The Year in Film 2000 

The best, the worst, the films you didn't see

The best, the worst, the films you didn't see

Expecting to see films such as The House of Mirth, Yi Yi, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Wind Will Carry Us, and Pollock topping our year-end Top 10 lists? Well, you won’t. These films have been showered elsewhere with year-end honors, but the simple truth is, we Nashvillians have not been allowed to see them. As far as film distribution is concerned, we red-zoners are living in a separate country from the coastal blue-zone tastemakers, whose whims determine which cultural crumbs will sift down to our tables. Since their opinion matters more than yours and ours, they get the movies months ahead of us, the better to let us know what to think of them. Tough luck, Nashville.

So was 2000 indeed the worst year for movies since the advent of sound, as some pundits seriously claimed? Not unless you saw only the movies with Jerry Bruckheimer’s name attached—and even Remember the Titans wasn’t bad. Just before Christmas, the movie that topped two of our lists showed up in one Nashville theater—it’s reviewed on p. 29—and it was preceded by 12 months of remarkable films, even if some were leftovers from previous years. You’ll find those and more in our annual take on the best and worst of the cinematic year.

The lights, please:

Jim Ridley’s Top 10

1. You Can Count on Me In his keenly felt comedy-drama, Kenneth Lonergan addresses how people handle lives they didn’t choose, why siblings share a bond that may bend but cannot break, how abstract spiritual principles translate into real-world choices, and how important a single life is in the grand scheme of living.

2. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai As in his visionary acid Western Dead Man, writer-director Jim Jarmusch uses a genre piece—in this case, the hit-man thriller—to celebrate the breakdown of cultural boundaries and American isolationism. Plus it’s funny as hell, has a kick-ass RZA hip-hop soundtrack, and gives Forest Whitaker his meatiest role in years.

3. Dark Days Five years in the making, Marc Singer’s stunning documentary illuminates the lives of a makeshift community in New York’s abandoned subway tunnels, finding value in the things people above ground have thrown away—a pregnant metaphor if ever there was one.

4. The Virgin Suicides Writer-director Sofia Coppola is too young to remember the 1970s firsthand, and her haunting debut is better for it. Her vividly imagined portrait of suburban repression evokes a palpable Me Decade moodscape—a fog of inchoate teen yearning, ethereal FM pop, and sexual and emotional isolation—without ever resorting to lava lamps and leisure suits.

5. Beau Travail Claire Denis’ updating of Billy Budd to a remote Legionnaire outpost in sun-scorched Africa is alternately mesmerizing and mystifying, but it’s as tactile and sensually overpowering as movies get—especially as shot by Agnes Godard in a palette of sweat, sand, muscle, and heat. Kudos to all five people who saw it at the Belcourt.

6. L’Humanité In Bruno Dumont’s anti-police procedural, the crime implicates everyone, the solution absolves no one, and the investigator (crestfallen Emmanuel Schotté) finds only guilt and doubt in himself and his fellow man—just as in life.

7. Set Me Free A superb and sadly overlooked coming-of-age drama by Léa Pool, with an indelible performance by Karine Vanasse as a 13-year-old girl growing up in 1960s Quebec under the spell of Godard’s femme fatale Anna Karina.

8. George Washington One of the most original American movies nobody saw this year, David Gordon Green’s film about a racially mixed group of kids in an elegiac industrial wasteland may feature awkward and amateurish performances—but these are more than offset by poetic writing, staggeringly beautiful images (on the lowest of budgets), and a transcendent, oddly comic vision.

9. Dancer in the Dark By offering up Björk as an all-singing, all-dancing sacrifice to American xenophobia and judicial misconduct, Lars von Trier managed to piss off the same critics who overpraised his equally loony Breaking the Waves. Yet despite—or perhaps because of—von Trier’s sadistic streak and sensation-mongering, this musical melodrama is ambitious, audacious, and emotionally devastating.

10. Bring It On/Charlie’s Angels/Shanghai Noon The three most sheerly enjoyable movies I saw all year: smart, exuberant pop entertainments crafted expressly for the wide screen, all of which yielded more pleasure every time I saw them. For proof that nothing succeeds like excess, I’d trade almost every movie this year for the first 10 minutes of Charlie’s Angels and the last five of Beau Travail.

