His acting isn’t always convincing, but the Bill Clinton saga pretty much eclipsed all rival productions (and the show isn’t even over yet). Still, with one eye on the last 12 months and the other on eternity, I offer my 10 top 1998 releases.
1. Mother and Son (Alexander Sok-urov, Russia/Germany) An artist whose fastidiously crafted movies concentrate on the most elusive, fugitive sensations outdoes all previous efforts with this astonishing chamber piece—the equivalent of a visual whisper—about the last hours a child spends with his dying parent. Is it an allegory about the end of cinema? Sokurov’s uncanny references to Caspar David Friedrich, the German romantic painter who died just as photography was developed, are a reminder of how much Friedrich’s luminously misty and transparent voids anticipate
2. Fallen Angels (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong) The last installment of Wong’s long goodbye to the now lost paradise of colonial Hong Kong is the acme of neo–new-wavism, the ultimate in MTV alienation, and the most visually voluptuous flick of the fin de siècle. Like Mother and Son, Fallen Angels had its local premiere at the New York Film Festival before opening at Film Forum.
3. Outer and Inner Space (Andy Warhol, U.S.) Doomed superstar Edie Sedgwick copes with her video image. Unseen in any form for over 30 years, this double-screen film installation, premiered at the Whitney Museum, proved to be a masterpiece of video art made before video art was invented. This may be the place to mention three movies that were only shown in New York once, and may someday be released: Ron Havilio’s six-hour Fragments * Jerusalem, an amazing fusion of personal and national history; Alexei German’s film maudit, Khrustaliov, My Car!; and Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Flowers of Shanghai were all films that could each have made this year’s top three.
4. Sonatine (Takeshi Kitano, Japan)
Kitano’s 1993 masterpiece opened on the strength of his more recent Fireworks. I admire Fireworks, but, for me, Sonatine remains the actor-director’s most fully achieved film—abstract and implacable, it ranks with Sam Fuller’s Underworld U.S.A., Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai, John Boorman’s Point Blank, and John Woo’s The Killer.
5. The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick, U.S.) Melding combat confusion with a meditation on the nature of nature, Malick’s austerely hallucinated battlefield vision is an exercise in 19th-century transcendentalism. Although this hugely ambitious adaptation of James Jones’s 500-page novel gives evidence of having been hacked into its final shape, the violence only adds to the movie’s serene, despairing nobility.
6. Affliction (Paul Schrader, U.S.) Reviewed this week.
7 through 10. no particular order.
There’s Something About Mary (Peter and Bobby Farrelly, U.S.) The cruelest and funniest of the year’s many nihilist comedies, a satire of inept male behavior predicated on the fear of sexual rejection, this romantic comedy projects an anxiety so funky that you practically smell it. There’s pathos in the pathology here, but, amazingly, Cameron Diaz is untouched by the stalking, stinking, all-round vulgarity that surrounds her.
The Disenchanted (Benoit Jacquot, France) As fetishistic in its way as the Farrelly film in “stalking” a nubile young woman, this admirably brief feature is terse and fragmentary, set in a psychologically charged realm of fairy-tale archetypes and childlike games.
Buffalo 66 (Vincent Gallo, U.S.) Actor-director Gallo regards himself with something of the awestruck wonder Jacquot lavishes on his enigmatic gamine. Would that every vanity production were this funny, soulful, and genuinely experimental.
Bulworth (Warren Beatty, U.S.) Another mock-grandiose actor-directed psychodrama—less generous than Gallo’s in its narcissism but more provocative in its self-revelation—this grab-bag synthesis of Michael Moore, The Magic Christian, the RFK campaign, and Beatty’s own Shampoo made for the most overtly political and even inflammatory studio movie since Malcolm X (not to mention the third film from 20th Century Fox on my list).
Honorable Mentions: The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen, U.S.); Brother (Alexei Balabanov, Russia); Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Terry Gilliam, U.S.); Happiness (Todd Solondz, U.S.); The Inheritors (Stefan Ruzowitzky, Austria); Love and Death on Long Island (Richard Kwietniowski, U.K.); The Mirror (Jafar Panahi, Iran); Rushmore (Wes Anderson, U.S.); Saltmen of Tibet (Ulrike Koch, Germany); A Simple Plan (Sam Raimi, U.S.); Snake Eyes (Brian De Palma, U.S.); and the projected-video installation Stasi City (Jane and Louise Wilson, U.K.).