1 BREAKING THE WAVES
[MOVIE of the YEAR] Some movies are like fairy tales — they don’t just tell stories, they cast spells — and Lars von Trier’s lyrically transfixing epic of love, madness, martyrdom, and faith works that kind of magic. The moment we meet Bess, who enters into a marriage of erotic and spiritual bliss, becomes crazed with grief when her husband goes away, and is reunited with him through an act of God that would test Job, von Trier dips us into rivers of emotion that run deep beneath the surface of his story. The eerie power of Breaking the Waves derives from the way it combines portents and miracles with a dazzlingly ”secular” documentary surface, mirroring a world in which mysticism is hidden within the everyday. Emily Watson, in a fearless, spooky, bewitching performance, is as spontaneous as a child at play, yet there’s a grave enchantment to the way her trust is transmuted into open-eyed self-sacrifice. For Bess, love and religious fervor are inseparable. She doesn’t take action so much as she simply believes. Years from now, I think Breaking the Waves will be remembered as the first great movie to tap the passions of the millennium — a hunger for utopia on earth, a yearning for transcendence that’s a whisper away from doom.
2 BIG NIGHT
Would you believe it if I said that the most ecstatic scene of the year consists of a man cooking an omelette? The camera doesn’t even move: It just sits there on Stanley Tucci, the owner of an Italian restaurant in 1950s New Jersey, as he pours the olive oil, breaks the eggs, adjusts the flame, and gives birth to a meal. Codirected by Tucci, the exquisitely deft and funny Big Night transcends the usual food-porn ”deliciousness” (Like Water for Chocolate, Babette’s Feast). The movie is about many things: the love of brothers, the ache of exile, the quest for the perfect risotto. Mostly, it’s about the way that food, the universal human art form, connects us to each other and to ourselves.
Danny Boyle’s rudely cathartic rock-and-drug joyride was actually underrated by its heroin-chic hype. In an era of glib moralizing, it was liberating to see a movie that understands the pleasures, as well as the perils, of addiction. Yet Trainspotting’s music-video zing, its mad scatological humor, and its spiraling celebration of smack’s death-trip allure wouldn’t have meant much if it didn’t offer a hero as soulful — and as desperate to kick — as Ewan McGregor’s Renton, a Junkie Without a Cause who dives headfirst into addiction in order to come out the other side.
4 THE CRUCIBLE
In a startling act of alchemy, director Nicholas Hytner transforms Arthur Miller’s popular classic into an adrenaline-fueled rocket engine of a movie. Hytner doesn’t just liberate the play from the stage. He makes it leap off screen, so that Miller’s parable of lust, guilt, hysteria, and doublethink takes on an immediacy it never had before. Far from just dramatizing the Salem witch-hunts (or the treachery of McCarthyism), Miller lays bare the calculus of totalitarian psychology. And the cast endows his dialogue with a flesh and blood that leaves you thrilled, shattered, cleansed.
5 TREES LOUNGE
It’s no surprise to see that Steve Buscemi, making his debut as a writer-director, digs with raffish gusto into the role of Tommy, a wheedling barfly who spends his days trading quips at a dank Long Island saloon. The surprise is that Buscemi also turns out to be a major filmmaker. An ebullient portrait of the modern blue-collar blues, Trees Lounge has an inspired ensemble cast (standouts: Chloe Sevigny and Daniel Baldwin), and Buscemi orchestrates their performances with the kind of lifelike flow and dark-comedy-of-the-soul frankness a director like Secrets & Lies’ Mike Leigh gets far more credit for only because he lets the seams show.
6 I SHOT ANDY WARHOL
In 1968, Valerie Solanas walked into Andy Warhol’s office and pumped three bullets into his chest. Was she a paranoid fantasist, high on hate? Or was she a crackpot visionary testing the waters of feminist rage before it was fashionable? The beauty of Mary Harron’s film is that it understands that Solanas was both at once. Lili Taylor plays Valerie as a scowling, ratlike crank who is nevertheless so blithe, so outrageously rational about her own ”philosophy,” that you can’t help but like her. And Harron’s re-creation of the Warhol Factory proves she’s the rare filmmaker who can turn pop history into art precisely because she respects the truth of what happened.
Here’s something you don’t see every day: a $242 million blockbuster that’s also the most underrated movie of the year. Director Jan De Bont gets the scary, dreamlike spectacle of tornadoes right up there on screen. The wonder isn’t so much in their destructive power as in the fact that they’re natural phenomena that seem supernatural — indeed, they seem like beings. De Bont, a wizard of roiling kinesthetic excitement, directs with the fluidity and grandeur of Steven Spielberg in his great ’70s films, staging the tornadoes as impossibly vast spectral-meteorological events. The love-triangle plot is dopey, but the performances of Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton aren’t. They make the characters feel romantically bound — to each other, and to the audience — through their desire to gaze, with tremulous awe, upon one twister after another.
A bracingly witty look at desperate young dudes on the L.A. martini-and-swing-bar circuit. The movie understands that these days, the real romantic comedy takes place before boy meets girl. Just beneath their babbly debates about how to make all the right moves, you can hear the characters tying themselves in knots trying to be Alpha Males and Nice Guys at the same time. Screenwriter and costar Jon Favreau turns his neuroses into antsy, jostling hilarity, spawning the catchphrase of the year (”You’re money!”), and Vince Vaughn, as his glam-jerk sidekick, already has the charisma of a star.
