A bad year in film, which virtually everyone agrees 2000 was, is especially hard on critics. Although no one ever pities film critics, who make it a profession to ruthlessly and righteously critique anything anyone dares commit to celluloid, it’s movie reviewers who have to sit through the majority of a year’s bad films. From the utter inanity of Road Trip to the never-ending awfulness of Battlefield Earth, this was a year when “screening” for me, more often than not was synonymous with “suffering.” As a consequence, critic shellshock meant fairly decent films (M:I2, X-Men) became fairly great in comparison, and pretty good films (What Lies Beneath, Gladiator) seemed pretty fantastic in contrast. With critics struggling to remember what a good movie was from last year (Being John Malkovich, American Beauty), they found themselves instead this year drowning in a perfect storm of imperfect movies.
One reason this year’s movie quality was hard to keep in perspective was there appeared to be no contrarion camp to join. Many of the edgier works released in 2000 were overlooked or misunderstood, disinviting yet another year of critical factioning into independent-lovers versus blockbuster-goers. And, having come to expect the existence of indie features, critics and audiences raised the bar on them, growing less tolerant of works that pushed the envelope while occasionally exhibiting flaws. This year’s grouping of alternative movies did go farther than ever before, punching at their audiences with shock and sadism, daring their viewers to laugh at dismemberments and find stalkers dear. This flush of discomforting films about anxiety, rage, sickness and pain–frequently coupled with humor–was perhaps more easy than ever before to refuse and ignore.
Ultimately, it’s these movies, the ones that, no matter how imperfectly, do what an art form should do, push at its own boundaries, were the ones that were great this year. No matter how decidedly inconsistent or occasionally underdeveloped these movies were, they pushed the medium forward. They were about sex and violence, drugs and junkies, sadists and cripples, serial killers and stalkers. They were also about the filmmaking process itself, what it means to be a male, life at the bottom the emotional and physical barrel. It was these movies that asked us to stretch ourselves outside our skins while seated inside the comfortable confines of a darkened movie theater.
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