Undoubtedly, the porn world setting prevented Paul Thomas Anderson's decade-spanning drama from garnering the box office and award recognition it deserved. But the beauty of the film is that it isn't so much about porn as it is something more universal and, surprisingly, profound--the shared stories of wounded, lost souls and the dreams they (often fruitlessly) pursue within their makeshift family.
The year's director comeback award goes to Kevin Smith, who rebounded from the disastrous Mallrats with this original and superlatively written comedy about the unlikely romance between a heterosexual comic book creator and a lesbian contemporary (Ben Affleck and Joey Lauren Adams in star-making turns). Raunchy and raucous while truthful and moving, the film is perhaps the first sex comedy with a genuine heart.
Jodie Foster cemented her reputation as one of the greatest actresses ever to grace the screen with her bravura turn in Robert Zemeckis's intelligent and thought-provoking adaptation of Carl Sagan's novel, a most welcome sci-fi film that values ideas over lavish effects.
Hong Kong action maestro John Woo finally arrived in America with his third stateside production, an explosive and psychologically complex exploration of identity and duality. John Travolta and especially Nicolas Cage are terrific as the FBI agent and criminal who trade faces and lives.
Nuance and subtlety are two qualities rarely found onscreen these days, and Ang Lee's quietly poignant portrait of a family on the brink of destruction in the '70s is a reminder of the power of minimalism.
Neil LaBute's unflinching tale of two men (Matt Malloy and Aaron Eckhart) who conspire to emotionally destroy an unsuspecting deaf co-worker (Stacy Edwards) is every bit as unpleasant and unsettling as it sounds--not to mention absolutely riveting. Eckhart delivers the performance of the year as the Machiavellian mastermind Chad.
Curtis Hanson's '50s film noir swept all of the major critics' prizes, and it's no mystery why--this is mainstream Hollywood filmmaking at its finest: classy, passionate, intelligent, exceedingly well-crafted... and, in spite of what all the awards would lead one to believe, a lot of fun.
Idiosyncratic Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan masterfully wrote and directed this emotional tour-de-force, an unremittingly bleak tale of a small Canadian town dealing with overwhelming loss in the wake of unspeakable tragedy. A downer, yes, but rarely is one so elegantly committed to celluloid.
The record-smashing box-office of James Cameron's romantic epic has come to overshadow--undeservedly so--the massive artistic achievement of this sweeping love story, which is as emotionally powerful as it is technically proficient.
That Barry Levinson's vicious, biting political satire in which a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) and a White House spin doctor (Robert DeNiro) manufacture a war to detract from a presidential sex scandal came to prophesy real-life events is a testament to the brilliance David Mamet's sly and crafty screenplay.
"It's Die Hard for the Tiger Beat crowd!" Whoever didn't shoot down this ill-conceived action debacle from the pitch meeting should be shot down himself.
And, in alphabetical order...
Director Luis Llosa forgot one eensy little detail in making this creature feature--convincing snake effects. But no amount of technical wizardry would have saved this inept, laughable thriller from the film's true horror--the grade-A ham that is Jon Voight.
Every once in a while comes a "summer blockbuster" so crass, so cynically contrived that even the most brainless moviegoer finds him or herself insulted. This is that film.
Ice Cube's second entry in this list (after Anaconda) is this blockheaded action flick in which the rapper, in his worst performance, plays a South African expatriate who returns to his homeland to find his missing brother. A horribly stiff Elizabeth Hurley plays Cube's brother's junkie stripper girlfriend; her idea of depicting being strung-out is wearing a fresh coat of dark eyeliner. Any movie that reduces the great Ving Rhames (as a drug lord) to acting out a mumbly, drug-induced stupor in white-face has to be the worst action film of the year.
Disney delivered unsuspecting moviegoers a one-two bad movie punch with these two unwatchable jungle-themed comedies. That both did respectable (or, in the case of the unspeakably awful George, blockbuster) business shows that parents have a truly sick, sadistic idea of what is appropriate entertainment for their children.
Who can possibly see a three-hour film about a pacifist postal worker who, with the aid of a loyal desciple named Ford Lincoln Mercury, restores post-apocalyptic America to its former glory as anything but high comedy? Apparently producer-director-star Kevin Costner, who delivered last year's biggest unintentional laff riot with this woefully pretentious vanity project.
This schlocky monster mash was billed as "the next evolution in terror." Let's hope not.
Of all the clunky corruption-in-the-capitol thrillers to see light last year, this one was by far the worst--and how could it not be, with Charlie Sheen as a brilliant speech writer directly responsible for the President's reelection and a ludicrous climax where a room full of people is terrorized by... a machine gun-armed remote-controlled toy helicopter?
People forget that there was another Elmore Leonard adaptation last year besides Jackie Brown--and rightfully so. Paul Schrader's leaden tale of the media circus surrounding a young faith healer (the flavorless Skeet Ulrich) is not only unfunny, it's a thundering bore.