1998 Top 10, According to James Berardinelli

These are presented in "reverse order" (saving the best for last):

Honorable mention: Affliction, Beloved, Down in the Delta, Insomnia, Men with Guns, The Mighty, Mulan, Out of Sight, Ronin, Sliding Doors

10. Little Voice: It's a small film with a big heart and a trio of tremendous performances. Little Voice, which tells the story of a shy young woman who can perfectly match famous singers, is a character-centered (as opposed to a plot-centered) movie, and there isn't a moment of interpersonal interaction that doesn't work. Jane Horrocks, Brenda Bleythn, and Michael Caine are all superlative. The musical sequences are grand, the romantic aspects are understated, and the climax is cathartic without going over-the-top. Little Voice is a marvelous drama that puts pretenders like Stepmom and Patch Adams to shame.

9. The Opposite of Sex: If not for Happiness, The Opposite of Sex would have captured the title of 1998's Most Audacious Comedy. With a flawless performance by Christina Ricci and some of the sharpest, most intelligent dialogue in any film this year, The Opposite of Sex is hilarious and potentially offensive, but never dumb. Although it's raunchier, funnier, and smarter than There's Something about Mary, The Opposite of Sex isn't all gags, jokes, and satirical voiceovers. Director Don Roos throws in a few effective dramatic moments that, in concert with everything else, make this movie a complete package.

8. Dark City: This movie came and went quickly, never making more than a fading death rattle at the box office. That's too bad, because it was the year's most intriguing and stylish science fiction thriller. The set design alone is reason enough to see the movie, but the convoluted, Machievellian plot will keep even the most savvy viewer intrigued and involved. The storyline involves a man searching for a key to his own identity in a nightmare world of sinister figures, femme fatales, and strange creatures. Dark City is a glorious, engaging motion picture that demands to be seen more than once. And, if you have a DVD player, you're in luck. Roger Ebert's commentary track is not to be missed.

7. The Horse Whisperer: Robert Redford's much-anticipated adaptation of Nicholas Evans' book takes a melodramatic story and turns it into a masterful meditation on grief, loss, and healing. Redford and writer Richard LaGravenese understood exactly which elements of the narrative to change for maximum effect. The result is a beautifully constructed, visually stunning, emotionally poignant motion picture that touches the heart without cranking up the manipulation to an unbearable level. Young actress Scarlett Johansson outacts co-stars Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Sam Neill in a performance that's worthy of an Oscar nomination.

6. The Celebration: Dogme 95 may be little more than a publicity stunt by a group of Danish directors, but, in The Celebration, it has produced one stunningly powerful motion picture. The story, about dark family secrets emerging during a celebratory birthday party dinner, isn't unique, but the presentation is. Director Thomas Vinterberg's approach creates a claustrophobic atmosphere that seeps into the viewer's bones. The Celebration's climax has a forceful impact because the characters and their situations have become real to us.

5. Happiness: Todd Solondz's followup to Welcome to the Dollhouse is, without a doubt, the year's most controversial film. It is also one of 1998's most challenging and rewarding cinematic experiences. Happiness is a dark, dark comedy about emotional alienation and family dysfunctions. Mainstream movie-goers looking for a good time out will be shocked, appalled, and offended. However, those who approach the film with an open mind and appropriate expectations will find a motion picture that is as brilliant as it is disturbing.

4. Pleasantville: If Happiness isn't to your taste, perhaps Pleasantville, a tale of two '90s teens traveling into the world of a '50s sit-com, is. One of 1998's most innovative movies, this is the best of several Twilight Zone-like offerings. Regardless of whether you see this movie as a gentle dramatic comedy, a blistering satire, or some combination of the two, there's no denying its universal appeal. With cutting edge special effects that seamlessly blend black-and-white and color images, Pleasantville is a visual marvel.

3. Beyond Silence: The German nominee for the 1998 Academy Awards, this film was not released in the United States until early this year, and proved to be worth the wait. A story about a young musician growing up with deaf parents, Beyond Silence has an emotionally-rich tapestry that is made vivid by the three-dimensionality of the protagonist. Brilliantly portrayed by Sylvie Testud and Tatjana Trieb, Lara is one of the year's best developed characters. As a whole, the movie delivers a powerful dramatic punch and offers an ending that, while satisfying, does not betray all that precedes it.

2. Hilary and Jackie: Like Beyond Silence, Hilary and Jackie uses classical music to excellent effect. A dramatization of the tempestuous relationship between cellist Hilary du Pré and her sister, Hilary, this complex, heartbreaking motion picture was the only 1998 movie to coax a tear from me. With a structure that repeats scenes from different points-of-view, Hilary and Jackie shows both sides of the central relationship. The script is virtually flawless, the soundtrack is spectacular, and Emily Watson (as Jackie) gives the best female performance of the year.

1. Saving Private Ryan: So many plaudits have been heaped upon this film in the last six months that there's little I can add here. Saving Private Ryan is the most devastating film ever made about war, and contains the most intense 30 minute sequence (the Omaha Beach invasion) that I have ever experienced in a movie theater. Consistently compelling and, by turns, wrenching and touching, Saving Private Ryan presents the reality of war, not the romanticizing of it. There's no good and evil here; there are no heroes and villains. The characters are just men trying to win battles so they can go home, and the tragedy is that, as in real life, many didn't make it. Of all the movies of 1998, Saving Private Ryan had the greatest impact and will long be remembered as the standout of the class.

© 1998 James Berardinelli

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