Every year about this time, we bleary-eyed reviewers venture to place the preceding year of professional moviegoing in some sort of critical perspective. We give out awards, compose 10-best lists and pontificate to our heart’s content. Therefore, without further ado, here are my 10 best English-language films in order of preference:
1. A Simple Plan
2. Out of Sight
3. Mrs. Dalloway
4. Living Out Loud
5. The Opposite of Sex
6. Shakespeare in Love
7. Return to Paradise
10. There’s Something About Mary
As for the best foreign-language films, I couldn’t decide on either a single best film or even a selection of the 10 best from so many countries, so I decided to list the top 25 foreign-language entries in alphabetical order in order to emphasize how much most American moviegoers are missing by being so squeamish about subtitles: Un Air de Famille ; The Apple ; The Celebration ; Central Station ; The Chambermaid on the Titanic; Character ; La Désenchantée ; The Eel ; Fallen Angels ; A Friend of the Deceased ; Gadjo Dilo ; Hana-Bi ; The Inheritors ; Insomnia ; Life Is Beautiful ; Men With Guns ; The Mirror ; Post Coitum ; La Séparation ; Seventh Heaven ; Shattered Image ; Sonatine ; The Swindle (Claude Chabrol’s 50th film); The Thief ; Voyage to the Beginning of the World (Marcello Mastroianni’s final film).
I must confess at this point that I voted for Cameron Diaz on the first ballot of the New York Film Critics Circle. Obviously, I was not alone. Yet, some of my esteemed colleagues have professed to be shocked, shocked by this affront to our exalted standards. I originally intended to vote for Vanessa Redgrave for her portrayal of Mrs. Dalloway, but I sensed that Ms. Redgrave didn’t have a chance with a vehicle that opened so early in the year. So why should I make a futile gesture when I could make a fun statement instead? To my delight, Ms. Diaz surged from behind to victory, and now I am fully committed to voting for her at the forthcoming (as I write) meeting of the National Society of Film Critics. Holly Hunter will be my second choice for her bristling femininity in Living Out Loud , and the ever sparkling Renée Zellweger my third choice for her contrasting portrayals in One True Thing , A Price Above Rubies and Deceiver .
George Clooney is my steadfast pick as best actor of the year for his underrated work in the unappreciated Out of Sight . My second and third choices are now and always have been Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton for their tragically fraternal bonding in A Simple Plan . This is not to denigrate the solid achievements of Nick Nolte in Affliction and The Thin Red Line .
Lisa Kudrow enjoyed the greatest margin of victory as supporting actress in our group, and I would give her an extra nod for Clockwatchers , to go along with her career breakthrough in The Opposite of Sex . Yes, I voted for her on the first ballot, as I did also for Bill Murray in Rushmore . Three out of four ain’t bad, though Mr. Murray earned my vote for all his past comic gems in parts big and small in movies like What About Bob? (1991), Tootsie (1982) and Groundhog Day (1993).
Other noteworthy female performances were turned in by Bridget Fonda and Becky Ann Baker in A Simple Plan ; Jennifer Lopez and Catherine Keener in Out of Sight ; Natascha McElhone in Mrs. Dalloway , The Truman Show and Ronin ; Queen Latifah in Living Out Loud ; Emily Watson and Rachel Griffiths in Hilary and Jackie ; Helena Bonham-Carter in The Theory of Flight and A Merry War ; Susan Sarandon in Twilight and Stepmom ; Catherine Zeta-Jones in The Mask of Zorro ; Christina Ricci in The Opposite of Sex and Buffalo ’66 ; Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love and Sliding Doors ; Judi Dench and Imelda Staunton in Shakespeare in Love ; Anne Heche in Return to Paradise and Six Days, Seven Nights ; Toni Collette and Alanna Ubach in Clockwatchers ; Parker Posey in Clockwatchers , Henry Fool and You’ve Got Mail .