Honorable Mentions: Almost Famous, The Filth and the Fury, Girlfight, Hamlet, The Late Last Night, Love and Basketball, Mission to Mars, Not One Less, Two Family House, Wonder Boys, and the first half of Bamboozled.

Special Recognition: To Scott and Mimi Manzler and F. Clark Williams of Nashville Premieres, whose superlative programming this year—from Stanley Kwan’s Actress to Jacques Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort, from Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man to Robert Bresson’s Au hasard, Balthazar—constituted a Top 10 list that shames the one laid out above.

Noel Murray’s Top 10

1. You Can Count on Me Two grown orphan siblings hurt each other, heal each other, and cope with their respective lack of spiritual guidance in this funny, heartrending, and oh-so-precise debut film from incisive playwright Kenneth Lonergan.

2. Almost Famous Cameron Crowe’s perhaps excessively crowd-pleasing semi-memoir of his life as a rock journalist in the early ’70s is irresistibly ripe with direct dialogue, classically timed gags, the sting of young romance, and the flaw of being too starstruck to acknowledge that the thing you love is profoundly corrupt.

3. Croupier The wickedly reflexive tale of a novelist who moonlights as a roulette spinner and manipulates his customers as he manipulates his characters, leaving those of us who watch him to wonder if he realizes how involved he is in his own fictions.

4. The Virgin Suicides Upscale ’70s suburban teens fantasize about the potential girlfriends and boyfriends across the street, objectifying the opposite sex to the point of embalming them and converting desire to a dust-gathering knickknack.

5. Dark Days Documentarian Marc Singer descends deep into the subway tunnels of New York City and finds a community of drug-addled but industrious raconteurs living surprisingly well off the trash of surface dwellers, in an underground village that would be the stuff of adventure fantasy if it weren’t for the rats and piles of human waste.

6. The Color of Paradise Iranian cinema aficionados may be weary of the country’s steady supply of films about children confronting the venality of adults, but so long as they continue to be as lush, soulful, and involving as this Majid Majidi portrait of a blind child and his tragically superstitious father, there’s no reason to gripe about the glut.

7. Jesus’ Son Denis Johnson’s episodic stories about a sweet-natured junkie who destroys everything he touches is given a religious dimension by director Alison Maclean, who conceives the act of delivering people into death as the ultimate kindness in a bruised, somnambulant world.

8. Sunshine Ralph Fiennes plays the scions of three generations of a Hungarian Jewish family in this engaging epic of fortunes won and lost, with identity as the steep price for safely navigating the violent whims of 20th-century Europe.

9. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai An African American hit man uses the philosophy of Japanese warriors to help him fulfill contracts at the behest of a Mafia deputy in Jim Jarmusch’s hypnotic and amusingly cockeyed take on the decay of thuggish honor across oceans and eras.

10. Cast Away/What Lies Beneath Director Robert Zemeckis’ debilitating fear of probative or troubling ideas keeps his entertainments from getting under the skin, but their surfaces are marvelously attractive, and these two pictures are as gripping and visually inventive as almost anything that more acclaimed auteurs dreamed up this year.

Honorable Mentions: Billy Elliot, Erin Brockovich, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, Meet the Parents, Nurse Betty, O Brother Where Art Thou?, The Original Kings of Comedy, Shanghai Noon, The Third Miracle, Unbreakable.

Donna Bowman's Top 10

1. Dancer in the Dark Derided by some as a colossal humbug, Lars von Trier’s masterpiece to date is a total immersion in its characters’ melodrama, music, and raw emotion. Viewers expecting fin de siècle irony simply couldn’t handle its sincerity.

2. You Can Count on Me This rare and fragile film is written not about its story, but around it. Its performers allow the truth about their lives to emerge between the lines, and the result is breathtaking.

3. Nurse Betty Although the quality of the films on my list falls off precipitously at this point, No. 3 has this in common with No. 1: Many critics panned it because they were expecting savage black comedy and couldn’t process the humanity and affection that the director (in this case Neil LaBute) invested in his oddball creations.

