By Owen Gleiberman
Updated December 24, 1993 at 05:00 AM EST


1 The Piano

Is it a coincidence that the filmmaker who spoke this year withthe most passionate and hypnotic voice chose as her heroinesomeone without a voice — a Victorian Scotswoman who remains mutebecause she believes that no man will hear he anyway? In thishaunting drama of love and revenge, director Jane Campion mergesthe brooding romantic grandeur of a Wuthering Heights with asexual and emotional nakedness that is bracingly contemporary.As the silent, piano-playing Ada, who journeys to the mistywilderness of colonial New Zealand to join in an arrangedmarriage, Holly Hunter gives a performance of transportingpurity, her looks and gestures expressing a fire-bright willthat words could only hint at. For all of Campion’s jaggedvisual poetry, what’s timeless about The Piano is the way itcuts to the torn heart of women’s experience — the boundlessdesire for romantic consummation in a world where true lovehinges on the power to be heard.

2 Short Cuts

A movie that lets us eavesdrop on the most hidden corners ofpeople’s lives, Robert Altman’s tumultuous domestic epictransforms nine stories and one poem by Raymond Carver into ahaunting mirror image of America in the ’90s. Short Cuts doesn’tattain the majestic heights of Altman’s Nashville (it would bedifficult to think of a movie that has), but like that 1975masterpiece it uses a sprawling narrative-collage technique tocreate a mystical sense of life’s possibilities. It’s hard tobelieve that Altman was pilloried for depicting too much badbehavior, a criticism that raises the ominous question: Arefilmmakers now supposed to crucify their honesty at the altar ofcorrect intentions?

3 Dazed and Confused

In his loving portrait of American high school life in 1976,director Richard Linklater reproduces the era’s slapdashbohemian aimlessness with such sure-handed, you-are-thereauthenticity that you almost need to see the movie twice torealize what a slyly executed piece of filmmaking it is. Borntoo late to catch the fervor of the ’60s, the teenagers in Dazednevertheless coast along on its stoned trappings: the substanceabuse and groovy-grunge fashions, the casually blitzedconversations, and, most of all, the cherishedAmerican-adolescent fight to do whatever you please at the moment.

4 Schindler’s List

No nondocumentary film has evoked the terror and horror of theHolocaust with the harrowing intimacy of Steven Spielberg’sepic: Everything in this one-of-a-kind movie seems to behappening now, before being absorbed into history, with theviewer as the implied missing protagonist. As existential visualspectacle, Schindler’s List is so intense and profound that italmost doesn’t matter that the central character — a suave Germanindustrialist (Liam Neeson) who saves more than 1,100 Jews fromtheir deaths — remains somewhat opaque.

5 The Remains of the Day

By now, anyone who accuses the Merchant-Ivory team of wallowingin luxurious British decor hasn’t learned to look past thedecor. The story of a perfect butler who subjugates his soul tothe desires of his ”betters,” Remains comes to radiant life inAnthony Hopkins’ sublime performance, an exquisite portrait ofexquisite — and tragic — control.

6 Menace II Society

Directed by 21-year-old twins Allen and Albert Hughes, thisdrama about a black teenage hustler (read: thief, con man,killer) in L.A.’s dilapidated Watts district is more than apowerful portrait of wasted humanity. It’s an open-eyeddissection of how today’s inner-city youth gangs havemetastasized into a veritable culture of sociopaths. Inspired bythe hypnotic camera sweeps and hair-trigger psychologicalrealism of Martin Scorsese, the Hughes brothers are major filmartists.

7 Much Ado About Nothing

A party movie for grown-ups, Kenneth Branagh’s version of theShakespeare comedy is a celebration of love and all itsgamesmanship. As an evocation of sensual and spiritual pleasure,the film is an intoxicating delight, yet it’s in theperformances that Much Ado attains a brash comic wisdom. Branaghis the stand-out — as Benedick, he acts with a transcendentfoolishness and gaiety.

8 What’s Love Got to Do With It

This cataclysmic rock & soul biopic never quite found theaudience it deserved, perhaps because, in its portrayal of TinaTurner’s hellish marriage, it was too hard-hitting to become asummer smash. Fusing the showbiz melodrama of A Star Is Bornwith the dark psychodrama of Star 80, What’s Love attains aclassic Hollywood power and excitement in its hyperchargedrise-to-glory scenario — and in the performances of AngelaBassett and (especially) Laurence Fishburne, whose scary, sexy,desperate Ike Turner is a memorable close-up portrait of thepathology of thwarted ambition.

