Top 10 Best Movies of 1998
10. The Truman Show
Guaranteed to be an Oscar-nominee for Best Picture, this delightfully charming and technically proficient story of a man trapped in an artificial world is definitely one of the year's best films. Director Peter Weir approaches the subject skillfully, almost achieving an art-house film quality. It certainly isn't your typical average movie, topped off by a wonderful performance by the multitalented Jim Carrey. Here is a film that works on virtually every level, from technical detail to storytelling in a very unique manner. This was one of the most blatant cases of the previews giving away too much. Just letting audiences know Jim Carrey was attached to the project would have had them coming in droves. However, despite the advertisement, The Truman Show is a brilliant motion picture that showcases a smart screenplay, great cinematography, and a very good supporting performance from Ed Harris.
Woody Allen has never been better than he was in this DreamWorks' computer-animated film. Taking Allen's body away allowed his verbal humor to shine through, providing audiences with one of the wittiest and most intelligent films to come out of Hollywood this year. The visuals gags were absolutely hilarious, while the verbal comedy was top-notch. While the vocal talents were mostly known for their voices and not the characters they were portraying, Antz is by far the better computer-animated film this year. Disney's try came off as good but nothing more. This is just one of DreamWorks' many successes this year.
8. A Simple Plan
What seemed to be a Fargo-clone turned out to be an original film of high-class entertainment. Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan bends all the rules of the mainstream genre, providing at once complete enjoyment and utter disbelief and dismay. With Bill Paxton at the helm, the acting is flawless across the board. Not one single actor hits a wrong note once. But what is even more astonishing is how Raimi invokes suspense, giving us film noir-type characters and escalating to a showdown of wits and gunplay. Who will win? Who will lose? The suspense is more jolting than any film in recent memory. Raimi has created his masterpiece, and we are allowed to enjoy what he has done.
7. The Thin Red Line
The best war film in years, Terrence Malick marks his return to filmmaking after a twenty-year hiatus. And what a return he made. The Thin Red Line is filmmaking at its most powerful, destroying the "normal" way of telling a story. Instead of plot and characters, Malick reaches for a feeling, and he gets it with images that are just as shocking as any you'll see in Saving Private Ryan. The cinematography, editing, and music all work to benefit the film's success, and there isn't one wrong note throughout the entire film. It's a pure cinematic achievement which does something that more films should do: it tells its story with images and not words. Malick has given us one of the finest motion pictures this year, proving that the success of one war film doesn't mean it is the best.
6. The Horse Whisperer
Here is a film that was being praised by critics when it was first released, many considering it one of the year's best films. However, as the year drew out, this film fell into obscurity, and many people had forgotten it was even released. Robert Redford's surefire direction was aided by the extraordinary cinematography and the stunning Oscar-worthy performance by Scarlett Johannson. Scenes involving Pilgrim (the horse) and Redford were emotionally charged, making up for the limited romance subplot between Redford and Kristen Scott Thomas. The Horse Whisperer is one of those rare films that actually improves on the melodramatic novel that it was adapted from. Look for a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination at the end of the year for this one.
5. The Prince of Egypt
The absolute best animated film I have ever seen, The Prince of Egypt is a stunning piece of filmmaking. A masterpiece of technical brilliance, musical enchantment, and superb vocal talents, this film approaches high emotional levels usually reserved for live-action films. Val Kilmer is extremely impressive as Moses, allowing his rather wispy voice to shine through. Kilmer may just be the perfect casting job for that role. While it takes a while to get used to the crisp animation, the power and awe the film bestowes in the viewer is magnificent. Focusing on the friendship between Moses and Rameses (voiced perfectly by Ralph Fiennes), we are allowed to view the works of God once again, especially a haunting Angel of Death sequence which is bound to leave many viewers stunned and speechless. It all leads up to the eye-popping Red Sea sequence which is one of the most spine-tingling moments in film this year. The music by Hans Zimmer and Stephen Schwartz is the best score written this year, filled with angelical choirs and wonderful vocal talents. Literally, this film has restored my faith in God. How many films can say that?
The other best film no one saw. Oprah Winfrey stars in this powerful epic of ghosts, slavery, and romance. Directed by Jonathan Demme, Beloved is yet another example of a film being better than the novel. Even Toni Morrison had to see it three times before understanding it. Winfrey is strong as an ex-slave trying to live with her children and a ghost which erupts into violence anytime it feels like. The ghost appears in the form of Thandie Newton, who provides the year's most powerful supporting performance. Unfortunately, audiences were laughing through this emotionally charged film, proving that the American audience is not ready for this level of seriousness. It's a shame too. This film is one of the most powerful films I have ever seen in my life. Winfrey should be proud of what she has done.
3. Babe: Pig in the City
The best film no one saw. With a budget of around $80 million, Babe: Pig in the City made the big mistake of opening against Disney's A Bug's Life. However, even critics were relentless, calling the film dark and depressing. Certainly darker than the original, but definitely not depressing, this film by George Miller is an astonishing piece of filmmaking. Filled with some stunning visuals and cartoonish buildings, Miller presents us with a story of a nice pig in a bad city, and how that pig changes the city for the best. The film is aided by the presence of Magda Szubanski, as well as two fantastic performances from two chimps (Bob and Zootie) which deserve to get some sort of an Oscar nomination (Best Performance by an Animal?). A masterpiece of direction, lighting, set design, costumes, and vocal skills, this is truly a wonder to behold. Hopefully this will find an audience on video, where it should make a lot of its budget back.
Gary Ross must be commended on his original and daring screenplay. Of course, he is known for writing these high-concept comedies that work both as entertainment and as thematically-rich stories. As a director, he shows a great skill for creating a mood and sticking to it. With a massive cast, topped by the always impressive Joan Allen, Pleasantville defies logic and expectations with its wonderful use of color and sound. Not since The Wizard of Oz has color been used more effectively. The special effects are fantastic, and hopefully will get an Oscar nomination. The cinematography is impressive, capturing one of the most brilliant scenes in film this year: the burning of a tree. It sounds simple, but a colorful fire in a black and white tree is one of the most shocking things to behold on the silver screen. Ross has outdone himself here, proving that a successful writer can become a brilliant director with one film.
1. Dark City
I saw this back in February, and decided that I probably would not see a better film all year. I wasn't sure of it, of course, but I was doubtful. And I was right. No film this entire year has affected me more than this stunning piece of filmmaking. After leaving the theater, I grew cold with fear, questioning my own existence. Was I merely just a player in an experiment? A day hasn't gone by since I haven't thought of this motion picture. Alex Proyas has given the world one of the best motion pictures ever made, as well as the best science fiction film ever created. Filled with eye-popping visual effects and the most stunning sets this year, Dark City is a brilliant film in every sense of the word. The screenplay alone deserves recognition for its intelligence, but it is the film noir-ish style that makes the film work as well as it does. The music by Trevor Jones is epic in scope, yet submerses the film in raw tension that makes the film taut with suspense. As the film approaches its unimaginable climax, the plot continues to twist and bend, just as the buildings in the city do. Perhaps the best postmodern film ever created, Dark City is one to remember. This is by far the best film of 1998.