Renaissance Column

FEBRUARY 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 2



LAST | Holiday Entertainment

ARCHIVES | Entertainment

At a Glance

This small budget Italian film has been playing to rave reviews, and now I know why. Roberto Benigni gives the acting performance of the year, with apologies to Tom Hanks, in this film, which he also wrote and directed. It is a movie that is hard to classify, but is probably best described as a comedy/social commentary. The movie tells the tale of Guido, a Jew in Italy who along with his wife and child is sent to a concentration camp. Guido uses humor to prevent his child from knowing the horrible truth about the reasons for their trip to the concentration camp. One thing is certain: you will be hearing a lot about this film come Oscar time. Go see it, you won't even notice that the subtitles are there.

This computer animated Disney film from Pixar Studios takes animation to new heights. If you thought "Toy Story" was amazing, A Bug's Life makes the technology in Toy Story appear dated. This great story, filled with humor throughout, will have you laughing whether you are 3 or 33. Pay attention to the credits or you may not realize who some of those voices were (i.e. Dave Foley, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kevin Spacey, David Hyde Pierce, Dennis Leary), and stay until the end of the credits to see the hilarious outtakes which are guaranteed to keep you laughing on the way home.

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in a romantic comedy, what could be better, right? To an extent. The movie plays like a Sleepless in Seattle II, which is not bad in some respects, but doesn't really break new ground. You've Got Mail gives Hanks and Ryan more screen time together than Sleepless did, but the story itself just isn't as compelling. Another difference, the supporting cast isn't as good. You will want to kill Parker Posey, who plays Hanks' girlfriend, by the end of the movie. Despite the flaws you still leave the theatre feeling good, and after all isn't that what these movies should be about?

- Rob Gallo


Top Ten
Favorite Movies of the Decade


I don't know what it is about top ten lists. Everyone seems to have the desire to pin down the top ten this or that, especially at the end of the year or as we approach this year, the end of the century. However, I still find these lists intriguing, as tired as they may seem. So here in February, one month removed from the most recent onslaught of top ten lists, I offer you my ten favorite movies of the decade. I chose the decade because frankly it is hard enough to take nine years of movies and narrow them down to ten. What I came up with was a list of my favorite movies, not necessarily the best movies, of the nineties. Of course with 1999 just underway I do reserve the right to change the list, especially considering the new Star Wars movie will be out in May. But anyway, here we go (be forewarned I like long movies):

10. Jurassic Park (1993) - 127 Minutes
When I was a kid I loved dinosaurs. I wanted to learn as much about them as possible, but there was only so much books and my imagination could tell me. This 1993 film filled in the gaps with its dazzling array of special effects. Many will tell you that Michael Crichton's book is far superior to Steven Spielberg's film adaptation, but to me there is no substitute for dinosaurs running wild on the screen. The plot was weak, and the cast was so-so, with the exception of Sir Richard Attenborough as the scientist who created the park, but who cares. The dinosaurs were the real stars of the film, and the special effects used to create them dazzled the screen. From the moment Sam Neil, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblaum first see the dinosaurs on their tour of the park, until their narrow escape from the velociraptors, I was glued to my seat. One of my prerequisites for a favorite movie is one that I can watch again and again without ever really getting tired of it. This movie fits that bill.

9. Scream (1996) - 111 Minutes
This movie revived the "scary movie," and scared a whole new generation of movie goers. After growing up seeing Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween, it had been quite a while since I had been scared by a horror movie. But Scream restored suspense to a genre which had become almost comical in trying to scare its audience. What Scream did so well was exploit all of the so-called "rules" that had been established in the earlier horror movies. It was scary, but smart as well. Written by Kevin Williamson, now the writer of Dawson's Creek, and directed by horror movie veteran Wes Craven they made movie stars out of several television stars, notably Neve Campbell and Courtney Cox. Who could have predicted that Drew Barrymore would be killed off in the first scene? Check out the Scream DVD to listen to the Craven/Williamson commentary during which they describe all of the stuff that the MPAA made them cut out to keep their R rating.

8. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
I have never seen a more powerful opening to a film. Realistic to the point that it almost made me sick, the recreation of Omaha Beach on D-Day sets the tone for the whole movie. What Platoon did for our understanding of Vietnam, this movie should do for World War II. Hats off to Spielberg for making a movie to shatter the common myth about WWII, that it was a walk in the park for American soldiers. The process of war, no matter what the outcome, is horrible, and Saving Private Ryan makes this point clear. While the battle sequences that bookend the movie are incredible, the ensemble cast really carries the film. Tom Hanks as always is spectacular, making a third Oscar nod in this decade a strong possibility, but the rest of the soldiers in search of Private Ryan make Hanks' performance that much better. Jeremy Davies, as the frightened journalist and reluctant soldier, Edward Burns and Tom Sizemore are especially good.

7. Silence of the Lambs (1991) - 118 Minutes
There are few better performances in movie history than Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. His performance alone would be enough to make this one of my favorite movies, but this movie had so much more. The suspense of this psychological thriller is both scary and fascinating. You want more, but at the same time you are afraid what is going to happen next. The interaction between Jodie Foster, as FBI cadet Clarice Starling who needs Lecter's help to stop a serial killer, and Hopkins really showcases the incredible talents of both actors. Fittingly, both eventually won Oscar's for their performances. Their two man game introduced us to the phrase quid pro quo. Add a great unresolved ending, I'm still waiting for the sequel, and you have a great movie. The DVD version has a great audio commentary from Foster and profiles of actual serial killers. Silence of the Lambs also picked up Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director (Jonathan Demme).

