Reviewer puts 'Elizabeth,' 'Ned Devine' among 1998's top 10
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From Reviewer Paul Clinton(CNN) -- This is not an Academy Awards prediction story. If it were, the list would be much different. So much of the time with the Academy Awards, the voting is about box office, whose turn it is to win, who got shafted last year, and which films are sufficiently epic and important enough to be worthy of the Oscar -- rather than, was it a good movie? Did it take me out of my own reality? And when the lights went up did I still want more? The following are simply the films that I personally enjoyed most in 1998. Believe me, if you'd seen more than 200 films in the last 12 months, some would have jumped out at you too. So in no particular order, I'll crawl way out on a limb -- with a saw -- and list my favorite celluloid experiences of the past year.
Directed by Brian Gibson
Anyone who loved "This Is Spinal Tap" will love "Still Crazy." This comedy, about a British rock 'n' roll band called "Strange Fruit" that self-destructed in 1978 and is now attempting a nostalgia tour, is hilarious. Plus, the original music will sweep you back into the '70s. This is a time period that personally I'm still trying to forget, but the music was good. "Still Crazy" was only released in New York City and Los Angeles for one week in mid-December -- in order to qualify for the Academy Awards -- so most people haven't seen it. Trust me. See it. "Still Crazy" will open again in limited release on January 22, and then open slowly across the country. It's well worth waiting for.
"The Theory of Flight"
Directed by Paul Greengrass
I love this quintessentially British film full of bizarre humor, weird situations and wonderful madness. Helena Bonham Carter and her real-life love, Kenneth Branagh, star as Jane and Richard, two adults struggling with their lots in life -- she has a fatal illness, while he's unable to cope with responsibility and refuses to grow up. Jane refuses to give up on life, and drags Richard into her scheme to find love and lose her virginity before she goes to the great beyond. Film rarely portrays sex for disabled people; this wonderfully honest and witty film does it with class. This is not a sad film. Rather, it's a celebration of liberty and love.
"Waking Ned Devine"
Written, directed by Kirk Jones
"Waking Ned Devine" is the funniest film ever made featuring a naked old man on a motorbike, at least that I've ever seen. You had to be there. And if you haven't been there yet -- get thee to a theater soon. This is a charming comedic fable of a movie about what happens in the small Irish village of Tully More when a man named Ned Devine wins millions in a lottery and promptly dies from shock. His neighbors, all 52 of them, then enter into a scheme to trick the British government into giving the money to one of their own who is posing as the dead Devine. This is a fast-paced film with charming performances from Ian Bannen and David Kelly, and while it's not as good as Fox Searchlight's hit film from last year, "The Full Monty," it is a movie worth seeing.
"A Simple Plan"
Directed by Sam Raimi
Nothing is simple in "A Simple Plan." Billy Bob Thornton and Bill Paxton play brothers (how anyone could think they came from the same gene pool is beyond me, but I digress). Out on a hunting trip the two, along with a dimwitted buddy named Lou (Briscoe), find a crashed airplane with a dead pilot and $4.4 million in cash. The three hatch a simple plan to keep the money -- a plan that soon unravels to epic proportions. Bridget Fonda plays Paxton's wife and at first is the voice of reason, but she too is soon swept up in the greed and intrigue involved in keeping their ill-gotten gains. Thornton, a character actor of limitless talents, is splendid in this movie. He deserves another Oscar nomination for this one. You can almost feel the bitter cold weather in this claustrophobic, character-driven film about desperate people and their desperate plan.
Directed by Gary Ross
"Pleasantville" is a modern morality play wrapped up like a fable and set in a fictitious black-and-white 1950s TV show. This film also displays the best use of color and black-and-white since the "Wizard of Oz." Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon are brother and sister who find themselves swept out of their 1990s existence and stuck in a television show where everything is simple, people are perfect, and nothing ever changes. Both William H. Macy and Joan Allen, as the TV parents, give outstanding performances. When all is said and done, "Pleasantville" is one of my favorite films of the year because it speaks so elegantly about the freedom of ideas, the evils of prejudice, and the joys of diversity.
"Living Out Loud"
Written, directed by Richard LaGravenese
When Holly Hunter is in a juicy role she snaps, crackles and pops. With "Living Out Loud," she's in overdrive. This film is a wonderful character study about a woman who has lost her sense of self in the aftermath of a bad 20-year marriage. Danny DeVito also shines as an elevator operator in Hunter's East Side co-op apartment. They're both fighting loneliness. This tale in which they face down their separate fears results in a wonderfully heart warming film. The music in this movie is exceptional -- in large part due to the presence of Queen Latifah as a blues singer who befriends Hunter's character. She performs some classic tunes, including Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life." There's also a sexy dance number with Hunter and 50 dancers that will knock you out. This is a film I'm sure I'll return to again and again in coming years and it will be a permanent part of my video library.
Directed by Shekhar Kapur
"Elizabeth" is like a big sailing ship coming into theaters with Oscar written all over her. Cate Blanchett will undoubtedly be nominated for her role as Elizabeth I, who fought to gain and then to keep her throne. The production values, acting, script and direction of this film are all excellent. Some might mistakenly take this film for a chick flick because of the subject matter, but don't be fooled. "Elizabeth" has enough action, blood, guts and dramatic twist and turns to make anyone happy.
"Life Is Beautiful"
Directed by Roberto Benigni
In a way, the title says it all. Life is beautiful (especially when faced with the alternative) and Italian filmmaker Roberto Benigni pours that message all over this wonderful film. His real-life wife, Nicoletta Braschi, plays his wife in this bittersweet story about a Jewish man who protects his son in a Nazi concentration camp, using humor to shield him from reality, and keeping him hidden throughout the last weeks of World War II. You have to take huge leaps of faith to stay within this film, but it's worth it. Benigni is that rare artist who can make you laugh one minute and cry the next.
"Saving Private Ryan"
Directed by Steven Spielberg
In all honesty, the best thing about this film is the first horrifying half-hour. Then it slips into a somewhat typical World War II film that could have starred Telly Savalis and Steve McQueen. Don't get me wrong, many of those old WWII flicks were great films, and so is "Saving Private Ryan." It's just that while the middle of the film and the ending minutes will have you on the edge of your seat, it isn't groundbreaking cinema. But a Steven Spielberg film is always worth checking out.
"Shakespeare In Love"
Directed by John Madden
Pound for romantic pound, "Shakespeare In Love" is one of the best films of its kind in years. Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow literally light up the screen. He's a young William Shakespeare with writer's block and Paltrow becomes his muse, his Romeo, (a little 16th-century crossdressing) and then his Juliet. Geoffrey Rush is outstanding as a hassled theater owner, and Shakespeare's patron. Judi Dench is delicious as Queen Elizabeth I. This is a wonderful and charming comedic romp through the 1590s and one of the must-see films of 1998. This movie will make Fiennes a star and may get Paltrow an Oscar nomination.
I also enjoyed three exceedingly sick comedies in 1998. Christina Ricci is priceless with her deadpan narration throughout "The Opposite of Sex." "Very Bad Things" is very, very funny and Christian Slater and Cameron Diaz are wickedly out-of-control. Speaking of Diaz, one can't forget "There's Something About Mary." At times it takes you places you don't want to go -- I'll never use hair gel again -- but this outrageous comedy will be remembered for years.
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