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Best Film and Best Direction

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Cranky spends a lot of hours in the dark. Yeah, it’s hard to believe that I get paid for this, and it is also harder work than you’d think. Most of the time, when the end credits roll, I’m out of the theater faster than buckshot out of a shotgun. The Best Film of the Year left yours truly so emotionally ragged that I couldn’t get my legs moving for a good ten minutes when it was done. More affecting than his Schindler’s List (and dontcha know that this MOT is going to burn for that one), Saving Private Ryan and its director Steven Spielberg take top honors in both categories. And, even though it’s usually not mentioned in any year end wrap-up, the flick’s sound design, supervised by Gary Rydstrom is the most truly amazing piece of work this ex-soundman has ever heard coming from the big screen.

 

Runners-up, in alphabetical order:

  • A Civil Action which, had all my body parts continued to work after SPR, would probably have the top slot. Across the board great casting and performances from John Travolta, Robert Duvall, Tony Shalhoub and William H. Macy in a legal tale where every twist of the law was explained simply and cleanly.
  • Gods and Monsters will appear several times on this list. In the same way that Truman Show and Pleasantville are similarly themed, so are Gods and Monsters and the earlier Love and Death on Long Island (with a great perf by John Hurt).Outstanding acting across the board from Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser and Lynn Redgrave in another one of those "based on a true story" flicks that normally would make you groan.  Keep reading.
  • Life is Beautiful from Italian artist Roberto Begnini achieved the impossible by using the Holocaust as backdrop for an intensely touching and romantic story of a father doing his utmost to protect his child and the Catholic wife who will not be separated from her Jewish husband.
  • Pleasantville started at the top of the "movies" list, but Cranky's seen it three times now and it gets better with every viewing. Once you get past the real people in TVland premise watching the imaginary world come into its own and make its own discoveries is a bewitching thing. William H. Macy, Jeff Daniels and Joan Allen all made my best of list. But only one gets his/her picture on page four . . .
  • Primary Colors is probably gonna get overlooked because we're all sick of Bill Clinton and the Washington right wing, but this was a great flick. From Joe Klein's "anonymous" novel, if you watch Emma Thompson's perf closely, and make the great assumption that what comes out of her mouth probably came out of Hillary Clinton's as well, the entire Monicagate mess is revealed. John Travolta is fab as the Prez, but he'll get his nomination for A Civil Action. Available on video
  • Shakespeare in Love is even more clever than the next film on this list. Only an English neighbor, who reports that Gwyneth Paltrow can't do a Brit accent worth a damn, didn't like it. It's a great story spun from no historical fact but the words penned by one William Shakespeare. You don't have to know anything more than basic Bard, 'cuz this sucker is funny and romantic and beautifully produced; an out and out good time with great perfs by Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Rupert Everett and Tom Wilkinson.
  • The Truman Show was the first "most clever" of the year, and the first to insert a real person into a television show. That being said, it also marked Jim Carrey's breakthrough as a dramatic performer and was cynical enough that the GenXers bore with it. Ed Harris was a helluva lot more fun in this flick than he was in Stepmom.   Available on Video
  • The General, from director John Boorman tells the tale of an Irish thug who ran rings around legit and illegit society. What could have been bleak and nasty -- the lead character is not a nice guy -- has  a lot of humor and is downright interesting to watch. Brendan Gleeson is a name to remember. Jon Voight gives one of his most subtle, and best, performances in forever.
  • Rounders. I'll be damned if I list Edward Norton for American History X, when he gives a more rounded support performance in this flick, with star Matt Damon. You don't have to know poker to like a tale with good characters and a clear story.

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