Mutant Reviewers look back at the films of 2000

This is probably one of the toughest articles that I’ve written for Mutant Reviewers, and I’m still a little baffled as to why. After all, summing up just one year of movies shouldn’t be that hard, right? There are a bazillion critics and journalists and 11-year-old boys out there on the Internet who make it some sort of unholy tradition to do an end-year Best and Worst of the Year with film. It’s sickening.

And I desperately wanted to be one of them.

So I have hacked out the start to a number of 2000-in-summation articles, but they all were pretty bad. Well, actually, nothing I ever write is bad, per se, but they were definitely lacking. I saw many, many films in theaters this year, and many, many of those hours I wish I had back to play with my imaginary dog (Potsa, the Beagle of Mirth).

But as I typed out the standard 1, 2, 3… lists, I realized that there was no way to just pick 10 or even 20 films to cover. So then I tried to do “themes” of the year, possibly because my English major is starved for something structured and smart-sounding to feast upon. That quickly crumbled into a genre thing, and I was displeased. Was it simply because I wanted to have my say for ALL of the movies I saw, all of the torturous time I spent in the theater watching Tony the Moron I Wish To Slap coming on before every single film?

(This parenthetical note about Tony the Moron I Wish To Slap is largely irrelevant and you may feel free to skip it, but I have to get this out of my system. The AMC theater I inhabit once or twice a week spends a largish amount of time doing “pre-show entertainment,” as they call it. This includes commercials – I’m drinking Sprite now, are you happy? — and TV promos and theater warnings to be quiet that no one ever pays attention to and a bunch of happy trailers. When PoolMan was here, he clocked 19 minutes of this entertainment before we actually got to the movie, so I guess it’s getting out of hand. But what irks me most is AMC’s commercial featuring Tony the Moron I Wish To Slap. This dorkish guy comes out, stands in front of a mike, then flips cue cards silently, telling you to buy gift certificates or sign up for their moviewatchers club or something like that. The first time, it was novel, and it caught my attention as I’m sure the marketing geeks at AMC wanted. But after the fourth or fifth time — and remember, I saw a LOT of films in this theater this year — I started to notice that Tony the Moron I Wish To Slap was smirking. His eyebrow arched in superiority, his mouth twisted as he knew I had to keep watching this dumb commercial time and again, his sheer stance mocked everything I knew to be good and pure in this world. I hate Tony the Moron I Wish To Slap. Recently, I’ve taken to a civil disobedience campaign where I close my eyes when he comes on screen and refuse to reopen them until Sprite comes back on and tells me to “Obey My Thirst.”)

Since I obviously have no idea how to properly structure this year-in-review, I’m throwing caution to the wind (it screams a little, but eventually it’ll land in a cornfield in North Dakota) and flitting from subject to subject, attempting to cover as many 2000 movies as I can.

Where else to start than the exclusive Two-Watchers club? I see going to the movies as a significant time investment of driving and waiting and watching and driving back that I rarely see a movie in theaters twice. My feeling is, it’s going to come out on DVD sooner or later, and I’d rather see something new, even if it’s terrible, than something I’ve seen before, even if it’s brilliant. So it takes something out of the ordinary to get me to see a film twice, and in 2000 I saw precisely two films twice.

The first was the crude yet underrated Road Trip, which gave me enough mindless enjoyment that I elected to see it again. Perhaps I am still wistful for my college days, this is true, and a funny college movie that doesn’t have dismembered body parts flying everywhere is a true rarity these days. Out of the many sub-par comedies that sucked hope out of moviegoers everywhere this year, Road Trip raised its mousy head above the rest and I thank it for that.

The other film in the Two-Watchers club was Charlie’s Angels, and if you haven’t yet seen this flick, then you probably have a significant other who forces you to go see whatever Kate Winslet movie is out that week. I pity you, because Charlie’s Angels delivered terrific fun from start to end, so much in fact that it makes you seriously ponder why more filmmakers can’t figure out what is fun and what is not when they force me to see drivel like Scream 3.

And that’s a good as any segue as I’m gonna get, so let’s talk Scream 3 for a second. Except for an excellent Jay and Silent Bob cameo (and let’s face it, all movies from now on should be required to have one; Jay: “Bob, let’s go beat up Jar-Jar!”), what a disappointment! It’s not like Urban Legends: Final Cut, which was a horrible sequel to a horrible film, but instead it had to be descended from one of the most original horror movies of this past decade. Scream 3 was so lackluster, so unoriginal, so ignorant of my wishes to have Neve Campbell slaughtered that I felt truly happy to have the series end. For good. “HA-HA,” you all say, because we got yet another sequel this very year!

That brings us to the mind-boggling success of an even worse film, Scary Movie. Even now, I am utterly bamboozled as to why this movie succeeded. It was not just a parody of a parody, but in parts a complete remake (line for line) of Scream. It doesn’t stand a chance of stacking up in the Airplane! lineage of comedies. It was honestly disgusting and unfunny and yet it made enough money to guarantee a sequel to a parody of a parody, which is enough of a reason to die by next year. Perhaps Scary Movie’s success can be attributed to a generally lousy year of cinematic entertainment, but that still makes no sense.

Scary Movie ties, in the most awful load of scat category, with Whipped, a movie which fortunately most of you did not elect to see. Or even know it was out. Whipped had the same sort of decaying charisma of self-pretentiousness that you would expect from a recent film school graduate, which this film was made by. Sure, a lot of critics tout the year 2000 of being one of the worst years for film ever, but I think only these two movies exceeded just being bad, and went into some sort of hellish torture involving drowning cats.

