The Puppetmaster

Puppeteer Li Tianlu narrates his own life story in Hou Xiaoxian's intimate epic, which uses the folk artist's vexed life as an oblique way into decades of Taiwanese history. Hou's style is formal and his narrative method elliptical. Westerners may need a crib sheet to keep track; while it can be oppressive, it's also impressive.

Short Cuts

After returning from the wilderness with the entertaining but ephemeral The Player, Robert Altman comes up with a film of real substance: a three-hour tragi-comedy about some two dozen blue-collar Los Angelinos, played by a crack cast of some of America's best actors. It's based (very freely) on short stories by Raymond Carver, although Altman is rather more sardonic and unforgiving towards his characters. But he interweaves their stories with great elegance and verve.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

This is the kind of low-key, borderline whimsical drama that looks a breeze but is near impossible to achieve without overdosing on sentiment or patronising its characters, but Lasse Hallstrom has managed it. Johnny Depp is the eponymous misfit, Leonardo DiCaprio excellent as his mentally disabled brother. It has a tough core: it's a feel-good movie that you could cut your fingers on, if you didn't handle it with care.