Almost Famous (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The question here is not whether it's good. It's very good, indeed. The question is how did this movie - essentially a big budget Hollywood release - avoid all the usual pitfalls and end up so honest.

First, it has the perfect combination of an indie spirit and a studio budget. They let Cameron Crowe make the movie the way he wanted to. He wrote, he directed, and he didn't have to listen to script doctors or marketing dudes. It's his vision, and he made the film the way he wanted it. Nobody told him what was funny. Nobody told him to dumb stuff down. Indy auteurs do this all the time, but they don't have DreamWorks supporting them. Crowe has had some real artistic and commercial successes (Say Anything, Jerry Maguire), and DreamWorks rolled the dice on him.

Second, this is his one great story. Most artists have exactly one great story inside of them. Tarkovsky had Andrei Rublov- cut in the passion of his love for the forces that shaped Russian history. Spielberg had Schindler's List - which was fed by his emotional involvement with the number one story of our century. Welles had Citizen Kane, which was fueled by his own relationship with Citizen Hearst. This one is Crowe's one big story, telling his most interesting life experience.

I should point out that he also wrote the book Fast Times at Ridgemont High out of his own experience in going back to high school "undercover" in order to analyze the social interactions of adolescents. That was a good yarn as well, but not quite as universally interesting as his own work for Rolling Stone in the very heartbeat of American pop culture.

Third, it just so happens that in his case the one story is based on his own life, and real people that he knew. And, as a bonus, he didn't tell the story until he was far enough distanced from it, and old enough and wise enough to see it more clearly.


Kate Hudson was topless briefly. Fairuza Balk was seen in a see-through top.
Fourth, it just so happens that his story is about something that most of us think is a very interesting topic indeed: art, truth, stardom, and retaining one's humanity in the world of big time rock 'n roll. That was especially interesting in the 70's, when rock became less important than rock stars.

A great combination of factors.

I think the characters are beautifully realized. Crowe created them vividly in real human form, he painted them with a love for humanity, and he cast the roles beautifully. Then he somehow communicated to his actors what those characters were about, and got them to deliver his vision. Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Frances McDormand, unknown Patrick Fugit, and Philip Seymour Hoffman deliver uncanny multi-dimensional characterizations of real people. Hoffman's failure to get an Oscar nomination is inexplicable.

And the dialogue is dynamite. As always, his characters actually say interesting things to each other in interesting ways. The phone conversation at the end between the kid and Hoffman is as intelligent and touching and honest as any dialogue I've ever heard in a Hollywood movie. I also like the chats between Crudup, the taciturn but charming rock star, and McDormand, the loquacious professorial mom.

I don't know if this should be "best picture" or "best director", but nobody wrote better dialogue. And finally, how many movies have the elements necessary to please both the mass audiences and the toughest critics? Cameron Crowe - you are DA man.

I thought this would be a good time to review the Year 2000 films, and see which ones were best received, which may or may not be Oscar candidates. The listings below are ordered from best to worst by adding together the three scores. An IMDb 8.0 was converted to 80%, therefore giving Chicken Run 280%, etc.

I thought Gladiator was a pretty good entertainment picture, but as you can see it is far, far down the list.

The Top Movies in descending order IMDb Rotten Tomatoes Rotten Tomatoes Elite
Chicken Run 8.0 100% 100%
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 8.8 95% 94%
Traffic 8.6 90% 90%
You Can Count on Me 8.5 92% 87%
Best in Show 8.0 94% 86%
High Fidelity 7.9 86% 94%
Shadow of the Vampire 7.2 87% 100%
Almost Famous 8.6 86% 82%
Billy Elliott 8.4 89% 81%
Meet the Parents 7.4 85% 88%
Fucking Amal 8.2    
Erin Brockovich 7.6 85% 83%
Before Night Falls 8.2 73% 89%
Requiem for a Dream 8.7 77% 79%
Sunshine 8.1    
Cast Away 7.9 85% 76%
Wonder Boys 7.7 81% 80%
Croupier 7.9    
Chocolat 7.8    
O Brother, Where Art Thou 8.0 79% 64%
Quills 7.6 71% 75%
Dancer in the Dark 8.4 68% 69%
Gladiator 8.0 80% 56%
The Contender 7.0 74% 71%
The Dark Side      
Battlefield Earth 2.3 7% 7%
I Dreamed of Africa 4.4 10% 0%
Bless the Child 4.9 5% 0%
The Skulls 5.3 4% 8%
Hanging Up 4.6 13% 13%
Autumn in New York 4.7 18% 18%
The Beach 5.8 19% 19%
This table shows the Golden Globe best comedy nominees. Chocolat is probably the worst film on the list, and was the only one nominated for an Oscar.

In fact, Chocolat probably shouldn't even have made the Golden Globes list of five, because High Fidelity seems to be mysteriously absent.

Golden Globe nominees:
  Comedy Nominees:
  • Almost Famous (2000)
  • Best in Show (2000)
  • Chicken Run (2000)
  • Chocolat (2000)
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
  • Berardinelli's top 10 for 2000:
    1. Requiem for a Dream
    2. Cast Away
    3. Shadow of the Vampire
    4. Croupier
    5. Show Me Love (aka Fucking Amal)
    6. Crouching Tiger
    7. Gladiator
    8. Traffic
    9. Almost Famous
    10. Quills

    Berardinelli gave a half a star to:

    1. Battlefield Earth

    Ebert gave four stars to:

    • Almost Famous
    • Crouching Tiger
    • High Fidelity
    • The Cell (Ebert was exceptional here. The Cell got 41% good reviews overall, only 29% from the top group. On the other hand, Tuna and I agreed with Ebert that it is an exceptional film)
    • The Contender
    • Wonder Boys
    • You Can Count on Me
    • Traffic

    Ebert gave 1/2 of a star to:

    • Battlefield Earth
    • Charlie's Angels (I thought this movie was OK mindless entertainment)
    • Viva Rock Vegas

    DVD info from Amazon.

    The print is good. Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

    second version of the film, in a separate disk, with 39 extra minutes, including brief Hudson nudity

    third disk, a CD with six Stillwater songs

    another 20 minutes of footage not in either version

    director's commentary

    interviews with the real Lester Bangs

    the complete screenplay

    the original Rolling Stone articles

    behind-the-scenes footage



    The Critics Vote

    • General consensus: three and a half stars. Ebert 4/4 (one of eight for the year), Berardinelli 3.5/4 (Top 10 of the year), Apollo 81.

    • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 86% positive, and 82% from the top critics.

    The People Vote ...

    • With their votes ... IMDB summary: 8.5 out of 10. (#54 of all time).
    • With their dollars ... it may lose money, depending on foreign and licensing/rentals/broadcast rights. Did only $32 million domestic on a $60 million budget.
    My guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

    Based on this description, this film is an A-.

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