The Year in Film

The movies of '98 posed the question: Haven't we seen this somewhere before?

 

8. The Eel. Is this mysterious Japanese masterpiece a lurid film noir, a droll comedy, a romantic melodrama, a savage farce? Yes, and more. Indeed, this tale of a wife-killer's redemption after eight years in stir might even be a sort of metaphoric autobiography, as about that much time has passed since director Shohei Imamura made his previous movie Black Rain (not to be confused with Ridley Scott's soggy thriller of the same name). Suffice it to say that Imamura is back: His equally beguiling Dr. Akagi is due in '99, and The Eel is playing one more week at the Parkway.

 

9. Buffalo '66. If Martin Scorsese, John Cassavetes, and Abel Ferrara took turns directing scenes of a film written by and starring Jerry Lewis, it might resemble this wonderfully perverse story of a beautiful loser who behaves like a jerk until, suddenly, he finds salvation. Writer-director-star Vincent Gallo borrows from the best while adding his own bestial screen presence to charm Christina Ricci's beauty--and, in turn, us.

 

10 (tie). Beloved/The Big Lebowski/Fear
and Loathing in Las Vegas/Out of Sight/Rushmore/Snake Eyes/There's Something About Mary/Without Limits
. Forgive the eight-way tie: I just couldn't bear to leave any of these jewels out of my Top 10. All of them are classic, consummate entertainments (excepting Beloved, which is as tough as its material demands); all represent the well-honed work of veterans (excepting Wes Anderson's Rushmore and the Farrelly Brothers' Mary, which offer freshly bent perspectives on the old love-triangle setup); and all are criminally underrated (excepting the much-loved Rushmore, due here in February). Oh, yeah--and they're all studio films. Hooray for Hollywood!

 

The Rest of the Top 40 (in order of preference). Public Housing; Driver 23; Mother and Son; Licensed to Kill; Two Girls and a Guy; The Celebration; The Farm: Angola, USA; The Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender; Clockwatchers; The Saltmen of Tibet; The Disenchanted; Melvin van Peebles: Classified X; Unmade Beds; Little Dieter Needs to Fly; The Last Broadcast; The Mighty; A Simple Plan; The Hanging Garden; The Decline of Western Civilization, Part III; The Cruise; Primary Colors; Central Station; Live Flesh

 

Better Than You Heard (a.k.a. No. 41 to No. 50). These 10 got a rather bum rap, critically and/or commercially: The Faculty; Ringmaster; Small Soldiers; Pecker; High Art; Regeneration; Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss; Slums of Beverly Hills; He Got Game; The Gingerbread Man.

 

Musts to Avoid (alphabetically). Let's not bother with the likes of Krippendorf's Tribe and Bride of Chucky--these 10 offended the most while making the very least of their ample talent or their sizable resources:

American History X. Music video with a message: The noble young skinhead's conversion to pacifism can't always save him from the black gangbanger's bullet.

Firelight. This ridiculous costume melodrama abundantly bears out Hollywood Pictures' unofficial motto: "If it's the Sphinx, it stinks."

Godzilla. Blockbusters of this size are designed to be dumb--but do they have to be mean, too?

Henry Fool. In which the auteur Hal Hartley offers an allegory on everything in a mere 138 minutes.

Knock Off. As the most personable of meathead action dudes, Jean-Claude Van Damme deserves better than this miswired bomb.

Next Stop Wonderland. A "feminist" indie about Fate, celebrating a woman's right not to choose.

The Siege. Not all Arab Americans are terrorists.

Simon Birch. The precocious young dwarf of the title is a cross between E.T., Tattoo, and the baby Jesus. Alas, no Happy Meal tie-in on this one.

Sliding Doors. The moral of this double-life women's picture soaper: Having a career will kill you.

Very Bad Things. Robert Bly meets Reservoir Dogs and Bachelor Party in Peter Berg's obnoxious lament for the loss of white male privilege.

 

You Must Remember These. In another strong year for local repertory programming, the standouts included: the Mpls./St. Paul, Jewish, and LGBT festivals at U Film Society; Asian Media Access's "Contemporary Japanese Film Series," "Chinese Film Showcase," and "Asian Children's Film and Video Festival" at Metro State University in St. Paul; the Abbas Kiarostami, Claire Denis, Arthur Dong, Jack Smith, and Terry Gilliam retros at Walker Art Center (plus the Walker's "Women in the Director's Chair" and Juneteenth Film Festival); the Red Eye's "Distributor Free Weekend" and its "Everyday Heroes" movies-and-music series in Stevens Square Park; dejunius hughes's Twin Cities Black Film Festival at the Parkway Theatre, et al.; the Weisman's "Wiseman at the Weisman"; Lilies and I Went Down at St. Anthony Main; Fireworks and Unmade Beds at the Parkway; "Warner Bros. 75th Anniversary Festival of Film Classics" and The Beyond at the Uptown; White Dog as part of the "Seeing Whiteness" series on the West Bank campus; the "Multiplex" meeting of indie reelers at the Soap Factory on July 4; and damn near everything at Oak Street Cinema, but especially Mother and Son, McTeague, DDS, Two-Lane Blacktop, Blast of Silence, The Crimson Kimono, Intolerance (with live accompaniment by John Eric Thiede), "Hindi First Fridays," and the in-person appearances of Albert Maysles and Terry Gilliam.

 

Local Heroes. The following Minnesotans (current or former) premiered worthy indie work in '98: Wendell Jon Andersson (With or Without You); Garret Williams (Spark); Eric Tretbar (Snow); Ben Riesman (McTeague, DDS); Roger Nygard (Trekkies); Steven Greenberg (Funkytown); David Mackay (The Lesser Evil); and Rolf Belgum (Driver 23).

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