The Underrated Movies of 2000

Our series of lists devoted to underrated movies brings us to the year 2000, and another 25 overlooked gems...

The new millennium brought with it an eclectic range of hit films. Hong Kong action director John Woo reimagined a franchise with Mission: Impossible II, the most profitable movie of the year at the box office. Ridley Scott enjoyed one of the biggest critical and financial successes of his career in Gladiator, while Robert Zemeckis created a memorable drama with Tom Hanks and a ball via Cast Away.

From a comic book movie standpoint, 2000 was also a key year. X-Men not only established a successful movie franchise which is still going but also headed up a wave of big-budget Marvel adaptations which shows no sign of slowing down.

As ever, we’ve travelled far outside the list of highest-grossing films to compile this list. We’ve had to be quite brutal in our choices, so some worthy movies didn’t quite make the cut–if you’re into Japanese animation, do check out Vampire Hunter D and Blood: The Last Vampire, while films like Frequency and The Road to El Dorado are also worth your consideration.

At any rate, here’s our list of 25 underappreciated films from 2000–yet another great year for cinema.

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25. Space Cowboys

Let’s start with a solid hit from 2000, that’s seeped a little out of the modern day movie consciousness. We’re not going to make a case for Space Cowboys being a forgotten Clint Eastwood masterpiece, but it is an awful lot of fun. In fact, until it gets bogged down in telling the story that it’s putting in place in the last third of the movie, this is a quality, light-hearted science fiction ensemble movie.

The twist this time is instead of sending young people/convincing astronauts/Bruce Willis and the lot into space, a bunch of older actors are sent instead. So we get Clint, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner, and Donald Sutherland, gleefully poking fun at each other, and clearly the main reason to watch it. Eastwood’s direction is unfussy as always, and it means there’s space to enjoy the characters, and the crackling dialogue between them.

No classic, but Space Cowboys remains really good fun.

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24. Gangster No. 1

Director Paul McGuigan was the man responsible for directing two-thirds of Sherlock seasons 1 and 2, including the style-setting opening adventure. His work there was something of a revelation, but he’d been behind the camera on a few impressive movies too before acclaim finally caught up with him. Gangster No. 1 is a slightly cold beast then, giving Paul Bettany a leading role as the young pretender taking under the wing of David Thewlis’ Freddie Mays. Also in the cast are Malcolm McDowell and Eddie Marsan, and the movie itself is a dark, occasionally fun crime movie, buoyed by the strength of its performances and McGuigan’s taut direction.

Bettany in particular is excellent here, and whilst there are one or two mild story quibbles with the movie as a whole, and whilst it was outshone a little by Sexy Beast–which we’re coming to shortly–Gangster No. 1 is a really underrated movie.

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23. Rugrats in Paris

Lots of films have paid homage or tried to spoof The Godfather. But take a look at the opening of Rugrats in Paris, and tell us it’s not one of the most successful at it.

The movie itself is really good too. Far superior to the original Rugrats movie, Rugrats in Paris (save for one song near the end) is a sharp, witty animated movie. The television show it’s based on always had more in the tank than it was generally given credit for, as well as an interesting animation style. But this movie happily stands alone too, boasting strong characterisations, lots of laughs, and a far tighter story than the first one.

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22. Timecode

Mike Figgis has long been willing to experiment with his movies and try new things. Timecode is arguably one of his most ambitious projects, given that you’re effectively expected to keep an eye on four things at once.

Figgis runs his movie in real time, with no edits. He also splits the screen into quarters, so we see four parts of the story at the same time. Granted for periods there are some characters just travelling, which means your focus is on one or two at once. But then it’s always worth checking for a little detail that slips into one of the frames. Timecode certainly isn’t a movie to half-watch, The split screen technique works far better than these words probably make it sound, and it’s actually surprisingly easy to follow. It’s engrossing too, as Figgis gradually brings all four quarters together.

Nobody’s really picked up the baton from Figgis and given this a try since, but Timecode at the very least proves that the technique can work, and work very well.

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21. Faust: Love Of The Damned

Brian Yuzna’s had a hand in an eclectic range of films.  He produced the anarchic Re-Animator. He wrote the kinky horror From Beyond (very loosely adapted from an H.P. Lovecraft tale), before writing the unexpectedly quaint body-shrink family movie Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. Then, just to prove he hadn’t lost his horror edge, he directed Society, one of the most subversive and downright squishy films of the ’80s.

