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That's a Wrap

And the year ends with a surprise twist: fall movies that are falling flat

1993 will likely be remembered as both the year of Schindler's List and as a year of surprisingly strong, reasonably intelligent summer films. In fact, if the year featured a surprise -- other than the metamorphosis of Steven Spielberg, of course -- it would be that the summer season was much stronger than the fall, which featured a string of flops by "A" directors including, but not limited to, Eastwood (A Perfect World), Cronenberg (M. Butterfly), De Palma (Carlito's Way) and Stone (Heaven and Earth). Oh yeah, and Scorsese (The Age of Innocence).

The year was strong enough on thrillers, such as The Fugitive, a bit weak on comedy, and long on erotic erratum, such as the Madonna yuck-fest Body of Evidence and Jeremy Irons' Damage (Irons "starred" in two sinkholes this year -- we're not allowed to forget M. Butterfly). It was also notably short on European film. In fact, so few subtitled films passed our way that I'm hoping the French win their GATT battle over film subsidies, so their numbers don't dwindle even further. (The big foreign moneymaker was, of course, Like Water for Chocolate, which found and kept its Spanish-language audience. It'll be interesting to see if other Latin American films can win the same crowd.)

The Chinese were the exception to the above rule; we got plenty of strong Hong Kong product, and the mainland's The Story of Qiu Ju and Farewell My Concubine. Chinese films, coupled with Chinese-American films (Wedding Banquet, The Joy Luck Club), formed what may have been the year's most promising trend.

In truth, though, 1993 wasn't quite as across-the-board strong as '92, which featured such original films as Waterland and Reservoir DogsI, but such is life.

Here's my Top Ten list. (Warning -- I didn't see a few films, such as A Bronx Tale and King of the Hill, that sounded pretty damned worthy of consideration.)

10. Falling Down was one of the most daring and clever mainstream films of the year. It articulates the freefloating American rage quite clearly. It tricks its viewers into thinking it's on the wrong side, and perhaps into reconsidering our own prejudices.

9. In the Line of Fire was the most memorable film of the summer. Clint Eastwood has just the right amount of fun with his character, and John Malkovich was villain of the year.

8. Hard-Boiled is John Woo at his most spectacular. He raises the testosterone charge to the level of, well, art.

7. Groundhog Day would make my list if only for being the year's best comedy (were there any others?). Happily, it handles its plot complications so adroitly, so Murray-ly, that I can include it on purely aesthetic grounds -- especially the scene in which Bill drives with the kidnapped rodent.

6. The Piano establishes Harvey Keitel as the Gerard Depardieu of our time, and Jane Campion as a visionary -- if perhaps a bit too dreamy -- filmmaker.

5. Speaking of establishing, Dazed and Confused proves that Richard Linklater is a filmmaker of first-rate heart and mind. That he made art of high school ennui might prove his genius.

4. Tous les Matins du Monde was the strongest European film of the year. It has the combination of critical intelligence, passion and realism that, like fine wine, we usually find in the import bin.

3. Menace II Society was the debut of the year, and the most terrifying film yet about race and (under)class in America.

2. Household Saints might be the film that made me happiest. It was quite something to see Nancy Savoca handle her religious themes with such sensitivity and otherworldly precision. There are scenes here will always remember.

1. Schindler's List, and by a long shot.

 
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