4. Wonder Boys The long disappointments of summer and fall have almost erased the memory of this loving meditation on art, pressure, and creativity; it deserves another look for year-end awards.

5. Erin Brockovich Since Steven Soderbergh’s second 2000 effort, Traffic, remains unseen at this point, his rousing yet stylish tribute to social activism—in whatever strange places it’s found—stands alone.

6. The Third Miracle Agnieszka Holland’s studied, serious look at what humans might make of the actual hand of God in the world is luminously important in a movie marketplace crowded with holy cheats and CGI spirituality.

7. Fantasia 2000 In a meager year like this one, a movie lover has to dispense with the “three good scenes, no bad ones” rule. The monumental “Pines of Rome,” “Rhapsody in Blue,” and “Firebird” sequences more than compensate for a weak toy-soldier fable and some awkward transitions.

8. What Lies Beneath Ditto for Zemeckis’ twisty thriller, which has some third-act problems but nevertheless showcased some of the most creative and effective entertainment filmmaking of the year.

9. Requiem for a Dream Darren Aronofsky doesn’t quite overcome his problem with story in his follow-up to Pi, but his style is now so mature, so fully realized, and so original that it almost becomes substance all by itself.

10. The Original Kings of Comedy Not only the hands-down most entertaining film of the year, Spike Lee’s documentary also weaves subtle and beautiful themes of inclusion and community through its raucous laughter.

Honorable Mentions: Bounce, The Color of Paradise, Croupier, Jesus’ Son, Love and Basketball, Set Me Free, Small Time Crooks, Sunshine.

Tough acts to follow

Great performances of 2000, and performers to watch in 2001.

Christian Bale In American Psycho, he found humorously sympathetic shades in a murderous yuppie and almost redeemed the flat, passé satire; then in Shaft, he essentially inverted the character, supplying sticky menace to a stock comic villain. N.M.

Björk Strangely enough, Dancer in the Dark wouldn’t have been detested as strongly if audiences hadn’t felt so protective of Björk’s cruelly manipulated Selma; it’s thrilling, then, when the actress shakes off the role’s downtrodden trappings and unleashes her soul-searing voice in the movie’s conclusion. J.R.

Jack Black Releasing the inner soul man trapped in every hipper-than-thou record-store clerk, Black went from Tenacious D to MVP in High Fidelity, and his cameo as a pill-popping orderly in Jesus’ Son gave that movie a demented lift. J.R.

Ellen Burstyn Amidst the elegies for 1970s Hollywood, Burstyn turned in performances every bit the equal of her Last Picture Show/King of Marvin Gardens milestones: as the sorely tried Southern lady in the overlooked Walking Across Egypt, as Mark Wahlberg’s dying mother in The Yards, and as the drug-addled TV addict in the most scarifying sections of Requiem for a Dream. For comparison’s sake, she was there in the reissue of The Exorcist, where her fearsome conviction was the only special effect that mattered. J.R.

Billy Crudup One of the true chameleons of the screen, Crudup was the amiable, distracted voice of Jesus’ Son’s wastrel protagonist, and he brought a Machiavellian undercurrent to the guitar hero of Almost Famous, raising the film’s stakes and assuring that the idyllic ending would have an unsatisfying smack. N.M.

Vin Diesel His physical presence almost single-handedly made Pitch Black worth sitting through, and his black-on-black Armani charisma drove Boiler Room. Memo to Hollywood: Get him and Nicky Katt together, and you’ve got your movie. D.B.

Kirsten Dunst Her prom-queen-with-a-punk-fetish maintained Bring It On’s unflagging enthusiasm and made her a suitably obscure object of desire for the nameless everyboy narrator of The Virgin Suicides. N.M.

Morgan Freeman He’s often forgotten when critics tote up the successes in movies like The Shawshank Redemption, but Freeman reminds us of his greatness in Nurse Betty when he takes a puzzled look at two pictures and mutters, “Just doesn’t fit the profile.” D.B.