Faust: Love of the Damned isn’t the best movie Yuzna’s ever been involved with, but it’s so fun and downright odd that it just about warranted a place on this list. After an artist sells his soul to avenge the death of his girlfriend, he develops the worrying habit of turning into a huge horned demon with an uncontrollable desire to kill. Shot in Spain on a low budget, Faust is livened up by some fun gore and black humor, while Jeffrey Combs plays an unusually macho role as the cop on the killer hell spawn’s trail.

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20. Keeping the Faith

When it was announced that Edward Norton was making his directorial debut, you could have been forgiven for expecting a dark drama, or something of that ilk. Keeping the Faith though is a surprise in more than one sense. Firstly, it sees Norton making a romantic comedy. Secondly, it’s a very good one. Thirdly, he’s for some reason never directed a movie since.

Let’s make no bones about this, however: Keeping the Faith is really excellent. The core of the story is about a priest and rabbi, who both fall in love with the same woman. Dharma and Greg‘s Jenna Elfman plays the object of their affection, Norton is the priest, and Ben Stiller is the rabbi. Norton then scores interesting cameo switch by persuading Milos Forman to step before the camera (and Anne Bancroft is in the cast too).

There’s humor, charm, and a willingness to explore the subject of religion in quite a light way that makes Keeping the Faith a bit more ambitious than it might look on the outside. Jenna Elfman is outstanding here too, but it’s the movie as a whole that wins out. One of the best romantic comedies of the decade for us.

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19. George Washington

For some, director David Gordon Green’s name will be familiar from his recent work with Danny McBride with the comedies Pineapple Express and Your Highness, but long before those films, he was writing and directing some excellent, truly underrated dramas, including this one. About a group of children enjoying a long hot summer in a poor region of North Carolina, George Washington is a slow-paced, melancholy drama with a hint of tragedy that vaguely recalls Ray Bradbury’s classic short story, The Lake.

Green coaxes some remarkable, natural performances from the young cast, and George Washington is one of those tiny, barely distributed films that deserves to be tracked down.

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18. Boiler Room

Everyone looks worryingly young in this classy crime drama–or is that just us getting old? Giovanni Ribisi plays Seth, a trainee stockbroker who’s drawn into a world of dodgy stock broking. Ben Affleck plays one of the firm’s slick co-founders, who promises to make his employees rich by falsely inflating the value of shares and selling them to unwary buyers–a business practice that soon catches the interest of the FBI. Well written and acted, Boiler Rooms aged remarkably well and it’s fascinating to see Vin Diesel in a low-key role that doesn’t involve guns, fighting, or absurdly fast cars.

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17. Pollock

A passion project for Ed Harris, who directs as well as stars, Pollock gained some justified Academy Awards attention but little fuss from movie theater-goers. This is a shame, because Harris’ account of the abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock is captivating from beginning to end. The actor’s commitment to playing the part shines through in every scene, with Harris creating his own versions of Pollock’s famous drip paintings himself and bringing his own robust charisma to this self-styled outlaw artist. Marcia Gay Harden is equally good as Lee Krasner, Pollock’s wife and pal artist while Val Kilmer’s surprisingly restrained and awkward as another influential painter, Willem De Kooning.

Shot over the course of less than eight weeks, Pollock has, like the artist’s work, a gritty energy that makes it a compelling watch from beginning to end.

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16. Ginger Snaps

Although classed as a horror movie about werewolves, Ginger Snaps is so much more than that. The gradual process of changing into something hairy and bloodthirsty experienced by its heroine Ginger (Katharine Isabelle, who’s brilliant) becomes a metaphor for the painful transition from youth to adult, and Ginger Snaps is unusual in that it’s funny, unnerving and intelligent in more or less equal measure.

The first act where Ginger and her sister indulge in their morbid fascination with death by taking pictures of themselves covered in blood is perfectly done, and it’s the movie’s insistence on getting the characters and dialogue absolutely right that distinguishes it. When the blood starts to flow, the roundedness of the characters makes the horror all the more disquieting. Also look out for a great performance from Mimi Rogers as Ginger’s mother.

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15. Wonder Boys

Curtis Hanson’s output in the ’90s wasn’t to be sniffed at, and films such as The River Wild and Bad Influence deserve far more attention than they generally get. L.A. Confidential deservedly gave him a lot more exposure. His first movie of the 2000s was Wonder Boys, a movie that left some people cold when they tried it for the first time. If that was you, might we suggest that this one’s worth another go?