9 The Fugitive

Is there an action star alive with the wary depths of HarrisonFord? As a physician being hunted by the law (while he hunts forhis wife’s killer), he lends this dazzling pursuit thriller acore of emotional authenticity. And as the federal agent whomatches wits with Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, his mind racing fasterthan the movie’s suspense clock, is as edgy and charismatic asupporting foil as anyone could hope for.

10 King of the Hill

In movies, this was the Year of the Kid, but when it came toevoking how the world actually looks through a child’s eyes,nothing approached Steven Soderbergh’s lyrical coming-of-agedrama. Set in St. Louis during the Depression, this tale of aninnocent, resourceful boy (Jesse Bradford) who drops through thenet of middle-class life takes you back to a time wheneverything in your existence — neighbors, schoolmates, firstcrushes, even the buildings on your block — seems charged with apotent singularity and wonder.

The Worst

1 Last Action Hero

A teenage action-movie fanatic enters the latest flick of hisidol (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Surprise! The film within a filmturns out to be a junk heap of overwrought cliches. That prettymuch sums up Last Action Hero, a noisy, bombastic ”joke” thatbackfires because it treats its audience like sensation-starvedcretins.

2 Kalifornia

Brad Pitt, as a mangy psychopath, and Juliette Lewis, as hiswoman-child girlfriend, do their inadvertent impressions of theHillbilly Bears in this desperately inert white-trash road movie.

3 Flesh and Bone

Just because writer-director Steve Kloves made The FabulousBaker Boys doesn’t mean that his second directing effort isn’t adramatically parched bore. Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan, as WestTexas lost souls, mope their way through a plot that culminatesin the most portentous Twist O’ Fate since Oedipus Rex.

4 Poetic Justice

John Singleton followed up Boyz N the Hood with a chaotic roadmovie about a verse-spouting South Central L.A. hairdresser(Janet Jackson) and her very loud friends. It’s depressing tosee Singleton abandon the storytelling verities that made him asuccess in the first place.

5 Bodies, Rest & Motion

Generation X gets the art film it deserves, a snail-pacedsnoozer in which Eric Stoltz, Bridget Fonda, and Tim Roth areturned into angst-ridden mannequins dropping epigrams that mighthave been culled from an MTV spoken-word seminar.

Honor Roll


Matinee Joe Dante’s loving homage to the mutant-monster trash of theatomic age features a juicy performance by John Goodman as aB-movie packager-promoter.

Sofie In her directorial debut, Swedish actress Liv Ullmann crafts arich and moving portrait of a 19th-century Jewish woman for whomromance remains just out of reach.

Watch It This terrific small comedy is the rare movie that views men asthey truly are: selfish, manipulative, raffishly horny — and,when you least expect it, capable of rising above every one ofthose qualities.

Searching for Bobby FischerWho wants to see a movie about a young chess wizard? Hardlyanyone, it turned out, but this egghead Karate Kid is a savvy,touching meditation on the pleasures and perils of being borngifted.

BEST FACIAL HAIRSean Connery’s Dr. Quest-like Vandyke in Rising Sun


BEST FACIAL HAIRSean Connery’s Dr. Quest-like Vandyke in Rising Sun

HAIR-DON’T AWARDSean Penn’s ’70s Dershowitz ‘fro in Carlito’s Way

FUTURE SHOCKWesley Snipes’ gaudy blond flattop in Demolition Man

CURL UP AND DYE AWARDHolly Hunter’s platinum teased locks in The Firm

BEST WET HEADBaby Pubert’s slicked-back, jet-black pate in Addams Family Values

SEQUELS WE’D LEAST LIKE TO SEEAlive 2: Stayin’ AliveAmos & Andrew: Together AgainYet Another StakeoutAsleep in Seattle: The First AnniversaryCool Runnings ’94: Training for Lillehammer

WORST OVERACTINGRobert De Niro, This Boy’s LifeIrene Worth, Neil Simon’s Lost In YonkersJulian Sands, Boxing HelenaJohn Lithgow, Cliffhanger

BEST OVERACTINGDon Johnson, Guilty as SinChristopher Walken and Dennis Hopper, True RomanceAlec Baldwin, Malice


WORST ACCENTSWilford Brimley, Hard TargetAl Pacino, Carlito’s Way

SPOOF OVERKILLHot Shots! Part DeuxRobin Hood: Men in TightsNational Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1