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Rob's Top Ten Movies of 1996


#10: Breaking the Waves

Lars von Trier's jittery, unstable psychodrama is probably unthinkable without the gutsy Emily Watson in the line of fire -- she's Gena Rowlands to von Trier's John Cassavetes.


#9: Looking for Richard

Consistently enthralling love letter to Shakespeare and acting. Of all the projects Al Pacino could've picked as his directorial debut, he went with this one; the result refreshes your respect for him as an artist. This is a movie with a young man's passion and a veteran actor's wisdom.


#8: Big Night

Another actor-turned-director project -- Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott -- turned into the most alluring culinary must-see since Eat Drink Man Woman. Acting teamwork doesn't get better than Tucci and Tony Shalhoub. "Perhaps we should serve the ... eh ... how you say ... hot dog."


#7: Lone Star

John Sayle's ruminative almost-thriller carries the weight of years in a fairly short running time; Sayles is making novels for film, of which this is one of the most dense and satisfying.


#6: Bastard Out of Carolina

Yet another one -- Anjelica Huston did her father proud with her directing debut, a stinging adaptation of Dorothy Allison's bestseller that takes no prisoners and was too hot for any major studio to handle.


#5: Trainspotting

The most viscerally fun anti-drug commercial imaginable; well on its way to becoming a snarly, bratty British classic along the lines of A Clockwork Orange and if....


#4: Crash

David Cronenberg's ice-cold adaptation of J.G. Ballard (which didn't open in America until 1997 -- thanks, Ted Turner) played like the careful notations of a scientist perusing an exotic fetish under a microscope. So anti-erotic it ended up being erotic anyway, and more meaningful than first meets the eye.


#3: Paradise Lost

Could this be the most incendiary truth-seeking documentary since The Thin Blue Line? Could be, though to this day the accused killers -- who you heavily doubt were the culprits after you've seen this film -- rot in jail, the victims of teen-weirdo-phobia. The movie has more to say to us with each passing, finger-pointing year.


#2: Fargo

Is there anything less interesting than the official plot apparatus (William H. Macy engineers his wife's kidnapping so that he can get some money to invest in a parking lot)? Joel and Ethan Coen's icicle pick of a comedy finds its focus elsewhere -- in the radiantly cheery Frances McDormand as the pregnant investigator, in quirky touches like the "I'm so lonely" guy, and in the deadpan treatment of local color.


#1: Citizen Ruth

Rabid fundamentalists have Disney to thank for this one -- a wicked satire of both sides of the abortion-rights fence, straddled by Laura Dern in a performance deserving of study at the Actors' Studio for years to come.

Todd Solondz' mischievous Welcome to the Dollhouse ... Anthony Minghella's sumptuous The English Patient ... Mike Leigh's candid Secrets & Lies ... Cameron Crowe's sincere Jerry Maguire, with a breakout performance by Renee Zellweger ... Edward Norton shocking the shit out of everybody in Primal Fear, then gently crooning in Everyone Says I Love You ... Woody Harrelson and Courtney Love as the year's most unlikely Tristan and Isolde in The People Vs. Larry Flynt ... Eddie Murphy in a variety of guises in The Nutty Professor ... Jackie Chan kicking ass in Rumble in the Bronx and Supercop ... Roald Dahl brought to weird life in James and the Giant Peach ... Picard and company getting their blood up in Star Trek: First Contact ... David O. Russell's naggingly funny Flirting with Disaster ... Ted Demme's morose Beautiful Girls ... Matthew Bright's stunning art-trash intersection Freeway ... Wes Craven's bow to his roots, Scream ... Marlon Brando amusing himself in The Island of Dr. Moreau ... Kenneth Branagh pulling out all the stops in Hamlet ... Nick Nolte in his best (and barely seen) performance in years in Mother Night ... Neil Jordan's unabashedly movie-ish biopic Michael Collins ... Christopher Guest's irresistible Waiting for Guffman ... Lili Taylor rocking the house in I Shot Andy Warhol ... Jim Jarmusch's slow-moving but mesmerizing Dead Man ... Wes Anderson's friendly debut Bottle Rocket ... Steve Buscemi directing himself beautifully in Trees Lounge ... Michael Keaton giving four increasingly great comic performances in Multiplicity ... Dennis Miller snarking his way through Bordello of Blood ... Geena Davis times two in The Long Kiss Goodnight ... John Carpenter's misunderstood goof Escape from L.A. ... Jim Carrey going psycho in The Cable Guy ... Tim Burton's intentionally cheeseball Mars Attacks ... the indefensible but hilarious Beavis & Butt-head Do America ... Fairuza Balk lighting up The Craft ... Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino just having a king-hell good time in From Dusk Till Dawn ... Peter Jackson serving an overstuffed sandwich of thrills and laughs in The Frighteners ... and Spike Lee's flawed but engaging Girl 6, which isn't nearly as bad as you've heard, and Get on the Bus, a vibrant fictionalized historical document.