Rachel Griffiths Just when the premise of careerists getting a fantasy-camp tryout in familyland was getting exhausting, Griffiths stepped into Me Myself I and showed Demi Moore, Gwyneth Paltrow, and even Nicolas Cage how to do the part right—by treating the project as an opportunity to explore, to see if it takes a unique set of skills to be a domestic goddess. N.M.

Sanaa Lathan Breaking out of supporting roles in routine urban melodramas, Lathan made her complex character real without sacrificing any of her flawed facets in Love and Basketball. All this, and she got game. D.B.

Denis Lavant French actor Lavant has the heavy-browed, thick-nosed mug of the primordial organism that evolved into Lee Marvin, and in Beau Travail, you couldn’t take your eyes off it. His explosive dance in the closing minutes, shaking off a lifetime of brutal servitude, made most movie catharses look like hiccups. J.R.

Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo As You Can Count on Me’s life-shuffled siblings, buttoned-down Linney and scruffy Ruffalo complete each other’s performances. Thanks to an almost instinctual awareness of each other’s mood shifts and manners, they’re the rare movie relatives who conceivably could have grown up together. J.R.

Paul Mooney Flawed and didactic as it was, Spike Lee’s Bamboozled still deserved better than its low-tech lynching, and even critics who took time to blast it couldn’t find space to mention Mooney’s brief role as Damon Wayans’ nightclub-comic dad. But Mooney’s scalding performance—filled with loathing at the son’s racial self-hatred, and at his own role in shaping it—was the saddest swallow of Lee’s bitter brew. J.R.

David Morse In Dancer in the Dark and Proof of Life, this distinguished but unprepossessing actor put us in the shoes of men undergoing extreme and unimaginable strains, making us full participants in their agonies. D.B.

Clive Owen This summer, alongside gruff, formidable alpha dudes like Russell Crowe’s Maximus and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Croupier’s suave antihero staked out his own realm of manly cool—and made the movie a word-of-mouth smash. J.R.

Christopher Plummer CBS’ miniseries on the O.J. Simpson trial had the misfortune of being interrupted by recounts and other boring historical stuff, but Plummer’s poignant, funny take on F. Lee Bailey, a Watergate jurist in a Johnnie Cochran world, embodied the rapidly changing times. D.B.

Michelle Rodriguez From Girlfight’s opening shot, which dared the audience to stare back into Rodriguez’s smoldering eyes, this femme fighter declared herself Y2K’s cham-peen asskicker. You got a problem with that? J.R.

Henry Silva As Ghost Dog’s desiccated mob boss, veteran heavy Silva personified a tough-guy code vanishing into obsolescence. His eruptive line readings were like offbrand bullets: You never knew where they were going, and they always drew blood just the same. J.R.

Fred Willard After an unfunny and borderline insulting opening half-hour, Christopher Guest’s Best in Show gets a soul when his bombastically rube-like dog lovers start pouring their hearts into their pets. Then Willard shows up as a willfully uninformed TV commentator, and the film gets back some goodwill in the form of hearty belly laughs. N.M.

Robert Zemeckis’ camera Whether diving beneath floorboards or lying in a bathtub in What Lies Beneath, or bobbing in the water in Cast Away, the mechanical eye of one of our most masterful visual storytellers showed us things we’d seen before, but from angles that kept us craning our necks to see more. N.M.

Three fans' notes

♦ With heartening frequency in Cinema 2000, the music was the message. RZA’s soundtrack to Ghost Dog established Jim Jarmusch’s deeply felt exploration of criminal culture clash in a collision of hip-hop beats and near-classical instrumentation. Even better than Billy Elliot’s explosion of street dancing set to The Jam’s “A Town Called Malice” was the opening credits’ use of T. Rex, which signaled the film’s theme of an aggressive male culture expressing an ambivalent sexuality. In High Fidelity, John Cusack’s record-store owner cleverly turned his customers on to the pleasures of The Beta Band. The Groove party rebooted when DJ John Digweed finally dragged in his crate of discs for an ecstatic spin. Björk’s musical numbers in Dancer in the Dark (especially the devastating “I’ve Seen It All”) transcended Lars von Trier’s often stagnant genre play. When the Soggy Bottom Boys come out of hiding in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, their electrifying rendition of “Man of Constant Sorrow” is a proto-rock-’n’-roll moment. And when Jim Carrey mangles The Whos’ Christmas song at the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, he demonstrates that there’s still a vein of joyous anarchy in his newly enlarged heart. N.M.

