best film: The Thin Red Line fulfilled the promise of a 20 year wait since Terrence Malick’s previous feature, also a masterpiece (and the best film of its year), Days of Heaven. It didn’t have the visceral war-experience punch in the face that Spielberg’s saving private ryan did (speilberg’s film was released earlier in the year) so I think it took a while for Malick’s poetic tone poem, Christ allegory, and sheer photographical brilliance to resonate fully with cinema lovers. The sprawling ensemble, endless voiceover narrators (I lost count), and the way it dodges a real war narrative makes for an opaque first viewing but upon revisiting cinema lovers will appreciate it for what it is: one of the best 5 films of the 1990’s.
most underrated: Saving Private Ryan was considered the best film of 1998 at the time by most critics and a shoe-in to win best picture. It didn’t win (Shakespeare in Love did) and now Spielberg’s film can’t be found on the top 1000 of all-time on TSPDT for some damn reason. I’m baffled by that. The opening Omaha beach sequence is a technical and visceral marvel and should, alone, make it impossible for this film to be overlooked. The writing is smart, performances sharp (Hanks is very good), and period detail in the visual scheme very worthy of commendation. I’ve got in my top 500 for sure so I’m at least 500 slots away from the consensus here.
most overrated: Lars Von Trier followed up Breaking the Waves, a top 20 film of all time, with The Idiots. I think The Idiots is awful. It’s very ugly to look at. I get that Von Trier, auteur enfant terrible, is poking the bear and thumbing his nose at society but i still don’t understand what is artistically rewarding about this film. It didn’t offend me, it just underwhelmed me and bored me with the visuals. TSPDT, astonishingly, has it at #699 of all-time and I couldn’t find a spot for it in my top 50 of 1998 let alone my top 1000 overall. It’s not in my archives.
gem I want to spotlight: Todd Solodonz’s happiness is very good and I’m pissed I couldn’t find a spot for it in my top 10—ditto with Spike Lee’s He Got Game. But I’m going to single out Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as my gem. It could’ve easily been my most “underrated” as well. Depp and Benecio Del Toro are pitch perfect and Gilliam’s artistry of mise-en-scene is a perfect match for Hunter S. Thompson’s source material. It doesn’t have the narrative aplomb of 12 Monkeys but just sit back and enjoy the beautify of what is going on around you here. It makes a great installment into Gilliam’s expressionist oeuvre.
trends and notables: Twenty years is too long to wait for any auteur but The Thin Red Line makes you think twice about it. Haha. It’s the event of the year and one of the cinematic events of the decade (the notoriously unprolific Kubrick came out with 2 films during Malick’s sabbatical and Tarkovsky came out with three during that time (and subsequently died or it could’ve been more)). In 1998 it certainly felt like the year for WW2 films as Saving Private Ryan was probably the popular cinema event of the year. It’s a great year for comedy with both Wes Anderson (big breakthrough for him) giving us Rushmore and the Coen brothers giving us The Big Lebowski. The Big Lebowski was considered an odd follow-up to Fargo and basically a failure at the time of the release but now it’s considered a masterpiece of course and amongst the Coen’s best work. In fact, you could make a very strong case (this is probably the right answer) that this stretch for them with Big Lebowski following up Fargo is peak-Coen. I think he’d surpass it with traffic in 2000 but to date 1998 makes peak-Soderbergh with the wonderful Out of Sight (and makes Clooney a bona fide film star and screen actor—this and thin red line (very small part) are his archiveable debuts). 1998 gives us the start of Darren Aronofsky. Pi is shot in 16mm and doesn’t have the most talented of casts but it’s a fully realized inventive proclamation by Aronofsky and clearly the mark of a dazzling young voice in cinema. For actors we’d have the archiveable debuts of Cate Blanchett (and what a debut for her in Elizabeth- robbed of an oscar) and Clive Owen in Cropier. Picking up the mantle from Parker Posey in the early 90’s we’d have the first archiveable film from the new “Queen of the Indies”, Chloe Sevigny in Whit Stillman’s the last days of disco. Catherine Keener isn’t in much of out of sight but it was the start of her archiveable career that would really get going in 1999 with being john Malkovich. It wasn’t his debut but it’s worth noting that in 1998 Edward Norton is standing on his head in American History X and Rounders and Billy Bob Thorton, coming off his work in 1996’s slide blade, is everywhere (two films in the archives in 1997 and a simple plan (oscar nom) and primary colors in 1998).
best performance male: It’s a remarkable year for performances in this category. I had to leave off Sean Penn in The Thin Red Line and Denzel in He Got Game just to pare it down to six. Four of the six I’m highlighting as the best of 1998 are comedic performances. My lead, and it feels weird said it, is probably Jeff Bridges for The Big Lebowski. It is a justifiably iconic take from Bridges and the Coen brothers as they lampoon Sam Spade and other Bogart detectives. Bridges is just perfect—for further viewing check out Elliot Gould’s comedic aloof performance in Altman’s 1973 The Long Goodbye. You can’t have Bridges without John Goodman’s equally memorable performance as his sidekick. Beyond the pair in The Big Lebowski I think you also have to pause and give mention to Bill Murray’s work in Rushmore and Johnny Depp as our narrator and tour guide in fear and loathing. George Clooney’s been great in other films (o brother where are thou, michael clayton) but perhaps never better than here in out of sight. Lastly, only when you give a performance like Edward Norton in American History X does a performance from a flawed and non-top 10 of the year film- deserve recognition but Norton’s work here is that rare case. He’s a tour de force, intelligent, somatic and terrifying.
best performance female: It’s a very weak year here. As much as I chuckle at Julianne Moore as Maude in The Big Lebowski I can’t, in good conscience, put her here. Haha. Sadly movies like the thin red line and saving private ryan dominate the year and don’t have females at all and others, like Pi and Fear and Loathing, are so focused on their central characters (male) and narrators that they don’t register either. My actress of the year goes to Cate Blanchett for her work in Elizabeth. She’s immaculate and the film is a top 10 quality despite just missing the cut here below. I also think Olivia Williams is very worthy of praise in Rushmore. Lastly, the only other mention goes to Franka Potente for her performance in Run Lola Run. It’s a very good performances centered on her character and her choices in Tom Tykwer’s explosive film.
- The Thin Red Line
- The Big Lebowski
- Saving Private Ryan
- Out of Sight
- The Celebration
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
- Run Lola Run
- Flowers of Shanghai
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Simple Plan||R|
|American History X||R|
|Bulworth- W. Beatty||R|
|Central Station- Salles|
|Emperor and the Assassin- Kaige|
|Eternity and a Day- Angelopoulos||R|
|Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas-Gilliam||HR|
|Flowers of Shanghai- Hsiao-Hsien||HR|
|Gods and Monsters||R|
|Great Expectations- Cuaron||R|
|He Got Game- S. Lee||R|
|Out of Sight- Soderbergh||MS|
|Primary Colors- M. Nichols||R|
|Run, Lola Run- Tykwer||HR|
|Rushmore- W. Anderson||MP|
|Saving Private Ryan- Spielberg||MS/MP|
|Shakespeare in Love||R|
|Show Me Love- Moodysson||R|
|Snake Eyes- De Palma||R|
|The Big Lebowski- Coen||MP|
|The General- Boorman||R|
|The Last Days of Disco- Stillman||R|
|The Thin Red Life- Malick||MP|
|The Truman Show- Weir||HR|
|The War Zone||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives