Top Ten and Bottom Feeders

I hate compiling year-end top-ten movie lists. No, I don't have a Woody Allen-esque objection to the concept of ranking works of art in a competitive fashion. Nor am I one of those haughty nose-in-the-air types who tell anyone within earshot that there weren't ten films worthy of approval this year. I hate compiling ten-best lists because, despite the fact that I see more than 200 films per year, I still miss a lot of good ones. That realization hits me in the face when I sit down to review the year in film.

Part of the problem is that competing studios frequently preview their movies for critics at exactly the same time. For example, advance screenings for both Casino and Toy Story were held on the same night; I chose Martin Scorsese's neon-drenched morality play over Disney's computer-animated fable. As a result, I have yet to catch up with the exploits of Buzz Lightyear and company. You could probably compose a respectable ten-best list out of movies I haven't yet seen: Toy Story, Nixon, Kids, Priest, Persuasion, A Great Day in Harlem, Love and Human Remains, Feast of July, To Live, and The Madness of King George. With Babe as number eleven.

Granted, not all of these films previewed at the same time as another feature. What can I say? I'm a busy guy. Scheduling conflicts. The screening invitation got lost in the mail. The dog ate my ticket. The bottom line is that I feel guilty about naming the best anything when I haven't seen all of the legitimate contenders. This isn't the Academy Awards, after all.

I'm tempted to just reel off (they don't pay me enough for wordplay like that) ten offerings from February's Miami Film Festival: Before the Rain, any film from the Abbas Kiarostami trilogy (Where Is My Friend's Home?, And Life Goes On . . . , Through the Olive Trees), Exotica, Shallow Grave, Window to Paris, Muriel's Wedding, Nightwatch, Farinelli, The Last Good Time, Miami Rhapsody.

But my sense of duty to you, dear reader, compels me to forge ahead and cull a serious top-ten list from the ten-score flicks that have graced area screens over the preceding twelve months. The envelopes, please:

1) Crumb

2) The Usual Suspects

3) Get Shorty

4) To Die For

5) Clockers

6) Casino

7) Devil in a Blue Dress

8) Living in Oblivion

9) Leaving Las Vegas

10) The Postman

Of course, a ten-best list only scratches the surface. Several unwelcome fads emerged in 1995. Here then are Todd's Ten Tiredest Trends(c) for 1995:

1) Animals. Did Noah secretly take over Hollywood in 1995? Four-legged escapism was my pet (somebody stop me) peeve of the year. Babe notwithstanding, the dearth of palatable two-legged family fare at the local multiplex is the only raison d'àtre I can imagine for The Amazing Panda Adventure, Babe, Balto, Born to Be Wild, Congo, Fluke, Free Willy 2, A Goofy Movie (whatever species you consider Goofy to be), Gordy, Jumanji, Operation Dumbo Drop, The Pebble and the Penguin, The Swan Princess, and Top Dog.

2) Sequels. While some sequels had their moments, on balance I could have done without the following doublers (Grumpier Old Men, Free Willy 2, Father of the Bride Part II, Under Siege 2, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls) and triplers (Die Hard with a Vengeance, Highlander: The Final Dimension, Batman Forever), and even 007's seventeenth go-round, GoldenEye.

3) Vampires. Irving was a funny sucker, but Nadja, The Addiction, Vampire in Brooklyn, and Dracula: Dead and Loving It were overkill.

4) Inflated egos, inflated budgets. How can anyone justify overpriced crap such as Waterworld, Judge Dredd, and Cutthroat Island when a guy like Ed Burns can make The Brothers McMullen for $16,000? The entire budget of Burns's movie wouldn't have equalled one day's interest payment on any of the other three. But Robert Rodriguez's Desperado and Kevin Smith's Mallrats proved that you can't just take last year's hot independent filmmaker and hand him a bunch of money; neither major-studio debut fulfilled the promise of its predecessor -- Rodriguez's El Mariachi and Smith's Clerks.

5) Saturday Night Live alumni. Kill them before they multiply! I got a few ironic chuckles from Al Franken's Stuart Saves His Family, but I would have gladly sacrificed them if I could have forgone Chris Farley's Tommy Boy, Chevy Chase's Man of the House, and Adam Sandler's Billy Madison.

6) Men in kilts. Mel Gibson's Braveheart and Liam Neeson's Rob Roy amounted to little more than thinking-women's beefcake, with just enough primitive bloodletting to keep the gals' dates awake.

7) Homicidal maniacs. From trash such as Copycat and Never Talk to Strangers to highfalutin artsy-fartsy stuff like Strange Days and Seven, it's reassuring to know that Hollywood still loves those kooky psycho killers.

8) Paris. It's time for the French to quit worrying about the creeping influence of English phrases on their language and concentrate instead on the far more immediate and dangerous threat to their culture posed by condescending, over-romanticized Hollywood mush like French Kiss, Forget Paris, and Sabrina.

9) Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. These guys are master salesmen. The men who brought us Flashdance and Top Gun have mastered the art of marketing glossy garbage. In fairness, about every third movie Team Suckheimer produces is actually entertaining; in 1995 they fulfilled their quota by releasing the taut, well-acted thriller Crimson Tide before following it up with a one-two punch of buddy-cop inanity (Bad Boys) and brain-dead social relevance (Dangerous Minds).

10) Joe Eszterhas. A one-man cottage industry of misogynist sleaze, Eszterhas reached new lows in 1995 with sordid scum such as Showgirls and putrescent junk like Jade. Pray that he's hit bottom.

I could go on and on. For every good film there was a turkey. On the one hand, you could make a case for signs of intelligent life in the moviemaking universe with the sudden popularity of classics by one author: Jane Austen. There was Persuasion, as well as Emma Thompson's wise and witty adaption of Sense and Sensibility, and the delightful social satire Clueless, which owes a debt to Austen's Emma. Meanwhile, you could bemoan the atrocities visited upon Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. Mercifully, the promise of nudity, masturbation, Demi Moore's surgically enhanced cleavage, and a happy ending did not lure enough moviegoers into theaters to prevent that last-named abomination from receiving an F at the box office. It was that kind of year; plenty of good stuff out there if you knew where to look, appalling rubbish if you didn't.

That's where I come in. They pay me the big bucks to steer you right, and I take that responsibility seriously. Which brings me full circle to my top-ten list. It may not be the most comprehensive, but it comes from the heart. I can only hope fans of Buzz and Tricky Dick understand.


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