David Rosse's Top 10 of
1. PANIC (dir. Henry Bromell)
One year after Hollywood produced one of the great, revolutionary films
of the decade (American Beauty), director Henry Bromell
examines many of the same themes (mid-life crisis, dysfunction in the
suburban family) but in a true "indie" spirit. All of the
popular actors (William H. Macy, Donald Sutherland, Neve Campbell, Tracy
Ullman) took on this project for its content, not its paycheck. Like
last year's top favorite, the film paints a somber, darkly funny yet
ultimately optimistic portrait of one "professional" man's
triumph over his inner demons. Like American Beauty, this
barely released film will become a black comedy classic.
2. BEST IN SHOW (dir. Christopher Guest)
The funniest mock documentary since This is Spinal Tap,
which really comes as no surprise, since the film was co-written and
directed by Nigel Tufnel himself. The film takes place at a National
Dog Show in Philadelphia, but the film is really about the eccentric,
appealing, and absolutely obsessed dog owners. Guest himself plays a
character far removed from Nigel or Corky St. Clair (his character from
Waiting for Guffman). As a likeable hillbilly owner of
a bait and tackle shop who dreams of taking home the blue ribbon for
his bloodhound, Guest is endlessly charming and funny. But once Fred
Willard enters the picture, as a hopelessly confused co-host of the
big event, he commits thievery and steals the film away from his talented
co-stars (including Parker Posey, Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy and
Michael "David St. Hubbins" McKean).
3. ALMOST FAMOUS (dir. Cameron Crowe)
Writer/director Cameron Crowe adapted his memoirs of life as a Rolling
Stone reporter, at age 15, for the big screen, and his comfort level
with the material shows: It is his best film to date. Patrick Fugit
makes a wonderful debut as Crowe's young protagonist and alter-ego,
who leaves the over-protected home of his apple pie mom (played by Frances
McDormand, in a role that could nab her another Oscar) and hits the
road with Stillwater, an AM radio rock band that appears to be a merging
of the Doobie Brothers, Three Dog Night and Lynryd Skynyrd. Goldie Hawn's
chip-off-the-old-block daughter Kate Hudson makes her breakthrough as
Penny Lane, a free-spirit who seems a lot older than her real age and
becomes the fragile angel in the young reporter's life. But the film
belongs to Billy Crudup, who plays Stillwater's lead guitarist as a
party boy with a tender soul.
4. REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
Director Aronofsky's follow-up to his David Lynchian debut pi
is arguably the greatest anti-drug film ever filmed. Presenting a sad,
unpleasant, frequently difficult-to-watch story about the downward spiral
of three addicts (Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly contributing
the bravest performances of their careers), Aronofsky constantly fills
the screen with split-second edits of jarring images, so that the audience
begins to experience (to a lesser degree, of course) the state-of-mind
of the main characters. Marlon Wayans contributes an unexpectedly poignant
performance as a caring (possibly too caring) drug buddy of Leto's.
Not surprisingly, the film polarizes audiences, but those who enjoy
challenging cinema should not miss it.
5. Tie: TRAFFIC and ERIN BROCKOVICH (dir. Steven Soderbergh)
Steven Soderbergh blew the Hollywood scene away in 1989 with his debut
sex, lies and videotape. From 1990 to '98, the director
kept a low profile directing ambitious, barely released movies like
Kafka, King of the Hill and The Underneath,
all receiving widely mixed reviews. In 1998, the director released the
George Clooney crime caper Out of Sight, and has been
on a winning streak ever since.
These two films, equally riveting and entertaining in different ways,
examine contemporary social issues (the war on drugs, environmental
contamination), boast stellar casts (Albert Finney appears in both,
and may grab an Oscar nomination for Erin Brockovich), and use creative
storytelling methods to suck us into their stories. Soderbergh will
surely walk away with a Best Director nomination (the question is, for
which movie; possibly both).
6. MEET THE PARENTS (dir. Jay Roach)
A movie with an unbeatably commercial premise (what if your future father-in-law
is Travis Bickle?). Robert DeNiro proves that his hilarious comic timing
in Midnight Run was no fluke, and Ben Stiller, playing
the "schmiel" he does so well, conveys his nervousness around
the film legend convincingly. The result is one of the funniest films
on Stiller's growing resume'. The rest of the cast (including Blythe
Danner, Teri Polo, Owen Wilson and character actor James Rebhorn) clearly
had a ball making this, and the Pet Performance of the Year (excluding
any of the high-strung dogs from Best in Show) goes to
DeNiro's amazing feline.
7. AMERICAN PSYCHO (dir. Mary Harron)
Harron's follow-up to I Shot Andy Warhol is this adaptation
of Bret Easton Ellis' best-seller, which was lost on most audiences
and critics, who viewed it as a traditional serial killer movie. It's
really a black comedy about '80s apathy, greed and superficiality. Most
of the killings seem to take place in the mind of its anti-hero, played
with devilish charm by Briton Christian Bale. Alternately unsettling
and hilarious, with on-target jabs at the elitist "Wall Street
brat pack" of the late '80s.
8. CROUPIER (dir. Mike Hodges)
Made in 1998 and released in American art houses this year, Mike Hodges'
intricate, character-based thriller was a comeback for the "underground"
British director, who suffered a series of critical and financial bombs
in the '80s and '90s (including Flash Gordon, A
Prayer for the Dying and Black Rainbow). Clive
Owen stars as the title character, a dealer in a posh London casino
who gets mixed up in a bizarre robbery scam hatched by a mysterious
South African woman. An intelligent thriller with intensely real performances.
9. CASTAWAY (dir. Robert Zemeckis)
Like Steven Soderbergh, Hollywood favorite Zemeckis released two ambitious
projects this year. He shot What Lies Beneath, a cliché-ridden
thriller featuring hammy performances from its superstar pairing of
Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer (which Zemeckis made as a "filler"
picture) while waiting for his star Tom Hanks to lose an extreme amount
of weight and grow his beard (ok, a "filler picture" is forgivable).
Up until its overly sentimental final act, Castaway is
an intriguing film, a virtual silent movie containing a bravura performance
by Hanks. As they did with Forrest Gump six years ago, Zemeckis and
Hanks got the world talking with a curious, unconventional project.
10. GHOST DOG-THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI (dir. Jim Jarmusch)
Independent icon Jarmusch does it again, mixing movie elements (gangster
film, urban drama, revenge drama and screwball comedy) in a style that
no one else can replicate. Forrest Whitaker plays Ghost Dog, a faithful
follower of Samurai who vows eternal allegiance to a mid-level mobster
after the mobster saves his life. Only in a Jarmusch film could the
hero send messages to the Mafia via carrier pigeon. Character actor
Henry Silva (who plays a heavy in most pictures) is surprisingly hilarious
as the Mafia kingpin.
Runners Up: HIGH FIDELITY, GLADIATOR, FREQUENCY, SAVING GRACE, THE
TAO OF STEVE