December 31, 1997; Updated March 30, 1998 -- On the last day of the year I sit down and type this annual exercise that might be a bit futile, but it is fun because it brings back fond memories, the year's top 10 movies.
It is futile in that I probably haven't seen all the best movies of the year because a lot of the better films haven't been shown in Laramie yet. Some, such as "The Ice Storm," "Eve's Bayou," "Wag the Dog," "Deconstructing Harry," and "Jackie Brown" have been in limited release.
This hasn't been a great year for films until the latest wave of releases around Christmas, a wave that has yet to make it to Laramie, of course. I may have to revise this list after I have seen more of these late-comers. Some of the highly-touted films I haven't seen, besides those limited release films mentioned above, include "The Sweet Hereafter," "Maborosi," "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control," "Donnie Brasco," "Ice Storm," "Oscar and Lucinda," "SubUrbia" and "Telling Lies in America." Another thing that makes it futile is that due to time limitations I didn't write very many reviews on videos I saw or movies I saw in art film series, making it difficult to compare them with other films on the list.
1. As of right now, based on what I've seen so far, there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever about the best film of the year. "L.A. Confidential" is clearly superior to everything else I've seen this year, despite the fact it didn't win the best-picture Oscar. I can't remember a year when the quality of a movie has blown away the competition the way this one has. The screenplay and the acting are just dynamite. This is a truly classic film.
2. I went back to see "Contact" four or five times, more than any other film I've seen this year. There's a haunting, thought-provoking quality about story, written by the late Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan (Sagan's wife). Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey make a wonderful screen couple. This film has great cinemaphotography, and one of the best opening shots of any film, ever, a pullback shot that seems to span the whole universe.
3. "Shall We Dance" is the most delightful comedy of the year. Although it was released in 1996 in Japan, it was released in 1997 in the U.S., so it makes the list. If you remove it from the list, there are only nine films I saw this year that I gave an "A" rating to. This film features fine performances, wonderful cinematography, good music, and, of course, great dancing.
4. "Titanic" got a lot of publicity prior to its release because of its titanic budget and production problems. It was worth the cost and the wait. It has a fine love story and the special effects are astonishing. It looks like it was filmed aboard the Titanic itself.
5. "The Apostle" is a stunning film about a tortured evangelical preacher who kills his ex-wife's boyfriend and then runs away and tries to start a new life by starting a new church. Robert Duvall stars as Euliss "Sonny" Dewey, a preacher whose life quickly falls apart, but he manages to rebuild it, sort of.
Duvall's performance is brilliant in the film, portraying a multi-faceted, complex character. Duvall, who also directed the film, shows us the dark side of Sonny Dewey, but also shows us the strength of his faith. When's the last time you ever heard of a multi-dimensional Christian character in a movie?
6. "Wag the Dog" is, along with "Primary Colors," one of the best films about politics and the media to come out in years. Dustin Hoffman gives a wonderful performance as Stanley Motss, a film producer hired by spin doctor, Conrad BreanAnne, (Robert De Niro) to help cook up a phony war to take the public's mind off a White House sex scandal.The screenplay for the film (written before anybody heard of Monica Lewinsky) is smart, funny and outrageous. The film is almost entirely dialogue, but it is very funny and compelling dialogue. A talented cast includes Willie Nelson, Denis Leary and Woody Harrelson.
7. "Amistad" is a powerful drama about a trial regarding a rebellion aboard a slave ship. The case becomes a political football when politicians fear it may lead to a civil war in the U.S. Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins and Matthew McConaughey give powerful performances in this emotionally wrenching film.
8. "Wings of the Dove," based on the Henry James novel of the same name is a gut-wrenching story about the conflict between money and love. Helena Bonham Carter was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of Kate Croy, a woman in need of money to support her drug-addicted father. She enlists the aid of her lover, Merton Densher (Linus Roache), a poor journalist in a scheme for him to romance a wealthy, dying woman, Millie Thearle (Allison Elliot).
The plot, of course, goes awry, as both Croy and Densher miscalculate the terrible emotional cost of their actions. This is not a good date film and it will not uplift you, but it is extremely well-acted and well-produced and it carries a huge emotional punch.
9. "The Rainmaker" has a smart script that seems to make lawyers look good and bad at the same time. There are excellent performances all around.
10. "Hercules" is another triumph for the Disney studios, filled with great music and animation. The characters and the story are first-rate.
Following is a list of the top 10 films with a link to my reviews of them.
1. L.A. Confidential
3. Shall We Dance?
5. The Apostle
6. Wag the Dog
8. Wings of the Dove
9. The Rainmaker