Also Sissy Spacek and Mary Beth Hurt in Affliction ; Julianne Moore in The Big Lebowski ; Anjelica Huston in Buffalo ’66 ; Fiona Shaw and Sinead O’Connor in The Butcher Boy ; Jessica Lange, Elisabeth Shue and Geraldine Chaplin in Cousin Bette ; Alfre Woodard, Esther Rolle and Mary Alice in Down in the Delta ; Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth ; Juliet Aubrey in Go Now ; Drew Barrymore in Home Fries , Ever After and The Wedding Singer ; Catherine O’Hara in Home Fries ; Kristin Scott Thomas, Dianne Wiest, Scarlett Johansson and Cherry Jones in The Horse Whisperer ; Claire Danes and Mary Kay Place in John Grisham’s The Rainmaker ; Radha Mitchell, Ally Sheedy and Patricia Clarkson in High Art ; Hope Davis in Next Stop Wonderland ; Charlize Theron in Celebrity ; Lauren Holly and Blythe Danner in No Looking Back ; Meryl Streep in One True Thing and Dancing at Lughnasa ; Joan Allen and Reese Witherspoon in Pleasantville ; Julianna Margulies in A Price Above Rubies ; Jacqueline Obradors in Six Days, Seven Nights ; Jeanne Tripplehorn in Sliding Doors ; Barbara Hershey, Virginie Ledoyen and Jane Birkin in A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries ; Natasha Lyonne and Marisa Tomei in Slums of Beverly Hills ; Reese Witherspoon and Stockard Channing in Twilight ; Natasha Gregson Wagner in Two Girls and a Guy and First Love, Last Rites ; Samantha Morton, Claire Rushbrook and Rita Tushingham in Under the Skin ; Melanie Griffith and Dominique Swain in Lolita ; Susan Lynch and Fionnula Flanagan in Waking Ned Devine ; Kimberly Elise, Thandie Newton and Oprah Winfrey in Beloved .
In addition, Julia Roberts in Stepmom ; Sandra Bullock in Hope Floats ; Jane Horrocks in Little Voice ; Katrin Cartlidge, Daryl Hannah and Moira Kelly in Hi-Life , Kim Dickens in Mercury Rising ; Annette Bening in The Siege ; Kate Nelligan in U.S. Marshals ; Lindsay Lohan and Natasha Richardson in The Parent Trap ; Anna Thomson in Sue ; Olivia Williams in Rushmore ; Robin Wright Penn, Meg Ryan and Anna Paquin in Hurlyburly ; Amy Brenneman, Catherine Keener and Nastassja Kinski in Your Friends and Neighbors .
From abroad, Betty Schuurman in Character ; Fernanda Montenegro in Central Station ; Romane Bohringer and Aitana Sanchez-Gijón in The Chambermaid on the Titanic; Mina Mohammad-Khani in The Mirror ; Isabelle Huppert in La Séparation and The Swindle ; Sandrine Kiberlain in Seventh Heaven ; Catherine McCormack, Kathy Burke, Brid Brennan and Sophie Thompson in Dancing at Lughnasa .
Other notable male performances are given by Brent Briscoe, Gary Cole, Chelcie Ross and Jack Walsh in A Simple Plan ; Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Dennis Farina, Albert Brooks, Steve Zahn and Isaiah Washington in Out of Sight ; Rupert Graves, Michael Kitchen and John Standing in Mrs. Dalloway ; Danny DeVito in Living Out Loud and John Grisham’s The Rainmaker ; Martin Donovan in The Opposite of Sex and Living Out Loud ; Elias Koteas in Living Out Loud and The Thin Red Line ; Richard Schiff in Living Out Loud ; Lyle Lovett in The Opposite of Sex ; Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson, Antony Sher, Ben Affleck, Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Mark Williams and Simon Callow in Shakespeare in Love ; Vince Vaughn and Joaquin Phoenix in Return to Paradise ; Matt Dillon, Chris Elliott, Lee Evans and Brett Favre in There’s Something About Mary ; Ben Stiller in There’s Something About Mary and Your Friends and Neighbors ; Bruce Willis and Miko Hughes in Mercury Rising .
Also, James Coburn and Willem Dafoe in Affliction ; Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro and Sam Elliott in The Big Lebowski ; Vincent Gallo in Buffalo ’66 ; Ben Gazzara in Buffalo ’66 and The Spanish Prisoner ; Mickey Rourke in Buffalo ’66 and John Grisham’s The Rainmaker ; Eamonn Owens as the child performer of the year in The Butcher Boy ; Stephen Rea in The Butcher Boy and The Break ; Al Freeman and Wesley Snipes in Down in the Delta ; Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston and Joseph Fiennes in Elizabeth ; Ian McKellen in Gods and Monsters and Apt Pupil ; Robert Carlyle in Go Now ; Thomas Jay Ryan and James Urbaniak in Henry Fool ; Luke Wilson and Jake Busey in Home Fries ; Robert Redford, Sam Neill and Chris Cooper in The Horse Whisperer and No Looking Back .
