1998: The Year in Film
What Happened to Me in the Dark
By Jeffrey M. Anderson
December 31, 1998—I look
forward to making lists of the best movies. It's like a clean-up after littering
the shop with bits, and parts, and sawdust all year.
Unfortunately, the end of a year is much too soon for me to be singling out
"great" movies. It takes years, and decades, before a great movie can really be
judged. Movies that I loved this year barely played a week, and movies I didn't
even bother to see made fortunes. The only thing I can do is tell you about the
movies I fell in love with, the movies I couldn't stop thinking about all year,
and the movies I will want to see again and again.
The Top Ten
1. The Butcher Boy.
Neil Jordan's The Butcher Boy makes number one on my list because no other
movie this year was so miraculously alive, so painfully truthful, so piercingly
funny, and so brutally horrifying. Eamonn Owens perfectly embodies Francie
Brady, an Irish boy who goes a little mad after losing his best friend, and then
his family. If he does not win the Oscar for Best Actor, then we know the
Academy Awards are a fraud.
2. Gods and Monsters.
Any movie about film director James Whale is okay by me, but Bill Condon's
Gods and Monsters was much better than I could have hoped for. Leaving behind
stories of Hollywood scandals and gossip, the movie focused on two lonely
outcasts -- Ian McKellen as Whale and Brendan Fraser as his gardener -- with
absolutely nothing in common, much like the Frankenstein monster and the blind
old hermit in The Bride of Frankenstein.
3. Babe: Pig in the City.
George Miller's Babe: Pig in the City moved and excited me to my very
foundations with its amazing vision and extraordinary imagination. In order to
save the farm, Babe journeys to a miracle metropolis to enter a county fair, but
everything goes wrong. Babe brings heart and truth to this awesome setting, and
other animals begin to follow him. This movie was immediately tagged as being
too dark and expensive, chasing away the audience it deserved.
4. The Thin Red Line.
It's too bad that Terrence Malick's WWII movie The Thin Red Line (based on
James Jones' novel) came out so soon after Steven Spielberg's Saving Private
Ryan. Both movies have the same powerful, sensational, horrifying battle
scenes, but The Thin Red Line uses these as metaphor only. The message of
Saving Private Ryan was simply "war bad... family good". In The Thin Red
Line however, Malick and cinematographer John Toll beautifully show us the
duality of man and nature and an extraordinary vision of the nature of the
5. Taste of Cherry.
This movie, by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, tied for last year's Palm
D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. A mysterious suicidal man drives around the
hills outside of Tehran looking to hire someone to bury him after he succeeds.
He meets and talks with several candidates, and a taxidermist finally agrees to
do the job. The ending of the movie left me flabbergasted, but hopeful.
Japanese director Takeshi Kitano's Fireworks (a.k.a. Hana-bi) was a huge
hit in Japan, and is an unforgettable work. Takeshi also stars as a hitman
trying to raise enough money to take care of his sick wife. It swings from
sudden and explosive violence to quiet moments of enchanting beauty.
7. Out of Sight.
Thrillers are a dime-a-dozen, especially today, but Out of Sight ranks with
Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and John Boorman's Point Blank for its
style and perfection. It makes every other Elmore Leonard adaptation look dull
in comparison, and is Steven Soderbergh's best movie since sex lies and
videotape. Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney are both outstanding as a thief
and a lady cop entwined in an illicit romance.
8. The Truman Show.
Peter Weir's The Truman Show is the only unqualified blockbuster on my
list. Jim Carrey's star power was the attraction. But were audiences ready for
the depth and passion of his performance as Truman Burbank, the man whose whole
life has been shown on television? With Ed Harris as the God-like Christof, The
Truman Show gives us the battle of God (dressed in black) and Man (in a city of
white) broadcast 24 hours a day.
9. A Simple Plan.
Thanks to a brilliant screenplay by Scott B. Smith (based on his own book),
and directed in a surprising turn by Sam Raimi, A Simple Plan thoroughly
explores greed, darkness, and fate, as two brothers and a friend discover $4
million in a crashed plane. It's a movie Fritz Lang would have been proud
10. Little Voice.
The secret of Mark Herman's Little Voice lies in its song selection. Jane
Horrocks plays a shy woman who, in order to connect with her dead father, does
vocal impressions of Judy Garland, Billie Holiday, Shirley Bassey, and others.
Horrocks perfectly captures the sadness of these singers in her performance, and
I was moved to tears during one number.
Selecting the list is not always painless, as one must leave off little
treasures. Runners-up that I also recommend are:
Beloved (Jonathan Demme),
Dark City (Alex Proyas),
Gummo (Harmony Korine),
Pi (Darren Aronofsky),
Rushmore (Wes Anderson); not opening in the Bay Area until Febraury,
Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg),
Shakespeare in Love (John Madden),
There's Something About Mary (Bobby & Peter Farrelly),
Twilight (Robert Benton),
Voyage to the Beginning of the World (Manoel de Oliveira)
The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen),
Bulworth (Warren Beatty),
Chinese Box (Wayne Wang),
Down in the Delta (Maya Angelou),
The Eel (Shohei Imamura),
Fallen Angels (Wong Kar-wai),
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Terry Gilliam);
Small Soldiers (Joe Dante),
Smoke Signals (Chris Eyre),
Two Girls and a Guy (James Toback)
Guilty Pleasures and "B" Movies
An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (Alan Smithee/Arthur Hiller),
Blade (Stephen Norrington),
Bride of Chucky (Ronny Yu),
Dream for an Insomniac (Tiffanie DeBartolo),
First Love, Last Rites (Jesse Peretz),
Following (Christopher Nolan),
The Gingerbread Man (Robert Altman),
Pecker (John Waters),
Rounders (John Dahl),
Space Truckers (Stuart Gordon),
Spice World (Bob Spiers),
Vampires (John Carpenter),
Wild Things (John McNaughton),
Zero Effect (Jake Kasdan)
1998 was also an amazing year for revivals. Studios realized that good money
could be made cheap by dragging older movies out to the theaters. My special
thanks for: The Universal Horror Series (Castro), tributes to Robert Bresson and
Samuel Fuller (PFA), the re-release of three Orson Welles films, Citizen Kane,
The Lady from Shanghai and the re-edited Touch of Evil, Nights of Cabiria
(Federico Fellini), Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz (Victor
Fleming), Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese), Badlands (Terrence Malick),
Grease (Randal Kleiser), Enter the Dragon (Robert Clouse), The Young Girls
of Rochefort (Jacques Demy), Repulsion (Roman Polanski), The Last Emperor
(Bernardo Bertolucci), and The Beyond (Lucio Fulci).
I Am Also Thankful For:
The first 30 minutes of Snake Eyes
J.T. Walsh's final performances in The Negotiator and Pleasantville
Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey just talking in The Negotiator
Jet Li kicking ass in Once Upon a Time in China and America and Lethal Weapon 4
The Simpsons, Maximum Bob, and Sports Night -- a good year for television.