9 THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT
When Larry Flynt created Hustler magazine in the mid-’70s, he pushed past the boundaries of what a mainstream skin publication could show, and that’s exactly what got him in trouble with the law. The inspiring joke of Milos Forman’s richly funny and exuberant docudrama is that the scuzzier Flynt’s magazine became, the more it turned him into a hero, a renegade crusader for the First Amendment. Woody Harrelson’s audacious performance takes off after Flynt is shot and paralyzed: Doped up and enraged, his voice a nerve-damaged mumble, Flynt suddenly has nothing to lose — and so he takes on the courts, Jerry Falwell, the world, becoming the whacked-out Lenny Bruce of porn. And Courtney Love, as Flynt’s drug-addled party-girl wife, demonstrates that she has the force and instinctive humor of a major actress.
10 TIN CUP
The most radiant example of movie-star magic this year. As washed-up golf pro Roy McAvoy, Kevin Costner shakes off his scowl and embraces the joy of seediness. Roy has to play the game on his own terms, even if it means losing, and Costner, face crinkling up with pleasure, digs so far into the character’s ornery grace that he seems to be rediscovering what it means to be a star. Ron Shelton’s leisurely fable doesn’t have quite the romantic chemistry of his 1988 Bull Durham, but it’s an even niftier sports movie, with a climax that defies prediction even as it satisfies your every cornball wish.
THE FIVE WORST
1 MULHOLLAND FALLS
In this brain-dead-in-every-detail knockoff of Chinatown, Nick Nolte leads a crew of detectives in ’50s L.A. who seem less concerned with getting to the bottom of a nuclear-radiation scandal than with parading around like showroom dummies in their stick pins and perfectly unsmudged hats.
2 ANTONIA’S LINE
How do you fight the patriarchy? In Marleen Gorris’ insufferable art-house crowd-pleaser, the answer is simple: You form a matriarchy. And you make sure that everyone in it is sweet and proud and…well, just a little bit kooky. Beneath its feminist pieties, Antonia’s Line offers the most cloying vision of communal eccentricity since King of Hearts.
3 ERASER, THE ROCK, & BROKEN ARROW
If you were looking to numb yourself into oblivion, which movie would you choose? Which has the most derivative plot, the most incoherent action, the most mindlessly ”kinetic” MTV editing, the biggest, loudest pileup of stupid explosive cliches? Personally, I couldn’t decide. Eraser, The Rock, Broken Arrow: All three qualify as the Slam-Bang, Punch-Your-Face, Blow-Your-Socks-Off, Roller-Coaster Action Knockout of the Year.
It should have been called Slow. In a remote woodland diner, a fat chef stands around making pizzas and gawking morosely at sexy new waitress Liv Tyler. Mostly, he just…stands there. Staring. For minutes. On end. Director James Mangold was hired to reinvent Sylvester Stallone’s career with Copland. Let’s hope he learns that the word independent doesn’t mean much unless it’s followed by the word filmmaker.
Was Eva Peron a power vixen or a saint? We can hardly tell from Alan Parker’s logy, bombastic musical, in which her fabulous rise and fall is rendered as a series of sluggishly dissociated production numbers that barely allow her to become human. Madonna seems intent on stamping out any trace of her vital pop-star vulgarity. She erases her own charisma, receding into the murk of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s luridly dated kitsch. — OG
SHARPEST ACCESSORY In 101 DALMATIANS, Glenn Close’s gloves had fingernails of their own.
BIGGEST TANGLE MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE’s plot was so knotty, Tom Cruise didn’t realize Emmanuelle Beart was waiting to be kissed.
BEST AIRBORNE HAZARD The storm-tossed cows in TWISTER.
BEST AIRBORNE SNACK The title fruit of JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, held aloft by 502 seagulls.
MOST IN NEED OF COLORIZATION The sunless MARY REILLY, in which the murk of Dr. Jekyll’s London put Julia Roberts’ face beyond the pale.
BOLDEST ACROBAT UNDER THE BIG TOP Sporting a muumuu, riding a sedan chair, playing piano duets with a 28-inch man — former world’s greatest actor Marlon Brando walked the tightrope between high camp and high crap in THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU.
MOST IN NEED OF BETTER VEHICLES SPEEDster Keanu Reeves didn’t reach us with CHAIN REACTION or FEELING MINNESOTA.
MOST CONVINCING AS A CARTOON HEROINE Demi Moore, in STRIPTEASE, not HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.
BEST USE OF A PROPER LADY Mary Tyler Moore flashed her bra and swore in FLIRTING WITH DISASTER.
SCARIEST BLOKE WE COULDN’T UNDERSTAND Expelling Scottish obscenities in a torrent, Robert Carlyle’s pub-smashing sociopath Begbie made himself bloody clear in TRAINSPOTTING.
SWEETEST BLOKE WE COULDN’T UNDERSTAND Stammering half to himself, making nervous mantras of wordplays, Aussie Geoffrey Rush’s damaged pianist exhibited a whole new kind of practiced charm in SHINE.
BEST SHORT FILM RANSOM’s thrill-spilling ad
UNLIKELIEST BROTHERS George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN.
LEAST IN NEED OF CAFFEINE ROMEO & JULIET’s jump-cutting, soundtrack-pumping, Bard-baiting director Baz Luhrmann.
BIGGEST CINEMA WATERSHED Let history record that in HAPPY GILMORE Adam Sandler plays a man who falls in love with his publicist.
MOVIE MOST LIKELY TO BE MENTIONED INDEPENDENCE DAY. Didja happen to see it?