Netflix is a great service, but its navigability and library leave a bit to be desired. For this Pick Six, I’ve tried to give my fellow Canadians a little road map. I’ve chosen six movies released in the year 2000 currently streaming on Netflix Canada that are worth your time. However, one of them is a qualified recommendation, because I am one of those weirdos who’ll watch junk if it’s a very specific kind of junk. That said, onto the picks!
Battle Royale (Kinji Fukusaku, 2000)
What better way to cap a 40-year career filled with chaos and violence than a movie where teens fight each other to the death? Fukusaku, best known amongst film nerds for the Yakuza Papers quintology and his MST3K’d sci-fi whatsit The Green Slime, was no stranger to gnarly content. In fact, there’s so much a cartoon nihilism and bloodletting on display here that the end-credits song might as well have been Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.” But there’s something potent and true, presented in maxed-out ultra-violent form here, about the heightened state of being a teen co-existing with the heightened stakes of a messed-up Lord of the Flies/Most Dangerous Game riff. This movie basically looks how being a teenager feels. Bonus intangible points for casting Takeshi Kitano as a disgruntled teacher named Kitano, and having Tatsuya Fujiwara channel 70s-era Bud Cort during the whole running time.
Bring It On (Peyton Reed, 2000)
Seattle-based writer/known Showgirls enthusiast David Schmader once called Bring It On a “Socratic comedy,” or a smart movie that plays dumb (see also: Clueless, most of Mike Judge’s work). Beneath the standard-issue teen-movie trappings (senior year, budding romance, you know the drill) lies a movie with a keen sense of social, racial, and class dynamics. The overarching metaphor of the rich white kids stealing and finding success with the creative labour of poor black kids may not be subtle, but it certainly is resonant. The unostentatious direction, provided by then-newcomer Peyton Reed (whose previous credits included Mr. Show, The Weird Al Show, and the early-90s Back to the Future cartoon), gives plenty of room for the cast to flex their comedic muscle, including a revelatory Kirsten Dunst.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000)
Ang Lee sinks his teeth into the heightened emotions and equally-heightened stuntwork of classic wuxia with remarkable gusto, turning traditionally outward conflict inward, thereby making this his version of a King Hu film. Everything in this movie is the stuff of utmost beauty, from the sumptuous period production design to Peter Pau’s golden, Oscar-winning cinematography. The action sequences, choreographed by the legendary Yuen Woo-Ping, are staggering in their scope and execution, and the whole thing is anchored by three actors (Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, and Zhang Ziyi) at the top of their game. Just a great classical-styled martial arts movie that few filmmakers ever bother making anymore (unless you’re Hou Hsiao-Hsien, in which case, right on).
High Fidelity (Stephen Frears, 2000)
Probably the 21st-century comedy most misunderstood by its target audience (with the possible exception of (500) Days of Summer). Like Bring It On, this is a cleanly-directed, talky piece of cinema that exists to showcase both its actors and its script. John Cusack has never been Cusack-ier (mopey, charming, kind of an asshole), Jack Black has only ever been Black-ier (rowdy, electric, kind of an asshole) in School of Rock, and the script rolls off their (and everyone else’s) tongues as good banter should. In addition to its immaculately-curated soundtrack and excellent Chicago location photography (this is basically a grown-up John Hughes movie, after all), High Fidelity is particularly incisive about how the culture we consume can directly affect the expectations we have regarding our own lives, and not always for the better. Sometimes a song is just a song.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Joel and Ethan Coen, 2000)
Or, 1937: A Dust Bowl Odyssey. Fifteen years on, this is still one of the Coen brothers’ shaggier genre concoctions, turning a Depression-era road movie into a loose Homeric yarn. But this is still very much a Coen brothers movie: dialectal, clever, chiefly concerned with the machinations of class and crime. The film is remarkably florid, from the rat-a-tat dialogue to Roger Deakins’ lenswork (which all by itself has made a lasting case for digital color correction). Leads George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson each have a distinct charisma and charm, and their interplay keeps the movie from going off the rails. Not to mention that great soundtrack, which while excellent, remains one of the more puzzling Album of the Year Grammy winners in recent memory, mainly because it won over Outkast’s Stankonia.
Tesla: Master of Lightning (Robert Uth, 2000)
A qualified recommendation, to say the least. This strange little beast from the PBS archives starts off as a fairly conventional hagiographic bootleg-Ken Burns doc and slowly delves into paranoid Zeitgeist conspiracy theory territory involving Ronald Reagan and the H.A.A.R.P. stations in Alaska. Once Nikola Tesla (voiced in narration by Stacy Keach, of all people) arrives in Colorado, the film becomes, in its own words, “so esoteric as to become impractical.” The silver lining is that there is a fair amount of fascinatingly junky imagery happening here through fades and overlays, like an A.C. motor being superimposed onto the Sun, or patents juxtaposed with old Superman cartoons involving death rays. In other words, this would have been amazing had Craig Baldwin got a hold of it and had given it the ol’ culture-jam razzle-dazzle.