by Benjamin Strong
For most of the year 2000 it looked as though Al Gore was going to be our next president. Moby’s Play, an album that was already a year old but which many people were hearing for the first time in car commercials, was the national soundtrack. A new hit television show, Survivor, had people all excited about a future full of reality TV. In 2000, it was still the 1990s.
And yet, in retrospect, there were hints of the decade to come in some of the year’s most notable films. The worldwide box office success, for example, of Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, ignited a trend for prestige kung fu movies (e.g. 2009’s Red Cliff) and basically gave Zhang Yimou a raison d’etre for the aughts. Before Night Falls introduced American audiences to Javier Bardem. Almost Famous somehow convinced a new generation of hipsters that Elton John was an acceptable guilty pleasure. Dancer in the Dark kicked off a streak of divisive anti-American screeds from Danish provocateur Lars von Trier. And Steven Soderbergh began his habit of releasing two movies a year, one of which always gets overrated, while the other is underrated—in this case, Traffic and Erin Brokovich, respectively. (In 2009, it was The Girlfriend Experience> and The Informant!.)
The Oscar-winning Best Picture may have been Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, with its turgid, fake-looking battles inside a computer generated Coliseum. But in terms of special effects and pure movie spectacle, late-breaking science fiction pictures like Transformers or Avatar still can’t hold a candle to Brian De Palma’s Mission to Mars, 2000’s most woefully overlooked picture, and one of the most beautiful-looking outer space movies ever made.
Finally, it’s worth noting the genesis of a pro-marijuana trend that culminated last year in the anti-marijuana Pineapple Express. There would be many more movies about the chronic to come in the aughts, but only Anna Faris, in 2007’s Smiley Face, was able to approach the baker performances in 2000 of Michael Douglas in Curtis Hanson’s Wonder Boys and Mark Ruffalo in Kenneth Lonnergan’s You Can Count on Me.