Mary Reilly, in which Julia Roberts stretched quite a bit, and was rewarded with savage reviews and piddling box office. This, in case you were wondering, is why movie stars don't take more chances. Me, I loved the movie and loved Julia in it -- read the review, I'm on record.

Rob's Top Ten WORST Movies of 1996


#10: The Crucible

Arthur Miller's play is blinkered, dated, historically stupid stuff to begin with; the overly somber film version just compounds the errors.


#9: The Pallbearer

One of many mid-'90s turkeys that would never have seen the light of day without the participation of a Friends cast member. But this pointlessly drab update (*cough*ripoff*cough) of The Graduate may have been the most insufferable.


#8: Space Jam

Watch your favorite Looney Toons characters get spread-eagled and raped on the sacrificial altar of corporate greed. Little more than a feature-length commercial for itself.


#7: Sleepers

Should Lorenzo Carcaterra's book be classified as fiction or nonfiction? Who knows? Who cares? The punishingly half-baked film version, though, plays as an amalgam of slices from other movies, and has the interesting unintended side effect of showing up the book as the bullshit it possibly is.


#6: Mulholland Falls

When a fine director (Lee Tamahori), a fine writer (Pete Dexter), and a fine cast get together, watch out. That's the lesson of this abidingly stupid cop melodrama.


#5: 2 Days in the Valley

One of the more annoying belches that followed the Tarantino buffet in 1994. Tiresomely quirky, entirely meaningless, and fairly ridiculous (especially the spandex catfight).

#4: Feeling Minnesota

Ever wonder why you haven't seen any more movies from writer-director Steven Baigelman? Here's Exhibit A, a grindingly witless "comedy" -- yet another Tarantino knockoff -- in which Keanu Reeves actually gives the best performance, and when that happens you know you're in trouble.


#3: Last Man Standing

Walter Hill's redo of Yojimbo/A Fistful of Dollars was a dry flyspeck of a movie -- resolutely humorless, offensively macho, and not even any fun as bad-ass spectacle. A good cast wasted.


#2: Independence Day

It owned the summer and refused to hand it over to much more deserving films. It also went on forever and seemed to want congratulations for being a fatter, pricier version of a dozen '50s alien-attack movies.


#1: Thinner

It may have been the worst Stephen King movie in the long, sad history of Stephen King movies. Hell, it's even the worst Richard Bachman movie (and that's saying something when its sole competition was The Running Man).

When bad movies happen to good actors: Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery in The Rock, Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible, Steve Martin in Sgt. Bilko, Robert De Niro and Wesley Snipes in The Fan, Gene Hackman in The Chamber, Kurt Russell in Executive Decision, Alison Elliott in The Spitfire Grill, Sharon Stone and Kathy Bates in Diabolique, Mel Gibson in Ransom, Joe Pantaliano in Bound, Geoffrey Rush in Shine, and Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau in the overhyped critics' darling Swingers.


William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet -- actually let's call it Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet; why blame the Bard? This assaultive MTV mess was a big hit with the kids, which proves nothing in particular except that teenagers' tastes are hitting new lows. Not that the play is Shakespeare's masterpiece to begin with, but Luhrmann's jackhammer style bludgeons whatever dignity it had.

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