A recent Filmspotting podcast featured a conversation about the best movies of 1998. I had forgotten how good 1998 was for movies. Looking back at that year, it might have been the best year for movies for a decade or more—certainly since. You can see their lists by clicking here. (And let me tell you that you’re going to be surprised with at least one of them. Certainly can’t cite Matty and Adam as movie snobs.) In the spirit of keeping the conversation alive, here are my top 5 movies from 1998:
5. Pleasantville I’ll admit that this one might best be categorized as a guilty pleasure. I loved Joan Allen and Jeff Daniels. William H. Macy is always a hit. The way director Gary Ross expressed “coming alive” as moving from black and white to color was marvelous—and profound. And for the first time we really get to see the promise of Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, and Paul Walker.
4. The Truman Show Because it works so well as a metaphorical expression of the Christian faith. Truman has to face his fears—and whether you’re in a controlled environment or not, fears are always “real.” And even though Ed Harris over-dramatizes his role as Christof, he still gives us plenty to chew on. But what I loved most were the aspects of liberty Truman comes to embody for all those “hostage” to his fiction. In a sense, the viewing audience plays every bit the captive as Truman himself. And so as Truman “dies” to the world, so the world becomes free through his process. Although he is dead to the world, he is alive in the world. Well played.
3. Shakespeare In Love So maybe the movie has some problems. If so, writing isn’t one of them. I have maintained since that Shakespeare In Love is one of the wittiest, most clever screenplays ever written. The way Tom Stoppard inter-weaves his own story with those of Shakespeare—particularly Romeo and Juliet—is masterful. As a big Christpher Marlowe fan I absolutely loved the way Kit Marlowe was written into the story. And even Ben Affeck reminds us why we liked him in the first place as Ned Allen—actually playing the show-stealer that Mercutio really played, so much in fact that some scholars believed Shakespeare had to “kill him off” just like Affleck’s Allen. It’s that kind of stuff that makes Shakespear in Love so wonderful.
2. Rushmore I honestly don’t have a reason for liking this movie so much. I love Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic) and his quirky style. Bill Murray is good. Connie Nielsen is convincing. Jason Schwatzman as Max has a weightiness in Rushmore that can’t be ignored. Maybe I like it for reasons just too simple to articulate, or maybe I like it because it’s just such a quaint expression of humanity as well as wonderful commentary on the confusion of growing up that emerges so recognizably:
Margaret—You’re a real jerk to me, you know that?
Max—I’m sorry, Margaret.
Margaret—Well anyway, nice to see you.
1. The Thin Red Line Without a doubt. I’m so glad this movie is getting its due even 12 years later. It was up for best picture, but was generally considered only the 2nd best WW2 movie of 1998 (Saving Private Ryan). But, hey, it’s not Terrence Malick‘s fault that Tom Hanks has put the entire movie-going world into some sort of deep and sinister trance. I’d watch The Thin Red Line over and over again just for the haunting, poetic voiceovers from Ben Chaplin and Jim Caviezel—but there’s more. This is one of the most beautiful movies ever made.