You know the drill by now. These are my 10 favorite movies of 1998, going by release year listed on IMDB.
Honorable mentions: Dark City, The Interview, Rushmore, Run Lola Run, There’s Something About Mary
10 – FOLLOWING (Christopher Nolan)
“You take it away to show them what they had.”
Before there were the multi-million dollar blockbusters like The Dark Knight and Inception, there was Following. Nolan’s first film was made on a budget of $6000, shot in black & white and with no bells and whistles. The story thus becomes the focal point, and it’s a good one indeed. Telling the non-chronological tale of a writer (Jeremy Theobald) who after following people on the streets eventually finds himself led into a world of crime, this neo-noir is filled with twists, turns and intrigue. Not quite a masterpiece or anything, but definitely well worth checking out to see where the seeds for Memento were planted.
9 – THE CELEBRATION (FESTEN, Thomas Vinterberg)
“Here’s to the man who killed my sister. To a murderer.”
The Celebration is perhaps most significant for being the first (and, alongside Lars Von Trier‘s The Idiots, arguably the most well-known) movie of the Dogme 95 movement, a philosophy that emphasises realism throughout the whole film production and was started in reaction to big costly Hollywood fare. However, it’s also a captivating film in its own right, showing the dark secrets hidden away beneath the facades of a wealthy family. It’s a fitting subject matter for the style, which all leads to some chillingly stark scenes and moments. A powerful film.
8 – THE TRUMAN SHOW (Peter Weir)
“Cue the sun!”
In retrospect, it’s interesting that this film was made as early as 1998 when the reality show phenomenon was still in its infancy. Eerily predictive of the Big Brother-type shows still to come, The Truman Show takes the concept to its logical extreme and features a 24/7 program where the life of one man (Jim Carrey in his first semi-serious role) is manufactured, controlled and broadcast to the entire world by a TV production company. It works really well as a satire, but also has a compelling narrative as Truman starts to realize that something is not right about the town he lives in and attempts to break free of his artificial life. Oh, and Ed Harris is great as the God-like producer.
7 – FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (Terry Gilliam)
“The possibility of physical and mental collapse is now very real. No sympathy for the Devil, keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride.”
One long drug trip in movie form, from the mind of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson and filtered through the sensibilities of Terry Gilliam. It’s an unrelenting and sometimes exhausting experience to follow Raoul and his lawyer (Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro) as they stumble around Vegas while indulging in copious amounts of narcotic substances, but it’s also a very funny and quotable comedy filled with black humor and bizarre hallucinations. The opening scene in itself (“This is bat country!”) is a must-see.
6 – AMERICAN HISTORY X (Tony Kaye)
“One in every three black males is in some phase of the correctional system. Is that a coincidence or do these people have, you know, like a racial commitment to crime?”
I have some issues with the semi-rushed nature of the story towards the second half, but even so, American History X remains a powerful racism movie. While some time is spent showing the rhetorics and reasoning of racists – and establishing that there are no easy answers to the issue – the focus lies on the redemptive journey of one Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton), showing both his past as a neo-Nazi and his present life where he seeks to distance himself from it all and keep his younger brother Daniel (Edward Furlong) from heading down his path. Not always an easy film to watch (two words: curb stomp), but then a film like this probably shouldn’t be.
5 – SHOW ME LOVE (FUCKING ÅMÅL, Lukas Moodysson)
“Is it true you’re a lesbian? If you are I understand, ’cause guys are so gross. I’m also going to be one, I think.”
Show Me Love was a tremendous critical and commercial success here in its home country, quickly becoming one of those films that everyone was talking about. No other Swedish film has really managed that since then. The story itself is fairly straight-forward with two teenage girls at the center: one the most popular at school (Alexandra Dahlström), the other a tormented loner (Rebecka Liljeberg) in love with the first one. At play is the obvious themes of sexual identity and the pains of being a teenager, but the film is also about the frustration of small-town drudgery and wanting to escape to something bigger and better. It’s all expertly handled and one hell of a directorial debut for Lukas Moodysson, who’d go on to make the nigh-equally great Together and Lilya 4-Ever.
4 – HAPPINESS (Todd Solondz)
“If only I had been raped as a child! Then I would know authenticity!”
I mentioned earlier that American History X isn’t always easy to watch. Happiness easily has it beat in that department however, not due to graphic violence but because of the ugly nature of the characters that inhabit the film. Solondz’ aim here isn’t to make us like or sympathize with them, which is fortunate; it’s hard to harbor any positive feelings towards a man (Dylan Baker) who drugs and molests a 12-year old boy, to name but one of the central characters. Rather, he asks us to observe and consider them, and make us think about in what ways they differ from ourselves. An unflinching movie with some bitter black comedy, and one not easily ignored.
3 – THE NEGOTIATOR (F. Gary Gray)
“See, this is what us real cops do: We study liars.”
An unfairly forgotten action-thriller. Few people talk about this one nowadays, which is a shame. It deserves better than that. A highly entertaining movie in which a skilled hostage negotiator (Samuel L. Jackson) finds himself in trouble with his coworkers in the police and decides to take the man in charge of his investigation (J. T. Walsh) hostage. And then another negotiator (Kevin Spacey) shows up to resolve the situation, and we’re treated to a fun and intriguing chess game between the two as they seek to outmaneuver each other. A clever and exciting film, sharper than most of its kind.
2 – LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS (Guy Ritchie)
“I don’t fucking believe this! Can everyone stop gettin’ shot!?”
I don’t really know what to say about this film that I didn’t already say about its spiritual sequel Snatch on my 2000 list. This one’s along the same lines, a British gangster movie with snappy dialogue, a 20 car pile-up of a plot (about illegal poker games, antique rifles, and God knows what else) and lots of cursing and violence. Also noteworthy for being Jason Statham‘s first real movie role. Funny as all hell, and still remains one of Guy Ritchie’s finest moments.
1 – THE BIG LEBOWSKI (Joel & Ethan Coen)
“Fuck it, Dude, let’s go bowling.”
If you haven’t seen The Big Lebowski, you should watch it. If you’ve seen it and didn’t like it, you should watch it again, because most people like it much better the second time. And if you’ve seen it and already like it, well, there’s no reason not to watch it one more time anyhow. Absolutely hilarious from start to finish, the kind of funny that over-quoting of its lines can’t seem to harm because the laughs come from context and characters as much as from the words themselves. Jeff Bridges and John Goodman give us two of the most memorable comedic characters of the 90s: laid-back stoner The Dude and agressive Vietnam veteran Walter. Add in teriffic supporting turns from Steve Buscemi, John Torturro, Julianne Moore, Sam Elliott and others, and you have a modern comedy classic.