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Best film of year not yet here

Choosing a list of 2000's Top 10 films was a simple task. So easy, in fact, that it almost became a Top 8.

Hollywood made more money than ever with less quality than we've seen in years. A surprising slump in quality after 1999 offered a half-dozen automatic choices and a dozen other films slugging it out for the remaining spots.

This year, only a rush of December screenings prevented the Top 10 tradition from being shortchanged. Thank you, Tom Hanks (Cast Away) and Steven Soderbergh (Traffic _ which won't open here until Jan. 5).

You'll notice several honorable mentions, but that's just for show. I wouldn't feel entirely comfortable boosting any of them into the Top 10.

2000 will be remembered less for its films than what happened to theaters showing them.

Older multiplexes closed like popcorn boxes, cannibalized by larger, sleeker megaplexes nearby. Moviegoers griped about having to change their habits, until they saw the new movie temples. Stadium seating and espresso can heal hard feelings.

On the local film front, the Don CeSar Beach Resort and Spa was our biggest star, upstaging everything else in Paul Schrader's hokey Forever Mine. That turkey went straight from the Telluride Film Festival to cable, where you can be grateful you've wasted only a few cents.

Filmmaker Margie Thorpe, a St. Petersburg resident by way of Atlanta, made the best documentary I saw in 2000, a shocking expose of family skeletons called Alma. It showed one night only at Beach Theater, and no distribution deal has been secured. Somebody is missing an interesting risk.

St. Petersburg High School graduate William Packer and his college roommate, Rob Hardy, became a footnote in African-American film history with the erotic thriller Trois. The Florida A&M graduates distributed Trois themselves, a rare gamble in today's film industry.

Trois posted the highest per-screen average of any film during its debut weekend in February. Trois eventually grossed $1.2-million at the box office and is currently listed among the top 50 home video rentals. Packer and Hardy are currently negotiating with Sony's film and video branches for a development deal.

Tampa Bay's film festival scene got a boost with the inaugural Florida Gulf Coast Jewish Film Festival, the second of its kind in the community. The Tampa Bay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival continued to be the best showcase, albeit for a specialized audience. For sneak peeks at mainstream offerings, Sarasota's Cine-World festival was still as good as it gets.

The Blair Witch fallout continued, with more amateur filmmakers picking up cameras and trying their luck until the money runs out. We're still awaiting a breakthrough.

But, before considering the future, let's take one more look at the past. Here's a list of my picks for the best films of 2000, in order of excellence. Let's all hope for a happier new year at the movies.

1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon _ Ang Lee's martial arts saga defies the laws of action films and gravity. Imagine Peter Pan, Scarlett O'Hara and Bruce Lee brawling. That's a hint of the fanciful, feminist fun awaiting Tampa Bay moviegoers when it finally opens here Feb. 2.

2. Wonder Boys _ The best screenplay of the year is about writer's block. Michael Douglas plays an author on deadline, distracted by all sorts of gonzo oddities. Director Curtis Hanson navigates a serpentine course with the same compelling clarity seen in his breakthrough L.A. Confidential.

3. Almost Famous _ Cameron Crowe revisits his rock 'n' roll roots in this semi-autobiography of a teenager writing for Rolling Stone in the 1970s. A buoyant eulogy for the music, its worshipers and stoned innocence lost.

4. Requiem for a Dream _ Darren Aronofsky invents a new style of storytelling that isn't pretty. Drug addiction, from prescriptions and pushers, has never been this harrowing on screen. Ellen Burstyn deserves an Oscar as a matronly addict.

5. Quills _ The Marquis de Sade tortures authority with wicked wit. Geoffrey Rush has a field day as the notoriously erotic author, imprisoned but still published thanks to a smuggling maid (Kate Winslet). Any resemblance to modern censorship is impurely intentional.

6. Gladiator _ Hollywood's best spectacle of 2000, a rousing Roman Empire adventure transforming Russell Crowe into a bona fide movie star. Director Ridley Scott forges computer games with the arena to create an iron-clad action classic.

7. Chicken Run _ Stop-action poultry beat Disney's digital Dinosaur in the year's animation sweepstakes. Nick Park and Peter Lord crafted a sly spoof of prison-camp movies, with valiant hens flying the coop.

8. Traffic _ Steven Soderbergh examines illegal drug trading from dusty Mexican airstrips to Washington's halls of justice. Parallel stories collide in a style reminiscent of Boogie Nights, as cops, families and dealers perpetuate an international tragedy. Opens locally Jan. 5.

9. My Dog Skip _ Don't laugh, just watch it, if you haven't already. You'll be crying with joy before it's over. Friendship between a boy and his dog is portrayed with a spirit comparable to 1962's To Kill a Mockingbird.

10. Cast Away _ Tom Hanks pulls off the acting feat of the year, stranded alone on an island, making each doubt and decision obvious with minimal dialogue. Robert Zemeckis' movie is an existential adventure about survival in and out of civilized time.

Almost famous runners-up: Alma; Billy Elliot; The Contender; Dancer in the Dark; The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg; O Brother, Where Art Thou?; State and Main.