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Best Films of 1998

The Big Lebowski Not everyone could get a crime film about bowling and kidnapping, and it took even me a second viewing til I loved it, but that was all it took. Jeff Bridges and John Goodman are terrific as unlikely bowling buddies - Bridges the ex-hippie and Goodman the Vietnam vet. Still, a great effort by the Coen Brothers.
Buffalo '66 This is the most 70's-like film I have seen in some time - it has that gritty feel to it. It's about a burnt-out ex-con (writer/director Vincent Gallo) who kidnaps a young woman (Christina Ricci) so he has a woman to take home to mom and dad after prison. Unfortunately, the out-of-place ending almost wrecks the film.
Celebrity Many Woody Allen fans hated his new film, but I loved it. Woody isn't in this one - about a writer struggling with life and career - but Kenneth Branagh does a dead-on imitation that you will even love or hate. Judy Davis also co-stars and gives a good performances. In B&W. Clockwatchers What is the worst dead-end job you've ever had? Four women (Toni Collette, Parker Posey, Lisa Kudrow, Alanna Ubach) working as temps in office jobs they hate make the best of it. It's very funny at times, but it gets more serious towards the second half.
Clay Pigeons Clay (Joaquin Phoenix) is involved in a mysterious death in a rural western town; then he meets Lester (Vince Vaughn), who turns out to be a nutcase and makes Clay's life a living hell. This is a very black comedy with some graphic scenes that may offend a few, but it is fairly well done. Vaughn is terrific - ironically playing a character much like Norman Bates in "Psycho" but giving a much better performance here in a far better film. Another off-beat little independent film.
Habit This is a strange kind of a vampire films: there are no vampires. Vampires are sort of a metaphor for a down-and-out man's life as it just keeps going down hill. A gritty little independent film, I was quite surprised by it.
Henry Fool Hal Hartley scores - almost. This style-heavy film about a idiot-savant who meets a writer and becomes a pornographic poet is hilarious in parts and disgusting in others; sometimes - such as in the soon-to-be classic "engagement scene", it's both. This is another film where the ending almost wrecks the film. Parker Posey again, and she's great as usual.
High Art A once-famous photographer turned junkie (Ally Sheedy) is rescued from obscurity by an ambitious young female editor, who finds the photographer living in her apartment building. Although it has lesbian themes, it is not a "lesbian film" in my view; it is more of a harsh critique of the art scene. It's a slow telling of the story of these women that is not pretty, but very interesting to watch.
Insomnia (Norwegian with English subtitles) A renowned Swedish detective (Stellan Skarsgård, the professor in "Good Will Hunting") is called to Norway to help solve a difficult murder case, but soon the Swede becomes embroiled in the case too closely. A terrific thriller that reminds one more than a little of Hitchcock.
Junk Mail (Norwegian with English Subtitles) Roy the mailman doesn't have a care in the world about the mail; all he wants to do is date the new mystery woman he has been spying on. An irreverent comedy that is light in tone but dark in outlook at the same time, this Norwegian film is definitely worth checking out.
Life is Beautiful (Italian with English Subtitles) A comedy about the Holocaust? Yes, sort of. In Italy during World War II, a Charlie Chaplin-like Jewish waiter (writer/director Roberto Benigni) does everything he can, especially telling jokes and making up stories, to hide the horrors of the Holocaust from his young son. The film pulls at the heartstrings yet pulls some punches in its depiction of the worst horrors of the Holocaust. Some people are offended by injecting humor into such a horrible situation, but it is daring and original in its approach, and it mostly, if not always, works.
Live Flesh (Spanish with English subtitles) An intense drama about a policeman who is shot trying to save a woman, then he is paralyzed. Lots of sexual overtones, some very steamy sex scenes. Probably the best Pedro Almodóvar film I have seen, although I admit I have not seen the early ones...
Love and Death on Long Island A drama, a great character study of a lonely old man (John Hurt) in England who falls madly in love with an American teen idol (Jason Priestley) and actually comes to America to meet him.
Ma Vie en Rose (My Life in Pink) (In French with English Subtitles) A little boy in Belgium wants to be a little girl, and his family has no idea how to deal with it. The handling of this delicate issue is terrific, far from what we imagine Hollywood might have done with it. Interesting fantasy sequences as well.
The Opposite of Sex Christina Ricci is smart-ass teenager who leaves town to look up her gay half-brother in another state. Lisa Kudrow is great as a snotty, repressed sister of one of the characters in this . This film was so popular in Portland that it still played in theaters weeks after it had been released on video. A "gay" film of sorts but most will not be put off by that. Very funny film.
Ronin Great mindless political/action film from John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) about European mercenaries trying to steal a government agents' briefcase-full-of-secrets. Starring Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Stellan Skarsgård, and a cast of other European stars. Excellent car cases, terrific pacing.
Rush Hour a diplomat's kidnapped daughter. If you like either of them you'll enjoy the film. Very funny.
Saving Private Ryan Spielberg's best film since "Schindler's List", a great war film with unbelievably real war battle scenes, especially the opening 22-minute bloody landing at Omaha Beach on D-Day. The film is tainted only by some war clichés (which were probably homages) and by cheesy opening/closing go-for-the-emtional-reaction scenes. Very graphic, and a bit slow between battle scenes. The middle and ending battle scenes are also very good. Incredible that it didn't win the Oscar for Best Picture - it was by far.
A Simple Plan Sam Rami's methodical crime thriller about some buddies (Billy Bob Thornton and Bill Paxton as two brothers, and Brent Briscoe) who find big money in a plane wreck. Should they return it? Nah...you can guess the consequences, basically (it's just a morality play, really), but the film is more about the relationship between the brothers and about the characters. Great performances in this sometimes slow, light-plotted film with occasional suspense.
The Spanish Prisoner David Mamet's neat espionage/thriller about an engineer whose secrets are stolen. Keeps you guessing - who are the bad guys? Steve Martin and Campbell Scott star.
There's Something About Mary Nerdy Ted had a huge crush on Mary back in high school and almost went to the prom with her. Years later he still longs for her and decides to see if he can find her. He does find her, in Florida, with comic results, but it seems that there is something about Mary that attracts the loonies. Despite the sometimes stupid (and laugh-out-loud hilarious) antics in this film from the creators of "Dumb and Dumber", the film is rich with subtlety if you are willing to look for it. Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz are great as Ted and Mary, but Matt Dillon steals the film with his terrific seedy detective, deserving of an Oscar nomination. Easily the funniest film of 1998.
Waking Ned Devine Sleeper comedy about a sleepy, poor little Irish town where a dead guy has won the lottery and the town's people scheme to collect the money. Breezy but sometimes dark film.
Wild Man Blues A documentary about Woody Allen's tour of Europe with his Jazz Band in 1996 (yes, Woody is an accomplished clarinet player). If you ever wondered about Woody's girlfriend (now wife) Soon-Yi, Mia Farrow's adopted daughter who was the focus of that big scandal in the early 90's, you 'll get to see a lot of her in this film. You also get to see plenty of Woody, who appears to be just like he is in his films. A treat is Woody's visit to his still-surviving parents, a scene that could have been lifted right out of one of his films.
Wild Things A high school guidance counselor (Matt Dillon again) is accused of raping one of his students, so he is tracked by a pain-in-the-ass (Kevin bacon), in what looks like a cheap T&A exploitation flick. It turns out to be a lot better than it looks, with lots of neat twists and turns. High school babes played adequately by Denise Richards and Neve Campbell.

















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