The goal of this series of lists is to give you the reader a small glimpse into what makes some of us at indieWIRE tick, film-wise. Some of the trends and stats highlighted in this year’s lists are the rise of digital films, a bumper crop of foreign films and (I know this might get me excoriated by the indie-rati) a better than usual group of studio product, with films such as Stephen Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight,” Warren Beatty’s “Bulworth,” Alex Proyas’ “Dark City,” Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” Terrence Malick’s “A Thin Red Line,” Bryan Singer’s “Apt Pupil” and Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore” embodying a degree of independent spirit and vision not often seen in studio pictures.
These aren’t THE lists, they’re just a few of the many. Maybe next year we’ll award “Worst of” prizes. “Godzilla” probably woulda swept 1998, anyway!
A Year at the Movies
Editor in Chief
In a year when digital video exploded within the filmmaking community, three digitally made features were among my favorite movies of the year. Bennett Miller’s moving portrait of an inspirational Manhattan tour guide (“The Cruise“), Ulrike Koch’s beautiful look at Tibetan tradition ("The Saltmen of Tibet“), and Thomas Vinterberg’s intense exploration of a family (“The Celebration“) were each enhanced by the freedom, intimacy, and aesthetic afforded by DV. When all is said and done, these three films will undoubtedly be acknowledged (along with Hal Hartley’s “Book of Life” which is set for theatrical release in ’99) as movies which truly ushered in the digital filmmaking revolution — not only have these movies established aesthetic standards for the movement, but they have inspired countless filmmakers to explore DV.
Shekar Kapur’s “Elizabeth” and Todd Haynes’ “Velvet Goldmine” struck me with the beauty of their stylized period re-creations, while in the case of Bob Gosse’s “Niagara, Niagara,” Vincent Gallo’s “Buffalo ’66” and Todd Solondz’s “Happiness” I was moved by the powerful characterizations of outsiders and/or misfits.
Roberto Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful” was quite simply the most emotionally moving cinematic experience I have had in years. A tour de force performance of staggering proportions, Benigni’s film brings new meaning to the overused comment, “I laughed, I cried…”
Finally, rounding out my list is a movie that was finally released in 1998. I saw “A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies” a few years ago at the Museum of Modern Art and was compelled by its comprehensive take on cinematic history, told through the words and mind of master scholar/filmmaker Martin Scorsese. In watching the engaging and insightful “A Personal Journey,” I learned a lot about the movies and a lot about Marty — I’ve already started watching it again in segments on home video.
My top ten list follows:
1. “The Cruise,” directed by Bennett Miller
2. “Life is Beautiful,” directed by Roberto Benigni
3. “The Saltmen of Tibet,” directed by Ulrike Koch
4. “Elizabeth,” directed by Shekar Kapur
5. “The Celebration,” directed by Thomas Vinterberg
6. “Niagara, Niagara,” directed by Bob Gosse
7. “Velvet Goldmine,” directed by Todd Haynes
8. “Buffalo ’66,” directed by Vincent Gallo
9. “Happiness,” directed by Todd Solondz
10. “A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies,”
directed by Martin Scorsese and Michael Henry Wilson
I refuse to attempt to analyze this year’s crop of films. It’s not my place, nor is it my forte. The best I can do is list the ten films I enjoyed the most this year, and you can take them with a grain of salt, a soupcon of disbelief, or a hatfull of outrage….I don’t care! Please, send me e-mail, excoriate me on the indieWIRE discussion boards, or burn me in effigy. Actually, I think I’m having a delusion of grandeur, as my picks are not any more original or controversial than anyone else’s. They just happen t o be mine. Also, I’m not “ranking” my picks, as many of these films don’t deserve to be ranked above or below each other.
In addition, there are several highly regarded films released in 1998 that I have not yet seen, and which, based on my guesses and others’ comments, might very well have made my top ten selection. These films include: “Gods and Monsters,” “Affliction,” “Life is Beautiful,” “Central Station,” “The Celebration,” “Shakespeare in Love,” “Rushmore,” “Taste of Cherry,” “The Eel,” “Pleasantville,” “A Simple Plan,” “Antz,” “A Bug’s Life,” “The Truman Show” and “Velvet Goldmine.” As a result, I may be amending my list throughout the early part of 1999, to indicate that I have seen some of those that I missed. I won’t change the list I post right now, mind you, but I may add some films to the list, and indicate which films on my original list might be replaced by the newcomers.
