Another year unreels: Art houses fail, tinsel triumphs THE YEAR 1993 IN REVIEW

December 26, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Let's call this one Previews of Going-going-gone Attractions, a quick-cut trip through the year that's just about over.

* Bad new trends of '93: The most disturbing, locally and nationally, is the collapse of the inner city art house movement, as exemplified by the recent closing of the venerable Charles. The usual suspects are cited -- rising downtown crime, competition from the national chains, the popularity of the VCR -- and so forth. But the old show-biz line, invoked by Red Skelton for Harry Cohn's funeral, still obtains: Give 'em what they want, and they'll stand in line.

For one reason or other, the beloved Chuck had lost its clout in the marketplace and was unable to get the first-string product that could have filled the seats with suburbanites. A couple of local groups and a chain are now looking at re-opening the theater. Let's hope that whoever gets it has the wherewithal to stay with the big guys, or the whole thing will just go down the tubes.

Actually, the Charles' woes are somewhat reflective of a larger national trend, which might be called the co-option of regional talent by Hollywood. This is the same principle that destroyed both the British and the Australian film industries, and crippled the Canadian. Only the thorny French have managed to resist the lure of tinsel and babes. Consider, for example, that the three top films of 1992, in this critic's estimation, were independent American films -- "One False Move," "Reservoir Dogs" and "Law of Gravity." No independent film makes the top list this year, and all those filmmakers have been film of the year was Richard Rodriguez's "El Mariachi," and what's Rodriguez doing? Why, working for Columbia.

* Good new trends: When I think of one, you'll be the first to know.

* Best action sequence: The train wreck in "The Fugitive."

* Worst action sequence: The female shooter chasing Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts through a D.C. parking garage in "The Pelican Brief," only to be scared off by a dog left in a car. Who leaves a dog in a car in a downtown underground garage? Who would even bring a dog into D.C.? Ridiculous!

* Best performance not likely to be nominated for an Oscar: Dennis Hopper as a shoe-sniffing geek in the very weird Nike commercials. But . . . he makes you believe.

* Worst performance likely to be nominated: Daniel Day-Lewis in "The Age of Innocence." He's a great actor (you should see him in "In the Name of the Father"), but the character Newland Archer, the code-haunted, yearning-loined WASP of the Edith Wharton novel, was entirely beyond even his great powers. Perhaps it was beyond screenwriter Jay Cocks' reach. Day-Lewis never really got into Newland and remained a polite but enigmatic young man all the way through. But at least it wasn't Christopher Reeve.

* Movie that really wasn't as good as everybody said: "Jurassic Park." You could tell Steven Spielberg wasn't emotionally engaged. Despite the great effects, it had none of the spontaneity and sheer horror of his "Jaws," which remains the best monster movie ever made. The only true joy the movie offered was the pleasure of seeing the great beasts brought to life as vividly as state-of-the-art computer morphing would allow.

* Movie that was much worse than everybody said: "Rising Sun." Never even came close to making sense, racist, dreary and self-important, yet -- critics! -- it actually got some good national reviews.

* It was a very good year for: Steven Spielberg. He made the all-time moneymaker in "Jurassic Park," and now, with "Schindler's List," he's getting the kind of peer-respect and serious reviews he's wanted for years.

* It was not a very good year for: Oliver Stone. Gerald Posner's "Case Closed" comes out and pretty much blows "JFK" off the face of the planet. Then "Heaven and Earth" loses the Christmas genocide-o-rama to "Schindler's List" and does not become the important, prestige film it was planned to be.

* Most unusual correspondence: A note from actress Kathy Najimy saying she agreed with my piece that barbecued "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit." The co-star of "Sister Act 2"? Kathy Najimy.

* Rudest interview of year: Abel Ferrara, bad-boy director of "Bad Lieutenant." What a jerk.

* Best interview of year: Ashley Judd, star of "Ruby in Paradise" and daughter of Wynonna -- smart, funny, honest, talented.

THE YEAR ON MOVIE SCREENS

The 10 best movies

1. "Schindler's List." Steven Spielberg takes horror and makes art. It's a great movie, a driving, mesmerizing story with six or so memorable characters, which just takes you in. Rare among Holocaust dramas, it doesn't trivialize the event so much as dramatize it. A toxin for Holocaust deniers, it's a ringing human victory for the rest of us.

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