Film: Critic's Choice: The Ten Best Films of 1998

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The Independent Culture
1/ Shall We Dance?

Watch people's faces go blank when you tell them that the best film of 1998 was a comedy about Japanese ballroom dancing. But it's true! Recounting the tale of a melancholy stiff who finds he's got rhythm, Masayuki Suo's film beautifully contrasts the formality of Japanese manners with the secret yearning to cut a dash on the dance floor.

2/ Junk Mail

Norwegian Pal Sletaune's debut is a blackish comedy about a shifty postman named Roy who likes pinching other people's mail. By a combination of nosiness and bad luck he involves himself in a Hitchcockian nightmare of stalking and blackmail. The only film this year I paid to watch again.

3/ In the Company of Men

A gripping and fantastically unpleasant essay in male insecurity and competitiveness, Neil LaBute's debut focuses upon two white-collar executives who scheme to avenge themselves on the opposite sex. The film takes a jaundiced look at company men in the Nineties, and you fear it may be telling us something like the truth.

4/ The Wings of the Dove

lain Softley's adaptation of the Henry James novel is an extremely rare bird: a costume drama that values psychological complexity and emotional depth above the period props and folderol. It's not James, nor could it ever be, but it's certainly the most tragic exploration of answered prayers I saw all year.

5/ The Big Lebowski

Jeff Bridges plays "the Dude", a slightly dopey, mild-mannered drop-out, who crosses paths with a crippled billionaire and suddenly finds his life in danger - in short, it's another shaggy dog story from the Coen Brothers, who've dreamed up a scenario notable for its off-centre wit and complete absence of meaning.

6/ The Daytrippers

One of the best independent films to come out of America this year, Greg Mottola's delightful comedy about a family outing to Manhattan contained wintry humour, poignant truths and the world's shortest car chase.

7/ The Spanish Prisoner

David Mamet returns to the intricate layering of bluff and counter-bluff he finessed in his first movie, House of Games, all couched in that distinctively halting, rhetorical dialogue. Campbell Scott, the most underrated young actor in America, turns in a sterling performance as the duped nice guy.

8/ Antz (below)

Given his recent run of indifferent movies, this computer-animated comedy did at least remind us that Woody Allen is still capable of great timing, albeit in the guise of a worker ant. Top-drawer cast, blissfully funny script, and some of the spookiest animation you'll ever see.

9/ The Truman Show

Perhaps not as great as some made it out to be, Peter Weir's satire on our enslavement to television was nevertheless an inspired and ingenious piece of movie-making; Jim Carrey also seized the opportunity to show he's a lot more more than an irritating rubber-faced contortionist.

10/ Zero Effect

Uh? Don't worry; hardly anyone else saw this small, but engagingly droll comedy, directed by first-timer Jake Kasdan (son of The Big Chill Lawrence). Starring Bill Pullman as a wigged-out private eye and Ben Stiller as his sidekick, it had the affable charm and modest intentions of a good TV pilot.

Turkey of the Year

Henry Jaglom's Deja Vu, an improvised ensemble drama, was probably the most excruciating experience of the cinema year. His characters are the kind of awful chattering pseuds Woody Allen was satirising around 20 years ago, yet Jaglom for some bizarre reason takes them completely seriously. One nonsensical speech by Vanessa Redgrave concluded with the exhortation to "jump off the cliff of life", an option I would have willingly helped the whole cast fulfil.