It features Michael Douglas–a man who’s rarely shied away from a complex role–as English Professor Grady Tripp. The prof is coming to terms with his wife leaving him. Mind you, he’s also got the pressures of a book deadline, Tobey Maguire’s student and an abundance of other complications that we won’t spoil here to deal with. Hanson’s movie is a dry, character-driven piece, with no shortage of wit to it. And it also boasts one of Michael Douglas’ best screen performances.

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14. Nurse Betty

There’s not a very long list of films from Neil LaBute that you’d necessarily describe as massively accessible, but this is probably as close as you get (although for his best work on screen, check out the excellent Your Friends & Neighbors). Here he casts Renee Zellweger, and she fully delivers as a waitress who deals with her husband’s murder by ultimately trying to track down her favorite soap opera actor (played by Greg Kinnear).

Morgan Freeman co-stars as a criminal on the trail of Betty as she takes on a road trip to meet her idol. Because unbeknownst to her, she’s got something of his in the car. It’s not a particularly broad comedy, and there’s a bit more depth to it than it may first appear. As a starting point for LaBute’s films–the best-forgotten remake of The Wicker Man aside–it’s spot on.

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13. Brother

We’ve included quite a few of Takeshi Kitano’s films in these lists, but that’s merely because they’re so consistently good. Brother was Kitano’s attempt at making a movie that would play better for an American audience, and like his character Yamamoto, there’s a sense that he’s a little out of his depth here. But while Brother isn’t Kitano’s best movie, it’s still well worth watching, as his mid-ranking Japanese gangster heads to Los Angeles for a confrontation with the Mafia.

Kitano’s typically terse, charismatic performance is offset by Omar Epps, who plays an African American gangster who becomes Yamamoto’s unlikely partner and, eventually, close friend. Watching as Yamamoto’s multi-cultural gang gradually builds is engrossing and, despite all the bloodletting, the conclusion is unexpectedly warm and affecting. Kitano said he wasn’t happy with the way Brother turned out, and vowed never to make another movie outside Japan again. But as an unusual one-off in an extraordinary filmmaking and acting career, Brother is well worth seeking out–if nothing else, it’ll put you off using chopsticks for life.

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12. Uzumaki

There was an explosion of interest in Japanese horror during the late ’90s and early 2000s, largely thanks to the huge success of films like Ring and Ju-on: The Grudge. Uzumaki seemed to pass by without gaining quite as much coverage as those other films, but that’s probably because it’s so quirky. It’s set in a small town where the inhabitants are becoming strangely obsessed with the appearances of spirals in nature, before some of them begin turning into snails and displaying other curious, spiral-related symptoms.

More dreamlike than horrifying, director Higuchinsky succeeds in creating an alarmingly surreal atmosphere akin to a Tim Burton fantasy gone toxic. Critics seemed quite divided over Uzumaki’s merits, and it’s true that the movie’s more about weird effects and visual non sequiturs than plot, but then, that’s part of what makes it such a J-horror oddity: it’s both mesmerising and, unlike so many horror films, frequently unpredictable.

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11. The Way of the Gun

Given how good The Way of the Gun is, it seems a real pity that Christopher McQuarrie– generally best known for his screenwriting during his career–didn’t direct again until Jack Reacher and the Mission: Impossible movies. Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro headline the movie as a pair of crooks who make the wrong choice in kidnapping the surrogate mother to a very rich man.

With a tip of the hat to the work of Sam Peckinpah, McQuarrie then puts together a modern day Western, with a clear love for the genre. It’s a violent, not always predictable movie, and one that’s earned a growing cult following after failing to make much of a landing on its original release. Deservedly so too.

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10. Almost Famous

Although it didn’t make a huge amount at the box office, Cameron Crowe’s drama Almost Famous was hailed as one of the best films of the year by some critics, and with good reason:  it’s arguably one of Crowe’s most accomplished films. Patrick Fugit plays a young writer who manages to get a shot at producing an article for Rolling Stone magazine after being despatched to cover a Black Sabbath gig by rock journo royalty Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

What follows is a convincing account of the 1970s rock scene (Crowe was a music journalist himself before becoming a filmmaker in the ’80s) and a warm and funny drama, as the writer’s coverage of mid-ranking rock band Stillwater’s tour leads to his friendship with sparkly fan Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). Although its emphasis is very much on the cosier aspects of rock-and-roll life in the ’70s, its cast is uniformly excellent with particular highlights being Billy Crudup as a moody, Jimmy Page-esque guitarist and Frances McDormand as the writer’s worrying mother. It succeeds in being both funny and, toward the end, unexpectedly moving.

