Dallas Observer critics Jimmy Fowler and James Mardis selected the following films on their lists of the year's best:

Jimmy Fowler
In alphabetical order:
Chicken Hawk. One of the much-lamented Major Theatre's last screenings was this controversial documentary about NAMBLA, the North American Man Boy Love Association. A must-see for anyone who believes he or she understands the boundaries of contemporary American morality.

Dead Man Walking. Released selectively in late 1995 for Oscar consideration--it'll hit Dallas theaters this January--writer-director Tim Robbins' version of the real-life relationship between Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon) and a brutal death-row killer (Sean Penn) manages to be both politically astute and a powerhouse melodrama.

Crimson Tide. Earnest Denzel Washington and slimy Gene Hackman rattle each other's dentures in a huge commercial hit that carries a powerful message--nuclear holocaust is ultimately a matter of human judgment, not technology.

Crumb. Perhaps the best film of the year. Underground comics artist R. Crumb is grotesque, obnoxious, and just as inscrutable as his sex-obsessed artistic legacy.

Devil in a Blue Dress. Writer-director Carl Franklin (One False Move) moved from indie favorite to creator of this inexplicable box-office flop, the first of author Walter Mosley's tales about sexy, sinning Easy Rawlins. Denzel Washington proves he can carry a film, but excellent supporting actors threaten to upstage him at every turn.

Dolores Claiborne. Megamillionaire scare-author Stephen King's take on the "women's film" genre is a tortured, at times blackly comic ode to vengeance toward an abusive husband. Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Judy Parfitt skillfully embody the film's manifesto: "Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold on to."

Double Happiness. Sometimes all a woman has to hold on to is her imagination--or so says Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Mina Shum, who directs this slap-happy debut feature about an ambitious, talented young actress (Sandra Oh) trying to escape from her rigidly traditional Asian family.

Leaving Las Vegas. The feel-bad movie of the year actually isn't as relentlessly depressing as many critics would have you believe, but it is startlingly perceptive about self-pity. Sad-eyed Nicolas Cage plays the most affable self-destructive alcoholic since Jack Lemmon in Days of Wine and Roses.

Safe. Writer-director Todd Haynes was the subject of considerable hostility because of the public funding behind his art-house hit Poison, but conservatives and liberals alike should applaud this low-key, antiseptic plundering of the cult of dysfunctionalism. If watching Oprah spin one cookie-cutter diagnosis after another makes you a little nervous, then Safe should scare the hell out of you.

Toy Story. Forget for a moment that Disney may be the most evil corporation ever to use free-market capitalism as an excuse for world domination. Toy Story was the most human and humorous animated adventure Disney has produced in years.

James Mardis
1. The Usual Suspects. Cinema's mind-screw of the century. I saw it five times.

2. The Indian in the Cupboard. Newt Gingrich should have seen this one: "You are a child-God and should not mess with things you do not understand."

3. Waiting to Exhale. Angela Bassett plus Lela Rochon equals Rent-a-Wedding-Band Night at the pawn shop.

4. Heat. Pacino and De Niro take turns kissing their own asses. "I'm good at what I do." "Oh yeah? Well, I'm good at what I do." "Oh yeah? Whip it out!"

5. Powder. Unlike most of America, I got this film's message: If you play in the rain during pregnancy, your child will be pigment-challenged.

6. Cry, the Beloved Country. James Earl "God Jr." Jones.
7. Crimson Tide. Denzel Washington reprises the "black-man-as-the-world's-conscience" roles that made Sidney Poitier famous.

8. Bad Boys. Two big-eared black men fighting crime has to be a good thing.
9. Crumb. The best argument against becoming a "real" artist.
10. Waterworld. Except for the investors, nobody drowned.

 
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