easier to explain my case that this generic disaster movie is a perfect 2000 movie. The Perfect Storm is a weird film for this list because I actually hated it but I’m forced to concede it’s not for me. I don’t like movies with massive scope where I am constantly unable to follow what’s going on. This is a well made film on every level though. And that may be my issue. There’s the potential for a really great slice of life film here. You have George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg before he burnt out for me, John C. Reilly, William Fichtner, Diane Lane, Michael Ironside. Bob Gunton, Karen Allen, and what should’ve been a career changing supporting role for the great John Hawkes. These are genius actors and they’re in service of one of the least filmic disasters ever. This is just not a fun movie to watch. But it’s on my just okay list because I have to concede the craft. Still, notice we don’t talk about it? Maybe making a movie based on events we can’t confirm with zero dramatic stakes since we know it’s ending badly isn’t that interesting.
Gladiator. So I had to end the piece on the ultimate movie of 2000. Gladiator feels like the perfect summation of everything I’ve listed above. It’s almost agonizingly safe in its adherence to formula like X-Men and Titan AE. It’s a focus grouped prestige film from a major director like Almost Famous and Finding Forrester. It’s impossible to follow like The Perfect Storm during action scenes. It dominated the culture the way The Grinch did. And in retrospect it’s confusing we noticed it like all of them. What a nothing movie this was that fittingly took Best Picture. And look, this is not a film bereft of things to like. It stars Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix. It’s not boring. It’s pretty when it’s not an action scene. But why was this the truly defining film of the year? This is a generic revenge movie that just feels dated. It’s there. I especially feel baffled by Crowe (who somehow won an Oscar for this) and Phoenix (who soon will win one) being as generic as they are here when both can set the screen ablaze. And look, this is Ridley Scott way out of his league. Technically this ended his time as a lesser director but I don’t see anything different here than his “lesser” films. It’s a bloated mess signifying nothing but demanding our time.
And that’s really what art was in 2000. The big end of an era art was behind us so we were left to just yell and kill time in the silence left by 1999. Truthfully, I don’t think we had that much more to say the next year either but that discomfort and rage at the hollowness was starting to seep into our art if unintentionally. And yes, there was good art but when so little of film felt vital then and especially doesn’t feel vital now, you’re left with a void as you look back two decades into the past. So 2000 stands in my mind as a moment of time killing.
A dull hypothesis if you will.
*Memento played US theaters in 2001. Don’t @ me. I would definitely count it as a highlight had it played.
**Good stuff too.