Big-budget entertainment, as always, does not mandate success, and we certainly caught our fair share of that. If we time warped back to January 2000, I’d say that a majority of the films we looked forward to were ultimately disappointing, if not really sucky. Take Battlefield Earth (begin your Travolta jokes at the beep)… I am shamed to admit that I anticipated seeing this movie. A Braveheart in a sci-fi setting, I thought, and boy did the similarities end there. Battlefield Earth was not just bad, it was unoriginally bad, as it plagiarized dozens of other sci-fi properties, such as Independence Day and Star Trek. What even makes this movie worse is that all of the fairly interesting parts of the novel are cast aside for lame explanations.

Of course, there were some “yeah, it was okay” big-budgeters, like Mission: Impossible 2, Me, Myself and Irene, The Sixth Day, The Patriot, and so on. They promised basic action and entertainment and gave it to us without any garnish. At least they didn’t descend into the hype disappointment of such vehicles like Blair Witch 2 and Mission To Mars, both of which blitzed us with advertising and yet no one went to see them anyway. Except me. And they stunk. I don’t know about you, but any movie where George Clooney has the potential to die (The Perfect Storm), I sure root the movie in that direction.

Um, let me add Dinosaur and Titan A.E. to this booming list, because both of those movies were boringly bad. And let’s not even delve into What Lies Beneath, which used standard “pull the camera back quickly to reveal the ghost for the sixteenth time which always makes the audience jump” trick ad nauseum. You notice that none of these films (except Blair Witch 2) have been reviewed on Mutant Reviewers? That should indicate something.

About the only big budgeters that lived up to expectations were Gladiator and X-Men. Gladiator let me down somewhat, as my expectations were rather high (was anyone else disappointed by the whole mano-a-mano ending, versus some sort of climactic battle scene?), but it did well enough to earn a spot on my DVD shelf. As did X-Men, which had way more humor than I thought possible for a comic flick, and left us with a single complaint of: More! More!

You remember that famous X diagram from economics, where the supply and demand lines cross? I think there must be something similar to that in the movie field, where critics picks cross the audience favorite to actually call a few good movies for what they are. If I had drawn up a top 10 list of the year (and I didn’t, remember), I would include the deservedly praised Chicken Run and the “Thank God it didn’t fall into too many clichés” Remember the Titans. I wasn’t too hot to see either of these films, but because both the critics and the mass box office takes cajoled me into it, I fortunately didn’t miss out.

As always, there were many quiet successes that went largely unnoticed by the larger population of the world. Some films steadily went on to make a good box office, even if they weren’t $30-million weekend openers, and some enjoyed lavish praise from filmgoers all over. I would like to throw out some of the more enjoyable films in this category to you: Pitch Black. Final Destination. Dude, Where’s My Car? Frequency. I think all of those movies might not be everyone’s fare, and they have problems and plot potholes for sure, but at least they tried to take cinema in a fun new direction this year, and that makes me happy.

Pitch Black boasted a clean and cool sci-fi vision, an aspect which I liked more than the horror part. Sci-fi is such a terrific medium to tell stories, and we simply get too few entries into these categories, despite the successes of such films like The Matrix and Star Wars. Final Destination seems, at first glance, to be yet another teen horror retread, but despite some difficulties in wrapping up the flick, it is very different than most of the stuff we’ve seen since the Scream phenom. Dude, Where’s My Car? gets “most Mutant-ready movie of the year” award, as it’s strange, wacky, and a riot to watch. Frequency is just plain good, and I hope I don’t have to expound upon that.

No matter how many movies I saw, there were still many more that I elected not to see, and thought to catch up on them later at the video store. For the most part, in doing this I discovered I chose wisely in skipping, but I did find one movie that came out earlier this year that deserves a little bit of attention, and that movie is The Whole Nine Yards. Bruce Willis was incredibly busy this year (Unbreakable being one of his finest acting performances, despite being a controversial film), and who knew that yet another mob comedy could be actually funny? Especially if it was set in Canada? But I think that Matthew Perry is about the only watchable Friend, and he and Bruce do a bang-up job.

Dogma. I’m going to say that word, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you better by tomorrow night. Kevin Smith wisely takes the View Askew team in a new direction, and the result is a terrific romp through faith, mythology, one-liners, and New Jersey. Snootches.

Looking through the rest of my movie list from 2000, I see a lot of films that registered neither hot nor cold, but just were there. The Cell could’ve been great, could’ve been bad, and was neither. Men of Honor preened hopelessly for an Oscar, but it ain’t gonna happen. The Emperor’s New Groove was hilarious but a little too short (does anyone remember the days when Disney would spend YEARS working on an animated flick, and now it seems like they crank one out every three weeks?). The Grinch committed a few minor sins of being too long and also messing with tradition, and that don’t sit well with my gut. Meet the Parents: Very funny in spots, but lost pacing in some places.

Certainly, there weren’t any incredibly poignant surprises like Fight Club or The Matrix or American Beauty, and that’s a shame, because next year’s Oscars will be more dull than usual. I’ve already jumped on the hype train of 2001 (Harry Potter! Lord of the Rings! Spider-Man!), but if history has anything to show us (other than World War II found some really cool uses for tanks), it is that only about 15% of these anticipated hits will live up to expectations, and a number of unknowns will fall out into our happily surprised laps.

Did I do okay? Did I?

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