1. THE PLAYER Long after it seemed his creative juices had run dry, director Robert Altman returned to greatness with this hypnotic Tinseltown satire. Altman has great fun skewering the rituals of today’s moviemaking elite: the pitches and power breakfasts, the mud baths and mineral water, the insular celebrity chic (incarnated by a dazzling galaxy of star cameos). At the same time, he recognizes that modern Hollywood is a place at once vacuous and infinitely mysterious — a fantasyland that is fast running out of dreams, a metaphysical hall of mirrors in which the movies that get made are mere reflections of the status-mad, superstar-crazed culture that surrounds them. Tim Robbins, as the production-executive hero, isn’t just a sleek, murderous cad; he’s a likable cad. As his life is transformed into a ”movie” far more gripping than any of the trash he produces, The Player becomes sublime entertainment, a deadpan comic thriller that, in its ingenious design, its delicate ripples of nastiness and joy, embodies the very moviemaking magic it says has leaked out of Hollywood.
2. GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS Acclaimed plays don’t usually survive the transition to the big screen; too often they are opened up, turned inside out, or revealed to be little more than pabulum in the first place. But David Mamet’s volcanic comedy about real estate hucksters is a brilliant theatrical experience — a nonstop eruption of language, rage, and American dreams-and the movie version does full justice to the play’s blistering comic spirit. Featuring superb performances by Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, and a supporting cast of macho blowhards, Glengarry is a true answer to Death of a Salesman: Mamet’s desperate con men may be losers, but from first shot to last they are dazzlingly alive.
3. THE BEST INTENTIONS Having spent nearly half a century excavating his own angst, Ingmar Bergman scripted this loving, supremely empathetic drama based on the courtship and early married years of his parents. Directed by Bille August, The Best Intentions exudes the warmth of a valentine, but there’s a plaintive ache at its core: The movie is wise enough to understand how two people can grow together and move apart at the same time.
4. MALCOLM X Sometimes it takes daring to be conventional. Spike Lee understood that Malcolm X’s life, with its fascinating evolutions, its movement from pleasure to rage to pride to defiance, didn’t need to be gussied up with his usual in-your-face pyrotechnics. Lee simply tells Malcolm’s story on its own terms, with a passion, intelligence, and respect for history that renders this one of the most powerful Hollywood biopics ever made. Denzel Washington embodies Malcolm in all his inspiring complexity. He never seems less than heroic or more than human.
5. THE CRYING GAME Neil Jordan’s tantalizing romantic thriller takes up where his 1986 Mona Lisa left off. Once again, the hero is a wayward soul — this time, an IRA terrorist — who becomes the protector of a ravishing young black woman. Here, though, his object of desire turns out to be a figure of haunting erotic ambiguity. As Dil, the girl with something extra, Jaye Davidson has a yearning ardor that stings like tears. She becomes the essence of romantic melancholy as the movie gracefully reconsiders the question ”What is this thing called love?”