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