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A SECOND OPINION

IN LISA SCHWARZBAUM’S ROSTER OF THE YEAR’S BEST FILMS, THE COENS’ CRACKED CRYSTAL FARGO GOES FARTHEST

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1 FARGO

Lots of snow. A very pregnant police chief. A wood chipper. Yah, sure, it’s heaven, Coen brothers-style. The gonzo-gothic vision of Joel and Ethan has never been more focused, more beautifully structured, or, in its bleak, twisted way, more compassionate than in this startling American original.

2 BIG NIGHT

Food movies have goodwill built into them — what’s not to like about watching happy people with good appetites? But this beaut, starring, cowritten, and codirected by Stanley Tucci, is graced with a bigness of spirit that touches the heart as well as the taste buds.

3 WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE

Filmmaker Todd Solondz, working with the breathtakingly game young actress Heather Matarazzo, nails the agony of junior high school geekitude, gawky-girl division, in a story that teeters almost recklessly between being brutally funny and just plain brutal.

4 THE CRUCIBLE

British director Nicholas Hytner makes an expansive movie out of a stage-bound setting. He’s helped, of course, by some of the best performances of the year, particularly by Joan Allen. But it takes more than a few good star turns to come up with a production that weaves themes of integrity, sexual hysteria, and hypocrisy so powerfully; it takes inspired movie artistry.

5 TRAINSPOTTING

The grimmest, skankiest of subject matter — heroin addiction among dead-end Edinburgh kids — turned into audacious, funny, artsy…fun. Is this, as Martha Stewart would say, a Good Thing? Your call. Is this a brilliant bit of moviemaking? My call: Yup.

6 TIN CUP

Ron Shelton’s triumph of adult Hollywood moviemaking: a relaxed, romantic sports comedy by, for, and about middle-aged folks who have lost a few and therefore savor the joy of winning all the more.

7 LONE STAR

John Sayles’ deeply satisfying Western/mystery is filled with the kind of richly shaded characters and intricate plot twists that are listed in the dictionary under Saylesian. But who knew a Sayles production could be so sexy?

8 ANGELS & INSECTS

Belinda and Philip Haas’ fascinating, idiosyncratic adaptation of A. S. Byatt’s novella about casual decadence in Victorian England starts out stately and gets fabulously weirder. Pretty soon it’s fabulously dirty, too, and you can’t take your eyes off the bugs, the coupling bodies — or Kristin Scott Thomas.

9 THE TRUTH ABOUT CATS & DOGS

Two words: Janeane Garofalo. She’s our favorite insecure heroine, she’s the girlfriend you want or the girl you want to be, and she turns this smart, romantic comedy into pure bliss. Uma Thurman’s in it too, and cute Brit Ben Chaplin as the guy who wisely chooses depth (that’s our Janeane) over gloss.

10 MA SAISON PREFEREE

Andre Techine’s pensive film about the complicated bonds of family feels artless and uncomposed. That’s a good thing. In fact, this delicately perceptive study, starring Catherine Deneuve and the magnifique Daniel Auteuil, is a gift for moviegoers who know how to pay attention.