6. Goodfellas (1990) - 146 Minutes
This epic mob movie is the best since The Godfather, and at times maybe even better. But there is no need to compare Goodfellas to The Godfather to realize how great of a movie it is. Martin Scorsese does what he does best, and that is direct a movie about "toughguys." We view the film through the eyes of Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, who is recruited by the mob as a teenager and who gradually moves up the ladder of power. Really a history of the mob, Scorsese takes us from their heyday in the fifties and sixties to their decline and involvement in the drug trade in the eighties. There are some memorable performances in this one, my favorite, also deemed Oscar worthy, is Joe Pesci in a supporting role. His character's "you think I'm funny" monologue was almost enough by itself to clinch his best supporting actor Oscar. Throw in Robert Deniro, Paul Sorvino and the aforementioned Ray Liotta and you have one great movie. Not for the squeamish - no Scorsese movie is - but how could any mob movie be this good without a little blood and violence. This movie is even better when watched on DVD.

5. Toy Story (1995) - 84 Minutes
From Goodfellas to Toy Story is quite a leap, but Toy Story may be the most innovative film of the decade. The first feature length computer animated film, it silenced any doubts that computers would drive the future of animation. However, this movie is more than just technology. The script is witty and well written, and has the Disney touch that manages to draw both young and old alike into the story. The voice selections were perfect. Tom Hanks, as cowboy Woody, and Tim Allen, as Buzz Lightyear, embody the whole old toy vs. new toy dichotomy which runs through the movie. The other toys are also hilarious led by standouts Don Rickles and John Ratzenberger (Cheers). Add a great score by Randy Newman, who won an Oscar for best song ("You've Got a Friend In Me") and Toy Story provides 84 minutes of fun.

4. Hoop Dreams (1994) - 169 Minutes
This documentary follows two inner-city basketball players pursuit of their NBA dreams. What would have been a tragic movie, is even more tragic as a documentary when you realize that these are real people not just characters. Arthur Agee and William Gates are can't miss kids who gain high school scholarships to play at St. Joseph Catholic School, Isiah Thomas' alma-mater. However, their road to the NBA is derailed by an assortment of difficulties which include family problems, academic struggles and injuries. Both are highly skilled high school basketball players, but the film shows just how hard it is to make it all the way and teaches that sometimes just getting a chance at a college education is reward enough for one's athletic ability. This film should be required viewing for all of the budding Michael Jordan's who play on inner city playgrounds throughout the country. Amazingly, this film only received one Oscar nomination - for best film editing.

3. Titanic (1997) - 197 Minutes
James Cameron's historical epic, which some thought would never get made and not to mention turn a profit on its $285 million cost, turned out to be one of my favorite movies of the decade. With a small budget cast, Leonardo DiCaprio before he became God and Kate Winslet, Cameron banked on plot and special effects to carry the movie. What he got was great special effects, but also surprisingly great performances out of both DiCaprio and Winslet. As good as the special effects the movie would never have worked if Jack and Rose did not carry the first two hours. Of course who knew that teenaged girls would want to watch a three hour movie ten times? Certainly not Cameron. What amazes me most about this movie is how focused I was, especially towards the end of the movie, even though I knew what was going to happen. I guess Hitchcock was right - that sometimes it is more suspenseful for the audience to know what is going to happen, then to be surprised by a sudden plot twist. Please James Cameron give us this movie on DVD soon.

2. Braveheart (1995) - 178 Minutes
Another historical epic, this one concerning the 13th century Scottish folk hero William Wallace, who leads a revolt against Britain's rule. This is simply a tremendous war movie - not in the same way that Saving Private Ryan or Glory is, but in a more barbaric way. This movie is violent and gory throughout as Mel Gibson, producer/director/star, stages one battle after another. Not being much of a medieval history buff, I learned a lot by watching this movie. The battle scenes are some of the best filmed ever and James Horner's score - from which he borrowed extensively for Titanic - is beautiful. And before you think that Braveheart is just a collection of battle scenes, there are several tragic subplots which humanize Wallace and make you want to root for him. Braveheart won both best picture and best director Oscar's.

1. Forrest Gump (1994) - 142 Minutes
People react in one of two ways to Forrest Gump, they either love the movie or they hate it. I just happen to be a sucker for historical epics, this one being told in a much softer light then Braveheart or Titanic. But that lightness, and of course the character of Forrest Gump, is the magic of this movie. How can you not root for Forrest Gump? Tom Hanks, who had a tremendous decade by the way (Toy Story and Saving Private Ryan are both on my top ten and Apollo 13 just missed), makes the whole movie work. Hanks transforms Forrest into a loveable, and of course quotable character ("Stupid is as stupid does," "Life is like a Box of Chocolates..."). His relationship with Jenny, Robin Wright in a tremendous performance, provides the structure of the movie as we move with Forrest over a four decade period. This period finds Forrest as a part of every major historical event. And while this is contrived, it still works mainly due to Hanks and Wright. Director Robert Zemeckis, deserved his Oscar for shaping this movie into a form at which viewers could both laugh and cry. Pulling off a movie of this scope is no small task. In a word, Forrest Gump was different, and thus risky. This risk worked, and hopefully it inspires future film makers to take their own creative risks.

Ten movies is really too few for an entire decade. Come on, you could polish those off in a couple of weeks. So I have compiled a separate list of ten honorable mentions for your additional viewing pleasure. In no particular order, here they are:

Something About Mary (1998)
Dead Man Walking (1995)
Dances With Wolves (1990)
Schindler's List (1993)
Apollo 13 (1995)
Seven (1995)
Boyz N the Hood (1991)
Quiz Show (1994)
Aladdin (1992)
The Fisher King (1991)

ROB GALLO of Wethersfield, CT, is a staff writer and the movie guru of Renaissance Online Magazine.

Renaissance logo  

Complete Contents | FEEDBACK | Questionnaire | Archive | Author Biographies | Mailing List