♦ The movies rediscovered the magic of dance, solitary and communal, in the 20th century’s waning days: Mel Gibson revealed a heartthrob’s grace and style in What Women Want’s only transcendent moment; Center Stage went back under the proscenium arch, where the movies found their legs a century ago, for its toe(shoe)-tapping numbers; automobiles got into the act in Mission: Impossible 2; and even the misbegotten Flintstones sequel levitated for a moment in Rock Vegas. Bravo! Brava! And encore! D.B.

♦ The best film writing in America was done this year by people whose names never appeared in ads or trailers—generally because their ideas couldn’t be boiled down to sound bytes. Elsewhere in this issue, we salute the Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum (see the story on p. 25), but we’re also indebted to J. Hoberman of the Village Voice, Kent Jones of Film Comment, Dave Kehr of New York citysearch.com, Stuart Klawans of The Nation, and, among the mainstream, Lisa Schwartzbaum of Entertainment Weekly—a needed antidote to her colleague Owen Gleiberman’s glib dismissals of thought-provoking films. On the ’Net, apart from fine webzines such as Senses of Cinema, the faith was kept by sites such as Gabe Klinger’s 24FPS, Steve Erickson’s I, a Critic, and the all-encompassing Alex Fung’s Film Page, among too many others to list. J.R.

♦ Impressive swings, forgivable misses: Spike Lee’s risky and occasionally embarrassing Bamboozled was nevertheless a frequently harrowing purgation of the director’s rage at the racist imagery deeply entrenched in American culture. And James Toback’s too slick and too pat Black & White deserves credit for confronting the hypocrisies and patronization inherent in the white embrace of black culture, even if Toback’s plot-heavy approach made the film more an amusement than a provocation. N.M.

♦ Best releases of 1999 we didn’t get to see until 2000: Paul Thomas Anderson’s dazzling Magnolia, Tsai Ming-liang’s The Hole, Ziad Doueiri’s West Beirut, and the reissue of Jacques Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort. J.R.

♦ The Book of Creation: Revelation is everywhere if you can feel it, and the blind Iranian boy in The Color of Paradise finds it through his fingers. As he walks through a field of wheat, he lets his hands pass over the heads of grain and “reads” their texture as if the field were a page and the wheat were dots of Braille. D.B.

♦ Stucco in the ’70s: The decrepit remnants of communes and flophouses make a bleak landscape for the fogbound eccentrics of Jesus’ Son, while the meticulously preserved rich folks’ homes in The Virgin Suicides have rot at their roots. And when a rock star and his tagalong teen journalist visit a middle-class suburban dwelling in Almost Famous, the idol marvels at how much the house reminds him of the one in which he grew up. N.M.

♦ If not for the work of distributors like WinStar Cinema (L’Humanité), New Yorker Films (Beau Travail), Milestone Films (The Sorrow and the Pity), Cowboy Booking (George Washington), and Rialto Films (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie), 2000 would have been as bad a movie year as everyone said. And kudos to the Shooting Gallery (Croupier, Non-Stop) for proving that unreleased foreign and indie films can reach a wider audience without resorting to hucksterism. J.R.

♦ Moments I treasure from the movie year 2000: the sandpapery physicality of the early training scenes in Beau Travail; the soulless speed with which Clive Owen sorts out casino chips in Croupier; the look on Laura Linney’s face as she drives away from her wayward brother in You Can Count on Me; Crispin Glover’s silent Thin Man coiling for battle against the invincible Powerpuff Girls of Charlie’s Angels; Jeff Bridges’ president testing his executive power through immediate snack orders in the mostly bad The Contender; the sunburst slow-motion shot of kids scampering through a rust-belt fairyland in George Washington; the cloistered boys and girls of The Virgin Suicides letting Todd Rundgren records voice their innermost regrets and desires on the telephone. J.R.