In alphabetical order:
“Bulworth,” directed by Warren Beatty
A daring and original film that tackles (head-on, mind you!) some of the problems that confront this country regarding the economics of race the consequences therein. An extraordinarily bold film, and the most gutsy movie to be released by a major studio in quite some time.
“The Cruise,” directed by Bennett Miller
What can I say about Digital Video that my colleague Eugene has not said above? “The Cruise” is a heartfelt, human look at a truly original spirit, one whom we all wish we could be like, if only for a short while. The film has the added attraction of portraying New York City in a light so true….
“Dark City,” directed by Alex Proyas
A true original. I applaud Roger Ebert for naming this film at the head of his top ten list for 1998. Rarely does a film create such an original and thought-provoking world as the one in this film. Wholly original uses of space, time and plot, make this film a potential sci-fi classic. Ebert pointed out that upon their original releases, both “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Bladerunner” were initially greeted largely with confusion, and later treated with reverence. However, it is obviously far too early if the general public will treat “Dark City” with the regard that it deserves, and I can only hope that the sci-fi fans that discovered this gem in the first place, will tell their friends….and so on, and so on…..
“Hana Bi” (Fireworks), directed by Takeshi Kitano
Simply put, the most originally beautiful film I have seen in years. Kitano is a true renaissance man, who acts in, directs, writes and edits his films, along with performing stand-up comedy on TV in his native Japan, writes several regular magazine columns, painted the pictures in this film and is also a rock star. Whew! An extraordinary talent.
“Happiness“, directed by Todd Solondz
I thoroughly disliked Solondz’s previous film, “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” so it was with much pleasant surprise that I experienced “Happiness” at the 1998 Toronto International Film Festival. This disturbing, funny, touching and well acted piece deserves to receive far more end of the year honors than it has received to date. A film that makes you shiver, cringe and laugh, within minutes of each other, is a film to be recognized.
“Out of Sight,” directed by Steven Soderbergh
This highly enjoyable, well-acted, written and directed film has the distinction of not only starring the hottest on-screen duo in years in George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez and the best stoner since Jeff Spicoli in Steve Zahn, but it is also the film with the best reviews and most end-of-year honors that was virtually ignored by the movie going public. As adaptations of Elmore Leonard novels go, this film has it all over “Jackie Brown” and “Get Shorty,” and I ain’t even gonna mention “Stick!”
“Saving Private Ryan,” directed by Steven Spielberg
So close…..so veeeeerrrrry close! A near masterpiece, this film missed the mark almost completely due to the bookends at the front and back end of this epic. These looks at Private Ryan 50 years after the war are jarring, incongruous and best left off any “director’s cut” that Spielberg may wish to create sometime in the next 30 years. The first 30 minutes are possibly the most gripping, exciting and alarmingly shot sections of film ever recorded on celluloid, and worth the extortionary prices charged in theaters these days. However, Ted Danson’s cameo was jarring as all hell.
“The Thin Red Line,” Terrence Malick
Let me start off by saying that the near-complete lack of conventional story and structure doesn’t bother me one whit. This film was beautifully shot and acted, and offered a non-linear look at a non-linear event: war. Apparently, Malick shot one million feet of film, giving this film a ratio something short of insane to 1. What was assembled in the editing room could have been a complete disaster, but instead turned out to be a modern marvel and an insightful look at the insanity of war.
“Very Bad Things,” Peter Berg
Go ahead, start pelting me with tomatoes, potatoes, eggs, knives, whatever. For the many of you who missed this film, you missed one of the most disturbingly funny, pitch black comedies in a long time, and an impressive debut from free thinker, Peter Berg.
“Waking Ned Devine,” Kirk Jones
This astonishingly well made debut film presents something not often seen in this country: a financially successful film that stars non-American actors who were mostly over 50 years old. It even has old, skinny David Kelly (“Fawlty Towers”) riding naked through the countryside on a motorcycle. Did you like “Local Hero?” “Hear My Song?” “Gregory’s Girl?” The you’ll get a real charge out of this delightfully presented yarn. One of my favorite films in years, and one I would recommend (and have) to those aged 10-90. There is nothing wrong with this film.
