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The Year in Film

Though not great, 1995 still produced some movies worth seeing (and reseeing)

Toy John Lasseter's astonishing animated comedy is a marvel of audience-friendly high-tech wizardry. But the razzle-dazzle wouldn't be nearly so impressive if the basic story -- about the private lives and rivalries of a little boy's toys -- weren't so amusing and entertaining. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles and Wallace Shawn are among the well-chosen human stars who provide voices for the computer-generated characters that spring to life and tumble into adventure.

Unstrung Heroes: Diane Keaton's highly auspicious feature film directorial debut is a profoundly funny and deeply moving story about a child's contemplation of madness as a rational response to an irrational world. As his beloved mother (Andie MacDowell) is dying of cancer, 12-year-old Steven Lidz (Nathan Witt) decides he would rather live with his "eccentric" (to put it kindly) uncles (Michael Richards, Maury Chaykin) than his preoccupied father (John Turturro). What all of these characters learn from one another, and what they discover about themselves, is what gives the film its warm and lustrous heart.

The Usual Suspects: Bryan Singer's ingenious neo-noir thriller is one of those rare films that actually deserves to be seen at least twice. The first time, you can marvel at the darkly clever, intricately constructed plot, and savor the spirited performances of the strong ensemble cast (Gabriel Byrne, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, Kevin Pollak, Chazz Palminteri and, especially, Kevin Spacey). The second time, you can fully appreciate the no-sweat skill that Singer and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie bring to setting you up for a surprise ending that pulls the rug, and much of the floor, right out from under you. As an extra added attraction, there is the year's best bit of movie dialogue: "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled is convincing the world he doesn't exist." How true.

Runners-up, in no particular order, include: Clint Eastwood's The Bridges of Madison County, a grown-up romance that distills an overwritten novel into something true and touching; Mike Figgis' Leaving Las Vegas, a last dance of the damned with Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue in Oscar-worthy form; Oliver Stone's Nixon, a fascinating mix of unforgivable fact and sympathetic speculation; Gregory Nava's My Family, an impressively epic-scale family drama about Mexican-American life in Los Angeles; and Terry Zwigoff's Crumb, an engrossing and unsettling documentary about the underground cartoonist and his even more bizarre siblings.

Also, Michael Apted's Moving the Mountain, an illuminating examination of the events leading up to and following the Tiananmen Square massacre; Martin Scorsese's Casino, a companion piece to Goodfellas that stands on its own merits as great drama and eye-opening reportage; Lee Tamahori's Once Were Warriors, a harrowing drama of a dysfunctional Maori family with a searing performance by Rena Owen as a bloodied but unbowed mother; Hal Hartley's Amateur, perhaps the most bleakly funny black comedy yet made by one of contemporary cinema's most accomplished absurdists; and Barry Sonnenfeld's Get Shorty, a very funny comedy of bad manners in which a gangster (John Travolta) finds success simply by being himself while wandering among the phonies of Hollywood.

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