Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Top Ten Films of 1998

This is part of my continuing series looking back on films from the years before I began this blog. The ten films below are unranked and listed in no particular order. Enjoy.

Rushmore - For me, this was the first Wes Anderson film that really felt like a Wes Anderson film, establishing a lot of his favorite tropes: the nostalgic soundtrack, the elaborate visual gags, the precise cinematography, and of course the extensive use of the Futura font. The school activity montage may still be my favorite thing that Anderson has ever been responsible for. It also benefits from having a truly great Bill Murray performance, that sparked a quasi-comeback, and a hell of a debut by Jason Schwartzmann.

Black Cat White Cat - Emir Kusturica's rowdy, tumultuous tale of love and romance among gypsies, thieves, and oddballs. It took me a while to warm up to the peculiar charms of the characters, who are all a little off-kilter in one way or another, but once the plot got rolling, it was impossible to do anything else but enjoy the ride. There's such a wonderful sense of community in Kusturica movies, perhaps best exemplified by that band of gypsy musicians, always ready to provide music in the midst of escalating chaos.

Happiness - One of the most cringe-inducing films I've ever sat through, the darkest of dark satires on human relationships. Featuring an array of horrible human beings with awful behavious and predilections, Todd Solondz firmly established himself as a fearless provocateur. Sundance famously couldn't handle the level of depravity. I appreciate, however, that this did give several excellent actors, including Philip Seymour Hoffman and Dylan Baker, the chance to play some uniquely screwed up, wretched people.

Elizabeth - Cate Blanchett leads a stellar cast in an unusually gripping historical drama, full of romance and intrigue and eye-catching visuals. The final shot is iconic, of course, but the art design overall is impressive, and Shekhar Kapur brings such richness and atmosphere to the whole film. And then there's Michael Hirst's script, which plays fast and loose with history, but gives Blanchett such fantastic material to work with. The mix of elements here is just right - just as it was all wrong in the unfortunate sequel.

Shakespeare in Love - This effervescently lovely romantic comedy encapsulates nearly everything I love about the movies. It is an utterly charming feel-good film, beautifully written and scored, wonderful to look at, and features a bumper crop of good performances. And best of all, it's funny. Shakespeare was never less stuffy or remote onscreen, as the filmmakers used a variation on the old "putting on a show" plot and some meta twists to give both the theater nerds and the groundlings a good time at the theater.

Pleasantville - The first half of the film is a fun little satire on media and nostalgia, but once the black and white world starts transitioning to color, it becomes something truly sublime. The use of spot-color in this film is a perfect marriage of cinematic art and digital technology, providing a gorgeous metaphor for the characters' moments of enlightenment. The allegory isn't perfect, but it is ambitious and complex and handled with great care. In a year full of big, high concept fantasy films, this one was my favorite.

Dark City - Combining film noir with science fiction and German Expressionism, director Alex Proyas created the twisted, eternal night world of "Dark City." It's a stylistic precursor to the cyberpunk action and vitual reality films like "The Matrix," though "Dark City" remains a more timeless, unique creation. It's fascinating to watch the story unfold, revealing the ins and outs of its worldbuilding a little at a time. I also adore the cast, including Kiefer Sutherland and William Hurt in memporable smaller roles.

Run Lola Run - There are action films, and then there are the iconic, career-making action films like "Run Lola Run." I have seen other filmmakers try to make similar pictures with some regularity over the years, but nobody else has managed to capture quite the same verve and energy of "Lola." Something about the music and the editing and the magical realism and Franka Potente running with her bright red hair just tapped into something electric. You can't ask for a better time at the movies than this.

Waking Ned - I prefer the international title, "Waking Ned Devine." There's just something more fitting about it, more evocative of the little Irish town where the events of the film take place. There have been lots of UK comedies about people in small villages and towns just trying to get by, and about the elderly getting up to no good, but Ian Bannen and David Bradley's hijinks never fail to make me smile. I hope at that age, I'll still be riding motorcyles naked and conning the lotto and keeping such very good friends.

A Simple Plan - For years I thought that this was a Coen brothers film, but it's actually a rare drama from Sam Raimi. And upon reflection, it's a far darker, thornier piece of work than anything else that Raimi has ever done. It's power is in its simplicity, following a small crime that spins out of control, three people fighting over what to do, and a lot of spectres of the past being resurrected. And while Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thorton are great, it's Bridget Fonda's performance that still sends chilss up my spine.

Honorable Mentions

Tale of Autumn
Saving Private Ryan
Kirikou and the Sorceress
A Simple Plan
Gods and Monsters
The Truman Show
Velvet Goldmine


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