Going Out: RECOMMENDED

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THE FIVE BEST FILMS

LA CONFIDENTIAL (18). Despite a hollow romantic plot, Curtis Hanson's stylish, brutal film noir is the most riveting crime thriller of the year. Not quite the real thing, but pastiche is rarely this seductive. Barbican (0171 638 8891) 6.00 8.40; Clap Pic Hse (0171 498 3323) 3.00 6.15 9.00; Coronet (0171 727 6705) 2.15 5.15 8.15; Odeons Camden (0181 315 4229) 12.00 3.00 6.00 9.00, Ken (0181 315 4214) 12.00 3.05 6.10 9.15, Marble Arch (0181 315 4216) 11.30 2.25 5.25 8.35, Swiss Cott (0181 315 4220) 1.30 4.55 8.00; Ritzy (0171 733 2229) 3.25 6.15 9.05; Screen/Hill (0171 435 3366) 3.10 6.05 8.50; Virgins Fulham Rd (0181 970 6011) 6.00 9.00, Haymarket (0181 970 6016) 2.00 5.15 8.30; Warner (0171 437 4343) 12.00 2.00 3.00 5.00 6.00 8.00 9.00; Whiteleys (0990 888990) 12.20 3.15 6.10 9.10. (P)

THE SWEET HEREAFTER (15). Fourteen children die but who - if anyone - is to blame? Ian Holm is full of wintry intensity in Canadian director Atom Egoyan's bleak essay of loss and culpability. ABC Swiss Centre (0181 970 6017) 1.20 3.40 6.20 8.40.

MA VIE EN ROSE (12). The story of Ludovic, a wide-eyed seven-year-old with an unshakeable faith in his imminent transsexual transformation. While his father performs neurotic pull-ups on a garden trellis, his mother moves from nervy self-justification to smacking him round the head. ABC Swiss Centre (0181 970 6017) 1.10 3.00 5.10 7.00 9.00; Curzon Mayfair (0171 369 1720) 2.15 4.25 6.35 8.45. (P)

NIL BY MOUTH (18). Fear and trembling in Deptford: Gary Oldman's directorial debut is the most arresting British film of the year, powered by a pair of blistering performances from Kathy Burke and Ray Winstone. Viciously funny, and raw as meat still twitching on the abattoir slab. Ritzy (0171 733 2229) 9.00; Virgin Haymarket (0171 970 6016) 12.40 3.40 6.30 9.20. (P)

WILDE (15). Lionised self-publicist Stephen Fry plays lionised self-publicist Oscar Wilde in an intriguing, low-key interpretation of a part that's usually hams' heaven. A poisonously mimsy Jude Law makes a definitive Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas. Gate (0171 727 4043) 2.00 4.25 6.50 9.15; Odeons Camden (0181 315 4229) 12.20 3.15 6.15 9.10, Haymarket (0181 315 4212) 12.40 3.20 6.00 8.40, Ken (0181 315 4214) 1.10 3.55 6.40 9.25, Swiss Cottage (0181 315 4220) 12.30 3.10 5.55 8.35; Ritzy (0171 733 2229) 1.40 4.15 6.45 9.20; Screen/Baker St (0171 935 2772) 3.40 6.10 8.40; Warner (0171 437 4343) 1.00 3.30 6.10 8.40 11.30; Whiteleys (0990 888990) 1.45 4.15 7.00 9.35. (P) Matthew Sweet

THE FIVE BEST PLAYS

ART. Nigel Havers, Ron Cook and Malcolm Storry become the fourth cast as Yasmina Reza's award- winning play celebrates its first birthday. Wyndhams, WC2 (0171 369 1736), to 25 Jan. Tues-Sun 8.00. M: Wed 3.00 & Sat 5.00.

A DELICATE BALANCE. The unmissable Maggie Smith is in restlessly show- stealing form as the drunken sister in Anthony Page's prestigious revival of Edward Albee. As the sober sister, Eileen Atkins is excellent too. Haymarket, SW1 (0171 930 8800), to 31 Jan. Mon-Sat 8.00. M: Wed & Sat 3.00.

CLOSER. Patrick Marber's searing follow-up to 'Dealer's Choice', establishing him as the leading playwright of his generation, transfers to a bigger stage with Neil Dudgeon and Mark Strong joining Sally Dexter and Liza Walker. Lyttelton, SE1 (0171 928 2252), in rep to 3 Feb. Mon-Wed 7.30. M: Wed 2.15.

AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE. In a radical restaging Trevor Nunn and designer John Napier spread Ibsen out across the Olivier to give us the People of the title as well as the Enemy. Ian McKellen's Dr Stockmann is an inspiringly energetic innocent. Olivier, SE1 (0171 928 2252), in rep to 22 Jan. Mon 7.15.

A LETTER OF RESIGNATION. Edward Fox is Harold Macmillan in Hugh Whitemore's persuasively sympathetic account of the Macmillan marriage and the Profumo scandal. Comedy, SW1 (0171 369 1731), to 10 Jan. Mon-Sat 7.45. M: Wed 3.00 Sat 4.00. Robert Butler

THE FIVE BEST EXHIBITIONS

JAMES ENSOR. Continually intriguing retrospective of the Belgian symbolist painter. Strange reinterpretations of Turner; masks and ghoulish happenings. Barbican, EC2 (0171 382 7105), to 14 Dec. Sun 12-6.45, Mon & Thurs-Sat 10-6.45, Tues 10-5.45, Wed 10-7.45.

THE AGE OF SYMBOLISM. Very large show of familiar, repetitious works by Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Watts. Their foreign contemporaries add interest. Tate, SW1 (0171 887 8000) to 4 Jan. Daily 10-5.40.

MONDRIAN. More than 50 pieces by the great Dutch painter, whose weird figurative work will come as a surprise to many visitors. Tate, SW1 (0171 887 8000), to 30 Nov. Daily 10-6.

SENSATION. Young British artists from the Saatchi collection. Short on honest talent, often unpleasant, none the less an important survey. Royal Academy, W1 (0171 439 4996), to 28 Dec. Daily 10-6.

REMBRANDT. Only three paintings in the show, but they are superb. The 'Samson and Delilah', borrowed from a German museum, is an early masterpiece that must be seen. National Gallery, WC2 (0171 839 3321), to 16 Nov. Mon, Tues & Thurs-Sat 10-6, Wed 10-8, Sun 12-6. Tim Hilton

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