It could be a national emergency or maybe a constitutional crisis: Fifty-five film critics, mainly from the alternative press, mostly from the blue zone, list their Top 10 films of the year 2000, we tally them up, and not one of the 10 leading vote-getters is made in U.S.A.
Don’t go asking for a recount. At least The House of Mirth (#3) and Dancer in the Dark (#6) are respectively set in America and “America.” Speaking of the real world, did you see the year-end Variety headline? “YANKS RANK BUT LOCALS TANK: Home-grown fare dwarfed at Euro B.O.” Seems Warner’s Exorcist rerelease managed to outgross all the Italian films in Italy. Be that as it may, 2000 was still an anemic year for American movies, whether Hollywood or independent productions. There was no Being John Malkovich (last year’s #1), no Election, no Straight Story or Boys Don’t Cry or Magnolia or even South Park, just to name the movies that finished in the 1999 Top 10. There wasn’t even an Eyes Wide Shut or a Blair Witch Project or a Fight Club to argue about—unless you count Dancer in the Dark (whoops, foreign). Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, without doubt the year’s most contentious and provocative studio movie, came in at #37.
A couple of quite different American indies—You Can Count on Me (#11) and George Washington (#14), first features both—bubbled just under the 10 favorites. But what about ye olde Hollywood pleasure principle? I’d say that the three highest-ranked studio films—Traffic (#12), Wonder Boys (#13), and Almost Famous (#15)—collectively constitute some sort of gesture in the direction of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. And it would be foolish to assume that Gillian Anderson’s decisive win for best performance had nothing to do with her secret identity as Madam X-Files. Fact is that the year’s highest-polling movie-movie was the Mandarin-language Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (#5).
As packaged by the alarmingly versatile Ang Lee and promoted by his partner, screenwriter James Schamus (who’s been blurbing the film as a tai chi Sense and Sensibility or something like that), Crouching Tiger is to the King Hu flicks of the late ’60s as Star Wars was to the Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s. You can wax knowledgeably nostalgic for honest old-time pulp, or you can assert your innocence and embrace the newfangled plastic stuff. Actually, the difference isn’t all that great—having recruited the great Yuen Wo-ping to stage his gravity-defying fight scenes, Lee is closer in spirit to the original than George Lucas ever was.
Time magazine has already named Crouching Tiger movie of the year; its success has prompted The New Yorker to some excited speculation that a Chinese invasion might rejuvenate Hollywood. Dude, where’s your car? That’s so already happened. John Woo’s Mission: Impossible 2 is the year’s top-grossing movie. (It didn’t get a single vote in our poll, but hey, neither did Little Nicky.) Jackie Chan has finally kicked Arnold’s butt as our reigning foreign action star—just ask Miramax. Everybody knows that Cameron Diaz aside, just about the only thing that made Charlie’s Angels watchable was the kung-fu choreography supplied by Yuen’s kid brother, Cheung-yan. And where would The Matrix—which garnered nearly as many points in the 1999 Voice poll as this year’s top studio release—be without the wirework stunts concocted by Master Yuen?
Moving into another realm of fandom, this year’s runner-up, Edward Yang’s male midlife crisis-cum-extended family drama, Yi Yi (#2), has already been crowned best foreign film by the New York and L.A. critics. (It also tied for most number of ballot mentions with 31.) I think it’s a real good movie, but—like most of Kieslowski’s Decalogue—it’s even greater television. Personally, I would have liked to see more votes for Lou Ye’s Suzhou River. (Where was everyone on that?) Still, Jia Zhangke’s Platform—which topped our undistributed film category—finished #23, just ahead of Erin Brockovich, solely on the basis of its festival screenings. And, with 83.5 points already in the bank, Wong Kar-wai’s yet-to-be-released In the Mood For Love (#9) is already positioned as the film to beat in 2001.
OK. I can hear the grumbling in cyberspace. Just how will this poll play outside lower Manhattan, even with people who know their foreign auteurs? Thanks to Taboo (#18), Nagisa Oshima was just about the only old master to get a feature on the list. (Jean-Luc Godard’s 29th-ranked Origin of the 21st Century is a short.) More than anything, the 2000 vote confirmed a generation of established foreign filmmakers who have had to fight, film by film, to get any sort of American visibility. Edward Yang, who hadn’t had a film picked for distribution since The
Terrorizer back in 1988, was overwhelmingly voted the year’s best director. The high end of the survey was packed with somewhat more widely known festival gods—Terence Davies, Ang Lee, Wong Kar-wai, and Lars von Trier (boomers all), as well as the slightly older Raúl Ruiz and Abbas Kiarostami. Which brings me to Claire Denis . . .
I’m pleased and amazed that Beau Travail, which could be loosely translated as “nice job,” finished first. For pure sensuous filmmaking you cannot beat Denis’s French foreign legion take on Billy Budd. (Note too that Agnès Godard easily won as best cinematographer.) Every cut in Beau Travail is a small, gorgeously explosive shock that you don’t need French, only eyes, to get.
What, you never heard of it, you say you can’t see it? Don’t complain to me. Complain to your local theater. Contact the distributor. (It’s New Yorker Films.) Write your congressman. Show this poll to 10 of your friends. Picket the multiplex. Kick out the Grinch. Stand up for your rights. That would be some beaucoup beau travail for sure.