The Best of 1993

Time Indefinite
Bless Ross McElwee. He plunges ahead, continuing to produce his own special brand of auto-documentaries, in spite of the fact that they never manage to be the films he originally intends. Begun as a film about the filmmaker's own wedding, Time Indefinite soon transmutes into a gently funny, deceptively insightful meditation on death and dying, life and living. A charming piece of work and in the end, quite hopeful.

Making a film of Virginia Woolf's witty examination of history and sexual roles struck me, as I read the novel, as a daunting task. Director Sally Potter seems to have found it no problem, however. This utterly entertaining adaptation is one of '93's great successes.

The Age of Innocence
Without a doubt, Scorcese's most understated work. It's a glimpse into a New York vastly different from the fiery, volatile world his films often depict. The film struck me as a little house-bound somehow; I would like to have seen the world that existed outside the lush parlors of these well-to-do folks. All in all, a success, though.

Dazed and Confused
A true delight. If another 70's period piece, PBS's recent offering, Tales of the City, had had half the energy of this one, it might have been worthy of its hype. The lapsed actor in me still keeps a short mental list of directors in whose films I would someday like to appear. Richard Linklater's name is on that list.

A man survives a fiery aircrash and his life becomes an ongoing game of chicken with death. His world is turned upside down and no one understands the changes he goes through. He insists on pushing the envelope, testing his own limits, risking his life. This thoughtful, insightful film raises issues seldom, if ever, before touched upon in a commercial American film.

Much Ado About Nothing
Sheer delight. It's too bad Kenneth Branagh felt he had to include a handful of ill-prepared young film stars in his cast. He probably thought he needed them for box-office appeal but I believe word-of-mouth and the stellar work of Branagh, Emma Thompson and Denzel Washington would've made this a hit even without the floundering presence of Keanu Reeves. Script's not bad, either.

The Remains of the Day
Merchant and Ivory hit the mark once again in this moving tale of the old world giving over unto the new and a man whose sense of honor and reserve, so suited to the former, just bring emptiness and denial in the latter.

In the Name of the Father
Jim Sheridan has done a remarkable job of distilling what could have been a rambling recounting of a decade-and-a-half long legal struggle against unjust imprisonment down to its essential elements. His choice to focus on the father-son relationship was a wise one. Though I hate to admit it, (his rabid worshippers are beginning to get under my skin) Daniel Day Lewis turns in another fine performance.

Road Scholar
The Roumanian-American poet and NPR commentator, Andrei Codrescu, learned to drive and then hit the road in search of various and sundry American eccentrics and counter-culture types. He encountered quite a handful and his witty observations make Codrescu a satisfying travel companion.

Schindler's List
A powerful, moving, unblinking work from Steven Spielberg. On-the-mark performances, little of the director's patented saccherine, this beautifully (but not too beautifully)-filmed movie is an uncompromising, unqualified success. It will haunt for years to come.

Like Water For Chocolate
What a pleasant surprise that this quirky romantic film was such a hit. It just proves what I knew all along: cheese enchiladas are the very essence of passion.

A rather simple, straightforward love story. The movie recounts the relationship between British author C.S. Lewis and an American widow, author Joy Gresham. What begins as an artist/fan dynamic becomes mutual respect and finally love. Moving, well-acted and, in the end, quite satisfying.

The Nightmare Before Christmas
I'm a Tim Burton fan. He should, in my opinion, avoid all caped figures in the future, though; they bring out his tendencies to overindulge himself. I mean, did he leave anything out of Batman 2? Not much sweeping up needed in the cutting room on that one, I'm guessing. Nightmare..., on the other hand, is spare, sly and even a little sweet in the end. And magical to look at.

Strictly Ballroom
An oddball classic. This rather skewed look at the struggle of two youths fighting to be their best in the world of competitive ballroom dancing is endlessly entertaining. It's like a "you'll-laugh-you'll-cry-you'll-stand-and-cheer-Robby-Benson- feel-good-hit-of-the-season," only...different.

Those of us who view Los Angeles from afar sometimes can't help viewing it as a font of the volatile, the dangerous, the disastrous, even...fires, earthquakes, riots, droughts, mudslides, drive-by shootings. Shortcuts examines not these epic calamities, though, but the more private crises of the heart, soul and mind that people cope with every day. A stellar cast brings to life a roster of sad, indelible characters in this filmic portrait of our time.

The Piano
Mucho hype on this one but it lives up to the buzz. Holly Hunter ably assays the role of Ada, a woman who manages to maintain her independence against all odds. Remarkable imagery from director Jane Campion, stellar performances from all actors involved, this is a memorable film.

The War Room
An insightful, entertaining behind-the-scenes look at the Clinton Presidential campaign. Fiery, opinionated James Carville is the eye of this hurricane and he is fascinating to watch.

Un Couer en Hiver
This tale of creation and commerce, of unrequited love, of one heart that feels too much and another that refuses to feel, is haunting. Daniel Auteuil plays a man who commits himself to work and nothing else. He slowly but surely breaks down the emotional barriers built up by Camille (Emmanuelle Beart), a beautiful and talented violinist, even as he fortifies his own emotional defenses. Beautifully filmed and acted, well worth seeking out.

La Vie de Boheme
Aki Kaurismaki's modern adaptation of Henri Murger's 1851 novel (on which Puccini's 1896 opera, La Boheme, was also based) takes place in another Paris, one much dingier and darker than the City of Lights most films portray. Murger's young artistes are ably brought to life and Kaurismaki manages to find the humor in this bleak tale of poverty, illness and broken dreams. Highly recommended.

Manhattan Murder Mystery
Woody throws off the albatross of public scandal and loosens up, creating one of his frothiest confections in years. Diane Keaton steps ably into Mia's filmic shoes and we all enjoy a good chuckle. I know I'm a true New Yorker now, as I knew where the action was taking place almost every moment of this film.

Honorable Mention

These films just missed the cut but made for fun viewing nonetheless...

Jurassic Park
The quintessential summer blockbuster. What more could one ask on a hot day than an air-conditioned theatre, a tub of popcorn, a tall cool soda and plenty o' scary dinosaurs.

Groundhog Day
Call me a snob but it's a rare thing these days for a Hollywood comedy to make me laugh and the culprits seem to be the writers. It's a sad state of affairs, really, when one recalls the snap, crackle and pop found in comedies of days gone by. Bill Murray has certainly had a hand his share of stinkers but Groundhog Day is thoughtful, insightful and, yes, laugh-inducing.

The Fugitive
Don't get me wrong, this is undeniably well-made summer fun. Unfortunately, I didn't see it until November and just found myself wishing Richard Kimball would get the heck out of Chicago and hit Route 66, heading west. Check the title, the source series...this should have been a road picture.

True Romance
It seems clear that movie buffs have quite a friend in Quentin Tarantino, the man behind Reservoir Dogs and the writer of this quirky tale of love-on-the-run. His is an unique vision. It also has become apparent to me that, each time I view a film of his, I'll leave the theatre a little twitchy and weak in the knees from the graphic violence. C'mon, Q, let us use our imaginations every now and then.

In the Line of Fire
Clint at his flintiest and John Malkovich giving everyone the creeps. This thinking person's thriller managed to keep me on the edge of my seat and I didn't have to switch off my thought processes when I entered the theatre, either.

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