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9. Sexy Beast

Any discussion of director Jonathan Glazer’s crime drama is rightly dominated by Ben Kingsley’s exceptional performance as the terrifying criminal Don Logan, for which he was nominated an Oscar the following year. If anything, it’s the rest of the movie around him that’s underrated, since it serves as the perfect backdrop for Kingsley’s irresistible fury. Ray Winstone plays the ex-convict Gary Dove, who just wants a quiet retirement in Spain, while Ian McShane plays the gangster who’s organizing a bank heist which Dove refuses to be involved with. Determined to change his mind, Logan shows up at Dove’s Spanish villa with little more than a suitcase and a mouthful of abuse.

Most recently, Glazer returned with Under The Skin, the sci-fi indie thriller that has earned great reviews at numerous movie festivals a few years back. Sexy Beast was a great debut for this former director of commercials and music videos, and as for Ben Kingsley… well, this is quite possibly the best, most startling performance in his long career so far.

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8. Amores Perros

How’s this for a directorial debut? Alejandro González Iñárritu may have gone on to the likes of Babel and Birdman, but he’s never married up weighty subject matter with a strong movie anywhere near as successfully as he does in Amores Perros.

Translating as ‘Love’s A Bitch,’ it’s a movie about a car accident that glues together three different stories and the many themes contained within them. Sold as a Mexican Pulp Fiction, that inevitably does the movie a little bit of a disservice, as it’s a different movie trying to do different things. It also earned some controversy for the dog fighting content in the movie. That’s a little harder to shy away from, as Iñárritu doesn’t really pull his proverbial punches anywhere through the movie.

Shot in Mexico City and with no attempt to put any gloss on it at all, Amores Perros is a wonderfully woven, harsh and at times brutal piece of cinema, and one that only adds to our anticpation of Iñárritu’s next movie.

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7. Shadow of the Vampire

A fanciful account of how F.W. Murnau made the seminal horror movie Nosferatu in ’20s Czechoslovakia, Shadow of the Vampire suggests that actor Max Schreck really was a bloodsucking creature of the night. Willem Dafoe is on stunning form as Schreck, disappearing beneath his pale, rat-like makeup so perfectly that it’s easy to forget who’s even playing him. Smudging the lines between fact and fiction, director E. Elias Merhige’s movie is both a comic observation of early filmmaking, and a highly effective horror movie in its own right; the recreation of the original Nosferatu‘s famous ‘shadow on the stairs’ sequence is brilliantly employed and recreated with physical perfection by Dafoe.

There are some great performances, too, from John Malkovich as the reckless director, Cary Elwes as an ill-fated cinematographer, and the mighty Udo Kier as a grumpy production designer who grows increasingly suspicious of Schreck’s sun-dodging habits.

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6. Titan A.E.

Comfortably one of the most underappreciated animated films of the last 20 years, Titan A.E. crashed so hard at the box office that it put 20th Century Fox off animation for a while–at least until it discovered Ice Age–and Don Bluth hasn’t directed another movie since. A real pity too. Titan A.E. is set in post-apocalyptic times, and its innovative animation style sees hand-drawn and CG blended together really very well. But beyond the style, the movie itself works. This is an action packed science fiction movie set far into the future, with the survival of humanity at stake. That’s hardly a radical story, granted, but at least Titan A.E. does something with it and wraps it into an engaging, really very good, big, entertaining ride.

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Joss Whedon is among the credited writers of this one incidentally, and it’s a movie so forgotten that a Blu-ray release–which surely would be massively beneficial to it–is nowhere in sight. Such a shame, too, because Titan A.E. still deserves a far better fate. It’s as exciting a blockbuster movie as any movie released in 2000.

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5. Best in Show

The best comedies are often spun out of the most unlikely situations and writer-director Christopher Guest finds a real sense of humor in the world of competitive dog shows. Largely improvised and shot with a quick, documentary style, Best in Show is a world away from the current crop of glossy Hollywood comedies, but that’s all part of the movie’s irresistible charm.

Guest follows a disparate group of people from across America as they gather for the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show in Philadelphia, and entire scenes are devoted to the competitors’ eccentricities. Guest plays one of the characters himself–bloodhound owner Harlan Pepper, who tells us all about his childhood ability to name every single variety of nut, much to the chagrin of his mother. Best in Show is full of wryly observed and very odd scenes like this, and it all gradually builds up to the competition where Fred Willard steals the entire movie as a clueless commentator. With Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, and Jennifer Coolidge among the ensemble cast, Best in Show is a classic comedy that is well worth rediscovering.

