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Dear Valued Subscribers,

Don't call it a comeback. I've been here for years, rockin' my peers and puttin' suckers to tears. But after the dubiously mixed fanfare created by the release of The Grahammy's 90/90 ("Kinda like MTV 1515 on Mad Dog 20/20 but not really"), I went into a self-imposed exile. In retrospect, releasing somewhere in the neighborhood of 8,464 words on your friends in just under a fortnight may have been a tad bit excessive. So rather than being ex-communicated from your inboxes (Lord knows how many of you have already "blocked sender" on me), I spent sometime flying below the pop culture radar. I rather enjoyed my time...I picked up needlepoint, learned how to hang glide, and shoveled my parents' driveway a handful of times. I also read the complete works of Anthony "Tony" Robbins (effectively waking my giant within), brushed up on my Pig Latin, and wrote the script for "If These Walls Could Talk 2." Additional time was spent surfing EBay looking for re-runs of "Little Wonder" on DVD, learning how to draw Pikachu, and being a roadie for Alan Keyes. Among other things, of course. But with all the movie buzz being generated by yesterday's release of the 2000 Academy Award nominations, I figured now was as good a time as any to un-retire. So without further ado, I not-so-humbly present to you the 2000 Grahammy Film Awards...

Top Ten Films of 1999
Close but no Cuban: Alexander Payne's "
Election" was deliciously subversive and satirical, led by a superb performance by Reese Witherspoon (which was of course overlooked by Oscar); "Three Kings" (David O. Russell) deftly combined popcorn thrills and a strong political POV; "Notting Hill" (Roger Michell) restored my faith in the romantic comedy (shrewd Grahammy observers will note that I nicked this quote from an old-skool review of the Tim Robbins/Meg Ryan vehicle "I.Q."); the pulse-pounding pace and Tom Twyker's hyper direction of "Run Lola Run" made me feel vibrantly alive.

10) "American Movie" (directed by Chris Smith) - A late-breaking entry (this film just hit MI this week). Tells the story of a Wisconsin filmmaker named Mark Borchardt, whose life and work combines the madcap enthusiasm (not to mention lack of talent) of Ed Wood with the passion and determination of an Aldous Huxley character. The film's key to success is that it avoids the all-too-easy temptation to make the audience solely laugh AT the foibles and faults of these characters; instead we empathize with their challenges and respect the intimate and unbreakable bond of friendship between Mike and Mark.

9) "
Best Laid Plans" (Mike Barker) - A serious darkhorse. I doubt if more than one other person on this distribution list even saw this movie. I think the best way to describe this movie is to imagine a Southwestern neo-noir thriller like "Red Rock West" directed by someone British like Danny Boyle. Starring Reese Witherspoon and Allesandro Nivola (best remembered as Pollux Troy from "Face/Off") as young lovers on the lam, "Best Laid Plans" oscillates between a moral dilemna of love and friendship and a heist-gone-awry flick. Stylish and subtle at the same time.

8) "
The Matrix" (The Wachowski Brothers) - The ad campaign challenged the public with the question, "What is the Matrix?" America answered resoundingly, "BEST EVER!" The Wachowski Brothers built upon the promise they showed in their feature debut "Bound" and then some with this wildly inventive mish-mash of sci-fi, Kung Fu, and stoner philosophy. Though the movie's plot gets tired with repeated viewings, the action scenes (esp. when Neo and Trinity go to rescue Morpheus) just get better and better.

7) "
The Limey" (Steven Soderbergh) - Steven Soderbergh is the very definition of "en fuego." He gets his swerve on in a major way with his follow-up to last year's bravura "Out of Sight." Terence Stamp's Wilson is The Limey referred to in the title, an English "fish out of water" in LA. The plot revolves around Wilson's attempts to reconstruct the shady chain of events that led to the untimely death of his daughter. But the movie's dynamics are more about Wilson coming to terms with his own faults as a father than exacting revenge on the slippery California music producer (played by Peter Fonda) he feels is responsible for his daughter's death. Soderbergh's maturation as a director has taught him how to blend style with substance; present are the loopy-time structure he utilized in "Out of Sight" and "The Underneath", his patented unorthodox editing style, and the bleached out cinematography. Also features sterling supporting performances from Luis Guzman and Lesley Ann Warren.

6) "
The Straight Story" (David Lynch) - The uniquely Lynchian true story of an 80-year old man who rides 400 miles across Iowa into Wisconsin to visit his ailing estranged brother. Uh, did I mention he makes this voyage ON HIS LAWNMOWER? Whoops. Up to this point, David Lynch's finest moments revolved around peering beneath the underbelly of suburbia and exposing the cancers hidden from public consumption. This film exposes Lynch as a director richly capable of mining the subtleties of human behaviour and familial relationships. The cinematography is simply majestic, the performances are phenomenal (esp. Richard Farnsworth & Sissy Spacek), and best of all, Big Ed Hurley himself (fans of "Twin Peaks" will know who I'm talkin' bout) makes a cameo. Lynch's best work since the pilot of "Twin Peaks."

