The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Monday, December 15, 2008
WE INTERRUPT THESE MUSIC LISTS TO BRING YOU A FILM LIST: When mainstream movie critics start announcing their top 10 pictures of the year, the tradition here at The Perpetual Three-Dot Column is to ignore the present and pick the best movies of 10 years ago, 20 years ago, and so on. Time to start again.

When the Motion Picture Academy looked back at 1998, it gave its Best Picture award to a self-congratulatory little trifle called Shakespeare in Love. You won't find that one here:

1. Happiness
Written and directed by Todd Solondz

Daniel Clowes drew this picture's
poster, and there's something about the movie that matches his sensibility. Whenever I think back to the dark and funny final scene, my mind distorts the memory so I'm imagining a Clowes comic, not a film.

2. After Life
Wrtten and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda

My favorite Japanese movie of the '90s.

3. Rushmore
Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by Anderson and Owen Wilson

Featuring Anderson and Wilson's best script, one of Bill Murray's best performances, and the best use of the Who on a motion picture soundtrack ever, and yes, that includes Tommy.

4. The Big Lebowski
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

"Fair? Who's the fucking nihilist here?"

5. The Celebration
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Written by Vinterberg and Mogens Rukov

It would be a spoiler to say what this story is about. I'll just note that there are about 10,000 movies on that particular subject, and that this is one of maybe five that treat the topic intelligently.

6. Oz 2
Written by Tom Fontana with Sean Jablonski, Bradford Winters, and Debbie Sarjeant
Directed by Nick Gomez, Uli Edel, Bob Balaban, Keith Samples, Kathy Bates, Alan Taylor, Mary Harron, and Jean De Segonza

The second season of HBO's prison series isn't as much of a self-contained narrative as the first year, but there's enough of an arc to earn it a spot on the list.

7. A Simple Plan
Directed by Sam Raimi
Written by Scott B. Smith, from his novel

Raimi's best movie.

8. Henry Fool
Written and directed by Hal Hartley

"OK, you got me outnumbered here four to one and you're gonna kill me here tonight and not a soul in this dimly lit world is gonna notice I'm gone. But one of you, one of you, one of you is gonna have his eye torn out. Period....One of you poor, underpaid jerks is gonna have an eye ripped out of its socket. I promise. It's a small thing perhaps, all things considered, but I will succeed, because it's the only thing I have left to do in this world. So why don't you just take a good look at one another one last time, and think it over a few minutes more."

9. Out of Sight
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Scott Frank, from a novel by Elmore Leonard

Part of a great run of Elmore Leonard adaptations in the mid/late '90s, along with Barry Sonnenfeld's Get Shorty and Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown.

10. Kurt & Courtney
Directed by Nick Broomfield

Someday I'll write a long essay about what an underrated director Broomfield is and what a crafty little movie he has made. This is supposedly a piece of investigative journalism devoted to the theory that Courtney Love killed Kurt Cobain. But the mystery is a MacGuffin. The film is really a slapstick remake of Citizen Kane.

Honorable mentions:

11. Velvet Goldmine (Todd Haynes)
12. High Art (Lisa Cholodenko)
13. Pi (Darren Aronofsky)
14. O Night Without Objects (Jeanne C. Finley, John H. Muse)
15. Buffalo '66 (Vincent Gallo)
16. There's Something About Mary (Bobby and Peter Farrelly)
17. Dark City (Alex Proyas)
18. The Truman Show (Peter Weir)
19. The Last Days of Disco (Whit Stillman)
20. Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg)

Yes, Saving Private Ryan. When it's bad it's very, very bad, but when it's good it's great.

N.B.: Henry Fool went into general release in 1998, but technically it was first screened in 1997. I didn't realize that when I posted my '97 list last year, though, and I hate the thought of excluding it -- if all of Hal Hartley's movies were to disappear from the world, this is the only one I would really miss.

posted by Jesse 12:37 AM
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