It is every film critic’s God-given right to start the new year with a top ten list from the previous 12 months, and 1996 is no exception. While 1995 proved to be one of the worst years for film in recent history (I have so far screened 111 films of the 252 released), there were a few stars–if you knew where to look. So without further ado, here they are, for your video-renting pleasure. Happy moviegoing.
1. Shallow Grave – This intensely disturbing and hilarious story of three friends who find their new roommate dead and discover a million British pounds in his room won me few friends among the squeamish of Austin. But after a full year of lifeless releases, Shallow Grave still comes out on top. First-time director Danny Boyle has created a slick thriller that left its predecessors in the dust and left audiences stunned (or walking out due to the very graphic visuals of disposing of the corpse). The cast, script, direction, editing, and photography are all nearly seamless. If you haven’t seen it yet, it is truly required viewing.
2. The Brothers McMullen – A comedic masterpiece from another first-timer, this time an American, Edward Burns. Burns examines life, love, and happiness among a family of Irish Catholics in New England. Burns himself steals the show as the youngest of the brothers, who is deathly afraid of commitment and tells the funniest analogy of the year in what has come to be known as ‘The Banana Scene.’ Shot for peanuts, The Brothers McMullen is worth seeing by anyone who thinks they have the answers about romance.
3. Apollo 13 – Oscar loves Tom Hanks, and so does everyone else. I’m a little more inclined to give Apollo 13 its praise for the amazing effects, a tight and emotional story line, and Ron Howard’s nice work behind the camera. Just think, if the painfully bad Kathleen Quinlan hadn’t been in the movie (as Mrs. Jim Lovell) Apollo 13 might have earned #1. It’s amazing how a small screw-up can take so much away from a work of otherwise greatness.
4. Powder – A critical failure but beloved by audiences, Powder was one of the few sleeper hits of the year. This emotionally powerful tale of an outcast teen with strange, supernatural powers makes Forrest Gump look like an after-school special. Sean Patrick Flanery’s title role is phenomenal, and Victor Salva’s direction is near-flawless. While the film was shrouded in controversy due to Salva’s criminal record, the movie remains an important work of art that deserves to be seen and cherished.
5. Toy Story – Simply the best animated film I’ve ever seen, Toy Story broke all kinds of records and deservedly so. Completely drawn by computer, this look at toys’ lives when we aren’t around was more than just eye-popping fluff. Rather, the film was an amazingly thoughtful look at identity that kids and grown-ups could both relate to. Oh, and the visuals didn’t hurt, either.
6. Safe – Julianne Moore’s masterpiece which should earn her Best Actress but won’t. In yet another lean year for good female roles, Moore should easily earn top honors for her portrayal of a woman suffering from ’20th Century Disease.’ Watching her erosion from yuppie milkaholic to gaunt convalescent is at once terrifying and convincing in its baring of the hidden dangers of society. Julianne, we love ya.
7. Exotica – Canadian director Atom Egoyan gained my instant devotion with this portrait of several enigmatic characters and the strip club that brings them together. Exotica‘s haunting visuals, its strangely disturbing plot line, and Egoyan’s odd inside-out storytelling left me pondering the film for weeks. Exotica won almost all of the Canadian Genie Awards this year.
8. Leaving Las Vegas – Heart-wrenching story of a headed-for-death alcoholic and his prostitute girlfriend in Sin City. Nicolas Cage tugs all the right strings as well as the tears in one of the year’s best performances, and Elisabeth Shue’s not so bad, either. Leaving Las Vegas certainly won’t convince you to start that early morning binge drinking anytime soon.
9. Fun – I was probably the only person to see Fun, but it shouldn’t stop you from seeing it on video. This odd story of two girls (one of them the fiery Alicia Witt) who slaughter an old woman in the neighborhood ‘for fun’ is an engrossing take-off of 1994’s Heavenly Creatures. Shot half in vibrant color flashback, half in gritty black and white documentary-style, Fun comes off as maybe a little too real for comfort.
10. Sense And Sensibility – Appropriately lauded adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel about love and loss. Emma Thompson’s surprisingly hilarious script, Ang Lee’s direction, beautiful cinematography, and lead performances by Thompson and especially Kate Winslet are all dead-on. It’s a little long and talky, but I’ve never seen the classics be so entertaining before.Read More