Freaked. Directed by Tom Stern and Alex Winter. What ever happened to Alex Winter? He had a great career going in the late 80s and early 90s, playing the vampire Marko in The Lost Boys and then hitting it big as Bill in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. Winter’s career as an actor-writer-director had its wackiest triumph as egotistical movie star Ricky Coogan in this film. The cast is surprisingly talented for such an off-the-wall movie: Randy Quaid, Brooke Shields (probably the most intentionally funny movie she ever made), Michael Stoyanov, Megan Ward, William Sadler, John Hawkes (whose face you never see), Mr. T (as “The Bearded Lady”), Joe Baker, Bobcat Goldthwait, Morgan Fairchild and, in an uncredited part as Ortiz the Dog Boy, Winter’s longtime pal Keanu Reeves. So many lines are quotable – “This is nuts… this is crazy… besides, it was Linda Blair!” (watch the film to figure out that context) – and the absurdity is fantastic.
In the Name of the Father. Directed by Jim Sheridan. Personally, I prefer this to My Left Foot, the 1989 Sheridan film that also starred Daniel Day-Lewis, who won the Best Actor Oscar. DDL’s performance proves that he didn’t need to play a character with a physical deformity in order to be convincing. You feel his pain at being wrongfully convicted; some of the scenes, especially those taking place during the initial interrogations, are gut-wrenching in their sadness. Even better than DDL is Pete Postlethwaite’s Oscar-nominated performance as his dad, the “father” of the film’s title. In a year with many strong contenders – including Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List and Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape – Postlethwaite was exemplary. His death last January was a shock to me but I am glad that his film career will live on. The film also has a fine Oscar-nominated supporting performance by Emma Thompson as DDL’s lawyer.
Jurassic Park. Directed by Steven Spielberg. I’m not the hugest fan of Spielberg, but this film is 100% pure brilliance. The Oscar-winning sound, sound effects editing and visual effects help craft the excitement. The action sequences are pulse-pounding and even the scenes of exposition build plenty of tension. The cast is excellent: Sam Neill (by the way, check out his 2008 film Dean Spanley), Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum (a particular favorite actor), Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Samuel L. Jackson, BD Wong and a supremely slimy (in more ways than one) Wayne Knight. The kids, Ariana Richards and especially Joseph Mazzello, are also great. P.S. Spielberg’s 1997 sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, is pretty awful by comparison. Even with Goldblum as the lead and Pete Postlethwaite as the villain, I still can’t stand Julianne Moore or Vince Vaughn.
King of the Hill. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. I’m a big fan of Soderbergh: Out of Sight is my favorite film of 1998 and this year’s Contagion was quite good. This period drama, based on the memoir by A.E. Hotchner (whose name I know for being a close friend of Paul Newman), benefits from a strong performance by lead Jesse Bradford. His acting is subtle but emotional and always realistic. Playing the parents are Jeroen Krabbé and Lisa Eichhorn, alongside Cameron Boyd as Bradford’s younger brother and Amber Benson as a neighbor. A young Adrien Brody is likeable in a supporting appearance and Katherine Heigl and Lauryn Hill can be seen as a rich girl and an elevator operator respectively. On a more melancholy note, Spalding Gray’s performance foreshadows his real-life descent into depression. As a whole, King of the Hill is a moving story.
Mrs. Doubtfire. Directed by Chris Columbus. This is a childhood favorite of mine. It’s certainly one of Robin Williams’ best 90s films, standing with Awakenings, The Birdcage and Good Will Hunting. (I have not yet seen The Fisher King or What Dreams May Come.) Sally Field is her usual dependable self as Williams’ former wife and Pierce Brosnan is charming as Field’s new boyfriend. The kids are played by the talented young Lisa Jakub, Matthew Lawrence and perennial 90s favorite Mara Wilson. Rounding out the cast are Harvey Fierstein and Scott Capurro as uncles, Robert Prosky as Williams’ prospective boss, Anne Haney as a social worker and Sydney Walker as the bus driver who hits on Mrs. Doubtfire. Columbus is an excellent director as well: he did the very sweet romance Only the Lonely, as well as the first two Harry Potter films.