FILM OF THE YEAR : Schindler comes top of the list

The most popular film-maker in history got into history, and stayed popular. Glyndebourne rose again, handsomely. Pop ate itself, but survived. Steve Coogan was everywhere, and so was Hugh Grant; only one of them is praised here. The theatre had a thin time, but television drama serials made up for it. People defined themselves on Mondays at 9pm: were you for `Cracker' or `Chuzzlewit'? And again on Saturdays at 8pm: did you really believe that a 14m-1 shot would win?(Or did you do it for love of the arts?) It wasn't the best of years, but it had its moments. And here they are, in the fourth annual `IoS' Awards
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The Independent Culture
APPROACHING its centenary, the cinema looks decrepit and near death. At times this year, it seemed as if the only vigour left was a kind of laughter in the shadow of the gallows. That is the mood of Quentin Tarantino's work. His Pulp Fiction was the comedy of the year. The laughs were not just in seeing columnists park their corduroys in cinema seats, but in Tarantino's unrivalled ear and irresistible, insolent energy. Pricking solemnity is also a virtue of Robert Altman, whose Short Cuts wove a varietyof Californian lives into a deft, despairing tapestry.

Altman wasn't the only old hand we had to rely on. Martin Scorsese's adaptation of The Age of Innocence was a gorgeous piece of craftsmanship. Continuing to rule the art-house were Zhang Yimou, with To Live, whose vast, pounding battleground scene was the sequence of the year, and Krzysztof Kieslowski, whose parting shot, Red, reached elegant, metaphysical places most directors don't even dream about. If anyone can take Kieslowski's place, it may be Vietnam's Tran Anh Hung, whose The Scent of the Green Papaya was a delicate, unillusioned study of female submissiveness.

Two remarkable films emerged from the London Film Festival. Hoop Dreams, a documentary about aspiring basketball players, morosely pulls apart the American dream. Vanya on 42nd Street (which opens here on 30 December) is Louis Malle's film of Uncle Vanya. Played in a dilapidated New York theatre, and riveting in its psychological unravelling and nuanced performances, it catches the apocalyptic mood of today - as well as that of Chekhov's time. It would be a little too easy to name it film of the year: aChekhov screenplay gives a movie an unfair advantage.

That's why I'm plumping for Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List. I have been arguing about this film all year - not least with myself. Those who say that movies cannot recreate the dark night of the Holocaust are right. But that should be a starting-point, not a conclusion. This film's achievement was more than just utilitarian (though the sheer number of those it educated should not be disregarded). It gave a sense of the manner of men who committed such appalling crimes, and how closely they may have resembled a hero such as Schindler - or any one of us. It put a human face on evil. If the film seems too efficient to be great art, that may hint at the limitations of cinema itself.

Previous winners: 1991 `Edward Scissorhands'; 1992 `The Double Life of Veronique'; 1993 `Groundhog Day'.