5) "
The Insider" (Michael Mann) - What does it mean to be a man? Other films ("Glengarry Glen Ross" and "Falling Down" are two that immediately come to mind) and other directors (notably Abel Ferrara) have explored this subject matter, but Michael Mann has the whole masculinity subject cornered (if this sounds familiar, it's because I'm paraphrasing myself from The Grahammy's 90/90 - "Kinda like MTV 1515 on Mad Dog 20/20 but not really"). A blistering performance by Russell Crowe (as the whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand) steals the spotlight from heavyweight talents like Al Pacino and Christopher Plummer (whose portrayal of 60 Minutes anchor Mike Wallace was Oscar's greatest oversight) in this tale of the high stakes risks of taking on Big Tobacco. The kind of movie that makes you unconsciously clench your fists and grind your teeth.

4) "
American Beauty" (Sam Mendes) - When I first saw this, I thought for sure it was the Film To Beat for the 2000 Grahammy Awards. But then the last four months of 1999 saw the release of a baker's dozen (at least!) of incredible films and, honestly, this film got kinda lost in the shuffle (not deservedly). For this film is to the `90s what "Wall Street" was to the `80s...a kick in the ass that reminds us that all that glitters is not necessarily gold. It's a coda to the decade where the last of the Boomers turned 40 and realized that suburban life ain't all it's cracked up to be. There is nary a performance in the film that is less than excellent; especially magical are Ricky's (Wes Bentley) relationships with his father (Chris Cooper) and the Burnham's daughter Jane (Thora Birch). But this is Kevin Spacey's movie through and through; his Lester Burnham is the Everyman who is sacrificed for the sins of his generation.

3) "
Magnolia" (PT Anderson) - "The book says 'You may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with you". So says Ricky Jay's omniscent narrator in the bizarro opening segment to PT Anderson's magnificently flawed opus about love, redemption and forgiveness called "Magnolia." This movie is big and bold, audacious and ambitious, but as I said just one sentence ago, it is also flawed. That's not to take anything away from what PT has accomplished here; you have got to give props to the man for making this big ship sail so majestically. But a second viewing reveals that Anderson lays on the foreshadowing a little thick with the whole Exodus 8:2 angle, and the whole Quiz Kid Donnie Smith sub-plot becomes almost unbearable. PT also has a tendency to make his women characters a little one-dimensional (see Julianne Moore and Melora Walters). Outside of those things, however, this film goes places no other film would dare. The leading male performances from John C. Reilly, Jason Robards, Tom Cruise and Philip Seymour Hoffman are spot-on. The camera work is dizzying and great. And in shades of "Being John Malkovich", Luis Guzman has a cameo playing himself. And what other director could pull off a scene where the entire cast sings along to an Aimee Mann song (which btw was my favorite scene in any movie this year)? The answer is no one. PT Anderson is a national treasure and this film needs and deserves your respect.

2) "
Being John Malkovich" (Spike Jonze) - Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich. Go back in time to January 8, 1998, when the 1998 Grahammy Music Awards were announced. If you haven't saved your Grahammy's, I'll do you the favor of patting my own back and refer you to the following statement...
"Best Videos of 1997 - Chemical Brothers, "Elektrobank"-Sofia Coppola does her best Kerri Strug impression in another Spike Jonze masterpiece. When is Hollywood going to let him direct films?"
Well just over two years later, my wish came true. Hollywood finally let Spike direct a movie (although not until after they pushed him around when he tried to get "Harold and The Purple Crayon" made), and we were all rewarded with the most inventive and daring movie since Kubrick's "2001" (or maybe even Salvador Dali's "Un Chien Andalou"). I mean c'mon. We're talking dance interpretations of Emily Dickinson's "The Belles of Amherst" as performed by a 60-FOOT TALL MARIONETTE! We're talking a movie where, arguably, the only heroic character is Cameron Diaz's pet chimp! We're talking a movie whose entire premise (radically simplified, of course) revolves around what it means to fuck with the mind (sometimes literally) of John Malkovich! What else could you possibly ask for? Well, if you're in the mood for laughs, this film's only rival for comedic supremacy is "American Movie" - the career-saving cameo by Charlie Sheen alone is good enough for hours upon hours of hearty laughter. If you're in the mood for some serious psychoanalytical debate, try thinking about and dissecting the relationship square between Cusack/Diaz/Keener/Malkovich. This is the kind of movie that is endlessly watchable; sure to go down as one of the all-time classics, this film ushered cinema into the new millennium.

1) "
Fight Club" (David Fincher) - I've said it before and I'll say it again. This film is Kubrickian in the fact that it's at least five years ahead of its time. It will take years for America to catch up and realize that this film is the cinematic equivalent of era-defining novels such as Douglas Coupland's "Generation X: Tales Of An Accelerated Culture" and JD Salinger's "Catcher In The Rye". Its portrayal of America's emasculated twenty to thirtysomething white males raised on television who have no war to define themselves against is a masterpiece (as Tyler Durden says, "Our generation has had no Great Depression, no Great War. Our war is spiritual. Our depression is our lives"). Even though the ending is kind of wack, it's a triumph of visual style and storytelling prowess. Edward Norton's Narrator and Brad Pitt's Tyler Durden are characters for the ages. The Dust Brothers' techno/trance-y score perfectly compliments and enhances what you perceive visually. Fincher's directorial skills are top notch and his ability to savagely steer into taboo topics (such as all of the cancer jokes and Bob's "man tits") is unmatched. And a film that implicity states that "You have to be prepared for the possibility that God does not like you" (another Tyler Durden-ism) is a film that doesn't shy away from asking the tough questions. It ultimately demands the viewer to answer the question of who exactly you are as a person. Best.

I'd Like To Continue Onto Part II, Thank You Very Much...