In addition, Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palminteri and Garry Shandling in Hurlyburly ; Matt Damon in John Grisham’s The Rainmaker , Rounders and Saving Private Ryan ; Derek Jacobi and Daniel Craig in Love Is the Devil ; Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey in The Negotiator ; Alan Gelfant and Robert Klein in Next Stop Wonderland ; Edward Burns in No Looking Back and Saving Private Ryan ; William Hurt in One True Thing ; Jeff Daniels, William H. Macy and Tobey Maguire in Pleasantville ; Christopher Eccleston, Allen Payne and Glenn Fitzgerald in A Price Above Rubies ; Jean Reno in Ronin ; Stellan Skarsgard in Insomnia and Ronin ; Edward Norton, John Turturro, John Malkovich and Martin Landau in Rounders ; Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Jeremy Davies, Ted Danson and Dennis Farina in Saving Private Ryan ; Harrison Ford in Six Days, Seven Nights ; John Hannah and John Lynch in Sliding Doors ; Nicolas Cage, Gary Sinise and John Heard in Snake Eyes ; Kris Kristofferson, Anthony Ruth Costanzo in A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries ; Alan Arkin and Carl Reiner in Slums of Beverly Hills ; Campbell Scott in The Spanish Prisoner and Hi-Life ; Steve Martin in The Spanish Prisoner ; Jim Carrey and Noah Emmerich in The Truman Show ; Ed Harris in The Truman Show and Stepmom ; Paul Newman and James Garner in Twilight ; Gene Hackman in Twilight and Enemy of the State ; and Robert Downey Jr. in Two Girls and a Guy and U.S. Marshals .
Also, Jeremy Irons and Frank Langella in Lolita ; Ian Bannen and David Kelley in Waking Ned Devine ; Jason Patric and Aaron Eckhart in Your Friends and Neighbors ; Leonardo DiCaprio in Celebrity ; Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins in The Mask of Zorro ; Koji Yakusho in The Eel ; Vincent Lindon and François Berléand in Seventh Heaven ; Daniel Auteuil in La Séparation ; Federico Luppi in Men With Guns ; John Hurt in Love and Death on Long Island ; Stephen Fry, Jude Law and Tom Wilkinson in Wilde ; Tommy Lee Jones and Wesley Snipes in U.S. Marshals ; Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent and Ewan McGregor in Little Voice ; Peter Riegert, Charles Durning and Eric Stoltz in Hi-Life ; Will Smith in Enemy of the State ; Jon Voight in John Grisham’s The Rainmaker , The General and Enemy of the State ; Brendan Gleeson in The General , The Break and I Went Down ; Kenneth Branagh in The Theory of Flight ; Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson, John Cusack, John Savage, George Clooney, Ben Chaplin, Adrien Brody, James Caviezel, Arie Verveen, John C. Reilly and Dash Mihok in The Thin Red Line .
Other meritorious English language films are: Affliction ; The Big Lebowski ; Buffalo ’66 ; The Butcher Boy ; Cousin Bette ; Déjà Vu ; Down in the Delta ; Elizabeth ; Gods and Monsters ; Go Now ; Henry Fool ; High Art ; Hilary and Jackie ; Home Fries ; The Horse Whisperer ; Hurlyburly ; Lolita ; Love Is the Devil ; The Negotiator ; Next Stop Wonderland ; No Looking Back ; One True Thing ; Pleasantville ; A Price Above Rubies ; Ronin ; Rounders ; Saving Private Ryan ; Six Days, Seven Nights ; Sliding Doors ; Slums of Beverly Hills ; Snake Eyes ; A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries ; The Theory of Flight ; The Thin Red Line ; Twilight ; Two Girls and a Guy ; Under the Skin ; Waking Ned Devine ; Your Friends and Neighbors .
Finally, the 10 best nonfiction films in alphabetical order: Antonio Gaudí ; Arguing the World ; Ayn Rand, A Sense of Life ; The Big One ; Don’t Look Back ; The Farm: Angola, U.S.A. ; Frank Lloyd Wright ; Healing by Killing ; Moon Over Broadway ; The Saltmen of Tibet .
Happy moviegoing in 1999.