The Best of 1998

Well, it’s that time again…time to reflect on the year gone by, and to celebrate the best of 1998. Here are my picks for the best movies and performances of the past year:

Runner Up – Nigel Hawthorne – The Object of My Affection
Winner – Geoffrey Rush – Elizabeth, Shakespeare in Love, and Les Miserables
Nigel Hawthorne gave last year’s most overlooked supporting performance. He was the best thing in The Object of My Affection, and gave as good of a performance as any actor this year. But then, Geoffrey Rush delivered three of them. It’s hard to pick which of his three superb turns was his best, but if forced to choose, I’d say the scheming Sir Walsingham of Elizabeth.

Runner Up – Lisa Kudrow – The Opposite of Sex
Winner – Kathy Bates – Primary Colors
Lisa Kudrow??? Runner-up for Best Supporting Actress??? Am I crazy? Nope…playing against type, she more than holds her own in the wickedly funny The Opposite of Sex… she truly stands out among a talented cast. But pity anyone who must go against Kathy Bates’ riveting performance in Primary Colors. Bates actually livens up an already enjoyable movie with a tour-de-force performance that is one of her best.

Runner-Up – Ian McKellen – Gods and Monsters Winner – Edward Norton – American History X

There are two strong choices for Best Actor this year. Ian McKellen’s tragic performance as James Whale is subtle, yet powerful. But it is Edward Norton’s turn as a young white supremacist who learns the error of his ways, which was the most powerful and moving of the year.

Runner Up – Gwyneth Paltrow – Shakespeare in Love Winner – Cate Blanchett – Elizabeth
Hmmm…both Best Actresses come from period romances set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, in which they costarred with Joseph Fiennes and Geoffrey Rush. Coincidence or formula? In either case, both of these women gave stirring performances…but it is Cate Blanchett’s title role of Queen Elizabeth which steals the show.

TOP TEN FILMS (in reverse order)

10. There’s Something About Mary
When a movie has the funniest trailer of the year, it’s usually a safe bet that you’ve seen all the funniest bits during that three minute ad. Not so with There’s Something About Mary, which may have probed the boundaries of good taste, but gave audiences a hillarious time while doing it.
9. Shakespeare in Love
Thoroughly enjoyable, Shakespeare in Love has a slew of excellent performances and the year’s best screenplay to thank for making it the most memorable romantic comedy of 1998.
8. Beloved
Eerie and atmospheric, with a touch of sadness, Beloved was an unusual film…certainly not what I was expecting from the hyped “Oprah Winfrey drama”. However, when given a chance, this haunting motion picture proves to be well worth its length.
7. Primary Colors
Overshadowed by real-life political scandals, Primary Colors certainly deserves a second look. With good performances all around, and a well balanced script, Primary Colors provides plenty of humor and insight into the current state of politics.
6. The Truman Show
Jim Carrey’s The Truman Show may have been massively overhyped…but with good reason. The surrealistic exploration of our entertainment-centric culture is very well crafted. And Jim Carrey turns in a performance that, though not the year’s best, certainly shows promise for him in the future.
5. The Spanish Prisoner
David Mamet delivered this deceptively twisting thriller about a man caught up in an elaborate con game (or is he)? Well written, and with a surprisingly good dramatic turn from Steve Martin, The Spanish Prisoner will keep you guessing until the last.
4. Elizabeth
Two of the year’s best performances can be found in Elizabeth, and it’s no accident. Not your ordinary period piece, Elizabeth boasts enough intrigue and performances for two films (and two good films at that).
3. A Simple Plan
Director Sam Raimi finally makes it to the big leagues with A Simple Plan. This intricate morality tale boasts strong performances, a superbly written script, and, oh yes, plenty of atmosphere.
2. Life is Beautiful
Italian comic Roberto Benigni tackles the Holocaust…it was a movie that could have been a spectacular failure, but it was a spectacular triumph instead. Funny and poignant, Life is Beautiful successfully manages to juggle the humor with tragedy. Even those wary of subtitle-laden foreign films need to check this one out. You’ll be glad that you did.
1. Saving Private Ryan
Powerful. Epic. Moving. And that’s just the first twenty minutes alone. Steven Spielberg once again proves that he’s not just a money-making director…but a damn good one as well. Saving Private Ryan is not just the best film of 1998, but one of the best of the decade as well.
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