My Picks of the Year
(in alphabetical order)
Death Becomes Her
Filmmaking genius Robert Zemeckis crafted this dark comedy about two feuding best friends (Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn) and the loser who came between them (Bruce Willis, brilliantly cast). The story takes a few awkward turns, but still, the film looks great, the effects are generous and ingenious, and the high wattage cast is terrific fun to watch. Zemeckis pulls it off once and again.
A Few Good Men
A lean, scenery-chewer of a courtroom drama. Nicholson and Cruise, an imaginative pairing if there ever was one, create vivid characters who square off spectacularly in the memorable final scenes. The supporting cast of pros, including Bacon, Pollak, Sutherland, Moore, and the late, great Walsh, help alleviate the tension and guide us through Aaron Sorkin's tightly polished screenplay. This is a fantastic movie, are we clear?
Glengarry Glen Ross
Who knew dialogue could be so powerful? David Mamet wrote this blistering, sobering account about the dog-eat-dog world of insurance salesmen. It may not sound thrilling as an idea, but this film has more chills, suspense and excitement than any Hollywood blockbuster. The script may be remarkable, but it is the actors that make this one compulsively watchable. Lemmon, Spacey, Harris, Pacino, Arkin, Baldwin and Pryce. That's a lineup every director dreams of and James Foley lets them work their magic in every scene. Anyone who appreciates the power of the written word and the nuance of an actor's delivery must seek out this film. A masterpiece of the highest order.
Jack Nicholson doesn't usually do biopics. Every character he portrays is his own (he even made the Joker look like an original creation). Well, now, he took a popular political figure and made Jimmy Hoffa his own; his performance is exciting and moving. Danny DeVito, an amazing director with great visual style, shows his usual panache behind the camera and in front of it -- and he's not afraid to tell us who Hoffa was and how he disappeared. It's a thrilling picture, masterfully executed.
Andy Garcia, the king of smoldering sexy actors, stars here as a cop who falls in love with a potential next victim of a twisted serial killer. Uma Thurman is the frightened blind woman, and John Malkovich, crackling here, is the investigator who fingers Garcia as a likely suspect. Jennifer 8 is a moody, well-scripted, tight thriller, enormously entertaining.
Leap of Faith
Steve Martin is a force to be reckoned with in this sweet, old-fashioned comedy-drama about a small town racked with problems. Martin is the evangelist who sweeps in, praises the Lord Almighty, pretends God is listening, and tells everyone that all is going to be OK. There's no question that Martin is conning everyone, but also, there's no doubt he's making everyone feel alive again. Leap of Faith is by no means a great film and it doesn't have a very original storyline, but it's got spunk, is highly engaging and features a rousing performance by one of the funniest men alive.
A Midnight Clear
A genuine indie discovery. This is a quietly powerful war drama in which a few soldiers, German and American, share a bond on Christmas during WWII, before both sides are forced to fight one another to the death. Keith Gordon directed an awesome young cast, which includes Peter Berg, Kevin Dillon, Gary Sinise, John C. McGinley, Ethan Hawke, and Frank Whaley. It's truly a unique situation, and this war film stands out among others because it effectively captures the fear and confusion of battle. Beautifully done!
This could very well be one of the funniest films of all time. There are more laughs in this film than in the entire Zucker/Abrams/Zucker amalgam, and this one's got a surefire cast and a great cynical undertone. Michael Caine leads the pack as an exhausted director who can't seem to get his wacky cast together in time for their nonsensical play's opening performance. The late John Ritter, in one of his best roles, appears alongside Christopher Reeve, Julie Hagerty, Mark Linn-Baker, and Carol Burnett, forming a witty, delightful, rambunctious ensemble.
Of Mice and Men
My first discovery of the brilliant acting skills of John Malkovich. I saw this film as we were reading the famous novel by John Steinbeck for class in high school, and I absolutely fell in love with it. Malkovich is Lenny, and Sinise is his cousin. The relationship is not unlike that of Raymond Babbitt and his brother from Rain Man; their bond is strong and true, despite one of their mental handicaps. It's a quiet, lovely masterpiece.
Richard Donner, one of the better directors of the 80's and early 90's, created a shamefully underrated fantasy about two brothers who find a magical way to escape their abusive father. Some couldn't see it as a children's film, some couldn't see it as an adult drama, but for those who are looking for a little bit of both will find that this is a very strong, sensitively acted piece of work. Elijah Wood (the best child actor of his time), Joseph Mazzello, Lorraine Bracco, and Tom Hanks make a beautiful ensemble, and it's a crying shame the movie got blasted the way it did. It deserves so much more.
Red Rock West
Film noir is back, thanks to John Dahl and his superb craftsmanship. Nicolas Cage, in fine form, is a drifter who gets caught in a nasty mess as he swings by a small town in the middle of the desert. After a case of mistaken identity, things go severely wrong and the twists pile up. The cast is awesome, from Lara Flynn Boyle (before she got flaky) to Dennis Hopper to the late, great J.T. Walsh. Cool shit.
The only thing wrong with this film is the pacing - it feels overlong. But what would I cut from this supremely clever film? I wouldn't want to take any screen time away from the amazing cast, especially from Sidney Poitier (adding much class), River Phoenix (a touch of edginess), Dan Aykroyd (heavy doses of humor), Mary McDonnell (some sexiness), David Strathairn (sophisticated wit), Ben Kingsley (just the right amount of menace) and Robert Redford (the truly dashing anchor). The script is hysterical as it is wild. I'd say leave it as it is and savor every nifty minute of it.
Basic Instinct; Far and Away; Hero; A League of Their Own; El Mariachi; Memoirs of an Invisible Man; My Cousin Vinny; Prelude to a Kiss; Raising Cain; Strictly Ballroom