♦ We Can Be Heroes: The strange world of Unbreakable, where superhero comic books and the movies rubbed together with a friction that showed just how different the two genres are, achieved unity at least once. Following the striking visual image of Willis’ “Security Man” being consumed by a swimming-pool cover, director M. Night Shyamalan shows him climbing out of the threatening water—aided by the two children he’d freed minutes before. Standing beside the pool, mute, frightened, and stationary, the children take the movie beyond its provincial, genre-focused themes. D.B.

♦ Laying on of Hands: Billy Crudup’s character in Jesus’ Son wants to heal, but all he seems to be able to do is destroy. Trying to save baby rabbits, he instead accidentally crushes them, then weeps over his own misbegotten power in a silent, snowbound pickup truck. D.B.

Hall of Shame

♦ Disney’s Dinosaur not only had an unfortunate design sense—realistic-looking creatures with anthropomorphic gestures and animated mouths—but it also had the most ridiculous ending of the year. Parents had a lot of explaining to do when their kids asked whether the dinosaurs lived happily ever after. D.B.

♦ Trailer Trashing, Part One: Please, no more “spoiler” trailers. Without having seen Cast Away, I know from the preview how Tom Hanks makes it onto and off of a remote island—which means I can safely miss the first 90 minutes. Similar offenders include Bounce, Bedazzled, Men of Honor, and The Legend of Bagger Vance; in every case, the appetizer ruins the meal. But try telling studio execs that familiarity breeds contempt. J.R.

♦ Men We Never Want to See Cry Again: Giovanni Ribisi blubbering like a spanked 6-year-old in Boiler Room, and Ben Affleck screwing up his expressionless puss to squeeze out a tear in Bounce. D.B.

♦ What was up with Zak Orth, who played a slappable upscale brat in Loser and a dorm-based porn auteur in Down to You? His characters were irritating, bizarre, and unattractive; his career as a character actor is off to a...well, it’s off. N.M.

♦ Trailer Trashing, Part Two: Please, no more foreign-film trailers designed to hoodwink subtitle-wary audiences. The worst current offender is the trailer for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which smothers its dazzling images with boilerplate English-language narration—intended only to camouflage the fact that the movie’s in Mandarin Chinese. Rule of thumb: If the narrator says, “In a world...,” “He was a [fill in the blank],” or “In the time of...,” but you hear no actual dialogue, you can bet it’s a foreign film. J.R.

♦ Speaking of Crouching Tiger, we’re not looking forward to Hong Kong-style wire work replacing the John Woo two-handed gun ballet as the action-movie cliché du jour. The Matrix and Charlie’s Angels were cool, but c’mon—Dracula 2000? If yer name ain’t Wo-Ping or Siu-Tung, leave the wires to Western Union. J.R.

♦ Peter Fonda was apparently under the impression that his role in Thomas and the Magic Railroad was an audition for a role as a recorded voice on a subway; his monotone line readings about tracks, engines, and pixie dust were baffling when they weren’t depressing. D.B.

♦ John Travolta does many things well. Screaming is not one of them. Yet he made two movies this year—Lucky Numbers and Battlefield: Earth—in which he does little else. D.B.

♦ This year marked an inauspicious debut for Piper Perabo, who played a shrill twit in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and a defused sex bomb in Coyote Ugly. N.M.

♦ Leelee Sobieski had such a bright future. Then she decided to become a teen romance heroine, took blank-expression lessons from Milla Jovovich, and made Here on Earth, a movie so bad that it shouldn’t be allowed in the solar orbit. D.B.

♦ Among the many acting crimes in The Cell, the most painful were committed by Vincent D’Onofrio, whose talent seems to have degenerated into brutal self-parody. D.B.

♦ Add to the list of People Who Shouldn’t Be Allowed in Commercials, Let Alone Movies: David Arquette, Orlando Jones, Marlon Wayans, Hallie Kate Eisenberg. D.B.

♦ Academy Award blues for Helen Hunt, whose commanding turn in the corner of Dr. T & the Women didn’t make up for her inarticulate, unfocused take on a working-class alcoholic in Pay It Forward or her net-bound returns of Mel Gibson’s serve in What Women Want. Meanwhile, her Pay It Forward costar Kevin Spacey had post-Oscar problems of his own, as he underplayed his part to the point of nonexistence and overplayed The Big Kahuna so discordantly that he almost drowned out the subtle notes of costar Danny DeVito. N.M.

