- Sense And Sensibility
- Dead Man Walking
- Toy Story
- Nelly & Monsieur Arnaud
- Welcome To The Dollhouse
- La Ceremonie
- Shanghai Triad
It’s hard to believe now, considering that a glance of his movies f the last few years look more like the fake posters gracing the walls of The Last Action Hero, but Nicolas Cage followed his notoriously strange performances in the 80s with some critically acclaimed ones in the 90s. They reached their apex with his universally lauded turn in Leaving Las Vegas, the groundbreaking Mike Figgis film that made digital cinematography look gorgeous on the big screen for the first time and revealed the most soulful side of the actor than had ever been seen. He scooped up a deserving truckload of trophies, and then proceeded to do his best to smash that reputation to bits, at first subtly in a bunch of Jerry Bruckheimer action movies before a return to form in Adaptation prefigured a series of the most forgettable crap imaginable.
Critics were far too excited about Elisabeth Shue breaking her apple pie mold to play a downtrodden hooker in Leaving Las Vegas, with most groups ignoring the far more exciting performances of the year. The most powerful acting, and one of the most powerful films of the year, was the highly deserving Susan Sarandon as Sister Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking. It’s a complex, challenging film that never lets you feel one way about the issues it presents (capital punishment, in particular, forgiveness and grace in general), and much of its intelligence and emotion comes from the superb control and grace she emanates. Sarandon never overplays a second of the film, and saves her biggest outbursts for just the right moments.
The performance that affects me the most after all these years is the warm, sturdy presence of James Cromwell as the main human player in Chris Noonan’s classic animal film Babe. A man of few words and fewer actions, Cromwell puts an adoration and admiration of a porcine hero into his eyes, taking the now oft-quoted slogan “That’ll do, pig,” and giving it a wealth of emotion that is immensely moving.
Another Oscar choice that was bang on was the presenting of yet another trophy for a performance in a Woody Allen film to the delightful Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite. It could have been just another case of honouring a woman for playing a hooker, but Sorvino’s creation is a wonder to behold. Hilariously candid about her work and its details, she’s also immensely endearing and, at times, has moments of stymied sorrow that transport you out of your seat (just watch her face when Woody first mentions having children). Sorvino wisely plays the character not as dumb but as ignorant, and as such gets an insanely impressive range of experiences into one film.
Not your average combination for a classic British period piece: Lindsay Doran hired Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson to write a letter-perfect screenplay adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense And Sensibility and placed, at its helm, one of the success stories of Taiwanese social realism, Ang Lee. Shockingly, the film is a rock-solid comedy/drama that fully indulges in Austen’s delicious wit and devotion to the magical pursuit of romance without ever being revisionist or ironic about it. Everything that gave Lee’s best films,The Wedding Banquet or Eat Drink Man Woman, their quiet sense of graceful naturalism is aptly applied to the lives of three sisters who struggle with the diminished expectations of their sex in Regency England.