Fireworks (1998; directed by Takeshi Kitano)
A profound and moving film, nearly indescribable. You can tell it wasn't made in Hollywood since it involves both physical disability and terminal illness, but it isn't sentimental for a minute. It is also very violent, very funny, wonderfully paced and visually fascinating, making excellent use of paintings by the director. It's available on video, but if you get a chance to see it in a theater, it's worth the extra effort.
By Takeshi Kitano: Sonatine
Touch of Evil (1958/1998; directed by Orson Welles)
The 1998 re-edit (based on a long memo which Welles sent to the studio when he saw what they'd done to the picture) involved no restored footage, just a re-ordering of what was there and the removal of a few brief scenes Welles hadn't directed, plus changes in the sound and music, but it alters the whole moral landscape of the film, which is now even more clearly revealed to be a masterpiece.
All films by Orson Welles are recommended. Please see my Orson Welles page, including my original review of Touch of Evil.
Bulworth (1998; directed by Warren Beatty)
The funniest movie of the year, and the most audacious as well. Every time you think, "He's not going to go there," he goes there and further, telling the sorts of truths which seldom get spoken out loud, in movies or anywhere else. This is the closest thing to a "Hollywood" movie on this list, and it's because Beatty apparently never got the word that the writers and directors don't run the show there anymore.
With Don Cheadle: Rosewood, The Devil in a Blue Dress
Men with Guns/Hombres Aramados (1998; directed by John Sayles)
This is very different from Sayles' previous movie (Lone Star) and it tells a much simpler story, but any Sayles picture is worth seeing. It's not as visually striking as some of the other films on this list, but it is unusually lyrical (and even magical) for Sayles.
Federico Luppi is very good, playing a successful doctor named Humberto Fuentes. Dr. Fuentes is getting older, and he is wondering what he will have left in the world when he dies. The thing he looks on with the most pride is the government program he once took part in, to train doctors to work in the poorest villages of his country. He knows very little about the areas where these doctors were sent, but he decides to go and see them.
He sees a lot of things about his country which he has never experienced before. He meets a jaded young boy, a deserter from the army, a failed priest, a mute girl who was raped by soldiers and a couple of hilarious American tourists, and ultimately we do get to see what his legacy really is. And along the way, there are always men with guns (the army and the guerillas, and the movie doesn't draw much distinction between them).
It's a terrific story, well acted and very simply told. The only real flaw in the picture is that it works too hard to be of no specific place, no specific time, and no specific politics. This plays against Sayles' strengths, since his best works have always been rooted in very exact observation of particulars.
It reminded me a little of Dead Man, partly because both are about naive city men who end up in the wilderness, both movies have a lot of white men with guns, and both movies have a certain matter-of-fact attitude about mysticism. Of course, since Sayles is a very different type of director than Jarmusch, they find very different things in the wilderness, but the similarity is still there.
(in Spanish with English subtitles)
By John Sayles: Lone Star, Limbo
Beloved (1998; directed by Jonathan Demme)
It's too bad Oprah Winfrey's television show has been so successful, since she's a marvelous screen actress. But, on the other hand, nobody but "Oprah Winfrey" could have got this particular movie made in the first place. The picture is generally a little too reverent towards the great novel on which it is based, but the cast is tremendous (particularly Kimberly Elise and Thandie Newton as the two daughters) and the story is fascinating, well-told and very moving.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998; directed by Terry Gilliam)
I saw this film twice, and if anybody else had directed it I'd have stayed home. In a year when it's become increasingly obvious just how much "the Sixties" still sticks in the craws of some people, here's a film which celebrates the possibilities of the late 1960s, while being very clear how (and how quickly) things went wrong. Thematically it's very similar to "Bulworth," thought the surface couldn't be more different, since at every point Gilliam does his best to put you right in the middle of whatever the characters are experiencing, and mostly they're experiencing a lot of drugs.
By Terry Gilliam: Brazil, 12 Monkeys
With Johnny Depp: Dead Man, Ed Wood, Donnie Brasco, What's Eating Gilbert Grape? Sleepy Hollow
Fallen Angels (1998; directed by Wong Kar-Wei)
Funny, violent and surrealistic (which are all qualities I like in a movie, as you know if you've been reading these comments in order), with characters so cooled-out and disconnected that most of them hardly ever speak. The main characters are a hired killer, the woman who books his jobs, and a man who opens closed stores in the middle of the night and forces people to buy the merchandise, and it's the sort of movie where you don't really know until the very end whether the different plot threads are ever going to come together or not.
The Thin Red Line (1998; directed by Terrence Malick)
A very slow, contemplative and thoughtful movie which happens to take place in the middle of violent combat. The whole experience of seeing it is very dreamlike. It has a lot of characters, few of them memorable or even identifiable, and the camera frequently wanders away from the "plot" to gaze at the local flora and fauna. There is a lot of reflective musing in voiceover, and much of it doesn't seem connected with any particular character. It's tempting to think of it as "the anti-Saving Private Ryan," but I'm not sure movies really exist in Terrence Malick's world. He's got other things on his mind.
By Terrence Malick: Badlands, Days of Heaven
With Nick Nolte: Mother Night, Affliction
With John Cusak: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Cradle Will Rock, Grosse Point Blank