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4. Chopper

Eric Bana is brilliant in this Australian drama about Mark ‘Chopper’ Read, based on the ex-convict’s own book about his experiences. A bulked up Bana plays Chopper, a troubled man who’s barely been out of prison since his teenage years. Tough and unflinching in its account of a criminal whose worst tendencies are perpetuated by the prison system, Chopper isn’t an easy movie to watch, but its performances and direction make it a rewarding experience.

Director Andrew Dominik (who also wrote Chopper‘s screenplay) rarely makes films but when he does, they’re real blasts of energy. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford emerged in 2007, while Killing Them Softly followed five years later. Both are excellent, but his debut Chopper is equally accomplished.

3. American Psycho

Bret Easton Ellis’s novel was hugely controversial when it was first published in 1991 (the author was even banned from Disneyland Paris for his sins), and before this adaptation came out in 2000, it was a wonder how anyone could render the book’s aggressively violent prose into a workable movie.

As it turned out, director and co-writer Mary Harron was more than up to the task. Necessarily tempering some of the more graphic scenes in the book, she allows the satire and black comedy to come to the fore–and the result is, at times, screamingly funny. Christian Bale is note-perfect as Patrick Bateman, the 20-something investment banker who lives like a king in ’80s Manhattan. At the same time, however, he is exploring a secret side-project as an indiscriminate serial murderer.

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What’s brilliant about both Bale’s performance and the movie as a whole is in how well it exposes the pathetic coward lurking beneath Bateman’s pouting, respectable mask. So many serial killer films depict their killers as mysterious, other-worldly beings, but Bateman’s just a narcissistic buffoon, winking at his own reflection during sex and sweating over the superior design of his colleagues’ business cards.

As an exploration of financial greed taken to its absurd, bloody extreme, American Psycho is a great snapshot of the ’80s and also contains themes that are still relevant today. Bale’s ability to portray rich playboys with a dark side arguably contributed to his casting as a Bat a few years later, but American Psycho also exposes the actor’s capacity for comedy–a talent he’s rarely explored since.

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2. Thirteen Days

Guilty as charged: the Den of Geek official Kevin Costner love-in continues. But heck: watch Thirteen Days, a movie that took just $66 million at the worldwide box office off a budget of $80 million, and tell us that it didn’t deserve much, much more. We’ve praised Costner several times for the bravery and boldness in his movie choices, and his reunion with his No Way Out director Roger Donaldson is a tense, gripping portrayal of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the world being on the brink of war.

It’s a movie packed with characters painted in shades of gray, and Costner leads as Kenny O’Donnell, who worked with John F. Kennedy (played by Bruce Greenwood) during the crisis. There are liberties taken with history, that the movie has subsequently been criticized for. That’s perhaps to be expected to a degree, but it should be acknowledged. That notwithstanding, as a starting point to a story that nearly brought the world to its knees, Thirteen Days is both excellent cinema and a real motivator to go and find out more.

“You’ll never believe how close we came,” reads the tagline. Even knowing the eventual ending, Thirteen Days absolutely gripped us from start to finish on the big screen. Find us a better Hollywood political thriller in the 2000s, and we’ll warmly shake your hand.

Expect, inevitably, more Costner love when we get to Open Range

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1. Battle Royale

Can Battle Royale, now commonly regarded as a cult classic, really be described as underrated? Given that it wasn’t a financial hit outside Japan and that wider American audiences only got to appreciate it 11 years after it was made suggests to us that while Battle Royale does indeed have a devoted following, it deserves to be seen by even more people.

Set in a near future where school children are forced into fighting one another to the death on a remote island, Battle Royale‘s chilling violence is overseen by the ubiquitous Takeshi Kitano, who plays a brutal and callous teacher. Director Kinji Fukusaku skilfully adapts Koushun Takami’s source novel, making each member of the ensemble cast a memorable and distinct character while ensuring the sense of tension never ebbs away.

What’s most remarkable about Battle Royale though is not its startling violence (which was extremely controversial in Japan at the time), but how much humanity Fukusaku finds in amongst it all. Bringing his own wartime experiences to the movie, the director shows an incredibly youthful sense of anger and anti-establishment outrage in Battle Royale, which is offset by how innocent and warm the characters are in and among the chaos.

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It’s the balance of blood-soaked satire and human depth that makes Battle Royale an aggressive, gut-punch of a movie. Sometimes described as Japan’s A Clockwork Orange, the movie has lost none of its potency since its release nearly two decades ago.

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