Through Two Peepers in Tune with the Times

AWARDS

THE AWARDS FOR the best movies and performances of 2000 are beginning to pile up, and I am beginning to have some issues. I wish to share my concerns with you in the spirit of honest debate that has characterized our relationship.

Numero uno: "Gladiator." In what universe is that wretched concoction of mock-Roman excess the "best" anything? God, that was a bad movie. It even committed the ultimate sin of bad movies -- it was also too long.

Now, I like long when it's mixed with "good." I liked "Breaking the Waves" and "Tree of Wooden Clogs" and "Schindler's List"; I even liked "1941." I would contend on my deathbed that "1941" is an infinitely more watchable, more entertaining and, hell, even more profound movie than "Gladiator."

"Gladiator" wins in one category: knees. It had some good knees. Rumors that Russell Crowe's knees were computer enhanced are, as far as I am concerned, unfounded. I certainly would not wish to further the base canard that Russell Crowe's knees were computer enhanced.

It's not the violence. I love violence. "Die Hard" was a great movie. "Die Hard" was smart, funny and coherent and featured Alan Rickman, plus: plenty of violence. "Gladiator," by contrast, featured Joaquin Phoenix chewing the scenery worse than Kevin McCarthy in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" -- and McCarthy at least had the excuse of alien pods in his basement, whereas Phoenix was just snippy because some football player was more popular than he was.

And the music! Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard won a Golden Globe for the music. "Gladiator" was a film in which there was no scene so trite that it did not need layers of orchestral lard, no tragedy so heartbreaking that it did not need swelling violins, no fight scene so compelling that it didn't require drums drums drums drums -- and trumpets!

This movie made "Quo Vadis" look like "Breathless." THE FOUR BEST movies I saw last year were "High Fidelity," "You Can Count on Me," "Girl on the Bridge" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

One of those is obscure and was not made in 2000 anyway, one of them ("You Can Count on Me") is getting some deserved play, although why Mark Ruffalo is not getting mentioned in the same breath as the knee-challenged Crowe I have no idea.

Then there's "CTHD," as we call it because we hate typing the same thing over and over again. That is being shunned in many major categories because it's in a different language. Are we that provincial?

It's not as though "CTHD" were a talky interior drama depending on wordplay and subtle line readings. If it were shown entirely without subtitles, it would be almost the same movie. The themes are elemental, the visual imagery astonishing, the amazing acting done with looks and gestures.

And yet, no talk of Michelle Yeoh for best actress. Even more criminally negligent, no talk of Zhang Ziyi for best supporting actress. Maybe if she changed her name to Tiffany Amber Zhang . . .

THEN THERE WAS the little John Cusack film "High Fidelity," based on the book of the same name by Nick Hornby. Specifically, within this movie, there was Jack Black. To jog your memory, he played the heftier of the two record store employees, the one who does you-know-what at the end.

Now I ask you: Has any performance made you happier all year long? Has any actor merged as seamlessly with his character, forgetting Mark Ruffalo for a second? I mean, even in "Cast Away," which I liked, it's always Tom Hanks up there on a desert island. He's a movie star. If there were a category for best movie star, he should get it.

But Jack Black should get kudos (a word that is its own plural, like sheep). Sure, he's funny-looking. Maybe he can't do Shakespeare. But damn he was good --and he did not require stunt knees.

This just in: Russell Crowe's knees were not computer enhanced. Serves me right, never invite a vampire into your

Love,

Michael


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