♦ Your 15 Minutes Are Up: Dogme 95, Rose McGowan, Gretchen Mol, Piper Perabo, Freddie Prinze Jr., rapper vanity vehicles (Turn It Up, Backstage, etc.), Steven Seagal. You’re at 14:55 and Counting: Benjamin Bratt, Kevin Costner, Salma Hayek, Elisabeth Shue. Your Seven-and-a-Half Minutes Are Up: the cast of Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows. J.R.

♦ If you believe the movies, behind every respectable door rests a nest of pot fiends. Characters toked up casually in What Women Want and The Cell, as well as in countless teen comedies, erstwhile indies (like our beloved You Can Count on Me), and two paeans to weed, the Brit-com Saving Grace and the propaganda doc Grass. Even those of us who don’t begrudge our friends their vices have to wonder what Hollywood and its satellites are smoking if they think that recreational drug use is this pervasive and innocuous. N.M.

♦ Shame on both Traffic and Requiem for a Dream, which resurrected the exploitation-movie truism that the ultimate horror of drug abuse is a white woman having sex with a black man. What is this, 1967? And shame on Traffic for suggesting that the drug trade isn’t a problem until rich white kids start copping. What is this, 1957? J.R.

♦ Just when we thought that the wan, ramshackle indie comedy had been buried, here comes The Tao of Steve with its cast of unappealing, unbelievable oddballs and a pop-culture-saturated philosophy that may have been inspired by a real person but feels like the product of word processors alone. N.M.

♦ When did Lucy Liu become the only choice for Generic Sexy Female (Play It to the Bone, Shanghai Noon, Charlie’s Angels)? We know there are more interesting, talented, and exotic women draped over casting directors’ couches. D.B.

♦ It’s not just that gross-out comedies are getting ever grosser—we respect that discomfort with our bodies is a fertile source for humane comedy—but this new crop is getting weird and brutal, with excessive emphasis on sex as punishment. There was the stomach-turning prostate massage in Road Trip, the misogynistic blast of semen that splattered a tease against the ceiling in Scary Movie, and there was the whole of Whipped, in which three hormonally imbalanced dolts swap grisly (and unlikely) war stories about deceiving dim-bulb women. N.M.

The Worst of the Year

Jim’s Bottom 10

1. Battlefield: Earth

2. I Dreamed of Africa

3. Pay It Forward

4. The Cell

5. Where the Heart Is

6. The Watcher

7. 8 1/2 Women

8. But I’m a Cheerleader!

9. The Tao of Steve

10. Nurse Betty

Dishonorable Mentions: Bless the Child, Dungeons & Dragons, Gone in 60 Seconds, Hanging Up, Love and Sex, Scream 3, Small Time Crooks, Trois.

Noel’s Bottom 10

1. Scary Movie

2. Whipped

3. Down to You

4. Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows

5. The Next Best Thing

6. The Way of the Gun

7. Eye of the Beholder

8. Thomas and the Magic Railroad

9. Titan A.E

10. The Tao of Steve

Dishonorable Mentions: Battlefield: Earth, Reindeer Games, Snow Day, Whatever It Takes, Woman on Top.

Donna’s Bottom 10

1. Thomas and the Magic Railroad

2. Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows

3. Lucky Numbers

4. Down to You

5. Saving Grace

6. The In Crowd

7. Battlefield: Earth

8. The Way of the Gun

9. Scary Movie

10. Reindeer Games

Dishonorable Mentions: Big Momma’s House, Here on Earth, Bless the Child, 28 Days.

1. Thomas and the Magic Railroad

2. Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows

3. Lucky Numbers

4. Down to You

5. Saving Grace

6. The In Crowd

7. Battlefield: Earth

8. The Way of the Gun

9. Scary Movie

10. Reindeer Games

Dishonorable Mentions: Big Momma’s House, Here on Earth, Bless the Child, 28 Days.

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