“Little Voice,” Mark Herman
Oscar worthy performances by Jane Horrocks in the title role, and Michael Caine in the best performance of his career since possibly “Alfie.” How he hasn’t received any kudos in the end of the year balloting, I don’t know!
“There’s Something About Mary,” Peter and Bobby Farrelly
A truly funny film, the likes of which only come along once in a while.
Sir Ian McKellan
While his performance in Bill Condon’s “Gods and Monsters” is receiving all of the kudos (sorry, haven’t seen see it, yet) his outstanding acting in Bryan Singer’s vastly underrated “Apt Pupil” is among the best performances I’ve seen in some time. McKellan is truly chilling as a Nazi that is discovered by a teenager, living as a normal citizen in the suburban U.S.
The Nazi vs. Nihilist dialog between Jeff Bridges and John Goodman from “The Big Lebowski.”
You have to see it to understand it. Being a little high heightens the effect.
First off, I don’t really buy the top ten thing. It creates hierarchy where there shouldn’t be, it gauges movies against each other that shouldn’t be compared, and it can never, never be comprehensive. As Village Voice critic Gary Dauphin declared in his own year-end-list, “With over 4000 films and videos released in 1998 worldwide, at a generous rate of five films per day, it would take 2.19 years of nonstop sitting to come up with an authoritative ranking.” Regardless, here is another top ten to dump onto the heap of arbitrary lists. At the very least, you the reader, will get a glimpse into what makes me tick.
(In no particular order)
“Buffalo ’66” dir. Vincent Gallo: Aside from its overwhelming narcissism and stylistic masturbation, one of the most original and visually enticing films of the year.
“The Eel” dir. Shohei Imamura: Repression, sex, violence. . . all my favorite themes.
“Happiness” dir. Todd Solondz: Repression, sex, violence. . .
“The Inheritors” dir. Stefan Ruzowitzky: Ruzowitzky’s film is my “Celebration.” Although Vinterberg doesn’t make my list (I think because I am more partial to Dogme 2 by Lars Von Trier), it’s a close second to Ruzowitzky’s, which I believe delves deeper into its ensemble cast with equal doses of innocence, history, and adoration.
“Marie Baie Des Anges” dir. Manuel Pradal: “Pulsates with raw intensity!” — a pull-quote I never wrote. Pradal should be commended for his breathtaking debut. Granted, the film is a bit of a mess, but it oozes energy.
“See the Sea” dir. Francois Ozon: The most promising first film of the year. Precise, suspenseful, disturbing, exacting, Hitchcockian in the all the best uses of the term.
“Seventh Heaven” dir. Benoit Jacquot: In one year, I have seen three Jacquot films for the first time, and I think this one is my favorite. Irreverent, subtle, romantic, I was taken with its depiction of a married couple striving to meet each other half way.
“Rushmore” dir. Wes Anderson: So warm-hearted, peculiar, and innocent, it leaves a cozy feeling in your insides for months after viewing.
“Taste of Cherry” dir. Abbas Kiarostami: Not simply for the existential, meandering musings of most of the movie, but for a conclusion that is perhaps the most mind-twisting and heart-wrenching in decades.
“The Truman Show” dir. Peter Weir: The only outright, big studio picture in my list, Weir’s world was indeed entertaining, clever, poignant, and most of all, did not protest too much.
“The Thin Red Line,” by Terrence Malick
“Out Of Sight,” by Steven Soderbergh
“Buffalo 66,” by Vince Gallo
“Psycho,” by Gus Van Sant – I thought it was a great experiment and a lot of fun, and if someone was going to remake it ever (which someone would have eventually), I’m glad Gus Van Sant did it first.
“Life Is Beautiful,” by Roberto Benigni
“Velvet Goldmine,” by Todd Haynes
I feel it necessary to mention that I have yet to see “The Celebration,” by Thomas Vinterberg and “The Cruise,” by Bennett Miller and therefore am unable to put them on my list, but have been told that I would like them immensely.