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Surprise, surprise! In one of Hollywood's most lackluster years, Style's film critic actually finds 11 movies worthy of a year's best list.

Y2K at the Flicks

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The thought of having to come up with 10 viable candidates for a best movies of the year list seemed daunting at first. I truly can't remember a less impressive 12 months of movie releases than the past 52 weekends we've experienced. But after a quick review of reviews, I found 11 movies I personally enjoyed. 1. "Chicken Run" — What a delightful, clever bit of claymation fun! Inspired by the classic prisoner-of-war film "The Great Escape," this tale of a few good hen looking to make a break for freedom from Tweedy's Farm is my favorite film of the year. In this computer-generated world we live in, it's amazing that the talented Brits at Aardman Productions ("Wallace & Gromit") would attempt such a tedious undertaking as a full-length, big-screen claymation movie. "Ab Fab's" Julia Sawalha voices Ginger, a plucky hen who spends most of her time attempting to lead her fellow coop mates to freedom. Mel Gibson turns up as the voice of Rocky the Rooster, a circus bird Ginger mistakenly believes can teach the other hens how to fly. When Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) retools her operation to produce "chicken pies," Ginger and Rocky lead the other chicks on a final, all-or-nothing break for freedom. 2. "Croupier" — Mike Hodges' tale about a down-and-out wannabe writer who decides to be a casino dealer to make ends meet is the coolest crime caper. Clive Owens is terrific as writer Jack Manfred who soon finds himself facing all sort of personal temptations. It ain't just about dealing cards, baby; it's about playing the hand dealt you. Hodges, who made the cult hit "Get Carter" decades ago, makes a stellar return here. His direction is crisp and polished, making "Croupier" a hip bit of Brit Neo-noir. 3. "Almost Famous" — Witty and wry, this love letter to the '70s shines with everything we've come to expect from writer-director Cameron ("Say Anything," "Jerry Maguire") Crowe: great characters, great dialogue, great music. Based loosely on Crowe's own teen years, "Almost Famous" introduces us to fresh-faced, impressionable William Miller (Patrick Fugit) and his incredible gig for Rolling Stone magazine — following up-and-coming band Stillwater on their 1973 tour. During the course of that adventure, William comes of age. Billy Crudrup is great as the band's flamboyant lead guitarist; Jason Lee does an equally terrific job as the band's lead singer. But the movie belongs to two women: the incomparable Frances McDormand as William's mom and Kate Hudson as lead groupie, Penny Lane. 4. "Requiem for a Dream" — As he demonstrated with his art-house success, the inventive "Pi," writer-director Darren Aronofsky isn't afraid to take chances. With this second work, Aronofsky delivers a knockout punch. Though dark and disturbing, "Requiem" never ceases to be absorbing. Like witnesses to a tragic accident, moviegoers will find themselves unable to look away. Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans and Ellen Burstyn star in this forceful and forthright look at drug addiction. Each actor gives a courageous performance, never shying away from the ugly reality of the characters. One of the most uncompromising anti-drug stories committed to film, "Requiem" is not a movie to love or hate — it is one to experience. 5. "Gladiator" — Rather like mainlining testosterone, this Ridley Scott spectacle turns the outdated sword 'n' sandals screen genre on its ear. It's full of Scott's "Blade Runner"-esque flash and slash, along with plenty of gore. In classic, tragic-hero style, Russell Crowe is a general favored by dying Emperor Richard Harris as his successor. This doesn't sit well with malevolent, heir-apparent Joaquin Phoenix. Treachery and murder follow as Crowe's character becomes a gladiator, on his way back to Rome for revenge. Even though it has a running time of 154 minutes, I enjoyed every frenetic, brutal epic moment. 6. "Wonder Boys" — Director Curtis Hanson follows up his Oscar-winning "L.A. Confidential" with this entertaining take on an old Hollywood chestnut: older, wiser man both teaches and learns from his younger protege. Michael Douglas and Frances McDormand help Hanson make the most of Steve Kloves' ("The Fabulous Baker Boys") script. He's a one-shot wonder novelist-turned-professor; she's an adulterous college chancellor who just happens to be in love with Douglas. Tobey Maguire is the talented student; Katie Holmes, the comely coed with a crush on Douglas; and Robert Downey Jr., a literary agent in desperate need of a bestseller. Well-developed characters and sharp, funny dialogue make this a quirky delight. 7. "Topsy-Turvy" — I dearly loved this offbeat biopic about those famous Kings of the Operetta, Gilbert and Sullivan, from talented writer-director Mike Leigh. Despite its 160-minute running time. Despite its opera house setting. Despite not knowing more than a few characters or few lines from the operettas of this Victorian pairing, this is an incredible behind-the-scenes look at life upon the wicked Victorian stage. As the near-tyrannical W. S. Gilbert, Jim Broadbent turns in one of the year's best performances. Which is not to say Allan Corduner's portrayal of Sullivan is lacking; it's just not as showy or forceful. 8. "All About My Mother" — Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar's "screwball drama" is a valentine to Woman in all her infinite variety. His most assured and mature work to date, this probing look into the female psyche is not the comic romp some might expect. But what it lacks in genuine laughs, the movie more than makes up for with flawless performances. Almodovar's message is clear — that being a woman, let alone a mother, has more to do with heart and soul than womb. 9. "The Virgin Suicides" — Like its deceptively plot-revealing title, "The Virgin Suicides" leaves nothing — yet somehow everything — to the imagination. Five golden-haired sisters, five teen suicides. That's the story, in painfully simple terms. But in the hands of first-time director Sofia Coppola (Francis Ford's daughter) the result is hauntingly off-kilter. Coppola uses the camera to keep us at a distance, forcing us to become one of the neighborhood boys mooning over the Lisbon sisters, sensing the sisters' claustrophobic lives rather than feeling them. The top-notch cast includes Kirsten Dunst, James Woods and Kathleen Turner. Tied for 10. "Erin Brockovich" — Clad in spike heels, microminis and enough cleavage to win her scores of new fans, Julia Roberts plays a divorced mother-of-three struggling to make ends meet. When her lawyer (Albert Finney) blows her personal-injury court case, she demands he hire her. Once on the job, she discovers medical records that indicate a power company has been polluting a small town's water supply. While Finney holds his own with Roberts and her revealing costumes, the movie belongs to Roberts. A satisfying watch. "Love & Basketball" — He got game. She got game. You got good movie. Part romance and part sports tale, "Love & Basketball" joins such films as "The Best Man," "Soul Food" and "Eve's Bayou" in looking for universal elements in the African-American experience. Although the movie suffers from too many musical montages, its heart is

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