8. STARTUP.COM. Not just an uncannily prescient portrait in microcosm of what buried the Internet boom, Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim's fly-on the-wall documentary is the most scathingly funny work of nonfiction since Roger & Me. And in this case, the victims deserve it! Succeeding by virtue of their subjects' failure, the co-directors put their money on a sure thing--that is, on the imminent undoing of a pathetic pair of twentysomething Web hustlers--and watch the bet pay off big time. Having howled uncontrollably throughout each of four or five viewings, I'd assess the value of entertainment here as nearly equal to what I lost in the market in 2001. Nearly.
9. HAPPY ACCIDENTS. Between Vincent D'Onofrio's genial alienisms and Marisa Tomei's sex-in-the-city jitters, this sci-fi-inflected romantic comedy from writer-director Brad Anderson (Next Stop Wonderland) certainly isn't lacking for over-the-top Method. So it helps immeasurably if you happen to love the actors. (I do.) But where any romantic comedy (or romantic relationship) depends at least a little on chemistry, Happy Accidents is more about the considerable effort required to stretch that chemistry across time and space. In fact, the word fate--this genre's convenient excuse for contrivance--is never once mentioned.
10. THE KING IS ALIVE. No less a disaster movie than The Towering Inferno (and likewise predicated on the spectacle of beautiful people perishing in the most appalling ways imaginable), this last gasp of the Danish Dogme movement follows a bunch of privileged Western vacationers who get trapped in the infinite oven of the Namibian desert and decide to expend their remaining energies on staging an off-off-off-Broadway production of King Lear in which everyone plays the Fool. That the sole audience member for these self-pitying shenanigans is a native Namibian (Peter Kubheka) who watches silently from his desert shack (and periodically narrates the tragedy in voiceover) suggests the perspective that was conspicuously missing from so much "comprehensive" disaster reportage--just as recent history turned the movie from a good one into a great one.
The Rest of the Top 40
(in order of preference)
Any of these gems would have made my Top 10 in a less remarkable year: Under the Sand; Werckmeister Harmonies; The Pledge; The Circle; Beaver Trilogy; The Gleaners and I; Amores Perros; Cure; Memento; Va savoir; Series 7; Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m.; Sexy Beast; Audition; The Day I Became a Woman; Hedwig and the Angry Inch; My Voyage to Italy; Baby Boy; The Vertical Ray of the Sun; Tape; Monsters, Inc.; Trouble Every Day; Lumumba; Spy Kids; The Road Home; Fighter; Keep the River on Your Right; Gosford Park; Ocean's Eleven; and Bully.
Better Than You Heard
These ten got a pretty bum rap, critically and/or commercially: Brother; The Fast and the Furious; The Golden Bowl; I Am Sam; Jeepers Creepers; Made; Osmosis Jones; Shallow Hal; Pootie Tang; and The Wash.
Musts to Avoid
Granted, I didn't see Tomcats or What's the Worst That Could Happen? These ten were egregious enough:
A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. So you don't agree that Steven Spielberg's latest display of birth envy is a chintzy-looking bore? Wanna fight about it? My robot can beat up your robot.
BUBBLE BOY. Disney's would-be wacky tale of an immunodeficient teen who pursues the girl of his dreams while wearing a germ-free bubble suit produces, among other things, the worst unintended metaphor of a movie year that was full of unintended metaphors. Hollywood is a plastic bubble, to be sure--but that doesn't excuse the filmmakers for not getting out more.
FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN. Studio movies are artificial enough without what Columbia Pictures billed as "the first HyperReal computer-generated feature film." What Is Cinema? author André Bazin isn't just turning over in his grave; he's dropping a quarter in the coffin in hopes of virtually kicking Aki Ross's ass.
JOE SOMEBODY. The economy class of made-in-Minnesota movies has always drawn humor (or "humor") from the most pathetic variety of emasculation--something about the less-than-towering appearance of our skyline from the vantage point of either coast, I'd venture. Here, a wimpy corporate peon whose 12-year-old daughter sees him getting "bitch-slapped" by a beefy co-worker takes revenge--while our state's reputation suffers its worst beating since Fargo.
THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE. More notoriety for Minnesota--or is that less? The Coen Brothers' empty exercise in old Hollywood pastiche slaps together black-and-white "noir" atmospherics and the usual misanthropy in a manner that makes one long for the relative livelihood of Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. The Coens' ponderous tale of a Santa Rosa barber was widely praised for its dark humor, but here's what's really funny: All those scissors on the set and still the shaggy-haired siblings couldn't clean themselves up for Cannes?
MEGIDDO. Those terrorists may have made Schwarzenegger's Collateral Damage run for cover, but this Christian-funded vision of apocalypse now--culminating in the image of U.S. tanks and troops battling "evil" in the Holy Land--held firm to Providence Entertainment's divinely determined release date of September 21. The lesson: God budges for no man.
MOULIN ROUGE. At a time in film history when actual celluloid stands as endangered as original music in a musical, the corporate-jukebox aesthetic on display here bodes well for the fully digital cinema of the future. When beleaguered celebs like Nicole Kidman would rather not drive to the set to make their movies, they'll be stored on the hard drives of super conductors such as Rupert Murdoch, and double-clicked to duet with other virtual stars for a song.